ELCA conversation about homosexuality
Question: Hi! was wondering if you had an opinion on the whole gay minister thing, particularly re: the editorial yesterday;03/03/2010 in the Argus Leader from Lutheran minister who equated the issue to the rebellion of Lucifer; wanting to place his throne above God’s throne.
Thanks for the question!
I do have an opinion. I actively supported the recent change in policy.
One of the intriguing things about this entire conversation is the way in which Scripture has been employed. I have come to decide (not surprisingly, given my vocational bias as a systematic theologian) that the question really is not a scriptural one, but rather a theological one.
That might seem to be a surprising distinction, but here’s what’s behind it:
You can use scripture to back up most anything one desires. Slavery, women’s subjugation, bashing babies’ heads on stones, multiple wives, socialism (not capitalism, come to think of it), celibacy, giving away all you have…you get the idea; all are encouraged in Scripture.
But clearly, some matters in Scripture we embrace, some we do not.
Add to that the fact that Scripture was written over hundreds and hundreds of years, and hundreds and hundreds of years ago. So as one of my Old Testament professors pointed out, the one commandment we have ever gotten correct was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Made sense then, in a day when they needed to populate. But in a day when we struggle with overpopulation, well, does that law speak to us even now?
And for the Christians in the group, if you add the notion of the living, breathing, Holy Spirit into it, one can not make the case that the Spirit was done speaking at the end of Revelation. The Spirit can speak to us outside of Scripture.
The question, it seems to me, is less “What does Scripture say,” and more “On what basis do we interpret Scripture?”
When we begin there, we learn about why different groups are in favor of the new ELCA rostering decision, and why some oppose it.
And when we begin there, we also understand something of context, and might even engage in a new form of respectful and humble dialogue.
So while I disagree with those who are angry with the new choice to ordain gays and lesbians in committed relationships, it helps to learn something of their theological framework, and then the conversation becomes much more fruitful than lobbing Bible verses back and forth.
What do you think?
Thank you for sharing your opinion on non-repenting gay ministers, however, I must say that I have considerable concern about their salvation, let alone serving as church leaders. Paul certainly believed that homosexuals would not go to heaven (1 Corinthians 6); Peter & Jude spoke of eternal flames as punishment for Sodom & Gomorrah and ungodly behavior; 2Pet 2, Jude 7, and our Lord Jesus himself in Mark 9, Matt 5 & 7.
Thank you for submitting your question!
I love Scripture. That said, it isn’t enough to quote it, however, to back up one’s point.
For example, when people advocate for the ordination of gays and lesbians, we do so while speaking of committed relationships.
While clearly the OT speaks against homosexual acts (among oh-so-many acts of injustice and oppression and greed), many scholars believe that some of the acts about which they were speaking were related to violence, like male rape of victor over the conquered. That which was condemned was anything but homosexual love.
Your illustration of Sodom and Gomorrah goes to the point.
The text says that all the men and boys came to the house and wanted to “know them.” Clearly we cannot assume that all the men and boys of Sodom were homosexual. In so far as that is true, one cannot use this text as a refutation of homosexual committed relationships. That text does not address the present conversation about ordaining gays and lesbians in loving relationships.
Rather, the text depicts a gang rape.
Further, if you look at Ezekiel 16:49-50, you see that the judgment against Sodom was not homosexuality, but rather “She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
It would be interesting to see if we would ever have as vehement a conversation about whether to ordain, or remove from ordination, those pastors who are prideful, have excess of food and prosperous ease, and do not aid the poor and needy.
My point is that we must a) be careful in our interpretation of scripture, making sure that we do not impose our own definitions on the words and concepts in the texts; and b) be aware of instances when we might pick and choose to what we pay attention.
We all do the latter, by the way, myself very much included. The question is why and when we do so.
thank you so much for your quick reply. I have to agree with much of what you have shared, however, I have to ask if you feel Paul was mistaken or unclear when he lumped homosexuals and sodomites in with many other lawless individual behaviours in 1 corinth 6, as people who would not be going to heaven? Our Lord Jesus Himself said very simply that repentence and remission of sins should be proclaimed in His Name, everywhere: Luke 24. Hmmm, does the Holy Spirit lead us into a holy life or a lawless life? Taking a step back, if the church is embroiled in sinful behaviour of anykind, whether sexual, financial, etc, how does that reflect on our faith? And on our precious Saviour? He leads us in paths of righteousness for HIS Names sake; Psalm 23. We are representatives for Christ Jesus as Paul shared. The LORD Jesus Himself stated that if there was any part of our bodies which cause us to sin, it would be preferable to remove that part of our bodies than to spend eternity in hell, where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies; Mark 9:48. And He said of course in Rev. 21:8 that a lake of fire awaits those who practice various sinful behaviours. This life is so short, eternity is so very long, and our LORD Jesus paid such a horrific price for all of us, so that we could choose to repent, and be changed on the inside, to carry His Spirit and His law in our hearts, so that we could all have a heart transplant, changing a heart of stone for a tender loving heart, a heart for Jesus, a heart to live a holy life, a heart to please our Father in heaven; Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26-27.
yours in our precious Lord and Saviour; Christ Jesus
It is very clear to me that you are passionate about the well-being of the church and the well-being of people before and after they die.
