Friday, April 21, 2006

Parson to Person Partly Right, Partly Wrong

Today's Journal-Times ran another "Parson to Person" coulmn. As a conservative local clergyman, I have often criticized these commentaries and their writers for an overwhelmingly liberal bent.

The last time Rev. Glen Halbe wrote about homosexuality, I responded with this.

Well he writes again today, on the same topic of homosexuality (got any other material, Rev. Halbe?). At least he gets it partly right today. Let me explain:

In pondering how the laws of the Bible should be understood, Halbe rightly points out that much of the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is found in the book of Leviticus. He's right, in a sense, that these laws do not apply to Christians and that they were meant for the ancient Israelites. Even the most conservative Christian doesn't advocate the death penalty for homosexuality, as Leviticus did. Well, maybe Fred Phelps, but 99.9% of Christians recognize he is a whacko.

However, the fact that the civil laws of the Old Testament do not apply to modern American society does not negate the fact that the moral law of the entire Bible is still valid. Homosexual apologists often resort to the "Leviticus strategy", which is really just a tactic of argumentation. A more appropriate place for modern Christians to begin their application of the Bible to the homosexual question is the NEW Testament book of Romans (chapter 1). Read it. It's clear. But, of course, liberals throw out any Bible passage that they don't like.

If a Christian believes Christian morality is true and right, then he will vote for laws which generally enforce that morality. This is not Theocracy, it's Democracy informed by Christian morality. For this, Rev. Halbe wants us to feel guilty. Voting what you think is right is "imposing" your morality on someone else? Oh, but only if you are voting for conservative morality. I see.

Now, I'm not saying that everything that is moral or immoral should be legislated by the civil government. No one wants Uncle Same policing every time we tell a white lie, or insult someone, or fail to love our neighbor. That would be more like how the early American Puritains tried to live - burning witches and all.

But on the other hand, society has various was of dealing with immoral behavior. For example, what would happen in polite company if someone used the "N" word? Good people just wouldn't approve. And they would deal with it apart from the penalties of criminal law. Homosexuality was against the law at times and places in our country's history, but was universally morally unacceptable.

I think most Christians who understand the immorality of it would not endorse legislation against it, but just don't want special legal protections for it. True tolerance means allowing something that you disagree with, not approving it. But the homosexual agenda is not about simply seeking tolerance, it wants everyone to approve. And if you don't, then YOU are tarred as a bigot and feathered as intolerant.

Finally, I have to say that I believe my role as a pastor is not to prescribe specific political action on a given topic, but to be concerned with what the Bible teaches clearly. Christians can disagree on the best way to implement their values in our society. Maybe a constitutional ammendment is the best way. Maybe other laws, or no laws are better. But in any case, Christians who read and do NOT twist the Bible will come to the clear conclusion that God condemns homosexual behavior as immoral. This, Rev. Halbe seems unable to do.

Cross-posted at The Kringlesphere

17 comments:

Darius said...

The Bible is a huge anthology. You can pick through it to support virtually any position you choose.

The Bible has been quoted in support of denying civil rights legislation to African Americans, and before that, to support slavery. There is no getting around our responsibility for reading scripture with discernment. Othewise what often rules is our own all too human prejudice, loathing, and, at bottom, fear.

Love your neighbor as yourself. One of the two greatest commandments. Following it helped abolish slavery in this country, then helped gain blacks civil rights. Someday it will result in heterosexual men acknowledging homosexuals as well as women as their full spiritual and moral equals.

Preachrboy said...

Sure, you can twist it. That's what homosexual advocates do. That and ignore those passages which speak clearly against their position.

But your post-modern platitude here implies that because the Bible can be mis-applied, that it really doesn't make any meaningful truth claim. That's just wrong. The Bible speaks clearly. "Discernment" becomes a code word for twisting the clear meaning of the text.

I fail to see how "love your neighbor" means we must accept sin. In fact, quite the opposite. Sometimes love means telling people they are wrong.

