Don’t Make an ‘Idol’ Out of Jesus, Says Lesbian Methodist Bishop
John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy shares this piece of United Methodist news. An open, “partnered” lesbian bishop Karen Oliveto, is speaking out. She’s teaching a bold, new exciting way of looking at Jesus. Remember how old theology books spoke of God “condescending” to join the human condition? Well, Oliveto has figured out how we can return the favor. She’s teaching us how to condescend to Jesus.
Here’s Oliveto’s pastoral message for August 19, which she posted on Facebook. She’s reflecting on the conservation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. (Read the whole thing, so you won’t think I’m taking this out of context):
“If Jesus can change, if he can give up his bigotries and prejudices, if he can realize that he had made his life too small, and if, in this realization, he grew closer to others and closer to God, than so can we.”
Too many folks want to box Jesus in, carve him in stone, create an idol out of him. But this story cracks the pedestal we’ve put him on. The wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting one, prince of peace, was as human as you and me. Like you and me, he didn’t have his life figured out. He was still growing, maturing, putting the pieces together about who he was and what he was supposed to do. We might think of him as the Rock of Ages, but he was more like a hunk of clay, forming and reforming himself in relation to God.
As one person put it: “Jesus wasn’t a know-it-all, he was also learning God’s will like any human being and finally he changed his mind … if Jesus didn’t have to know it all innately, but rather could grow into new and deeper understanding through an openness to God’s people [even those he formerly discounted], maybe if Jesus could change his mind then maybe so can we!
As he encountered this one who was a stranger, he comes to a fuller sense of the people he is to be in relationship with. He is meant to be a boundary crosser, and in the crossing over, reveals bigotry and oppression for what they are: human constructs that keep all of us from being whole. He learns that no one, no one, including the outsider, the foreigner, the hated, the misunderstood, the feared, no one is outside of the heart of God and the care of God.
In his conversion, by changing his mind and acting outside of tradition, by treating the woman as a person and responding to her needs, Jesus is willing to stand against culture and social norms and risk his status and power. It is this action of giving up that Jesus gains the most: because of his willingness to be in relationship with one so different, Jesus finds greater intimacy with God. The two go hand in hand.
This is the heart of the story. This is what offers us hope. If Jesus can change, if he can give up his bigotries and prejudices, if he can realize that he had made his life too small, and if, in this realization, he grew closer to others and closer to God, than [sic] so can we.
Jesus the Recovering Bigot
Lomperis does a yeoman’s job unpacking the obvious heresies here, writing:
Oliveto makes clear that her Jesus is one who was not only deficient in his knowledge of facts, but one who was also morally faulty. Oliveto’s Jesus is NOT a sinless Jesus! Instead, her Jesus was guilty of such sins as “his bigotries and prejudices.”
He also offers some solid exegesis, drawing on the tradition of orthodox Protestant biblical interpretation:
In rushing to make this rather negative judgment of Jesus Christ, Oliveto appears to have been uninterested in how faithful Christian commentary over the years has interpreted this passage in ways that make Jesus come across as less harsh, such as by suggesting that Jesus was using commonly used language of that context in a playfully bantering way, translating the word Jesus uses for “dogs” as referring to household pets rather than the more negative word for strays on the street, or how a careful look at His words shows them at least subtly hinting, “your turn will come.” … [S]he appears to have not bothered consulting John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, part of the UMC’s official Doctrinal Standards. If she had, she may have benefitted from considering Wesley’s remark on Christ’s initial refusal to grant the woman’s request: “He sometimes tries our faith in like manner.”
Lomperis rightly observes: “[T]he all-too-common portrayal of a consistently weak, inoffensive, undemanding ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ bears little relation to the actual Jesus we meet in the four Gospels.”
On Both Sides of the Tiber
Five years ago, this is the kind of story my Catholic friends would have sent around. Maybe with little jabs at Martin Luther or other Reformers. They might add some snark about women’s ordination. “Glad we don’t have to worry about this sort of thing, harrumph harrumph… .”
Christianity now has shock troops on both sides of the Tiber.
Then came Pope Francis, papal adviser James Martin, SJ, and the explosion of doctrinal chaos in very high places. Liberal Christianity now has shock troops on both sides of the Tiber. And so, in a chastened, ecumenical spirit I mutter: Oliveto would fit right in at most Jesuit-run theology departments.
Except for one thing. She’s much more plain-spoken than James Martin. She brazenly draws the obvious conclusions that others bury in euphemisms. Or happy-clappy pastoral talk. Give Oliveto some credit for being more manly, straightforward, and candid than many Catholics.
Why Stop Short at Jesus?
If you’re going to deny the consensus of Jewish and Christian tradition, and the plain words of scripture on crucial moral issues, why stop short at Jesus? Why not make Him a narrow, ethnic bigot? Then you can go on to denounce His Father.
Didn’t he endorse such bigotry for thousands of years in Israel? (That dovetails nicely with oh-so-fashionable “anti-Zionist” activism.) In fact, in another column Lomperis notes that Oliveto does exactly that:
Oliveto directly tackled alleged flaws in Scripture. She repudiated at length what she called the “theology of election and chosenness” that she traced in the Bible from God’s choosing Isaac over Ishmael to the Jews being God’s chosen people and on through the New Testament’s teaching that followers of Jesus Christ have a special relationship with God that non-Christians do not have. She also specifically criticized the language used by Jesus Christ Himself of separating sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Oliveto blamed this acknowledged biblical theme for the evils of colonization, slavery, “destruction of native cultures and religions,” women’s subordination, racism, and current oppression of “the gays and lesbians.”
The logic rolls on like a juggernaut down the slippery slope greased by hubris. Soon Oliveto is siding with the demons against St. Paul:
In her sermon during the closing worship, she criticized St. Paul for casting a demon out of the slave girl in Acts 16:16-18…. [Oliveto went on to] defend the demon’s possession of the slave, as this demon helped enrich her owners by giving her fortune-telling abilities. Oliveto declared that by casting the demon out of the girl, Paul did nothing to make the girl’s life better and “probably made it worse” as she was now “damaged goods.” Oliveto was very concerned by “questions about the imposition of religious values, in this case religious values”….
I quipped here last month that embracing the LGBT agenda would lead us eventually to whore after strange gods. (I bruited Thor and Jennifer Connelly as possible post-Christian options.) But the bloom is off the joke.