This is part two of my series on Phyllis Tickle. Having been exposed to her through video and print, I ventured to ask her a few questions through email. She was remarkably accessible and gracious enough to allow me to share her responses with you.
Phyllis Tickle’s Dangerous Hermeneutic
By Scott Fowler
Though much could be said and discussed concerning Phyllis Tickle and her theology, my chief concern is her hermeneutic (the theory and methodology of interpretation). In this article I will begin to share the questions I asked Ms. Tickle, along with her responses, and explain my concerns.
The First Question: Gay Christianity
I asked Ms. Tickle the following question:
Based on your book The Great Emergence and a video interview with Andrew Marin, can we say that you are a supporter of Christianity among the LGBT community?
Yes . . . there is no question and never has been. I believe that the GLBT community can be/is as much a part of Christianity as is any other segment of society. This can be elaborated and a well-argued support be made, but that is probably not in any way required here, so the simple answer: Yes.
Not that surprising coming from a “lay Eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church.”1 It’s how Tickle arrives at her theology that concerns me. Let me explain.
Some who have arrived at their support of homosexuality have done so by twisting Scripture, either linguistically or contextually.2 One blogger from the UK, in her defense of homosexuality, declared, “Jesus said that if a man look at a woman with lust in his heart, he had already committed adultery. He did not say the same if a man look at a man.”3 There will always be those who are content to say that up is down and will surround themselves with people who agree.
Then there are those who simply choose not to follow what Scripture says. Again, not uncommon. Examples of people going against Scripture in support of their own preferences abound. Interestingly, Tickle belongs to this category but in a unique way. According to Bart Gingerich, Phyllis Tickle affirms that “the Bible is not in favor of homosexuality—it just isn’t. The approval is not there,” 4 and yet she supports it anyway, or has at least “gotten over it” as she is fond of saying.5 But Tickle does not feel that she is going against Scripture. Somehow, she arrives at her support of gay Christianity through a complex approach to God and Scripture that leaves her enlightened by the Holy Spirit and able to unapologetically to support what Scripture does not.
In order to begin to understand how Tickle approaches Scripture, we will have to examine her words very closely to try and peel back the artfully woven layers of her responses to my questions.
Next Question: The Authority of Scripture
Ms. Tickle is quite articulate, but at times I have wondered if she is not trying to say what she wants to say without any real proof that she has said it. It has left me with the impression that she wants to lead a revolution but does not want to offend anyone while she does it. I made the following statement to her:
I would like to know if we are reading you correctly or not. Many times I have gotten the impression that you are artfully parsing your words in order to not alienate anyone which leaves the impression that you are not committing to the things mentioned above but no one as articulate and as passionate as you are is without her convictions. I would like to speak rightly about you since you are strongly influencing the Church.
Tickle’s response was:
. . . careful as I try to be…and I do parse my words carefully and often repeat them, in fact…it is apparently very difficult for some listeners to separate what Phyllis Tickle believes from what she reports as descriptive of Emergence thinking. The two are not always the same and, when they differ, tend to differ rather sharply. Over and over again in speaking, I make the distinction not only in general, but also in particular points being made or about to be made. In religion and faith, however, the enormity of the issues and the passion surrounding them all too often obscure the caveats.
At first, this seemed to be the case in her words concerning Sola Scipture or Scripture only. In her book, The Great Emergence, in a significant section entitled “the Erosion of Sola Sciptura,” Tickles writes:
“When it is all resolved [‘the arguments and questions surrounding homosexuality’]—and it most surely will be—the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead. . . . Of all the fights, the gay one must be—has to be—the bitterest, because once it is lost [and she means once the inerrant, Sola Sciptura, “factually true” crowd loses its battle against homosexuality in the church], there are no more fights to be had. It is finished. Where now is the authority?”6
One could say that maybe this is Phyllis Tickle the reporter rather than Phyllis Tickle herself. I believe she demonstrates her own view of Scripture by supporting homosexuality and gay Christianity.
Surprised at her stance and troubled by her claim that the end of Sola Scriptura is near, I asked Ms. Tickle the following question:
… it seems clear that you are aligned with those that [no] longer see Scripture as the final or ultimate authority in a Christian’s life. Is this accurate?
