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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Ethics II - Week 1

Our discussion in the last class centered on Huebner and Schroeder's text, Church as Parable: Whatever Happened to Ethics? Toward the end of the discussion, the chapter on Binding and Loosing came up, and Schroeder's list of "areas which call for new understanding." (p. 161-2). I'm not surprised that it was #4 that garnered the most attention:

"Fourth, the covenant of marriage will need to be upheld as a lifelong commitment within the church. If it is to lead to life, marriage cannot be treated lightly or as a covenant entered and broken at will. It is a commitment within a covenant community and is binding in a way that is passing out of style. the entire Christian community needs to speak to the issues that cause marriages to become dysfunctional and sinful."

There was some concern and objection; not over the sentiment, but to phrasing, especially in light of our denomination's current controversies over sexuality. What about those in commited relationships? Are they not also of concern to the church?

Additionally, I had a conversation after class with a single person who was also a bit uncomfortable with this. If the church is to focus on marriage, what does that say to those not in such a relationship?

Here, I appreciated Trevor's suggestion to put a "sympathetic read" on any text we encounter, because, in doing so, I think Schroeder's instructions speak clearly to a vital concern of the wider church: the upholding of covenental commitments within the Christian community. This certainly speaks to marriage; but think about other covenants we make: baptism, for example, or ordination. In the Episcopal Church, these are all situations where individuals are vowed to a specific commitment within the Body of Christ, and the community promises to support and uphold them. How often is the failure of what we tend (mistakenly, in my view) to see as primarily an individual commitment, due at least in part to the lack of community support?

Think of the children who are baptized into "the priesthood of all believers," but still not, in places, welcome to share at the Table, and in corporate worship life.

Think of the confirmands, on whose behalf we pray that God will "send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them," and who then are told to put their gifts for ministry on hold until they're older, or have been around longer.

Think of the deacon who burns out because (s)he is caring for "the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely" without being cared for.

Think of the priest, "commited to trust and responsibility," who treads the thin line between healthy and harmful behavior (from disregard of devotional time, to sinful misdeed, to neglect or abuse), and is not called on it.

We as the Body of Chirst have the words of community support down pat; but our actions fall far short of where we are called to be, together.

Schroeder is right; we can and should do a better job of upholding lifelong commitment within the church. Marriage is but one example.


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