But I want to change the angle of the conversation a bit.
While it is tempting to address every biblical text you list, I think in the end that that would not be fruitful.
I am of that mind because it seems to me that we read Scripture differently. We all gravitate toward texts that resonate with us. The interesting question for me is always, “why?” What moves us to like some texts more than others? You do not, for example, spend much time on texts which suggest that “every knee will bend,” or that “all will be saved,” or that God will never let God’s people go.
So. I recognize that there are texts which suggest that there is damnation, and I recognize that there are texts which suggest that there is promised salvation–even for sinners (and who is not….)!
I have to ask myself, then, through what lens am I reading scripture? What do I use as my general interpretive rule-of-thumb?
In my framework, the event of Easter informs us that nothing is more powerful than God’s agenda for life. If death were God’s ultimate agenda, we’d still have a decaying Jesus in a tomb somewhere.
And the amazing thing of it is, dead people can’t do anything, including repent, confess, and live a life without sin!
It is precisely the dead upon whom God works to bring life.
When I read scripture from that angle, I look at the laws as being offerings of grace, actions one does in response to God’s love, not in order to earn it.
What a Lutheran!
I’m eager to hear what your framework for reading scripture is, and for thinking theologically.
And thus, as Dr. Powell might say, the point of Matthew’s gospel is that God WINS ! Some say Jesus was victorious but in actuality, Jesus lost. He was condemned and killed. He boldly followed the path that brought light to the marginalized, and in the end he paid the price demanded by the proud. Jesus did not raise himself from the dead. God did.
I think one way to think through is is that the point isn’t whether we will die, but what is faithful. We will all die. Now that we can acknowledge that, what do we do with the life in the meantime, knowing that life is stronger than that inevitable death? As Walt Bouman liked to point out, now there is more more to do with our lives than preserve them!
In the course of researching the ELCA policy change and my conviction against it, I came across your blog. I could not disagree more with the end result of your reflections. However, one thing I will agree with you is that scripture is not the Word. Jesus is the Word. Having said that, there is little doubt that God’s self-revelation is based on witnesses. Witnesses pass on their evidence through oral tradition and through written scripture. Although I have not thought through the entirety of your argument, it appears to be your view that neither scripture nor tradition can be used as sure guides in revealing Jesus; rather, your view appears to be that personal experience forms unique revelations to each individual. In other words, your conclusion is essentially that God is what we make of Him–there is no exegesis, only eisegesis. This is where your theology is in error if you profess Christianity. Other religions teach many paths and individual perceptions. Christianity teaches Truth–one truth for all. You may respond that the truth is Easter and nothing more. How do you know? Various biblical scholars dispute the Easter event. Moreover, if Easter is all that matters and we are all saved by that event, then what’s its real significance–we would be saved whether we knew it or not. No, Christianity is objectively true or it is not Christianity. The words of scripture have a particular meaning to God or God is not its author. Enough for now.
I thank you for your response, precisely because we disagree.
I’ll respond, and hope that others might add their contributions so that the conversation can spread even more broadly.
A few points:
1. I am intrigued by your phrase, “sure guides,” as you apply it to scripture and tradition. What makes something “sure,” and even once that is established, should surety be equated with gospel?
For example, polygamy is assumed to be a valued and normative practice in the Old Testament; that is surely true. Slavery was considered to be the norm in the New Testament; that is surely true. Women were considered to be weak, the source of sin, and to be subjugated in Scripture and in tradition; that is surely true. Jews were maligned in the New Testament, and were therefore persecuted in Scripture; that is surely true.
But I would imagine that you do not believe that these “sureties” are gospel-centered.
My point here is only that you too–we all–have rubrics, lenses, under and through which we gravitate toward and interpret scripture.
My question then is, what is yours? What is your hermenuetic?
No one embraces all of what is found in scripture; it is impossible to do, scripture is contradictory, and much that scripture endorses is abhorrent to us now.
In other words, I am curious about how you evaluate “sure guides,” both in definition and in implication.
2. I appreciate your distinction between exegesis (lit. interpreting out of scripture) and eisegesis (interpreting into scripture).
However, exegesis is a complex art.
It is not enough to simply read the words of scripture.
If one seeks to grasp the meaning of a particular text, one must 1) compare multiple translations; 2) learn about the genre of scripture at hand; 3) learn something of the vocabulary used by the author; 4) appreciate the historical context; and 5) ensure that we are not interpreting into the text our own historical context.