NO! Now this one surprises me, for so far as I know I am not usually misunderstood or misquoted here. As an observant Anglican, I believe, and continue to believe, that authority rests in Scripture, reason and tradition. Like Emergence Christians, I believe that Scripture must be seen as “actually” true, rather than reduced to the confines and strictures of human “fact” or being “factually true” in the sense of Protestant Inerrancy, as that term is normally defined. It is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer to correct discernment of Scripture, and as Christians we read with and through the tutelage of the Spirit. The odd thing about this point’s being questioned is that I say a dozen times every lecturing day that if there were such a thing as an “average” Emergence Christian and an “average” Protestant or Roman Christian [which there is not, of course], it would be the Emergence Christian who exhibits the more radical and emphatic devotion to the ‘accuracy’ of Holy Writ and to believing in its absolute function as the Word of God Almighty, Now and Always. Of course, the Emergence would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of. The two, then…i.e., actuality vs. factuality… are entirely different approaches to Scripture, the Emergence being not only a more passionately persuaded one, but also a much, much humbler one.
There are some serious implications in her response to my question concerning the authority of Scripture that we must sort through if we are to begin to decipher her meaning. First, the juxtaposition of her view of Scripture as “actually true” over against the Protestant, inerrancy view of Scripture as “factually true” is curious. Second, the phrase, “non-paradoxical exegesis” is intriguing. Third, the picture she draws of reading Scripture “through the tutelage of the Spirit” is worth investigating when compared to what she seems to have discerned. And finally, I have a question about what Tickle means by the phrase “correct discernment of Scripture”?
The next installment of the Tickle Chronicles will address these issues.
1 See Tickle’s website: http://www.phyllistickle.com/about/; Part I: Andrew Marin Interviews Phyllis Tickle http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v= SOQQPC_SsEs.
2 For a vast array of Scripture twisting, just Google the phrase “reinterpreting the clobber texts.” For a specific collection from the UK check out http://queeringthechurch.com/queer-faith/queer-scripture/clobber-texts/. For a shocking treatment of the subject by someone who is rather a mainstream in the church see the pamphlet online written by Walter Wink at http://forusa.org/content/homosexuality-bible-walter-wink.
3 https://ccithink.com/2013/03/31/why-the-focus-on-homosexuality-abortion-evolution-arent-all-sins-the-same-in-gods-eyes-part-1/ Of course, if we build our belief system on all the things Jesus did not say we are in for quite a ride.
4 http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/01/18/emergence-christianity-comes-to-memphis/ This quote is in a sense corroborated by Tickle’s interview by Andrew Marin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= SOQQPC_SsEs ) where she compares the acceptance of homosexuals in the Church with the Church’s acceptance of feminism and divorce which she lifts up as examples of behavior advocated against in Scripture but “gotten over” by the Church in modern times. You can read the transcript of this interview here (https://ccithink.com/2013/05/13/the-tickle-chronicles/). The Gingerich quote comes from Tickle’s National Gathering on emergence Christianity held in January 2013 in Memphis.
5 See the Andrew Marin interview or transcript noted in the prior footnote. I think it’s interesting when we decide to yield the counsel of the Bible to the whims of the culture.
6 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2012), page 98-101.
By Scott Fowler
The recent apology by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, is quite the hot topic this week. There may be any number of issues we could discuss, but he said four things in his apology that I would like to address in this article.
Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.
This is a loaded statement that leads me asking, Which church? In what way is the Bible-believing, evangelical church angry with Exodus International? I can’t say that I am aware of the feedback Exodus International has gotten over the years. Apparently there have been gross indiscretions in its operations at times. If this is what Chambers means, OK. But I kind of think he must be trying to say that somehow the church is angry at his stance towards homosexuality, same-sex marriage, reparative processes, etc. If this is what he means, then he is talking about a certain part of the “church,” an inclusive part that is no way to be characterized by what used to be known as evangelicalism. So my complaint here is that it seems as though he is reflecting a change in the believing Church’s stance on homosexuality and that is not the case. My words here are not in defense of any abusive behavior towards the LGBT community which no right-headed genuine believer would advocate anyway.
But if the Church is a body, with many members being connected to the whole, then I believe that what one of us does right we all do right,and what one of us does wrong we all do wrong.
