Perspective 1

Although most people outside of the church tend to think the opposite, theology always plays catch up ball with the faith and actual practices of the people.  For example, toward the end of the period of Roman persecutions of Christians, many people in north Africa watched while some bishops and priests apostatized (disavowed) their faith or turned in other Christians to the Roman authorities in order to save their skins.  That some priests and bishops were still alive after a persecution while other families lost loved ones who refused to deny their faith did not go unnoticed by the people.  After the persecutions stopped and North African people went back to their pre-persecution lives, many faithful Christians understandably questioned whether a priest or bishop could continue to celebrate holy Eucharist or baptize after they had denied their faith (these were called “traditors” the Latin root of our words for 
traitor and treason
).  Some people believed that the traditors who had denied their faith to save themselves were no longer “valid” in presiding in the sacramental life of the church.
These agonizing debates continued for over a century with both sides having legitimate and understandable positions.  By the time Augustine of Hippo came along, he developed the doctrine of “
ex opere operato
” or “from the work [it, the sacrament] worked.”  This concept held that Christ’s work is what makes the sacrament valid along with the recipient’s faith.  The validity of the priest or bishop does not figure into the validity and efficacy of the sacrament.
Thus the validity of all those weddings, baptisms, funerals and Eucharists was upheld while the


clergy were allowed to continue in their work.  God’s grace abounds in all directions here.

Today we sometimes have flawed clergy who may have done terrible things but we don’t give a second thought whether their earlier celebration of our cousin’s wedding was valid or not.  Likewise, when we look at a person of a different skin color, many of us do not even think of the other person as white, black, Asian, Hispanic or Indian.  The theological and justice questions emerge from the people.  The state may respond with legislation.  The church responds eventually with new understandings and often, with new interpretations of scripture.  People’s lives go back to a “new normal.”

Sometimes the church may teach one position for decades only to reverse that position when confronted with the facts that A) an interpretation of scripture is just that – an interpretation.  It can be flawed and even politically motivated. B) God’s law of justice for the vulnerable and marginalized supersedes any interpretation of scripture.  So we had the reversal of church teaching around slavery in the 19
th century and women’s rights in the 20th
In the 21
century we continue to work our way through this age-old process with respect to issues of human sexuality.  We never suggest that one side is right or one side is wrong but we do acknowledge that different people can hold different positions on these issues just like they have historically on other issues for 2,000 years.
We pledge, as a community, to love, uphold and support one another.  Most of all, we confirm through our general confession that we are all flawed and in need of God’s mercy.  Since we experience God in community and through the community, the mercy we need may require us to embrace a more important truth – that we are all part of a community struggling to do the right thing.