Monday, May 21, 2012

On following the bible...

So R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the front page of today trying to answer the question on why Conservative Christians focus on Homosexuality.  I was going to frisk this one, simply because I found it so very, very friskable, but I don't have time this week, my in-laws are coming to visit and I have a house to clean.

But there are a few points I'd like to make.

Given the heated nature of our current debates, it’s a question conservative Christians have learned to expect. “Look,” we are told, “the Bible condemns eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics and any number of other things. Why do you ignore those things and insist that the Bible must be obeyed when it comes to sex?”

An honest consideration of the Bible reveals that most of the biblical laws people point to in asking this question, such as laws against eating shellfish or wearing mixed fabrics, are part of the holiness code assigned to Israel in the Old Testament. That code was to set Israel, God’s covenant people, apart from all other nations on everything from morality to diet.

As the Book of Acts makes clear, Christians are not obligated to follow this holiness code. This is made clear in Peter’s vision in Acts 10:15. Peter is told, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

In other words, there is no kosher code for Christians.

Err, no...

I didn't pick up on this on the first pass.  Thankfully Fred Clark over at Slactivist did.

But while popular, this view utterly contradicts Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. If Mohler is right, then Peter was wrong. If Peter was right, then Mohler is wrong.

For Peter, his rooftop vision wasn’t about kosher dietary laws — it was about people. He says this explicitly: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

That’s a very different conclusion from the one Mohler draws. Mohler says this story — this scripture — is about purity laws. Peter says this story is about God’s commandment that no people should be excluded as impure.

I’m going to have to side with Peter on this one. Peter was right. Mohler is wrong.

Mohler’s case for his interpretation of Peter’s vision only looks plausible if you extract a tiny portion of the story from the rest of the chapter, but if you read all of Acts 10, you’ll see that the story doesn’t allow that.

That was point one.

Point two:

The New Testament condemns both male and female homosexual behavior. The Apostle Paul, for example, points specifically to homosexuality as evidence of human sinfulness. His point is not merely that homosexuals are sinners but that all humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The New Testament condemns a full range of sexual sins, and homosexuality is specified among these sins. In Romans, Paul refers to homosexuality in terms of “dishonorable passions,” “contrary to nature” and “shameless.” As New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon has stated, the Bible’s indictment “encompasses every and any form of homosexual behavior.”

Yeah, "Paul said".  Not Christ, Paul.  Christ said nothing about homosexuality.  He did strongly and specifically condemn divorce, but all Mohler has to say about it is:

The church failed miserably in the face of the challenge of divorce. This requires an honest admission and strong corrective.

If you were honestly trying to structure your lives and society to follow Christ you would do more than just give it a throwaway line.  You'd condemn divorce and excommunicate everyone who ever divorced and remarried.  Full stop.  You wouldn't waste time and energy going after an issue Christ didn't see as important enough to mention.  

But then when you look at the emphasis Conservative Christians place on Paul, you have to wonder who exactly they're following.  These Pauline "Christians" follow the Romans Road to salvation, instead of the Gospels.  After all, the Gospels make you work, but by following Paul you just have to believe really hard.

A few more points:

Some people then ask, “What about slavery and polygamy?” In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity. 

If you're going to follow Paul than you really need to pay attention.


Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

Colossians 3:22

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 


Why are Christians so concerned with homosexuality? In the first place, that question is answered by the simple fact that it is the most pressing moral question of our times.

I call circular logic on this one.  Homosexuality is a big deal to Christians because everyone is making a fuss.  And everyone is making a fuss because it's a big deal to members of the majority religion, Christianity.

Christians who are seriously committed to the authority of the Bible have no choice but to affirm all that the Bible teaches

And we're right back around to the whole divorce/shellfish issue.  You cannot have it both ways.

But all of this misses the big point.  The big point is that not all of us are Christians.  Some of us really don't care what the Bible says.  We follow good common sense when it comes to how to treat others.  And when you try to turn your religious beliefs into law, you're violating our right to believe as we want.

Believe what you want.  Live as you want.  Stop trying to force the rest of us to be just like you.  We're not, and you're just going to have to deal with that.

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