Again, these chapters seem interrelated, so we’ll address them together. Next week we’ll head into the second half of the book, the section in which the author lays out what Christians do believe. So this is our last day in myths about Christianity!
Chapter 8: Everything in the Bible should be taken literally.
Chapter 9: God loves straight people but not gay people.
Chapter 10: It’s ok for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious.
I think you can see why I feel these chapters are related. heehee!
So: are we supposed to take the Bible literally? Thielen points out that biblical literalism is a 19th century response to the rise of modern science, and that it has not been the position of the church for most of history. That’s true–for most of history the Bible has been interpreted as metaphor and allegory. Then again, for most of history there was not anywhere near the level of scientific understanding we have now, so interpreting the Bible more literally was also easier…but in any case, the short answer is “no”–because the Bible is a collection of stories about the relationship between God, God’s Creation, and God’s People. When we tell family stories, things can be told from different perspectives or with different details emphasized, yet we simply laugh about how differently we see things in our family. The same is true of scripture–it’s a collection of family stories told from different perspectives, by different people, from different places and times, but about the same thing: the relationship between God, God’s Creation, and God’s People.
Is the Bible divinely dictated, inspired, or a completely human document? As Reformed Christians, we affirm that the Bible is inspired–it is God-breathed, as 2 Timothy says–but not dictated. The Spirit of God was moving through the communities and people who produced the text, and is still moving through the word today, pointing us to where our attention should be: on God.
Interestingly, I had a conversation about this topic with the Rabbi from the McHenry County Jewish Congregation, and she said this is not really a debate in the Jewish community. She says that it doesn’t matter who wrote the Bible (but, for the record, it was people), because they are sacred stories that have been guiding their life with God for thousands of years, and that’s enough authority.
The question of chapter 9 is directly related to chapter 8 in many ways. Those who say that to be homosexual is a sin are also often those who take the Bible completely literally and claim it is inerrant and infallible in all things. In the Presbyterian Church, those people have managed to frame the discussion around inclusion or noninclusion as being about biblical authority, claiming that those who disagree with them don’t take Scripture seriously. As we have seen, it is possible to take Scripture very seriously and yet understand that it comes to us from a time and place very different from our own–so how is the Spirit moving through the word to speak to the church today?
The Bible is silent on the issue of committed same-gender loving relationships. In fact, the Bible is very nearly silent on the issue of committed monogamous loving relationships, period! The standard relationship in ancient times was the arranged marriage–the daughter was transferred as property from one house to another, often for economic or political reasons. There was often more than one wife in a household, again for economic or political reasons.
In Leviticus, which is the book often turned to for “proof” that God hates gay people, there is one verse that prohibits using someone of the same gender to fulfill your own lust. There are surrounding verses about not using people of different gender to satisfy your lust. And there are surrounding verses that say you cannot wear clothes of mixed fibers, that you must not round off your haircut or beard, that you must stand when in the presence of someone older than you, that you can’t sow two kinds of seed in your field, that you can’t eat shellfish, and that you must treat the foreigner among you as one of your own family.
Meanwhile, Jesus had nothing to say about people in same gender committed loving relationships. He had lots to say about commitment, and relationships, and love, and where our focus should be. And he had lots to say about how people are created in the image of God. And he had lots to say about not turning PEOPLE into objects or issues.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God. period. (1 John 4)
And again, chapter 10….the short answer is: NO. it’s not ok for us to be judgmental or obnoxious! Matthew 7 pretty clearly states that it’s not our job to judge. And pretty much every parable and every healing story and every encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees you can find in any gospel account is about not making judgment based on appearances. Our task as people of God is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We can’t love our neighbor if we’re busy judging them.
So–what did you think of the first half of this book? What questions remain for you? What do you hope is addressed in the second half?