The slavery argument is a tired out distraction from the issue. A true reading of scripture clearly condemns racism.

Christians who somehow read support for homosexuality into the Bible need to get some new arguments. Better yet, read their Bibles and see what it actually says.

Bob Waters said...

Darius, that's intellectually dishonest. Words mean things- that includes the words in the Bible. Yes, they have been misquoted and misused by some people to justify amazingly immoral things; people advocating the acceptance of homosexuality are doing precisely that today in the promotion of their distorting agenda.

But beyond what one uses the Bible to defend or promote lie the words themselves. That's why attempts to use the Bible to defend slavery and racism
ultimately failed- and why attempts to
twist Scripture to legitimize homosexual behavior are also failing.

The honest thing to do would be to examine what the words actually say. The attempts of the cultural Left to circumvent that task seems pretty patently to be a stark admission that it knows that an honest debate on matters of exegesis is something it can't win.

Darius said...

Labeling as "twisted" a point of view different from your own, name-calling, ridicule - "homosexual advocate," "post modern platitudes" - these are not arguments.

I'd welcome an actual discussion of the homosexuality issue on either of our blogs. Doubt you'll take me up on that, and expect you'll delete this comment... But I sincerely wish that "conservative" and "progressive" Christians could communicate simply and without attacking each other personally.

No one comes to their points of view on these issues in order to antagonize others. They are sincerely held. But to be truly sincere about our positions requires the honesty and willingness to test them against other points of view.

John said...

I think the Reverand says it very well.
Tolerance is the key.
I won't go into my views on this blog about the subject but I will say that I know many "gay" people", many "bigoted" people and many others that do not share equal views on certain things.

But one thing is certain. We are all friends and we all respect one another. Yes we have many differences and sometimes we even get into heated discussions on those differences and at times we say things that go to far and we are told by each other to stop. And we do. And then we go on and talk about something else and continue to share our special relationship that we all have with each other.

God is in that relationship with all of us and even though we are from all different walks of life, we all have learned a thing or two about each other and some of those things we may not agree with but with tolerance...we make it through to another day and end up laughing or crying with each other about something else that has affected all of our lives.

We are all on the same planet and wheather we know it or not...we are being watched over and protected by the same God.

crossposted on the Kringlesphere blog at www.kringleshpere.blogspot.com

Preachrboy said...

Darius,

"Labeling as "twisted" a point of view different from your own, name-calling, ridicule - "homosexual advocate," "post modern platitudes" - these are not arguments."

Which term would you prefer - wrong, erroneous, false... ? Twisted is just a term which expresses my disagreement. Pick the one that offends you least. I used it here because Rev. Halbe used it in his printed article.

"Homosexual advocate" What else do you call someone who advocates for homosexuality? Again, this is not name-calling but defining of positions.

"Post-modern platitude", perhaps a bit more harsh sounding, but chosen only for alliteration. Your stated position does, however, express post-modern ideas about the search for truth. And it is a rather broad claim...

"I'd welcome an actual discussion of the homosexuality issue on either of our blogs. Doubt you'll take me up on that, and expect you'll delete this comment... But I sincerely wish that "conservative" and "progressive" Christians could communicate simply and without attacking each other personally."

I thought we were discussing it? I don't intend this as personal a attack, either. But if telling someone he is wrong is seen as an attack, how can anyone have a meaningful debate?

"No one comes to their points of view on these issues in order to antagonize others. They are sincerely held. But to be truly sincere about our positions requires the honesty and willingness to test them against other points of view."

I don't doubt that many reach their positions "sincerely". They do, however, often reach their positions before or in spite of what the Bible actually says. Thus the twisting may be unconsciois, but twisting all the same.

So, fine. Let's start with Scripture's "point of view". Have you read Romans 1? What do the words say?

Darius said...

Thanks for those last two sentences. If it helps us to keep moving beyond the personal, I'm not gay, nor have I ever engaged in gay "advocacy." I'm just your garden variety white male heterosexual.