Now, here is an example of the danger if one does not engage in this habit, one gleaned from my father, a New Testament theologian:
Imagine you find a scrap of paper on the street, and it says, simply, “If you do not return my love, I will die!”
What could this mean? Well…..
a) a desperate declaration of undying love;
b) a threat;
c) a plea to return a library book entitled, “my love;”
d) a heartfelt expression that the lover is missing “my love,” who is at a conference in the Bermudas;
e) a line from the play this evening which an actor had forgotten, and a sympathetic colleague had written it down for her.
Do you see?
Without context, we have no idea what the content is.
So it is not enough to find a concordance and look for all the references to homosexuality.
What the biblical authors meant by homosexuality is not what is on the table for discussion now; it probably was not even a concept with which they were familiar.
So while I am not advocating for random and irreverent and relative biblical interpretation, I am advocating for a wholistic approach to scripture that, in the end, acknowledges that what we thought the truth was, might not be. As I stated to one visitor to my study, “I have a lot of books on these shelves. That’s because there are a lot of different ways to interpret God. Were there not to be, I would have just one, solitary book, telling us what it all means.”
That one hasn’t been written yet.
Meanwhile, we strive to act according to what we identify as sure.
3. I do profess Christianity.
And I do humbly.
I profess Christianity as a Lutheran in awe of the astonishing gifts of Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and so forth, not to mention my affinity and respect for Judaism.
I see that Christianity is not monolithic, and I see that just because I disagree with another does not suggest that he or she is not Christian.
It does mean that Christians see matters differently, and that any one of us could be wrong. Christian history as a whole certainly is rife with expressions of mortifying wrong-ness.
But my theology has to stem from somewhere, and I strive to make the trajectories from my core be consistent with my central theological convictions, with each other, and with the way I understand the world.
That surety for me is Easter, that life wins, that death does not have the last word, that grace trumps judgment, and that mercy trumps condemnation.
I’m eager for additional comments!
Thanks for your response. I have not yet begun my comments on your position on homosexuality. As a preview, the fact that some modern biblical scholars hold the view that homosexuality as we understand it today was not known in biblical times and was not therefore condemned in scripture does not make it so. Such an opinion is, of course, comforting to advance the view that the uniform weight of monotheistic religious belief and attitudes throughout history condemning such activity must be rejected in light of modern understanding. It certainly allows us to make God in our own image rather than the other way around, which brings me to my point about scripture. Scripture is not an empty vessel into which we pour meaning; rather, scripture is full and we dip our cup into it in order to draw out the truth that God as its author poured into it. I don’t suppose I asked you if God is the author of scripture. Do believe that God is the author of Sacred Scripture? I agree that your 5 reference points for interpretation are useful, although not exhaustive, in understanding the meaning that God put into scripture. However, using these guides does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that all of your “surely true” statements about scripture are indeed surely true and that the traditional view of scripture’s condemnation of homosexual acts is not also “surely true.” I cannot respond to them here because you listed so many statements that it would draw us too far afield to address them all. I also do not agree that scripture is contradictory in the way I understand you to use the word. But let me get to the heart of my inquiry. Unfortunately, you did not answer my question and I wish you would because it will get me much closer to understanding how you can conclude what scripture does and does not say about homosexuality. Since some biblical scholars deny the Easter event as Christianity has uniformly understood it throughout history, how can you conclude that it is “surely true”? Peace to you.
I am so glad to engage on this question, not least of all because it illustrates a key conviction of mine, namely that it is difficult to discuss the topic of homosexuality (or any other matter) as Scripture bears upon it when there is no common consensus about how to read Scripture in the first place.
Conversation partners have to come to some agreement, or at least understanding, of how each other reads and understands Scripture before the topic-at-hand can really be tackled.
So it is clear to me that you and I read Scripture differently.
I do believe that Scripture contains the word of God.
I do not believe that it is inerrant.
I can give reasons for this at another time, but for the moment, suffice it to say that I see Scripture as authoritative, but not the authority…and I dare say that you don’t either, as I dare say that you don’t own slaves, have more than one wife, offer daughters up for the sexual satisfaction of mobs, and find it acceptable to bash the heads of your enemies’ babies on rocks.
Now, one could protest that such references are drawn from the Old Testament, and so they do not apply to Christians.
If that is so, then the retort could either be, a) then neither to the prohibitions against homosexual acts (and again, we disagree about what these texts in point of fact are saying); or b) then clearly neither do exhortations to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.
My point is that we all engage in picking and choosing which texts are authoritative for us.
You point out a real danger, if one makes the case (as I do) that Scripture is not “literally true,” that one risks making God into our own image.
I think that then it is important to ask ourselves, who is God, so that we can perceive God as God is, and not in our image?
Again, as a Christian theologian, I go to Easter as the quintessential expression of God’s unbounded grace and welcome.
You have asked why I place such trust in Easter.
