Apologia: “A formal written defense of one’s opinion or conduct.”
This is the title for the front matter for Peter Gomes’ book entitled The Good Book.
Since I have been a Christian, I have encountered the word apologetics and I know that theologians who reason that Christianity is a “logical” faith are called apologists.
Gomes introduces the reader to his book and claims that his main intent of the Good Book is to get people to take the Bible seriously. He does not feel that people should “trivialize” the Bible, nor should they “idolize” it. Either approach (he feels) will cause the reader to “miss its dynamic, living and transforming quality.”
For people who need some “spiritual” foundation for a chaotic lifestyle, the Bible can be that foundation but there is catch: they have to commit to knowing as much about The Book as they can. Too often people are too lazy in their approach to God’s word or too “simpleminded” in their understanding.
Gomes’ Apologia is based on the idea that “true” Christians should have serious consideration for the Bible. He wants Christians to let it “enter into us” and most especially, he has an affinity for those who have been excluded from the faith because the Bible has been used against them.
He claims to be an apologist for serious Bible reading.
I have to also wonder if he considers himself one of those people who feel they have been excluded from the faith because the Bible has been used against them. After all, Gomes was a homosexual.
Surely as the pastor to Harvard he found a supportive environment. Some think of Harvard as a “liberal” stronghold; Gomes himself refers to Harvard as “godless Harvard.” In my previous post [“Who Was Peter Gomes?”] I stated that that Gomes was a homosexual and for some, there is a feeling that his sexual preference and life occupation are incompatible. Pastor and homosexual cannot be one and the same.
Or can they?
This is the crux of the argument that is at the forefront of the United Methodist Church today.* Of course it is much more complex than that. The guidelines for the UMC are published in what is called The Book of Discipline and the official stance of the UMC regarding homosexuality is that homosexual marriage is prohibited within the church. Clergy that officiate a same-sex wedding are performing a punishable offense within the church. Coming out as an LGBTQ+ minister is prohibited and in 1971, the first UMC minister was defrocked for being openly gay.
The Book of Discipline reads “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” With a statement like that [taken out of context of course] the church has struggled to enforce its own guidelines. Over the years, clergy performing same-sex marriages have not been disciplined and ministers who have openly declared their homosexuality have not been defrocked.
As a reader of the Bible I have found support for the stance stated in the Book of Discipline in Leviticus 18: 22, Leviticus 20:13, Genesis 19: 1-11 [the story of Sodom and Gomorrah]. Others point to Judges 19: 22, an instance of homosexual rape. Of course we have Romans 1: 20-32, 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and 1 Timothy 1: 8-15, all New Testament Scriptures that strongly discourage homosexual behavior.
Let’s stop my discussion of the United Methodist Church and its struggle over this issue because I need to refocus on Peter Gomes and how he felt about Christianity and homosexuality. When he declared his sexual orientation, he “stunned” the Harvard community, but he felt he had to be honest about his sexuality. He did not lose his appointment as minister at Harvard’s Memorial church. He merely continued his long career until his death in 2011 at the age of sixty-eight.
In his Apologia Gomes writes about the Christian life. The Christian by nature does not live a life that is in sync with the world. “Christians hold allegiance to something out of harmony with it” [xii]. The Christian advances truth not by “postulates, formulas or bone-crushing logic” but in the “living flesh of human beings.” He points to Jesus Christ as the “ultimate apologist” because His faith led Him to be the sublime example of the best life. He had the power to be our best human example of godly man.
Gomes is reading the same Bible I am reading and yet he feels he can live a life that contradicts the Scriptures cited above. Not only is there contradiction but he calls for a serious reading of Scripture [“My apologia is an argument in favor of taking the Bible seriously”]. Some would say that a serious reader would see that his lifestyle is unacceptable due to a “serious reading” of the aforementioned Scriptures.
I imagine that Gomes wants the reader to see that he is Christian and his life example is that of an apologist. His character and actions [public and private] are designed to exhibit Christian principles and therefore further the Kingdom of God. He is much, much more than a sexual preference.
As I have stated, I begin my series about the issue of the role of the LGBTQ+ person in the church with Gomes because his book is the longest of the three** that will be discussed, not because I favor one view over another. However as I read the front matter of The Good Book, I know that Gomes’ plan for his book is to defend his interpretation of Scripture [his “serious reading”]. Even though he does not get into that discussion, he is an LGBTQ+ pastor and he is laying groundwork for that interpretation later on in his book. Even though he does not hold himself up as a shining example of “an exemplary Christian” it may be implied in his words [or maybe I am wrong in that regard?].
Will he successfully defend his position regarding the Bible? I plan to be as honest as I can be in evaluating his arguments. Will he successfully defend his position regarding his vocation and his lifestyle? I plan to be as honest as I can be in evaluating his arguments.
Gomes ends his Apologia with a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach, who used to write the Latin words Soli Deo Gloria on the first page of every composition. That expression means “glory to God alone.”
I find it interesting that Gomes writes “I adopt his device as my own” [xv].
*I am a Methodist
**Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?; Preston Sprinkle People to Be Loved…
Disclaimer: I am a learner like you. I am not a seminary trained theologian. I have a PhD in communication but not in theology. I am a Sunday School teacher. I do have a “natural curiosity” about my faith. I want to learn more and through my learning, I want to grow closer to God. I volunteer in several places at my church but I am not a paid staff member. Officially, I do not represent the church. As Thom Rainer would say, I try to be a good “Church Member” but that is really all I am–a member of the church, like you.