No doubt the verse is one of, I don't know, you can tell me - one verse? A couple? in which homosexuality is condemned.

That sort of legalistic use of scripture is what Jesus repeatedly decries in saying "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees!" and, "Is it not lawful to do good on the Sabbath? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And there's the whole matter of the Holy Spirit and the need to understand scripture with continuing discernment.

And frankly I think this kind of verse-picking is a misuse of scripture. We may as well cut it up and turn it into a board game where each of us draws cards from our own stacked deck of verses supporting our own positions.

For example, you might get the one or two against homosexuals. But I could draw the card telling slaves to obey their masters cheerfully and ask: if we've discerned the wrongness of that verse for our time, then nothing stands in the way, in the same spirit of Christian love, from now discerning the wrongness of judging homosexuality negatively.

Or we could speak of the general tenor of numerous verses where Jesus refuses to judge others.

In any case, the Bible is not a book that is about homosexuality any more than it is a book about the institution of slavery. The only people convinced by verse-picking of that sort are the verse pickers and their friends who like the same verses for the same reasons, whatever those reasons are.

Reasons. To discuss the issue or even think about it well, it isn't possible to avoid engaging our own minds with it.

What do you have against homosexuality?

Preachrboy said...

What do I have against it? Only what Scripture does.

Darius, reading your blog I realize we have a very different hermeneutic. Your skeptical approach to Scripture is diametrically oppposed to mine (and, by the way, to historic Christianity). Your admiration of modern liberal scholarship is evidence enough of this. But what this means for our debate here is that we have such a different approach to scripture, it will be difficult to come to consensus on the issue of homosexuality.

See, what you call "legalistic" I call "faithful". What you call "discernment" I call "ignoring key applicable texts because it conveniently suits your previously determined position". You judge Scripture. I seek to let Scripture judge me.

I am not verse-picking. I freely admit that there are not an overwhelming number of passages that condemn the practice. But those that speak are clear. Romans 1. Soddom and Gomorrah. Paul's various mentions of sexual perversion. It's a longer explanation, and we must be careful how we do it, but I do believe the Leviticus verses also shed light. Suffice it to say that whenever Scripture addresses homosexuality it is not in a favorable light. And frankly, the lack of Scripture's clear endorsement of the practice puts the burden of proof on the homosexual advocates.

Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees was for their inventing of man-made laws, not their faithful following of God's law. Even when Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that he didn't condemn her, he said, "go and sin no more", thus acknowledging that what she had done was a sin - even when forgiven. Here is another distinction I probably have to explain, the difference between repentant and unrepentant sin....

In fact Jesus DOES judge others. Ever heard of the sheep and the goats?

And just so you don't think I am some self-righteous pharisee, as you are implying, I freely confess my sinfulness. I am no less sinful than a practicing homosexual. But I don't seek to justify my sins before God or man. I let Christ do the justifying and forgiving. Then, by His Spirit alone, I hope to "go and sin no more".

"If we say we have no sin, we decieve ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 John ch. 1

Darius said...

I think you're right - that the essential difference here is our respective ideas on what scripture is and what it means to be faithful to it.

There's also a difference in our view of scholarship. The very idea of scholarship as "liberal" or "conservative" denies, imo, the essence of scholarship: a willingness to follow evidence where it leads. As an example, I don't know if you've ever been struck by the "happy ending" to the Book of Job. It had always struck me as undoing the message of the rest of the text.

Without knowing the details and without the ability to engage with source materials themselves - experts in ancient Greek and Aramaic, linguistics, literay analysis etc. do that - there is, to the best of my knowledge, strong and clear evidence that the happy ending was tacked on by a different author. A few hundred years later, as I recall.

Nobody's objectivity is perfect. But I don't think genuine scholars would characterize their scholarship as liberal or conservative. Most of the findings, for those with the skills and knowledge to go to the source materials, are things that people who are committed to studying them should be able to agree on.

