In an otherwise excellent post about the Church of Scotland, its recent decisions re homosexuality, and evangelical Presbyterian strategy in response, Carl Trueman says this:
"Unwelcome also was my hint that the gay issue is the result, in part, of a hermeneutical shift on the Bible’s teaching on women’s ordination (`not a hill to die on’ according to the Stillites) which shift has now come back to haunt the evangelicals on the issue of homosexuality. This point, if press reports are accurate, has not been lost on opponents of the evangelicals who have been quick to exploit the inconsistency."
Implicit here (so I interpret!!) is an argument that evangelicals in the Church of Scotland ought to have made the issue of the ordination of women a hermeneutical hill to die on - the presumption being that if the line had been held then against change then the C of S would not be at the point it has now reached.
Now, there is a truth here: if one fights a battle on one hill and wins it, the war is unlikely to proceed to the next hill. But there is also a false analogy here: hermeneutical issues are not hills to die on but problems to be resolved (if possible), and we are not engaged in a war when we are Christians seeking to understand what it means to be human while also being partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
There are other problems with the line Trueman takes (and he is not alone among evangelicals in thinking this way). It makes the churches' understanding of the role of women in ministry subject to fear about the future of another issue. Worse, it implies that women and their concerns are to blame for the situation we have now arrived at (If only we had not agreed to the ordination of women we would not be in the current mess). Once again, male dominance is exerted over women in the life of the church.
There is another way. Human dignity in relation to hermeneutics means that each hermeneutical issue concerning our humanity is treated on its merits. The question of women being ordained and the questions regarding partnered gay and lesbian Christians being ordained or their relationship being blessed are different questions. One should not be confused with another!
Certainly all such questions involve the same Scripture, and the manner of attending to each should involve a consistent hermeneutical approach. This last point is challenging for evangelicals. Here are two questions to ponder:
- what hermeneutical approach was involved in the argument for the abolition of slavery?
- what hermeneutical approach was involved in the argument for the acceptance of the remarriage of divorcees?
If we can be clear, and agreed on the answers to these two questions we could have a good starting point to considering how we might be consistent in our hermeneutical approach to the ordination of women and to issues in regard to homosexuality.
PS There are 'hills to die on' but I suggest they concern basic creedal matters which distinguish the Christian faith from other faiths and from atheism. By definition 'hermeneutical issues' are matters of disagreement within the church because faithful readers of Scripture genuinely disagree as to the meaning of Scripture. Nevertheless I recognize that in past times Christians have killed other Christians for such disagreements (e.g. executing Anabaptists in the 16th century).