Continuing our series: Season’s Meanings: Holidays, Holly and Holy, we focused on Thanksgiving, referring to it as our “National Eucharist”. Our Biblical touch point was the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. Biblical scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer points to this moment in the Bible as part of the sounding knell that will result in the “split of Christianity from its Jewish matrix.”
The first “Thanksgiving” shared by pilgrim and native alike was a moment of coming together. Europeans and Native Peoples would not get on well together for very long; but for that instant, with their lives hanging in the balance, the Pilgrims seemed most amenable to sharing the table with the Wampanoag. Food is a celebration of our cultural uniqueness. It is also the place where such uniqueness is shared with others who are different from us.
The first verse in the Bible I can find that refers to animals (and thus, food) that are clean or unclean is Genesis 7:2. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 chime in with very specific instructions as to which animals are clean or unclean. The book of Revelation carries on this theme. “Fallen is Babylon,” writes the Seer. “Babylon has become a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” This suggests that such distinctions remain, at least vestigially, in the consciousness of some of the early Christians. (See Revelation 18:2.)
The history of Christianity is replete with splits, and some believe the “sounding knell of division” is ringing loud and clear within the halls of the United Methodist Church. The issue today is not what kind of foods are acceptable. The issue is how one experiences and expresses their sexuality.
Peter and Cornelius are emblems of profound cultural and spiritual differences, powerfully symbolized in foods deemed “unclean” by the Law of Moses. Though the text says Cornelius was a “God-fearer”, and thus sympathetic to the ways of the God of Israel, Peter is very forthcoming in his acknowledgement that it was unlawful for him to associate with the likes of Cornelius. The barrier had to be broken down. That barrier is broken down when Peter learns through a trance that he is not to “call anything impure that God has made clean.” God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34).
Many believe just such a barrier exists between some Christian denominations and people in the LGBTQ community. And many fear any attempts to dismantle this barrier will be the sounding knell that will result in a schism within the United Methodist Church.
Attached are links to three pieces. First, this link takes you to a document that provides history and the current position of the United Methodist Church regarding homosexuality.
This second link is to a letter sent to Bishop Sudarshana Devedhar, bishop of the New England Annual Conference (of which First UMC Burlington is a part), expressing disappointment regarding the bishop’s actions.
Finally, this link is an article about an action a number of United Methodist Clergy took on behalf of a gay couple.
What constitutes “clean” in the spiritual sense? While it is not necessary that everyone read each of these articles, it is necessary that we be open to God’s Spirit as we struggle to find ways to be in full communion with each other, regardless of our opinions, and having to compromise neither our convictions nor our true identity.