Please take a look at my blog entry here as one way I’ve spoken about it:
To say that I conclude that Easter is “surely true” is a bit of an overstatement, strictly speaking.
It is a faith statement of mine. Faith does not mean certainty. We have faith in something that we cannot prove, but something for which we hope and trust is true anyway.
In the end, I think we all put faith in something which we cannot prove. Nothing is ultimately provable. And so we have faith instead. The question is not whether we have faith, but in what we have faith.
I place my faith in Easter.
Now, theologian N.T. Wright makes the case that there are a few “reasons” to put faith in Easter. He names four that intrigue me:
1. The disciples were not expecting Jesus’ resurrection. Had they been, they would have ordered take-out from the nearest falafel joint, rented a few movies to tide over the time, and waited until Jesus came back to join them for fish. Instead, they despaired.
2. Contrary to the custom of the day, there was no immediate shrine built up at the site of the tomb, because Jesus was not there. There was no point in making a shrine to the body when there was no body to be enshrined.
3. If you read the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and John, they all agree that women were the first witnesses–and, by default by the way, this means that the first Christian preachers were women. (That Paul clearly and specifically names Peter–who then told other men–as the first witness in 1 Corinthians is tantalizingly interesting; 1 Cor. is written before the gospels, and directly contradicts the later writings).
N.T. Wright notes that if an ancient writer were trying to convince people of the truth of something so bizarre as that a dead man is now alive, the author would certainly not voluntarily name a woman as a witness. Women held no credibility at all, their testimony was not valued in a court of law, and the author would therefore certainly sink whatever argument was being made.
And yet that’s precisely what the gospel writers did. They named women as the first witnesses, and Wright and others think they did so because they could not tell the story entirely unless they told it truthfully, even if they had to depend on women.
4. Last, we have a church. Wright finds that fascinating and an astonishing fact often overlooked. It was necessary, you see, to convince not only the women, not only the disciples, but hundreds of other people whom we can assume were otherwise stable people that a guy dead for three days is now eating fish again.
Try convincing relatives that your great-grandma is having tea down the road, and tell me how that’s going for you.
The point is that dead people stay dead, and yet one, and then a few more, and then dozens more, and then hundreds more, and then thousands of years later millions more people believed it.
Something happened, says Wright.
Now, are these points proof? No. Do they give some reasonable credence to a faith claim? Perhaps.
But at the end of the day, we all have to believe in something. And of all the available somethings, I find Easter to be the most revolutionary, most radical, most freeing, most comforting, and most dangerous event I know.
Most dangerous, because Easter announces that death doesn’t win. That means that when death stares us in the eyes, we need not fear.
That means that when threats of Church dissolution are made because of a vote (threats made by both “sides,” by the way) we are able to hear those threats as death threats…and are able to say, “Noted, but not intimidated.”
Death is inevitable, no matter what. It is real.
But Easter announces that life is real-er.
This faith-surety frees us to be faithful, not fearful.
Now, to wrap up this post:
How does this Easter event inform my reading of Scripture? To steal a line from the fantastic UCC ad, God is still speaking, and we ought not put a period where God has put a comma.
If we believe that Jesus is alive, then we believe that the Holy Spirit is still kicking.
That means that God didn’t exhale for good at the end of Revelation.
What new things could God be speaking now?
Or, even more provocatively, is it possible that we misunderstood God (or that the “traditional view” to which you cling might have been offered by those in power and with influence, and not inclusive of minority voices)?
Although I disagree with your point of view, I think I do understand it. I am grateful for the deep regard you have for the role of Scripture, and your wise concern about the ease with which one can create God into ourselves (and our own agenda) enlarged. Conversations such as this one lift up strengths of differing views, and hold them also accountable to their potential liabilities.
I am sure to get responses to this one, so have at it!
Thanks, Anna, for your insightful commentary. I agree completely and am thankful to know someone who can back up my thoughts with substantive arguments.
God bless the ELCA. God bless gays and straights.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.
It is with some reluctance that I am participating in this discussion since it is clear that we are completely unable to agree on what qualifies as authoritative, but because Peter has twice e-mailed me about participating, I will offer up my position on what has been written on this matter thus far.
I would like to start by saying that I believe whole-heartedly that the Bible- including the Old and New Testaments – is the unerrant word of God in which He reveals Himself to us throughout history in a number of genres. I have a personal relationship with Jesus that is the source of my life, my joy, my strength, and my on-going devotion to loving others with that same love He has so graciously lavished on me. I believe He is the fulfillment of the Law, the Propets, and the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the perfect expression thereof. He is my Savior and Lord as well as my best friend. I have been a student of the Scriptures for the last 25 years having read them in their entirety approximamtely 20 times, admittedly falling far short of perfect knowlege or understanding. I have done this in the hope of having a view of the context and overall meaning of God’s word in order to avoid the very pitfalls of a concordance-based faith which you have already mentioned.