It would be like having "liberal scientists" and "conservative scientists" - which, I'm afraid, is actually what we're coming to. Because it's always possible to dig up a scientist with a belief committment that overides his or her interest in science.

Your're right. I was implying you were being Pharisee-like, and I apologize for that. I don't know about you, but I think we've just succeeded in helping each other to tone down our rhetoric, so to speak.

The way that you follow scripture on the issue of homosexuality as you've just presented it is definitely more sophisticated than simply picking out a verse or two.

On the issue of homosexuality, I'd disagree, but to put that aside for now and go to the broader issue you raise: I think, as you say, the main difference is the way we read scripture. For you - I may be wrong, just trying to figure out the gist, so please correct/clarify as needed - I think that because it's the word of God, you consider every verse as inspired. And so every verse has to be right, in some sense. Discernment consists in figuring out how to justify the verse, so to speak.

For me and many other Christians, the inspiration found in the Bible is uneven - I cited the passage on slavery as an example, but there are many others. In John, for example, Jesus is frequently presented as condemnig to hell Jews who don't believe that he is God and Savior. As you say, he's often presented as judging - you mention his condemnation of the Jews for following what they considered God's law.

Yet there are many passages where he refrains from judging, as when he rebukes James for wanting to bring fire down on Capernaum (sp?) because, if I'm recalling correctly, some Samaritans wouldn't receive him. Another example - paraphrase, but close quote: "He who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but he who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."

So for some Christians, discernment involves having ears to hear which passages we are and are not to take direction from.

You mention looking at my blog. Please feel free to comment, I welcome divergent points of view. Only talking to the like-minded easliy results in misperception and oversimplification of the viewpoints of others. Also, while I've started to enjoy this conversation, as a practical matter I'm finding that pretty much only other bloggers read blogs. Since we all have limited time for blogging, it isn't so efficient to comment to other blogs that don't comment back.

Preachrboy said...

Darius,

I too apprecite the tone of this exchange.

I must confess that I am not interested in a lenghty debate about hermeneutics, because time is precious and I don't know much that would be gained. And honestly, I am probably not the best equipped to undertake such a debate anyway.

But I would point you to 1 Timothy, where we read that "all scripture is inspired and useful for teaching, etc...". So while some passages, even I would concede, are more important than others - none are to be summarily dismissed as you suggest by your comments.

But the question remains, which is the right way to interpret scripture? For hundreds (thousands) of years, scripture was read much more like my way than yours. Modern (and yes I will call it liberal) scholarship (because I believe true scholarship IS conservative), doesn't deal so much with evidence but with its own conjecture. I have studied textual criticism, redaction criticism, form criticism and the like. Textual criticism is a useful and necessary tool, but these other "higher" criticisms are quite simply, tools of the devil. Sorry for the strong language, but I really feel that way.

Deciding that Job sounds better if it ends another way is an example of what I mean by judging the text, rather than being judged by it. Take the "Jesus Seminar" voting on the veracity of Jesus' words in the Gospels with colored marbles. It's less scholarship and more an assault on traditional understandings. John Dominic Crossan is the typical prototype for this kind of "leading scholarship". I see him on all the TV documentaries and such, the ubiquitous resident "expert". But he is so out of step with what Christianity teaches and believes, even denying the very resurrection of Christ! (In a very nuanced way, I'm sure...)

I appreciate the invitation to comment on your blog, and I might.

Darius said...

Preacherboy, yes, I agree this is such an involved topic that it's really too much for a blog.

Just to touch on a couple important issues that I think relate to it:

What is the nature of inspiration? That's something I'm trying to look at on my blog. I think that many Christians see the church as infallible, so to speak, in a way that others don't. Some seem to believe that their church's understanding of scripture is on pretty much the same footing as scripture itself - Bride of Christ. Others see these interpretations as more open to question.

To my mind the value of questioning is that it acknowledges the ongoing life of the Spirit. The downside is that it opens the door to a lot of wackiness from people without much discernment - I think of a lot of New Age "alternative belief systems."

