Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In regards to the recent unpleasantness

Let me offer a bit of explanation of my post that has generated a great deal of discussion, Authority and Truth. First, a word of apology to Toby Brown for last night's post. I was angry with what he wrote about me. Nevertheless, what I wrote was below the belt. I called him a redneck and implied that he was at the fourth grade reading level. I am sorry. I should set a better example.

Now to that post, this blog, and my ministry, in reverse order:

First, my Ministry:
Next month I will be coming up on my 15th anniversary as a PCUSA minister. My teaching and preaching style is provocative. I hope to make people feel empowered to think and to question. I have throughout my ministry been an advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. I live with our current policy, but I work to change it. I believe our policy goes against the very character of Jesus Christ.

I also emphasize the social aspect of the Gospel. I believe that Jesus and the biblical witness is about establishing justice and peace on this Earth (the kingdom of God). This has to do with war, economic justice, environmental justice, racial, gender, sexual justice, and so forth. I believe that American Christians are in a particularly significant time. What does it mean to follow Jesus who was crucified by Empire, when we live in an Empire?

I also have discovered that the theological formulations that we have inherited do not adequately speak to the universe we are discovering through scientific investigation. The science of evolution and modern cosmology set us up for huge theological challenges.

All of these things lead us to think about our traditions and our texts, our spiritual figures and what they mean. How do we regard other religions? What does it mean to be human? What is our purpose and great work?

I don't expect anyone who has attended any of the churches I have served to agree with my conclusions or even with the fact that I ask questions. I am certainly not the only one on Earth nor in the Presbyterian pulpit and pew asking these questions and in many cases, coming to similar conclusions. Seekers are usually the types of folks who find my ministry helpful. I am pleased that there are many different kinds of churches for many different kinds of people.

Second, My Blog:
Since August of 2006, I have posted over 450 articles about many different things. Much of it centers around theological issues. I am in the process of creating a theology for the 21st century. Just for me. A blog is therefore a public journal. I have had my detractors since day one. While frustrating at times, it is a good thing. In my more gracious moments I consider my detractors to be gifts.

In the course of the past few weeks, I have had a discussion with a colleague, Bob Campbell. I think it has been refreshing to converse with someone about issues with good humor and respect. We have been discussing a number of theological issues including the authority of the Bible and how we determine what is true. This post came from that discussion.

Third, the Post:
I was thinking of the great skeptics, such as Swift, Twain, and Dostoevsky, who challenged people's notions of God and authority by challenging the very authorities themselves. How often have you heard that "God says this" or "The Bible says that" and what people are saying is completely repulsive and wrong to you? What is said in the name of God, is not God but an idol.

The point is not that I, John Shuck, am above scripture. The point is that we--all of us--can make decisions without an authority telling us what that decision must be. By the way, that authority is not a text or a collection of texts, it is the interpreting body, that makes use of the text.

In my view, the various interpreting bodies (whether they be individuals or collectives) have often made bad use of these texts. I think the way the PCUSA in particular has used the Bible in regards to sexual minorities is bad. The very fact that we use the Bible as a source of truth for this issue is in error, in my opinion.
  • If I want to know about the mating habits of squirrels, I am not going to the Bible to find that out. I will observe squirrels and study zoology.
  • If I want to know where and when the dinosaurs roamed, I am not going to go the Bible. I will study paleontology.
  • If I want to know the length and breadth of the Galaxy, I am not going to go to the Bible. I will look at the stars through telescopes and study astronomy.
  • If I want to know how to treat a disease, I am not going to go to the Bible. I will go to my doctor and the research of medical science.
  • If I want the truth about my hypothetical cousin's same-sex attraction and what that means to him, I am not going to the Bible. I will go to him and if I must to those who study human sexuality.
In all of these things, I go to another authority. Because those authorities have more truth on those issues than the Bible. That is no big deal! We do it all of the time! This means simply that we need to make decisions on our own. We need to seek the truth. Truth grants authority, not the other way around. The Bible can serve a very important function, but not when it is misused.

I don't expect any of you to agree with this. Again, I am not the only Presbyterian (or Presbyterian clergyperson) who asks these questions.

Some have claimed that I am showboating by putting my views on Presbyweb. As far as Presbyweb is concerned, editor, Hans Cornelder, has been receiving my blogs automatically by e-mail everyday. So has Doug King of Witherspoon. They have probably received over 450 of them. I am sure they all go into their e-mail trash. Both of them can unsubscribe at any time. Of those 450 posts, Hans chose this one. He also posted my first one, and maybe another, I am not sure. I have no objection, really. He is in the media; if it bleeds it leads. I didn't even know that anything was posted until I started receiving visitors from his website. Actually, I have let my subscription to Presbyweb lapse, so maybe Hans is getting back at me!

One final thing: Does it ever bug you, that we have such power struggles in this denomination? There seems to be little concern to seek what is true, but much concern to silence and control those who disagree, question, or challenge. Oh, well, such is life...

I have a lot of other things on this blog. You oughtta check it out!


  1. As usual, John, by apologizing for your understandably angry reaction to an attack against you, you have shown that you have a great deal more class than many of your detractors will ever have. When someone whose comments in your blog are so frequently dripping with sarcasm against you, who wouldn't know the high road if he were driving down it at 5 mph with a sign posted every five feet that read "This is the High Road!", nevertheless tells you to take the high road, you know that irony is alive and well in the Presbyterian blogosphere. You generally endure most of the attacks against you with great patience, much greater than I would have. Kudos to you, and kudos to you for asking these kinds of uncomfortable and challenging questions.

  2. John

    Thanks for the explanation. I know this won't help with all your detractors but I am proud of you for this response.

    I can't say I agree with all of it, but I'm still proud of you

  3. I hope people read your blog with more charity then they tend to habitually. Unfortunately most folks are probably coming just to find something they can get upset about.

  4. As usual you are right on the mark for me. It seems to me that God gave us brains with which to think, reason, question, and the free will to arrive at our conclusions. We need a LOT more charity, compassion, and inclusiveness in our world. There is entirely too much divisiveness in the world and it is destroying our world. Keep the faith, baby.

  5. Seeker,

    You have been here throughout! I am grateful for all the time and energy you have taken to comment here. As we say in Tennessee, I appreciate ya!


    Thank you for that. Thank you also for graciously admonishing me to take the better path.


    I appreciate your incredible insight (how old are you anyway?) beyond your years.


    I missed racquetball, didn't I? Thanks, my friend. I think that is what it is all about!

  6. I think it is hilarious that people take a preacher to task for "placing himself above God" in one sense, and then when he acts human, all too human, they take him to task for not being perfect!

    We're a funny bunch, aren't we?