As to my views on hermeneutics, I concur that the five things you mentioned are important and possible. I would add that I disagree that the Bible contradicts itself. I believe it must be taken as a whole and large, clear principals should be applied in passages that appear isolated and/or difficult to understand. I believe that as a general rule passages should be taken at face value unless they seem to be at odds in some way with the totality of scripture, in which case the previous statement applies. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in believers to guide them into all truth, and that it is necessary to be humble and correctible in my understanding. To that end, I am open to participating in an open dialogue with those who are willing to speak from a Biblical perspective into my life and belief.
To address the points that struck me in this discussion:
1. You state, “You can use scripture to back up most anything one desires,” and mention slavery, subjugation of women, bashing babies’ heads on stones, multiple wives, socialism, celibacy, giving away all you have and say they are all encouraged. I think you should say you can MIS-USE scripture to back many things.
a. slavery – I would not say slavery is encouraged in the Bible. Forbidden, no. Regulated, yes. I would not say the Bible advocates slavery. It does advocate treating people humanely.
b. subjugation of women – I would use the word submission. I certainly believe that the Bible defines roles for both men and women. I would not use the word subjugation.
c. bashing babies’ heads on stones – I assume this reference is primarily to Psalm 137:9 since the majority of other references to this practice are either prophetic utterances of what is to come or historical reports of what happened. I would say that while this is seen as a happy occurance to the writer of the Psalm, it does not say that God delights in this practice or encourages it.
d. multiple wives – I would be interested in which scriptures you think “encourage” multiple wives. While this practice was certainly prevalent in many cases in the Old Testament, it is not what I would call encouraged. Having too many wives was obviously the major factor in the downfalls of both David and Solomon. Furthermore, 1 Timothy clearly advocates monogamy and disallows those in leadership from having more than one wife.
e. socialism – I don’t see endorsement of socialism. A form of communism, yes, though certainly not Marxism. I don’t see any indication that God endorses a governmental system other than theocracy. Caring for the poor and communal living are both offices of the temple/church Biblically, not the government.
f. celibacy – Celibacy is absolutely endorsed in the Bible for those who are called to it. It is a high and honorable calling.
g. giving away all you have – This, too, is absolutely endorsed in the Bible for those who are called to it. A life of poverty and simplicity are both very honorable.
2. You say, “The Spirit can speak to us outside scripture.” I would say that the Spirit CAN speak to us outside Scripture, but He does not every do this in a way that is inconsistent with Scripture which is God’s word of truth.
3. In reference to homosexuality you say that “many scholars believe that some of the acts about which they were speaking were related to violence….” I couldn’t agree with you more about the situation in Sodom. However, I think the key word in your sentence is “some.” This is not true, however, of cross-dressing or of homosexuality as mentioned in Romans. You go on in a later writing to say that homosexuality as practiced today, “was probably not even a concept with which they were familiar.” I would refer you to both Sappho and the pastoral poets of the Greek and Roman eras. Furthermore, I would like to quote an article on this very topic in the Archeological Study Bible page 1863. It says, ” Today, however, many interpreters assert that reading Romans 1 in light of the cultural backdrop of the Greco-Roman world reveals that Paul was not really condemning homosexuality itself but was reproving a particularly lustful, promiscuous version of this sexual inclination. In other words, according to these scholars homosexuality in the context of a caring, loving relationship is not only acceptable but outside the realm of Paul’s concern. This interpretation is based upon a distortion of what we know of ancient practices and beliefs.” It goes on to site Greek homosexual customs, the poetry I mentioned above, and the Emporer Hadrian’s well documented love for/ relationship with a man named Antinous. While men didn’t tend to leave their wives for homosexual partners, in that time, they didn’t have to. They could have both with impunity. Therefore, I think it is clear from history that homosexuality in Biblical times took a wide range of forms and to say the Bible writers didn’t mean what we do is inaccurate.
4. You ask about what would happen if we would not “ordain or remove from ordination, those pastors who are prideful, have excess of food and prosperous ease, and do not aid the poor and needy.” I would say that if they are clearly committing these sins, are unrepentent in these sins, and are encouraging others to persue them, they absolutely should be removed. Sin is sin. No one is perfect. We all struggle with sin, but there is a distinct difference between admitting that what we have chosen is sinful and fighting against it and refusing to call our sin what it is much less fight against it. Christ Himself said that it would be better for us to have a mill stone tied around our necks and be thrown into the sea than cause one little one to sin. If you are unrepentantly greedy, gossipy, adulterous, dishonest, gluttonous, etc. you should not be in the pastorate.
5. You say, “We all gravitate toward texts that resonate with us.” While I think that there is some truth to this, I would say that there is much in the Bible that I find difficult and challenging even though I believe it is true. I don’t relish the idea that people who reject Christ will end up in Hell, but I accept it as true. I don’t like the fact that I am called to restrain my behavior, but I accept it as true. So while I agree that my favorite passages tend to be those that resonate with me, my faith is not dependant on liking or even fully understanding what God says is true. He is infinite. I am finite. He is omniscient. I am very limited in my knowledge and understanding. He is omnipotent. I am powerless without Him. He is good. I know what is good through knowing Him. I do what is good through His power.
