HomeReligionSupping with the Devil at the Table of Contemporary Culture

Supping with the Devil at the Table of Contemporary Culture

Black news from Pasadena - Religion - Same-sex marriage and religion"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." (Psalm 23:5, NRSV)

Unlike our natural human response to temptation and potential attack from adversaries, the above Psalm evokes the imagery of abiding at a set table (which the Lord has prepared) to describe one's comportment (i.e. posture) when in the presence of detractors. This table in the midst of the enemy's camp depicts the Lord's provision and grace while facing difficult circumstances. The table, according to the Psalmist, does not reflect communal fellowship or a place of feasting or supping with the enemy, but, rather, it is both where and how those who distinctly belong to the Lord are sustained.

In Christianity, this table reflects the subversive nature and offense of the gospel to those that do not believe; in essence, faithfulness to God in the face of adversity will result in the adversary witnessing God blessing his faithful. Conversely, supping with the enemy eventually results in capitulating core faith values and beliefs; many theological academicians (including some of whom with I have worked in the academy) have sought to re-envision (redefine) core Christian tenants to validate and affirm non-classical Christian behavior and views; this, in fact, has been the case regarding the redefinition of marriage. An ideological and theological shift on the redefinition of marriage now appears to be making strides in the least likely places.

On the heels of the U. S. Supreme Court's decision against the Defense for Marriage Act (DOMA) and the merits of California's Proposition 8 - making room for the state to once again perform same-sex unions and issue marriage licenses to these couples - news of the nation's largest Evangelical seminary hosting an LGBT student club on its campus began to spread. Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California has throughout its history maintained a type of progressive Christian orthodoxy.

Although checkered with regard to social progressivism, the school formed as a distinctive break-a-way from a theological fundamentalism which touted dispensationalist tenants and biblical inherency. At the same time, Fuller remained distinctly evangelical, rooted in a Christian orthodoxy. Ecumenical and interdenominational in scope, Fuller Seminary early on embraced women's ordination and attempted to form ethnic Christian studies programs: African American Church studies, Hispanic studies and Korean studies. While the latter two programs maintain a viable program and presence, the former (African American church studies) has continued to struggle in structure, vision and leadership since its inception. In the past two years, the fledging program has seen three directors, and since my enrolling just over 13 years ago (in 1995), has had no less than eight directors (overseers) with the longest tenure being five years; even before my student tenure at the school, the program witnessed several different program directors. The program, according to some ministers in the area, exist prima facie (i.e. in name only).

As this program continues to function without any significant core direction or solid relevant vision, the development of the LGBT student sanctioned club, called "OneTable", already has vision, direction and significant momentum - riding the tailwinds of larger social, political and legal policy advances. Yet is "OneTable" akin to the table noted in Psalms, or has this group in particular, and Fuller Theological Seminary in general, set up its own table, essentially supping at the table of modern culture?

According to the Associated Press (July 13th), "OneTable" is attended by nearly three dozen students who identify as Gay Evangelicals; although administrative leaders claim that the organization is not an advocacy group, students here find validation and (seeming) theological affirmation of their sexual orientation; while suggesting that they embrace the authority of scripture and the school's policy on marriage and homosexuality: "Marriage is between one man and one woman," group members (according to their website) subtly re-envision scripture through an experiential lens which conflates historical context with tenants of modern humanism; this overall deconstructive approach to scripture paves way toward variant readings which champion reader's centered and ideological perspectives. Regardless of whether or not the presence of "OneTable" is a symbolic gesture in the eyes of school officials, "OneTable" group members appear to have re-envisioned the table set by the Lord to be one of fellowship where the devil also sups.

Another way to say it is that Fuller Theological Seminary has set up a table to fellowship with contemporary culture; here sociologist Peter L. Berger best sums it up this way: "The theologian who trades ideas with the modern world, therefore, is likely to come out with a poor bargain, that is, he will probably have to give far more than he will get. To vary the image, he who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon. The devilry of modernity has its own magic: The theologian who sups with it will find his spoon getting shorter and shorter – until that last supper in which he is left alone at the table, with no spoon at all and with an empty plate. The devil, one may guess, will by then have gone away to more interesting company." (A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1970, 24).

[Jamal-Dominique Hopkins (Ph.D., University of Manchester, U.K.) is Director of J. D. Institute and C.E.O. of the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought. A graduate also from Howard University and Fuller Theological Seminary, he is the author of Thinking Out Loud: Thoughts and Reflections on Life, Faith, Culture and Crisis (Journal Publication, 2013), and "Duty or Responsibility?, and The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought (2009). To reach Dr. Hopkins for preaching, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars, you may contact him at: 626-354-8438 or www.jdinstitute.weebly.com.]



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