Monday, January 26, 2009

Anonymity and Faith

I have received several comments regarding the January 20 post about the inauguration of our new president. Sadly, after the first post, I have decided to not accept the rest of the comments because they have all been anonymous. I gladly accept dissenting views but am disheartened when people try to hide their opinions behind a screen of invisibility. One person accused me of breaking down communication by the opinions I was expressing. Communication is only broken two ways. The first is when individuals believe that their perception of the world is the only acceptable one, the other is when they fail to identify who they are. We can only communicate with real human beings who are ready to listen and exchange viewpoints without the agenda that "I am right and you are wrong."

Some of the more acerbic feedback was the assumption that Christians are not allowed to disagree with one another — especially about homosexuality. In fact, there are many devout Christians who do not believe the Bible rejects homosexuality even though, on the surface, it appears that the Bible denigrates homosexuality. Many pious Christians believe that a more rigorous Biblical study of this issue can lead to the opposite conclusion.

To say that Christians who support homosexuality are not truly Christian is to get trapped into simplistic theology. After all, Jesus never addressed the issue. Even the Apostle Paul in all his letters said that the only criterion for being a Christian is to believe in Jesus and his resurrection. He attached no strings to this message. Historically, Christian power brokers began adding other tests for being a "true Christian." Eventually, one had to believe in the Trinity, then in the Virgin Mary, transubstantiation, Papal infallibility, etc. In more modern times a Christian had to believe in the Biblical support for slavery and the subjugation of women. I remember as a child that real Christians did not drink alcohol, smoke, play cards, dance, or go to movies. How times have changed. All these former ideas were vigorously and often violently defended as proof of Christian citizenship.

Is it possible many Christians are basically Biblically illiterate? It is a fact that few Christians even read the entire Bible any more, let alone study it rigorously. Recent studies have shown that only 33% of conservative Christians actually read the Bible and only 12% read it daily. Evangelical scholar Mark Noll in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, is saddened that conservative Christians have become so anti-intellectual. This is ironic because Evangelicalism began during the Great Awakening as a way of combining reason and faith to better understand the Bible. Regrettably, many Christians are ignorant of Church history and how Christianity continues to change and evolve over time. By rejecting the very notion that they might be wrong in how they interpret the Bible, some Christians read the Bible in order to support their own biases and prejudices. Then they turn around and try to convince people that this is not the case.

So where are the majority of Christians getting their understanding of what the Bible says? My experience is they get their beliefs from other people most of whom are authority figures such as pastors, writers, media celebrities and web sites. I’ve observed that most Christians accept much of what they hear from these sources without hesitation. I suspect this also occurred a hundred years ago when so many Christians truly believed the Bible was absolute in its support of demeaning the humanity of certain people by making them slaves. Jesus never would have tolerated enslaving other people for our own benefit and neither would many Christians today. Slavery is unthinkable to Christians today, yet it was supported by preachers who quoted the Bible in support of slavery.

Back to homosexuality. I don’t understand on what basis Christians get to pick and choose what they want to believe. If the Bible must be treated literally, then the game must be played as all or nothing. Those who use the Bible to condemn homosexuality like to use passages from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. This section of the Bible contains what is called the Holiness Code, namely a collection of laws telling the people of the Old Testament how to maintain their relationship with God.

So here is my question? If this one command, homosexuality, is accepted as a standard of living, why not all the others? It seems arrogant to assume that any human being has the right to tell God that they will only obey certain parts of the Holiness Code and not others. Okay, so we condemn homosexuality. Why then don't Christians believe they should only marry Jewish people; insist that farmers cannot plant two different kinds of grain in the same field; never wear a garment made of two different materials; demand male gender superiority (like the Taliban); put to death any child who curses their parents. There is more. In the long list of hundreds of commands, some Christians decide that the homosexuality prohibition is the only one they want to accept.

Let’s continue. Many Christians put more priority on the New Testament over the Old Testament. They will say the reason they pick out this Old Testament prohibition regarding homosexuality is because 1 Corinthians (6:9-17) and 1 Timothy (1:3-13) back up the Old Testament. Remember that our English Bibles are translations of a language from long ago. It is not easy translating from Koiné Greek to English (or any other language, for that matter). The two words often translated that supposedly refer to homosexuality is in dispute among Bible scholars. I don’t have the time nor the space to even summarize these scholarly debates here but the information is available to anyone who cares to seek it out.

There is no question that homosexuals are marginalized people in today’s society. Ironically, marginalized people are the very people Jesus chose to hang out with. This behavior shocked the more devout religious people of his day just as people who follow Jesus today and accept homosexual people shock some religious people. Jesus was all about tolerance, acceptance and loving our enemies. Why are these qualities so absent in our dialogue with one another? Paul tried to deal with differences by simply saying that in God’s eyes there were no differences. The tide is beginning to turn, by the way. Surveys are showing that more young Evangelical Christians are accepting homosexuals as fully equal with all other people.

Christianity is not monolithic — namely not all people who call themselves Christian are going to agree even on the "basics." If the Bible were that clear about what to believe, there would not be so many different types of churches some of whom think they are the "true" church.

We advance our knowledge and beliefs by continuing to dialogue with one another — which is basically listening nonjudgmentally to those who disagree with us. So, please keep your comments coming but don’t hide behind anonymity. Let us know who you are so that together we can improve all our lives as we continue together on our life journey.

If you prefer to contact me directly instead of leaving a public comment, please feel free to do so.


noturningback said...

PED'ERASTY, n. Sodomy; the crime against nature.

From Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary. Although relations of men with men and women with women, may have been common in ancient civilizations, they are not relations that produce offspring, hence the crime against nature. This is perverse behavior and not generally accepted. In the Bible it speaks of this and although many may disagree,none can dispute the fact that procreation is what allows humans to endure and therefore without procreation, man will perish and it is as simple as that.

Dr. Terry Sandbek said...

I'm confused about your logic. If homosexuality is supposed to decimate the human population then why are we still here? Homosexuality has been with us forever, yet we now have over 6 billion people on this planet with the number growing every day. If religion had nothing to say about sexuality, there would be almost no homophobia on this planet. Since the bible is so contradictory and a human product, why should we trust it on its millenia old opinions about homosexuality? If you believe in God, then you have to accept homosexuality. There is absolutely no credible evidence that homosexuals are not born that way. It is unfortunate that the bible is such a poor source for human ethics.