6. You refer to three passages that you seem to think stand in opposition to the concept of eternal condemnation.
a. “every knee will bend”- Actually, this passage from Phil. is one of my favorites. I do not, however, see some reason to think this means that everyone will be saved. One day everyone will be forced to recognize the preimmenence of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that every one will be happy about it or submit to it willingly.
b. “all will be saved” – I am not sure which verse this is a reference to, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on it.
c. “God will never let God’s people go” – I certainly agree with this verse. Perhaps you and I have a different understanding of who God’s people are. It doesn’t say He will never let anyone go.
7. You talk about “What do I use as my general interpretive rule-of-thumb?” and then site Easter as yours. I certainly agree that the crucifiction and resurrection are the cornerstone events of all human history and certainly the culmination of all the Bible leading up to them. It is clear that God is the giver of life and forgiveness from sin, condmenation, and death. He is also the God who said while He was with us that there will be a sorting of the sheep and the goats. He is the God who said while He was with us that there will be an eternal destiny for both Lazarus and the rich man. He is the God who says repeatedly that we must repent and believe to be saved.
8. You discuss surety and once again go through the list of things you feel are sure by Biblical standards that you feel are not accepted by today’s culture. I have already addressed polygamy, slavery, and subjection of women. You say that the Jews are maligned in the New Testament and persecuted in Scripture. I don’t know what you are referring to here. It is certainly true that Jesus condmned those in positions of religious leadership who were off the mark and leading others astray. It is certainly true that Acts records instances in which certain Jews (not to mention various gentiles) acted with hostility toward the apostles or other disciples. I do not, however, see any form or wide-spread condemnation of Jews. Quite the contrary, Revelation speaks specifically about the salvation of large numbers of Jewish people in the end times. Many of the early Christians were Jews. Paul went to the Jews in each area first with the message of the gospel. Jesus was Jewish as were all the apostles. I don’t see Jews being maligned or persecuted in Scripture. In life, yes. In Scripture, no.
9. You use a lengthy example of finding a scrap of paper and trying to enterpret it. While I appreciate the concept you are trying to put forward here, I don’t think it is at all the same as trying to understand God’s word. He didn’t give us a scrap of paper with one sentence on it for this very reason. He gave us thousands of pages of love letter and the Holy Spirit to help us understand it. You advocate a wholistic approach to Scripture, but then say you look at it all as being in the light of Easter. While I appreciate your devotion to Easter, I think it is all information God wants us to have about who He is. He has been revealing Himself to us since creation and most directly through dwelling among us. Easter is absolutely critical. The Old Testament leads up to it and the New Testament describes it and follows up on it. But if you eliminate any part of God’s word, it robs even the crucifiction and resurrection of some of their power.
10. You bring up the fact that we don’t have slaves, more than one wife, offer daughters for the sexual satisfaction of mobs, or bash babies’ heads in as evidence that we don’t use the Bible as our ultimate authority. None of these things are mandated in the Bible. Even in instances when a case can be made for some of them being permitted, nowhere are they required. So to say that I don’t hold to the ultimate authority of the Bible because I don’t do these things is not right.
11. Is your reference to Peter in 1 Corinthians to 15:5? If so, it doesn’t say He appeared to Peter before anyone else, just before the 12.
In closing, I would be interested to know what you think a Christian is. Since you reject the inerrancy of Scripture and seem to be saying you believe everyone will be saved, what does it mean to you to be a Christian. Is there any standard for belief you apply to that term? Does it make any difference whether you are a Christian or not?
Thank you for your patience in going through this long response to this long conversation. I’m sorry if you feel it has wasted your time as we are so clearly coming from such distant points of belief and understanding.
May God give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to turn to Him,
I appreciate very much your impassioned views, views which clearly evidence your religious and moral principles.
I disagree, obviously, which much of what you write, but I respect that you are consistent within your framework.
Let me respond more or less point by point.
I’m afraid that I don’t believe that you think that the Bible is inerrant.
Perhaps one way of thinking through is this is the notion of metaphor. There are boundless metaphors in Scripture, poetic or symbolic language that is clearly not meant to be literally true. A New Testament professor of mine, Mark Allen Powell, makes the point in a video he prepared for the ELCA’s Book of Faith project; obviously there are multiple references to Jesus being a shepherd and believers being the sheep.
But obviously he was not a shepherd, and we who believe in him do not baaa.
That is, it is not literally true that Jesus was a shepherd, and we are sheep.
The notion of inerrancy is itself errant, because it mistakes truth with literal facticity.