This is nice fireside, “kum bah yah” language, but it doesn’t wash. First of all, there are too many instances where this statement on its face is disproved over and over and over. Second, I sort of resent Chamber’s appointing himself to speak for the church and to drag the church into what he is saying. I am tired of people beating up on the church. How easy it is to cherry pick all the things that the church has done wrong over the years and blame everyone for it. How easy to dismiss righteous claims because some individual skewed off-center and did something shameful. So, on one hand Chambers is facing “an angry church” and on the other he is saying the church did wrong with him. Well, the jury is still out on the reasons for Chambers’ apology, but in the mean time he isn’t speaking for the believing Church.
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there.
The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.
I am truly not trying to be unkind or even judgmental, but this sounds like Chambers is “coming out.” It also sounds like he is trying to say that he was “born this way.” He also seems to be suggesting that God accepts homosexuality, or at least its desires, as normal and OK. And it all seems to be firmly based in Chambers’ subjective experience and perspective. Finally, his message would seem to be, “Don’t be ashamed of your homosexual desires. They are normal and God accepts them.” Again, Chambers does not speak for the believing Church if indeed this is what he is saying.
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good. Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.
I wonder what the changes are going to be in Chambers’ own life? I also want to know what kind of “resolution” Chambers is hoping to bring about? Who has shown displeasure to Chambers with such ferocity that he has arrived at this moment of what many will call capitulation? But here is the part I am most concerned about with this quote. His future focus on “peace,” “common good,” and “human flourishing.” My problem is not that those things aren’t good, but they can be disastrous when the foundation they are built on is compromise or fear of man.
I must reiterate that I am no expert on Exodus International, nor do I have any insight into the spiritual or theological veracity of Alan Chambers. It is not my desire to castigate him or his walk with God. But even though I have stated here that he is not an official spokesman for the believing church, when a leader like Chambers speaks out the culture invariably groups the church in with his words.
By Scott Fowler
I am frequently asked if all sins are equally bad or if some sins are worse than others. Sometimes I just hear the statement being made in passing, “Well, we know that all sins are equal in God’s eyes.” Usually, this idea is tied to the sentiment suggesting the Church should not spend so much time harping against homosexuality, abortion, and evolution (the “big 3”), and spend more time dealing with Christians who lie, cheat on their taxes, and commit adultery. Surely those things are just as destructive as the big 3.
Without a doubt, sin separates us from God. And, barring a discussion on the possibility that the punishment of hell will be intensified upon its inhabitants by degrees based on the degree of their sinfulness, we can agree that once a person goes to hell it may not matter at that point whether it was murder or lying or tax evasion that sent him or her there. He or she is separated from God.
So, why does the believing Church spend so much time talking about the big 3? Aren’t all sins equally bad in God’s eyes? Let’s gradually get to the first question by starting with the second. And let’s begin the discussion by asking a series of questions and by considering a few different scenarios.
Is there a difference between the sin being committed by a young man and woman, both single, both unmarried, who are engaging in premarital sex, and a man and a woman, both married to other people, having an affair with one another? How do we normally feel about the young couple that doesn’t want to wait compared to how we feel about the couple cheating on their spouses? There is something categorically different between the sin of the young couple and the sin of the adulterers. Both couples are engaged in damnable sins,1 but there is something extra deceitful and hurtful happening with the adulterous couple. They are in deeper. They are not only disobeying God but they are breaking their vows and hurting their children and living a lie! Perhaps the question is not “Is one sin is worse than the other?” but rather “How deeply mired in bondage is one couple compared to the other?” or “How many people are hurt by the sin of either couple?” Let’s keep going with more questions and another scenario.
Is there anything inherently different between the sin of adultery happening between a man and a woman and the same-sex sexual relations happening between two gay men? Both “couples” are committing damnable sins,2 but something is different. While we could never condone or justify the sins of the adulterous couple, we are not surprised when people find themselves in the midst of emotional and physical attraction and falling into the trap of adultery. Why? Because, while an adulterous affair is shameful and sinful, we understand that men are attracted to women and vice versa and, given the right set of circumstances, they can all too easily find themselves in a weakened state and falling into the grossest of sins. And while we would condemn such acts, we would not normally say that there was something unnatural about what they are doing, beyond the view of what is natural for believing Christians, because it is normal for men to be attracted to women, etc. The issue in this case is that the man and the woman have failed to stay faithful to God and to the ordained relationships they have already committed to. Similarly, we do not say that a man has sinned because he has the capacity to be tempted by looking at another woman, but we would say that he is responsible for what he does with the temptation.
