October 19, 2017

Christian Intolerance: We’ve been outed! What now?

But if we’re going to follow the Bible perfectly, we’re not finished yet. In the Old Testament, the punishment for homosexual acts is death. So let’s round up every gay person who has acted on their innate homosexual feelings and start administering lethal injection. While we’re at it, why don’t we also throw in anyone who has engaged in adultery, prostitution, disdain of parents (yes, death for getting into a fight with your mother or father) and profaning the Sabbath.

In the Old Testament, Moses, by God’s instruction, had an old man put to death for carrying a heavy burden on the Sabbath. Well, since it’s in the Bible, let’s round up every person in the world who has ever carried something heavy on Saturday, since Sunday is not the actual Sabbath, and have them executed.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If we imposed every Biblical precept on all people, we’d end up executing at least 99 percent of the world’s population. I’d be dead, Holbus would be dead, and you, reading this Viewpoint right now, would probably be dead, too.

The climax of hypocrisy in Holbus’ viewpoint is revealed when she emphasizes the importance of love, while the only thing she has successfully demonstrated is how to hate. This has been the case for many of the Viewpoints authors over the past semester, and I’m sick of it. I’m tired of the self-righteousness and the closed-mindedness. I’m tired of the lack of tolerance and the lack of compassion. I’m tired of the hypocrisy and I’m tired of the hate. It needs to end now.

The above quote is a student response to a letter written by a Marquette university student, noting her weariness at the highly visible nature of the gay rights movement on the campus. Since Marquette presents itself as a Catholic University offering a values based education, the original student writer thought it appropriate to question why something the church teaches is wrong- homosexual behavior- would be highly and visibly promoted on campus.

Oh, the foolishness of youth! Don’t try to approach this subject using Christian concepts like “love.” You see, we’ve been outed, my Christian friends. The culture- particularly those who oppose traditional Christian morality- have been reading the book. And guess what? They’ve found the book of Leviticus, among other things.

Yes, since 9-11, religious intolerance has become a worthy subject of study. For years, gay rights advocates had been saying that Christian scripture was a problem that either needed to be ignored or radically reinterpreted. But I’m not sure many people were listening. Those voices were pretty shrill. They still are, but so are the voices opposing them. In the post-Bush victory era, evangelicals sound like bulls about to charge through your china shop if you don’t give them what they want now. The left has shifted from talking about garden variety conservative bigotry and greed to more specific Christian and religious evils. Theocratic rule is coming to an America near you. James Dobson will be beheading Democrats on the White House lawn. Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas will soon announce that those in America and the world who don’t accept Jesus will be taken to the arena to be tortured for the amusement of the masses.

Christians are, in other words, being portrayed as the greatest threat to society since the great plagues, and the culture seems to be listening. Why? Because of the intolerance of radical Islam. September 11th has illuminated what happens when ordinary people take their religion a little too seriously: they kill you, and put the whole scene on a flannel graph. I mean, listen to those Southern Baptists talking about baptizing a million people, and sending missionaries to Iraq. What’s next? Death camps?

If you study Christian scripture, there IS a problem. Right there in Leviticus and elsewhere, they are killing homosexuals and adulterers and thieves and back-talking teenagers. Leviticus, and the Old Testament in general, absolutely reeks of intolerance. It’s a different world. A world where women were property, God was a warrior who rejoiced over the killing of Egyptians, and religious reasons for killing people are everywhere. That’s our heritage, and we aren’t going to get rid of it.

Most of us who grew up in church were taught to not ask if God wasn’t really mean to wipe out whole cities just because they were Canaanites. We learned that there was a nice Sunday School lesson on giving or helping in that creepy story of God telling a man to kill his own son for no reason. And violent or not, the book of Judges was cool when you are a middle school boy.

Then we would go to church, and the preacher talked about God’s love, Jesus’ love, and the Christian command to love. Your brain learned that these two parts of your religion somehow came together and everything was OK. You were a good person and God loved everyone. You never learned how to resolve those violent passages, but you knew some smart person took care of that, so it was OK. You could still talk about the love of God, and the chances of running into someone who had actually read the books of Leviticus or Judges was pretty small.

