Modern-Life, Observations, Religion.

The Bible Tells Me So, continued (3)

A reader commented on my second post regarding the Bible and homosexuality:

Do I make [GLBT people] feel unloved?Well if you are a sincere Christian, then no, setting out intentionally to make them feel unloved is not an option. As you note, love is a key goal in Jesus teaching, whether one believes that homosexual sex is sinful or not.

This is a loving response.  It probably shouldn’t need to be mentioned, were there not so many who profess to be Christians who are openly and markedly unloving in their response to that community, and who go out of their way to exclude them, including the construction, lobbying and voting for amendments to various state constitutions in order to limit their civil rights.

It is interesting to me, in watching various Christian communities and churches, both from afar and up close, that there are churches, and even entire denominations, that are supportive and inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community, and who are not supportive of direct political action to limit their civil rights; there are many more, however, that take the opposite tack, and cast them out or try to “convert” their sexuality (e.g., the Bachmanns), and who act overtly and politically as a religious community, from the pulpit, or organizing and participating in political rallies, to limit their civil rights.

The main point I have been making is that as regards the Bible, Christians today justify either embracing the LGBT community or excluding it, to pick the extremes of a more complex spectrum of behavior, based on some interpretation of Biblical passages.  How is it that one Christian can find in the Bible support for fully embracing the LGBT community, while another finds Biblical support for rejecting them, and further, for actively participating in a legislative process to deny them some of their civil rights?  It is clearly a matter of emphasis and interpretation.  I know many Christians, some on one side of the question, some on the other, and they all have passionate arguments about how the Bible supports their conclusions, and some seem vehement, sure that their interpretation is the correct one.

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

Moreover, this is the history of the splintering of Christianity into thousands of sects writ small. If there can be so much disagreement over what the Bible says about this among believers, why not choose to emphasize the most important theme of Jesus, loving one another, accepting God’s mediator as a way to a loving God, the theme that seems to survive the roiling and incessant bickering over the interpretation of the Bible by the bewildering number of Christian denominations and sects?

The same reader also made this comment:

“only God judges the fitness of the person to be accepted in God’s family.” I suppose there are various possible meanings to ‘God’s family’ in this sentence; those who are welcomed into heaven in the afterlife, or those who wish to bear the label ‘christian’ on earth or those who are considered part of a local congregation. In terms of the latter of the definitions, I suggest that churchmembers are in fact Biblically mandated to make moral decisions on this very question. 1 Corinthians chapter 5 indicates that sincere Christians should not associate with those who call themselves Christians but who are seriously corrupted by sin, including sexual sin. And in Revelation chapter 2, the indication is that Christians are required to not tolerate teachers who lead others into sexual sin. Sexual sin seems to be regarded as a more serious sin than most in the Bible. Those who are dogmatic in their interpretation of scripture risk error, but likewise those who sit on the fence on this issue likewise risk ultimately being found non-compliant. I suggest that if you take all the scriptures broadly about relationships, sexual sin, and specifically about homosexuality, and then weigh them all up, a reasonable yet cautious conclusion about the Christian position on homosexuality can be made.

The reader points out Biblical passages that tell Christians how to behave morally, which is fair.  Again, it is also fair to point out that the Bible is full of moral and legal pronouncements, some of which conflict with each other, some of which are clearly outdated and ignored, even by those who claim absolute inerrancy of Biblical text.  Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament address some of this and reject whole swaths of Old Testament moral and legal pronouncements.

Again, Christian institutions and individual Christians were either silent about or explicitly supportive of the institution of slavery for most of Christian history, yet today are clearly opposed to its practice and legality. It is probably fair to say that in the details, the Bible makes a better case for the support, or at least toleration, of slavery, yet the great majority of Christians today would not support that emphasis, and take another interpretive point of view in order to find Biblical support for the abolition and illegality of slavery. The current Biblical defense of abolition is founded, as far as I can tell (how many of us read the 18th and 19th century abolitionist creeds, or review 18th-20th century Biblical defenses of slavery by Southern Baptist ministers?), on the relatively high importance of Jesus’ general emphasis to love one another, as opposed to the emphasis on individual verses that describe, prescribe or proscribe behavior.  The same kind of argument can and is being made in regard to homosexuality.