It also imposes an interpretive technique that would have been foreign to the original intent of the writers and readers themselves. Insofar as this is true, a commitment to inerrancy at best misunderstands, at worst disrespects, their purpose for writing.
I appreciate the late Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler who made the point that once we pay attention to the ancients’ intention to tell of and praise YHWH as creator, we stop caring about whether the antelopes or the cantaloupes came first.
There are multiple occasions when the Bible contradicts itself…and that’s o.k.! There is no indication that the Bible as Christians have it came together any sooner than the middle of the fourth century. Before then, parts were here, parts were there, and authors did not have all the earlier texts available to them.
Please compare the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to see my point, not to mention Jesus himself who said, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you….”
It is unclear what “face value” means to you. Whose face? Yours? The author’s? The community’s in which it is read?
I think part of what troubles me about those who cling to inerrancy that on the one hand they respectfully say that they do not comprehend the Bible fully, and yet rarely concede that their interpretation might be wrong.
It is possible that you are wrong. It is also possible that I am wrong. The thousands of interpretive commentaries on the Bible suggest that there is room for conversation, for ambiguity, for changing one’s mind, for humility.
The decision by the ELCA is a fine example of this humility in motion. We acknowledge that there is room for respectful disagreement. Therefore we are no longer interested in disciplining or excommunicating homosexual pastors who are in committed relationships, nor in congregations who call them….nor, let the point not be missed, those who speak against it, regardless of whether their opinion is out of heterosexual bigotry or a sincere theological belief!
We welcome. We welcome out of gratefulness that we too, despite our own shortcomings, sins, ineptitudes, and misunderstandings of God, are also welcomed.
To your numbered points, I will only respond in a cursory fashion, for each point is worth a blog entry.
To slavery: this is the very sort of thinking that was in part responsible for the presence of slavery in our shameful history. Fortunately, we re-interpreted this scriptural tradition, and said, regulated or no, it is inappropriate. Just because something is scriptural does not mean it is right to do.
To women: it is interesting to note that it is only after the story of the fall that roles were defined. Before that, God’s intention seems to be that man and woman were to be partners to each other.
To babies and stones: true, but it is evidence of what those who gathered the texts together which became scripture felt that this is an appropriate prayer (the dashing of babies’ heads was one manner of attempting genocide. See James Mays, Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, “The Psalms”). This sort of prayer hardly jibes with “your will be done…” but it is in Scripture.
To multiple wives: it was common practice for there to be concubines, for but one example of differing sexual ethics with our contemporary mores, as we see with Abraham and Hagar. The Song of Solomon, which has no reference to God in it whatsoever, is a book which tells of passionate sexual love not only between two unmarrieds, but between two lovers of different skin.
My only point here is that there is hardly a singular sexual ethic in Scripture, while you and I clearly disagree about homosexuality, I imagine that neither of us are interested in husbands keeping concubines, though our husbands could make the case for it based on scripture.
To socialisim: yes, and Acts tells of a form of theocracy in which all is shared, which bears more in common with socialism than with capitalism.
To celibacy: it is a calling, indeed.
To giving away all we own: and we are all called to it, but rarely do it.
To the role of Spirit: very little about care of creation is found in the NT. Thank God that the Spirit finally spoke in the midst of secularity to catch the Church’s attention on this one again. It’s not that care of creation is disavowed in the NT (and it is extolled in the OT); it just isn’t mentioned. Neither is stem cell research, overpopulation, or cloning. So the Spirit is still speaking to guide us.
To homosexual love in ancient times: One can make a case that I misspoke. There are references, as you state, to loving, committed relationships in ancient times. In fact, some scholars suggest that these relationships were non-issues in the ancient Jewish culture. Rabbi Gershon Caudill notes that there is not one single instance of a gay man being brought before the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) for homosexuality.
I stand by my point, however, that the texts about which we are speaking do not concern committed relationships. In fact, even laws regulating homosexual relations (not relationships) are written in the context of a need to procreate (which gays and lesbians cannot do together), in relief to hellenistic culture which approved of homosexual exploitation (just as the Judeo-Christian tradition has more than its fair share of examples of approving heterosexual exploitation), and against rape.
To those who are unrepentant: who can confess, let alone know, all of their sins? As Roy Harrisville reportedly once stated, no one has any right to be ordained. It is pure gift.
To gravitation of particular texts: yes, but there are texts which suggest that hell does not have the last word, that women may be leaders in the church, that we are saved by grace and not our works–with all due respect to James. You cannot simply say you believe the Bible, because then I am wont to come back and ask, “What part?”
To universal salvation: John 3:17; Romans 5: 15-21; Romans 8; Romans 11:32; 1 Corinthians 15:21-28, Col. 1:15-20, 1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:2, Rev. 5:13
These are but a few texts to which those who support universal salvation turn. But they, like your texts, must be interpreted. I list them not to refute you, but to demonstrate that there are other ways of looking at things, even in scripture.