Jim Burklo is a minister who's written a book called Open Christianity where he rejects, yes, the resurrection. But he doesn't sound satanic...

Would be interesting if there were more forums where conservatives and progressives, or whatever (not crazy about labels) could discuss their ideas on the assumption that everyone involved is a person of good will, doing their sincere best. It is hard though, because people feel so strongly about these things.

Thanks for your ability to engage this way! Look forward to further dialog -

Jim Roemke said...

Darius,
The problem is that people do not recognize the voice of the shepherd. How can anyone reject the resurrection and NOT sound satanic? Isn't that what Satan does, bring doubt about what God has done? Christians must reject any and everything that is contrary to Scripture, and thus, as Pastor Chryst said, be judged by Scripture. Anyone who rejects the bodily resurrection of Christ is no Christian.

Preachrboy said...

Two lies of the Devil:

"You will not die..."

"Christ does not live..."

ditto to Roemke.

Darius said...

Jim and Preachrboy: Millions of people around the world don't believe that Jesus was resurrected and revealed as Savior to all who believe.

I don't think they reject this idea from evil intent or ill-will. In honesty and sincerity they are unable to believe it. To find this belief compelling - a belief which, believed, indeed comes as great, good, and most wonderful news - and then to reject it... would be crazy!

There is a difference between being judged by scripture and being judged by another's understanding of scripture. And one person's definition of what it is to be a Christian isn't binding on another.

Clearly there are different ways to look at these things, or these sorts of conversations couldn't take place, and there wouldn't be various denominations of Christianity. To me, it's important to bear in mind that others are as sincere in their positions as I am.

As I mentioned, I think a key difference may be how we regard the church. If we see its positions and pronoucements as infallible or beyond question, then our own positions are predetermined. And if we see scripture as inerrant, then we need to somehow work it out that every line is truthful and inspired.

On the other hand, if our premise is that God is still speaking, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, then religious thought can and must be about more than exegesis between now and the end of time.

Preachrboy said...

My postmodernist fried Darius,

"Sincere" does not equal "Right".

Of course there are multiple ways to understand the same words - but there is only one right way.

Either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn't. Either it meant something or it didn't.

What the heck does Paul mean then, when he says, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith"?

I think the key difference between us is how we regard truth. It seems you are uncomfortable with the concept.

Which makes me wonder, why bother debating those who believe differently than you, if, in the end, it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere? If such exercises are not essentially searching for truth, then what's the point?

Darius said...

Preachrboy,

Right - sincere doesn't necessarily mean right. And no - I certainly would not say that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

Yet recognizing that others are equally sincere persons of good will is a good framework for discussing issues with people of differing points of view. It introduces the possibility of finding some points of agreement and learning from each other, even if only at the margins, with one's central position probably remaining the same.

But to state that there is only one right way, and it's the way that I think, isn't much of a conversation starter.

You say the key difference to you seems to be how we regard truth. I'm not only not uncomfortable with that; that's what I've been saying. I was focusing on the respective senses in which we regard scripture as truthful.

I bet that many of your favorite scriptural passages are not among mine, and vice versa. So I think we could toss verses back and forth all day. To me, our views on more basic issues such as the one you suggest - how do we recognize truth? - probably determine which passages we tend to turn to most and emphasize. For example, here's one I like:

“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” Luke 12:57

But I doubt that increased mutual understanding or any sort of learning has ever resulted from biblical ping-pong. To outline your own perspective and understand another's, you need to be able to be able to talk about scripture and not just quote it - particularly when it's scripture itself that you're trying to discuss!

Anyway, this is interesting, but I'm spending about as much time on your blog as mine! I'd be interested in receiving a comment from you on my next post, which will go up Sunday or Monday -

Peter DiGaudio said...

I suspect Jesus, were He doing his earthly ministry now, would minister to the homosexual, expressing God's love and forgiveness but saying as He did to the woman caught in adultery: "Go and sin no more."