Interpretation and Dialogue?

After President Obama’s announcement that he supports the right of homosexuals to marry, people have weighed in on both sides with renewed fervor. Or does it just seem that way? The dialogue (if we dare call it that) has been going on for a long time; though, I’m not sure dialogue is the right word. It is more along the lines of sound bites and rehashed phrases with little substantive argument on either side, at least in the public square.

For instance, NPR has an article front and center today—2nd article, middle column. The article shows people on both sides of the issue using the Bible for their purposes. The article even has someone quoting the oft used line,

“‘When you read the Bible, you can find justification for almost anything,’ she says, ‘including slavery, the subjection of women and an argument that the sun actually revolves around the earth.'” The she is Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest in California. This is true of course; you can find justification for almost anything—if you take things out of context, which is what many Christians do who are on both sides of this issue—and lots of other issues as well.

For instance (rabbit trail alert!), someone this morning sent me a link for a man who was coming to the area to talk about prophecy. So, I went to his website to confirm the fact that I wasn’t going to hear him. He too was weighing in on the homosexual marriage issue (ok, so it’s not that big of a rabbit trail), but with a different slant: why Jesus was coming back soon. And he used the Bible to show why. But his use of the Bible was no different than Susan Russell’s. He, too, pulled things out of context. You can read the article here, but here is a summary of his logic.

1) God destroyed Sodom for their homosexuality. 2) The author says, “Jesus said as the days of Lot so will it [sic] be the time when I return to the earth.” 3) Therefore, since homosexuality is prevalent now as it was then, Jesus must be returning soon.

Ok, let’s break down this logic. 1) While homosexuality (actually, I think there is an argument for rampant sexual perversion, not just homosexuality) was evident in Sodom, that is not the reason for it’s destruction. The sexual perversion of the day was a part of a greater spiritual issue. In Ezekiel 16 we read that Sodom’s pride, material prosperity, and love of pleasure (including sexual perversion) was her downfall. The author has failed to consider the context of not only Genesis but the narrative of the Old Testament as a whole. 2 & 3) The author takes the “days of Lot” phrase out of its context in Luke 17. Jesus was not referring to their sin, but to their going on with life without a care in the world. They were simply going on with the daily activities of life without ever realizing that they were in peril. That is how it will be when Jesus returns, nothing unusual going on. This is sloppy logic and sloppy reading.

Now back to Russell’s quote. The slavery issue is beyond complex. I think she is wrong—with qualifications, but this post would get really, really long, and that misses the point. The other two: subjugation of women and the earth revolving around the sun (did she really say that?) are another issue. People have believed the Bible says this in part because, I think, Christians have acted that way. Therefore, we assume the Bible gave them permission to do so. Yet, the Bible does not, anywhere give Christians permission to subjugate women, nor does the Bible say the sun revolves around the earth, any more than I say it does when I remark, “What a beautiful sunrise!” To use the subjugation of women issue when bringing up homosexuality is not to give the Bible a clear reading. To use the sun/earth example is a subtle attempt, without any rational support, to paint people who are opposed to homosexual marriage as flat earthers, i.e, ignorant. The irony there is palpable.

What is interesting is the author of the article also jumps into the fray, saying that the Bible condones polygamy (which again comes from a failure to read the Bible in context), without giving any justification. Which is another problem I have. People on both sides of issues invoke the authority of the Bible without giving any meaningful proof. And then people say, “You can justify almost anything with the Bible.”

Actually, you can’t, and to throw out that sound bite in hopes of silencing an opponent shows an inability to engage in rational conversation in hopes of changing someone’s mind. We have lost the art of civil discourse in this nation. And we have lost the art of rational discussion. My hope is that we could return to a rational, civil dialogue and engage the Bible in its context without picking and choosing what we like.

I

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