To the necessity of repentance: the sorting of the sheep and the goats is an interesting text, for individuals are not sorted, but nations are. The sorting takes place not on the basis of belief in Jesus, but whether the nations helped the poor and fed the hungry and visited the imprisoned.
The lost coin didn’t repent. The lost sheep didn’t repent.
And yet they were saved.
To anti-Judaism in the NT: I am stunned that you do not see Jews as being maligned or persecuted in Scripture. John’s Jesus condemns Jews as children of the devil. Pilate in Matthew states that the Jews declared coldly that Jesus’ blood be on them and their children. Acts names the Jews as betrayers and murderers.
Volumes have been written on the way in which such scriptural references have been formative in some of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history.
To Easter: I look at Scripture wholly through the lens of Easter. The light of that empty tomb illuminates my interpretation of it–which is different than my elimination of it.
To biblical authority: there are many many laws in Scripture which we do not heed. And, frankly, it is impossible to do so. The point is that the Bible is authoritative, but not the authority. In my system, the risen Jesus, who announces that death in all its forms is not more powerful than life, is the authority.
I am grateful for that, for the Bible left alone surely would damn me. And you. And everybody else.
To 1 Cor: 15:5: that is true…lthough it is curious that Paul doesn’t bother to mention that women were the first preachers, and begs the question, “Why?”.
To my definition of Christian: I believe that a Christian is one who trusts in the risen Jesus with humility and gratitude.
To your apology: I do not feel that it has wasted my time. I do, however, believe that we are now blogged-out. There is not much more that can be said directly, and I believe that at least in the context of the blog, we have reached an impasse.
However, you have given fodder for further blogs!!!!
And I thank you for that, as well as offering up your views.
Glad to hear there are folks who are willing to consider God’s love and grace before the fire and brimstone diatribes used to justify bigoted opinions…!
Here’s a video I created that I’d love for you to see if you have a moment.
Peace and grace to you!
Thanks Ian! I’ve seen your video, and am glad for your work in Wasilla!
To me, the decision was a matter of binding and loosing. There are numerous scriptural mandates that we have come to see that the love ethic stands above and negates (circumcision, divorced persons remarrying, or remarrying and becoming pastors). And as you very rightly point out, Anna, there is a very selective way that we have about interpretation when we hold fast to homosexuality and its sparse mentioning in the scriptures while neglecting the weightier matters.
I’ve heard from many as another commented here – the distinction of it being a sin that is not repented. That it’s one thing to say we’re all sinners, but another to suggest forgiveness and new life for people who commit sins about which they are never sorry. Even if it is an unrepented sin to be a homosexual in committed relationship, it is absurd to think that any of us, ever, can say that we’ve knowingly repented of all that we’ve done wrong. If God only forgives that which we do, repent of directly and specifically, and then do it “no more,” then we’re all in a heap of trouble.
You sound awfully Lutheran!
Right. I agree.
ELCA & Homosexuality – In my opionion there has been to much time and energy wasted on the topic, then that is not fair to anyone, so on with the debate. I am who oncew was anti-gay and feared the entire gay community. A Lutheran without sgnificant Bibical knowledge other to suggest that I couldn’t possibly interpret God’s meaning if it were HIS exact words translated into English for me. For me to say I understand the scripture exactly, I believe puts me on the same level as God and I know that is incorrect. Additionally, God gives us various other disciplines to give us help in other decisins we make. The American Medical & the American Psychiatric Groups have labeled homosexuality a lifestyle not chosen. If it was incompatable with God’s plan for us I don’t believe God would give us a burden like that in LOVE. I believe we come to our conclusions out of misunderstanding and fear and then use the Bible for reinforcement. In 10 years we will have forgotten we had the debate and/or wonder why and have some new debate yet to be discovered.
I understand where you are coming from and I am not going to argue one way or another. My only concern is that our Lord did not have enough time on this earth to let us in on everything. I believe He gave us examples of His word and convictions when He stooped and doodle in the sand and waited for the first with out sin to cast the first stone upon the adulteress. When He saw no accusers left He told her to sin no more and to leave, I assume it was also with His blessings. Our Lords message was one of inclusion, one of love for the marginalized, I fear that we don’t know enough of His mind to fully say, with authority that God’s plan was this way, or that He meant this or that He meant that. We simply don’t know God’s mind, His plan is beyond our life spans. My greatest fear is that we get this wrong, and that when He comes back he says, “What the… how did you ever come to a conclusion like that?” I am not sure what it is we are supposed to do, but I am convinced beyond a doubt that God’s plan and Christ’s ministry had a whole lot more to do and say before our Lord was crucified. Am I rambling? I am sorry I don’t mean too, but I want the Church to get this right, in a world which mocks us for our beliefs and are every ready to point out our faults, we cannot afford to get this wrong.
Oh Lord, I wish you had more time to help us with these questions. I don’t trust ‘us’ enough to get this right.