As for the reader’s point about sincere Christians not associating with those who call themselves Christians but who are seriously corrupted by sin, and not to tolerate teachers who lead others into sexual sin, it seems to me that, whatever the purpose of those verses (I don’t know, I am not a Biblical scholar), the idea that a teacher should be morally responsible is both reasonable and independent of sexuality.  Leadership in any organization has its added set of expectations. But the idea that Christians should remove themselves from “those who call themselves Christians but are seriously corrupted by sin” is fraught with problems.

The phrase “those who call themselves Christians” suggests that one Christian is judging the heart of another Christian, even to the point of deciding if they are indeed Christians or not. That this happens everyday does not mean that it follows the Bible’s teaching that only God knows the heart of man, or follows Jesus’ difficult prescription to “judge not lest ye be judged.”

Likewise, according to the Bible, everyone is a sinner, and according to Jesus, only if you haven’t sinned do you get to cast that first stone, so just how you determine that someone is “seriously corrupted by sin” seems just as problematic: Where is the line drawn, and who draws it?

Additionally, both of these points apply to anyone, not just homosexuals.  The LGBT community is maybe 2% of the population, which leaves the vast majority of people heterosexual.  If this call for non-association with seriously corrupted Christians by other Christians is to be taken so literally, why don’t we see a massive hue and cry about seriously corrupted heterosexuals, and a similarly massive ejection of the same from the churches?  All of which begs the question of how one would be able to then reach out and help those who are struggling, if one does not associate with them.  Jesus made a point of associating with the unclean, and Jesus did not mention homosexuality as unclean.

Finally, the reader’s concern about the risk of being “non-compliant” even at the risk of being in error is hard for me to understand.   When there is risk of error, particularly when the error in this case would be rejecting  another human being for something unclear, shouldn’t the emphasis be just the opposite?  (Similarly, in American society, one is considered innocent until proven guilty.)

The rules of moral behavior are not always clear-cut or obvious, as argued above regarding shifting interpretations of morality (there are many more examples than the ones listed).  This is not to suggest that morality is ultimately so relative as to be meaningless, nor to suggest that there aren’t certain moral precepts that are necessary and that survive over the long haul (proscription of murder, rape, and theft seem to be found in every culture, for good reason), but that a good deal of what passes for absolute moral pronouncements in one time or place doesn’t survive the passage of time or the inevitable evolution of a given culture.

This should give us pause in defining all moral outlooks as absolute, and recognize that our consciences, individual and collective, must struggle with what is ultimately right and wrong; when we are in doubt, when it is not so clear as to how to behave, should we not look to the most important precepts for our guidance, to love one another, or that Enlightenment extension, to treat every person as equal under the law?

3 thoughts on “The Bible Tells Me So, continued (3)

  1. Thank you for leaving your website link. I took a look at it. You describe yourself as a site dedicated to to just one issue, and I quote: “the gay one.” Perhaps that explains why you have posted multiple comments regarding my post about gay marriage. Unlike yours, my site is not dedicated to one subject; less than one percent of my content is taken up by gay marriage. The single post you have been responding to was written in support of my family and my friends who are gay.

    I assume your self-labeling as “stasis” is to reflect the “balance” you refer to in your tagline. Stasis also refers to immobility, which seems à propos given your characterization of your own position as “decisive” and mine as “fence-sitting”, which you further define as “open-minded”, something you then deride. (BTW, one can be decisively wrong.)

    I am not a theologian and am uninterested in parsing out the infinitudes of Biblical interpretation, but I will note once more that I gave several clear examples of changing mores (beginning with Jesus and Paul) in the Christian community and the necessary reinterpretation of the Bible to support those changes, and made the point that today the Christian community is heavily conflicted over this issue and the concomitant differences in Biblical interpretation and emphasis used to support these differing views. (To suggest one more: Up until thirty-three years ago, a divorced person was unelectable as President of the United States because divorce was considered a grave mark of immoral character, particularly in the Christian community. Yet the divorcé Ronald Reagan was elected with heavy Evangelical Christian support.) You have sidestepped these points in each of your responses. For the rest, you may be correct in observing that we start from different premises, and so end up with different conclusions. Matthew Vines and many other Christians choose to emphasize Jesus’ overarching message of love over, for them, less than persuasive rabbinical arguments regarding the fine points and gradations of sin, too often a moving target. I find their emphasis more persuasive than yours.

