Friday, October 30, 2009

What do we assume about the Bible?

The last thing I want to do is shake my finger at someone else and say, "Your conduct is sinful." I certainly have enough sins in my own life to keep me occupied. So unlike some of the people in this very large argument the ELCA is having, I don't get into detailed arguments about the difficulties homosexual people face -- either persecution or increased risk of STD's and shorter lifespan, etc. I also don't get much into the nature / nurture thing because I don't think that settles anything. I didn't choose to be diabetic but here I am, and I have to deal with it. It's more complicated than just nature / nurture, and I know some people argue as though "it's really a choice" or "they're born this way" would settle the whole matter. We all choose to some extent how we act on our sexual urges and needs, but I don't know of anyone who set out to choose a certain set of urges. In the end I don't think that takes us anywhere helpful.

For me the discussion is how we read the Bible. Here's what I assume when I read the Bible: I assume that the Bible was written by human authors who were fallible like you and me; that their cultural context and the struggles in which they were living determined a lot of what they wrote; that they translated from one language to another, sometimes with less concern about faithfulness to the original language and more about making a point to the audience that would receive their translation; that some of what made its way into the Bible is mythological and some is maybe even plain fiction; AND I believe that the whole process was carefully overseen by the Holy Spirit, shaping and forming a book such that every word is expressly intended by God to be there, to be useful, to be in the deepest sense of the word true. I believe all of it is there because God wanted it there, and not just for someone back in 955 bc. Do I believe it's wrong to eat shellfish? No, we just went to Red Lobster -- Julie had shrimp and I was snitching off her plate. But the New Testament clearly redirects those dietary laws. Is it important for us to know about those? Yes, I think the principles involved provide a powerful way for us to understand some of our own cultural laws and how they may or may not reflect God's desire for us. When what I want is contrary to the Bible, I admit sometimes I close my eyes and do what I want -- but so often I have done what seems right to me and later reaped the negative consequences, that these days I'm more inclined to believe God when he says, "Don't do that" even if I don't understand why.

So the principle for me becomes this: Whatever I'm going to do, either in my personal life as a believer or in my role as a church leader, I expect myself to be able to make a clear argument from the Bible for my actions. When other people try to change my policies or my practices, I expect the same thing of them. So when the ELCA went to change policies, I expect a decisive biblical argument in favor of those changes. So far I have read lots of attempts but none that seems to provide the needed leverage to require change. This is precisely why I think this is different than the arguments in the 60's for the ordination of women -- there were clear biblical arguments in favor of that move. I don't find the same thing with regard to homosexuality. The more I study the cultures of the time, the more I see that homosexuality was NOT always condemned in the biblical world -- many of the cultures around Israel were very enthusiastic about certain practices of homosexuality, whether the Canaanite temples or the Greek poets or the Roman senate. Much of what was present in those cultures was adopted wholesale into Israelite, Jewish, or Christian thought and practice, but somehow homosexual practice was never accepted as something good, and the Bible lays out clear proscriptions against that conduct. So whether I understand just why or not, I believe that God warns against these behaviors for a reason.

I have absolutely no desire to preach on this or even to think about who may or may not be gay. With some it's pretty obvious, with others it's quite hidden. I don't care. They're people who I am called to love, and I don't judge or avoid someone because of what might be true about their sexuality any more than I avoid someone because they smoke, drop a few nickels at the casino, overeat, or spend money foolishly. If God wants to take them to task for those behaviors he'll do that. If they ask my opinion or what the Bible says about those things, I can try to point them that direction. But I don't spend my time sorting people out into "sinner" and "saint" categories -- I know that each one who knows Jesus belongs in both.

1 comment:

  1. Last paragraph was speaking directly to me. I don't feel I am self righteous, I know I have some huge issues that God is working with me on. But I am quick to tell someone what I think the bible calls sin...when I am not even asked. I'm not sure if that is pride or is it or could be concern, then again should it be my concern? Thanks for giving good stuff to ponder about myself.
    I love Jesus with all my heart and I want to be open to him in what he wants to transform in my heart. Not only does scripture do this for me, but Christian brothers and sisters, if I am willing to listen.