“Stairway To Heaven,” The #UMC, And The Meaning Of Words

Of all the anthems in rock music, one is just a little more anthemic than all the rest:

Weren’t the 70s great?

Yet there’s one line in Stairway that seems to have special relevance these days:

“‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”

Yes, they do.  And in the myriad of debates rising up in the United Methodist Church, sometimes words have more than two meanings.  Or, more to the point, sometimes words get “re-gifted” with brand new meanings far beyond the scope of their original meanings.

Actually, it’s not a new phenomenon.

For example the word resurrection historically meant that Jesus literally, bodily got up out of the grave on the first Easter morning.  And his resurrection is a first fruits on what would happen to the bodies of his followers upon his return to earth. However, the early 20th Century saw the word resurrection redefined to a more subjective place: Jesus rose, not because his body resurrected, but because his spirit infused the original disciples.

Or how about the word love?  Biblically speaking, agape love has always been about serving the deepest needs of the recipient of that love.  Which can mean, of course, that the most loving thing for the recipient of love is not always the nicest thing or the easiest thing.  Now, it seems, love has been redefined as endlessly permissive.

Or even orthodoxy.  For two millenia orthodoxy — right belief — has been inextricably linked to orthopraxy — right practice.  The thought that one could believe all the creedal truths about Jesus (which I’m all for!) and then embrace an evolving and permissive sexual ethic would have been inconceivable to the ancient authors of orthodoxy. 

Yet I have on more than one occasion have my hand slapped for calling those of us who wish to “conserve” heterosexual covenantal monogamy in the UMC the “orthodox” group.  So I’ve relented and we’re now “conservers.” 

More recently, there is biblical obedience.  You’d think that would involve adherence to the plain teaching of Scripture, the collective witness of the church for the better part of 2,000 years, and the wisdom of the most highly regarded contemporary scholars like N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, and Richard Hays, right?  Not anymore.  The phrase biblical obedience has been reimagined to mean something very different in United Methodist circles these days.  Check it out here.

And the final word that has two meanings?  Not.  As in, in the language of our church, Therefore selfavowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.  Well, the word “Not” evidently has two meanings to the Bishop of the Wisconsin area; read all about it here.

And yes, it makes me wonder . . .