Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Heidelberg Revisions

All this week I will be blogging on the Presbyterian General Assembly.

Last night the Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions voted 33 - 26 to change the Heidelberg Catechism in our Book of Confessions so that it no longer would condemn "homosexual perversion."

Question 87 now reads:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful,
impenitent life be saved?
A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.”

This translation from German was made in 1962, and was adopted along with many other documents into the Book of Confessions in 1967. It is the only place in the church's constitution in which homosexuality is mentioned. People who want to change the translation (that is, the winning side in last night's committee vote) say it is a bad translation. People who want to leave it the way it is say it is a better representation of the intent of the catechism, and of current church understanding, since it more directly quotes scripture. Specifically, in the King James Version, I Cor. 6: 9-10 reads:

9Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

I don't know enough German to speak to the merits of the translation question.

I can say, though, that the only time I have ever heard this passage discussed is in debates like this one. That is, in all the debates about homosexual orientation, homosexual practice, gay ordination, and same-sex marriage in the Presbyterian Church -- a debate I have followed pretty closely -- I cannot recall anyone saying that their position on this issue was swayed by what the Heidelberg Catechism said. All discussions about Question 87 have been pre-emptive attempts to change/preserve the wording of the current translation in case someone wanted to make something of it later.

And yet, no one does make anything serious of what the Heidelberg Catechism says, or pretty much what anything in the Book of Confessions says. We have made all the confessions merely advisory, and ignore them at will. That is, we do not confess the confessions.

The whole Heidelberg translation issue is not really about changing a serious or effective part of the Presbyterian constitution. It is a symbolic feint in the ideological struggle over normalizing homosexual practice.

What the church really needs is a confession it actually confesses. Then we can have a serious discussion of how, exactly, it is worded.


Anonymous said...

Where do you stand on homosexual perversion? It was unclear in your blog today.

Anonymous said...

When I see two men together as a couple, or two women, I know in my heart it is wrong. It's not even a theological argument, and I don't need a confession to tell me that...I just know in the core of my being that it is wrong.

I don't discriminate against homosexuals. There are a fair sprinkling of them in my workplace and in other areas of my life -- although none in my Presbyterian church so far, at least not publicly. I mind my own business . What bothers me is having this lifestyle shoved in my face. What I do mind is having to "affirm" that this is a good lifestyle.

I used to follow all the controversy surrounding this issue and get all worked up about it. Now I just raise my own children the way I see fit and go quietly about my business. It's a much healthier way to live.

Anonymous said...

After reading about the discussion about translation at our Catholic bishops' conference - wondering whether such words as ineffable and gibbet will be clearly understood by the faithful - I resonate with your concluding statement.

Mark Smith said...


replace "homosexual" with "leper" and I suspect that your attitude would be familiar to Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Mark Smith...

Ouch. You exude kindness. Thanks for the Christian charity. I guess yours only extends to those you agree with.

Furtehmore your statement makes absolutely no sense.


Jon said...

This is funny to me because Heidelberg clearly doesn't have the phrase about homosexuals in the original. Someone looked at the similar biblical passage and inserted in in translation. I suspect if we did similar things with Jesus's words in the scriptures (for instance "fixing" his citations from the OT) people would flip out.

This is not a "he said, she said" question. It's a translation question--leave it to the historians, translators, and linguists.