    Let’s just leave it at that. That is the extent of the coverage I will have on my blog regarding this issue for the foreseeable future. Thanks for the conversation.

  2. Id also like to point out, that while it’s clear in the Bible that Christians should love their neighbour, the question of what is and is not loving, is a matter of debate. You write that “so many who profess to be Christians who are openly and markedly unloving in their response to that community, and who go out of their way to exclude them, including the construction, lobbying and voting for amendments to various state constitutions in order to limit their civil rights.” It’s true that some are unloving, eg those who say clearly nasty things and who show no love. But there are few who call themselves Christians, who say to themselves “lets be unloving and lets limit the civil rights of others”. Those who oppose same-sex marriage for example, tend instead to say to themselves things like “lets be loving to the whole community by supporting traditional marriage, and keep it from the corrupting influence of same-sex marriage with it’s high rates of non-monogamy and it’s provision of parental gender mixes that are not consistent with natural parenting.” IE they believe that retaining the traditional definition of marriage is the most loving choice for all.

  3. You ask “why don’t we see a massive hue and cry about seriously corrupted heterosexuals, and a similarly massive ejection of the same from the churches?” Do we not? If a heterosexual commits adultery, do churches not condemn this? If a heterosexual commits murder, do churches not condemn this? If your suggestion of a double-standard is as stark as you suggest, then churches in your area are seriously corrupted.

    You cite Matthew 7:1, but this is really only one side of the Biblical perspecive on judgement. Christians are supposed to “judge correctly” (John 7:24) and to encourage other Christians to be holy (Gal 6:1-5, James 5:19-20, Titus 1:13) rather than ignoring the sin. Christians are not supposed to judge non-christians though (1 Cor 5:12). Those who cite Matthew 7:1-4 to claim that Christians should not point out others’ sins, tend to ignore verse 5, which encourages us to help others avoid sin.

    It’s noteworthy that in this conversation, there are two different positions expressed on the question of whether homosexual sex is sinful. One position may be described as decisive, IE “I suggest that if you take all the scriptures broadly about relationships, sexual sin, and specifically about homosexuality, and then weigh them all up, a reasonable yet cautious conclusion about the Christian position on homosexuality can be made.” The other position, (yours), is more of a fence sitting position, IE that the question of whether homosexual sex is sinful, is “unclear”. Coming from two different positions is going to lead to two sets of differing conclusions.

    It could be argued that the fence-sitting position is more open minded. But while being open minded has it’s benefits in a general context or when a choice is not essential, it’s not necessarily consistent with a Christian approach. Notice that just because every day of your life you have found that the sun will rise, we cannot be certain that it will rise again tomorrow. And if Christians only commit to things that they can be certain about, what would they believe? Can Christians be certain that Jesus is God? Not entirely. Can Christians be certain that the Bible is inerrant? Not entirely. Can Christians be certain that heaven exists? Not entirely. If Christians only act on things for which certainty is established, then Christianity crumbles. Christianity is in the end, a faith. Christians are saved by faith. Much of life is based on faith, eg the assumption that tomorrow the sun will rise once again. True Christians are people who percieve Christianity to make sense, and who take things they percieve to be probable, and for the sake of salvation, will commit to them as being definate.

    You write “When there is risk of error, particularly when the error in this case would be rejecting another human being for something unclear, shouldn’t the emphasis be just the opposite?” So if you are a Christian parent, and your child tells you that they are going to follow a different God, do you tell the child that this is fine, on the basis that from an open minded perspective, no religion is necessarily more valid than another? If you do, you are contradicting your own religion, which teaches that “nobody comes to God, except through Jesus” and if the parent rejects that particular teaching, then it’s questionable whether the parent is a saved Christian. For certain things, Christianity requires it’s adherents to take a position and not sit on the fence.

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