Saturday, January 03, 2009


One of the topics that Doug Pagitt tackles in A Christianity Worth Believing is the issue of biblical literalism. I've addressed the problems with treating the Bible as a rulebook on enough occasions that there's little reason to repeat those arguments here, but Pagitt throws an interesting twist into the discussion:

I've come to believe that this battle has little to do with the Bible and more to do with certain beliefs many Christians want to keep intact. The Bible becomes justification for their position. This is particularly true on the topics such as homosexuality and the role of women.

I know that saying this is going to raise some hackles, but I think there are people who argue for an "inerrant" authoritative understanding of the Bible to support their prejudiced feelings about homosexuals. I know they would deny it, and they have done so to me many times. They would argue that it works the other way - the Bible teaches certain ideas about homosexuality, so that's what they believe.

Maybe so. But it just seems so odd that their beliefs on other biblical topics are not so pronounced. I have rarely had a conversation about the ills of gossip based on the authority of the Bible. I've had even fewer conversations in which people suggest the church should be actively working to eliminate obesity as a form of gluttony because the Bible clearly condemns it. Nor are people concerned about slander simply because Paul warns against it. And despite the Bible's deep and continual concern for the poor, I rarely have conversations in which people use the authority of the Bible to make a case for economic justice.

But on the issue of homosexuality, something strange happens. If the subject at hand is the authority of the Bible, someone invariably asks what I think about homosexuality. If the subject is homosexuality, someone invariably asks what I think about the authority of the Bible. There must be some connection. It makes me wonder if people would argue about the authority of the Bible if it had nothing to say about homosexuality. [pages 63-64]

It's nothing new to point out how inconsistent most conservative Christians are when it comes to teaching and obeying biblical commands; divorce and remarriage comes immediately to mind, as does greed. Some sins really are worse than others in the eyes of many Christians who publicly insist that all sins are equally bad, and the most plausible explanation is that they're allowing their personal feelings to influence their theology to at least some extent.

I've witnessed, on more than one occasion, the faces of otherwise warm and hospitable individuals twist in disgust when the issue of homosexuality came up. Had they known that not everyone around them was heterosexual they almost certainly would have tempered their reaction. It was, however, far more instructional to witness their honest feelings on the subject - feelings too visceral to be adequately explained by the existence of several Bible verses that appear to condemn homosexual behavior.

In answer to Pagitt's query I suspect that the conservative evangelicals I know would believe in biblical inerrancy even if the Bible were explicitly gay friendly. Whether their opinions about homosexuality would actually be any different is a separate issue; for many it probably would make a difference. For the rest, it's never too difficult for those who see the Bible as as rulebook to read whatever rules they want to find into the text, all the while insisting that they're simply repeating what the Bible says.


Doorman-Priest said...

In that context the big concern that many Christians have is why there appears to be a hierarchy of misconduct in the minds of others, when in relation to God’s judgement we have all fallen short of His glory (Rom 3.23). Sin is sin surely, and to regard some sins as more important than others merely reflects the human rather than the divine perspective.

There are no special categories. It's not a matter of whether one is gay or straight. Any Individual’s sexuality is just as fallen as the next individual’s. The first problem with the way some evangelicals are framing the gay debate is that they appear to suggest that a gay sexuality is more 'fallen' than a straight one.

Jendi said...

In support of Pagitt's point, it's instructive to see how many conservative Christians just refuse to hear alternative interpretations for Romans 1:26 etc. Even if you tell them you're not challenging the authority of the Bible, they go right along calling you disobedient as if you never said anything. The Bible becomes a way for them to avoid introspection about why they are so personally invested in condemning homosexuality.