But when it comes to homosexuality and two men or two women in same-sex sexual relations with one another, we do not simply say that they have done the wrong thing with temptation. Much more is involved. While it is true that the man and the woman who are having an adulterous affair with one another have indeed gone against God’s laws by giving themselves to forbidden sexual relationships, their violation is different in kind than that of the two men or two women involved in forbidden same-sex sexual relationships. The homosexual relationship represents a twisting of God’s laws in a much deeper, more deviant way. God certainly condemns sex outside of marriage and sex that violates the marriage bed and vows, but He has not condemned human heterosexual sexuality. He reserves the right to decide for us who we should mate with, but He has not condemned the human sexual act between a man and a woman. He has, in fact, endorsed it and encouraged it within the bounds of His laws. In the case of homosexuality, He has condemned the act altogether; forbidden it. So, homosexuality is in a different category because it twists what God originally intended in a way that premarital sex and adultery between a man and a woman does not. There is no way for the homosexual act to ever be sanctioned by God.
If we imagine a person simply making a random decision to engage in a same-sex sexual act, we could also imagine saying to that person, “Don’t choose to do that anymore. It’s wrong.” We might not understand why a person would do such a thing, but there it is. But when we come to the realization that gays and lesbians have this desire (not born with it but somehow mired in it) and that they approve of it, now we are dealing with individuals who, in the face of God, are not just saying we want to have sex, but we want to have sex in a way that you have said is not natural, normal, or accepted.
As mentioned above, perhaps the question is not degrees of sinfulness, but degrees of bondage. The stronghold of homosexuality is different in its intensity than, say, a little boy of four who has trouble telling the truth, although Stephen Charnock wrote,
“All sin is founded in secret atheism. Atheism is the spirit of every sin; all the floods of impieties in the world break in at the gate of a secret atheism, and though several sins may disagree with one another, yet, like Herod and Pilate against Christ, they join hand in hand against the interest of God. Though lusts and pleasures be diverse, yet they are all united in disobedience to him. All the wicked inclinations in the heart, and struggling motions, secret repining, self-applauding confidences in our own wisdom, strength, &c. [sic], envy, ambition, revenge, are sparks from this latent fire; the language of every one of these is, I would be a Lord to myself, and would not have a God superior to me.” 3
For this reason, we don’t take lightly the little boy who tends to lie. But we understand that little boys and girls sometimes have trouble with the truth and need teaching concerning the reason the truth matters. And although we have all known people who are liars, it is rare to find someone who vouches for lying or claims that a life based on falsehood is a noble path to choose.
What I am trying to say is that at least one of the reasons that homosexuality is seen differently than other behaviors that the Church considers to be sinful is that the bondage and the stronghold that it represents is significantly different and arguably more difficult to deal with than the occasional temptation to swear when one hits his or her thumb with a hammer.
I will deal with the first part of the question in Part 2, but let me finish this article by saying that I am more and more sensitive to the argument against the believing Church that when it speaks against sin, particularly against homosexuality, that it is of necessity spewing hate out for homosexuals outside of the faith and now more and more inside even the evangelical church. To those arguments I would say that indeed many Christians have spewed hatred for the sin and that hatred of sin has been virtually indistinguishable from the feeling they have expressed for the homosexuals themselves. For that I am deeply sorry and in agreement that Jesus loves the homosexual and so does the true believing Church. However, in our present culture, any expression of disagreement is seen as hate. But the believing Church has no choice but to speak the truth. So, all I know to do is to genuinely love people, declare the truth from that genuine love, and become sensitive to ways in which we can better communicate that genuine love.
Stay tune for Part 2.
1 Revelation 21:8 says: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
2 Along with Revelation 21:8, Romans 1:18-32.
3 Stephen Charnock, B.D., Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume I (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987; reprinted from the 1853 edition by Robert Carter & Brothers), page 93, emphasis mine