Well, the party’s over. They have read the Old Testament, and they are talking about it. The new critics of Christian activism have read the book and they are calling us the Taliban and Al-Queda America. They are making ads of gays and minorities being turned away at our churches. They are writing columns warning the reasonable that NPR will soon be replaced with Jerry Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour, and we are about to re-enter the era of the Crusades. Not the Billy Graham kind either.

I don’t think we are ready for this. I don’t think we are ready to answer the questions of why we aren’t a religion that endorses violence and killing toward the infidel and the unbeliever. I don’t think one Christian out of ten thousand could make a cogent response to the question of how the ethics of Leviticus, Joshua and Judges relates to the supposed love of God and love of Christians for neighbor.

I have thought about it. I need to think and talk about it more. Not everyone likes what I have to say because they assume the inspiration of all scripture depends on the inspiration of death threats in Leviticus and beheadings in Judges. Most people see Jesus as a character in an inspired book, not the reason we can say the book has God’s Word for us despite its violence and intolerance. Most preachers think the character of God can be safely talked about without discussing the incarnation and the person of Jesus. I’m skeptical about that. The entire Bible has to be seen in the grid Paul uses in Colossians 2:17: These (OT laws) are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. The substance of our faith must be Christ, not the killing of witches.

My Christian friends need to ask themselves how they are going to answer challenges and critiques made from the Old Testament. Are we going to answer as if we haven’t read the book? As if the violence is tolerable? Are we going to say that God can do what he wants and whatever he tells us to do is automatically right? (That will be comforting in a post 9-11 world.) Are we going to deal with the Old Testament as if it can stand alone, without Christ? Are we going to excuse the violence and intolerance in our faith as not important, when the culture is demanding an answer? Are we going to say the critics are unfair and idiotic for bringing this up? None of that is going to work, nor should it.

The United Church of Christ is running a multi-million dollar ad campaign portraying evangelicals as intolerant. Why now? Because the culture is finally listening. Young people are listening. The shapers and movers are listening. Politicians are listening. Educators are listening. People are wondering if the Christian determination to make a country that reflects our values is going to include those “values” that can be read by any child in the Old Testament. It doesn’t matter that there are no Christian churches turning away worshipers over these matters. (Declining practicing gays for membership and ordination aren’t the same thing, and the liberals know that well. It’s why the ads show something any American will understand and react to: denial of equal access to a worship service.) What matters is whether Christian values include a level of intolerance that the public doesn’t want in society or taught as “American.”

Reading Leviticus and the rest of the Old Testament can answer that question in a way just as scary as reading the Koran. The fact that Christians aren’t doing anything violent or intolerant in Peoria won’t be on the menu. The truth is boring. What will be hauled out is our uncareful rhetoric, our in-house fund raising letters, the radical voices we’ve allowed to have a spotlight, the extremists and the zealots. The secular left will provide the quotes and the clips, and I assume, based on our past record, we will whine and act hurt.

I’m sure no one likes posts that are all questions and no answers. Sorry. What are we going to do?

Comments

  1. Gee…let’s see…ummm…..

    I know.

    First, lets’ stop trying to legislate the morality of the nation since that isn’t the Spirit’s way; it’s the fleshly way. (see the Volsted Act..popularly called the Prohibition Amendment. I do believe it was the only Constitutional Amendment to be repealed. Why? It just didn’t work.)

    Second, let’s stop supporting and listening to people like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.

    Third, let’s clean up our own “houses.” 35% of Christian marriages now end up in divorce according to the latest statistics (Barna). Pornography among Chrisitans has become a serious problem. Christian youth are more and more being alienated from their families and their faith.

    Fourth, let’s do what the Bible says and see what happens. Col. 4:6-“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (NIV)

    Who knows, if we do the above, we may have a national revival. A real one that is..not the counterfeit Third Wave garbage going around presently.

  2. Michael, you have bravely faced one of the biggest “sweep it under the carpet and hope the kids didn’t see” issues in the Christian church: what to do with those “difficult” parts of the Bible.

    Like the old “ring around the collar” commercials used to say, you try scrubbing them out, but they’re still there.

    I was amazed to come upon your post today as I have engaged a friend on this very topic on his blog. My friend is a former conservative, Reformed Christian who has fallen in the past year into an extreme neo-orthodoxy in which only his personal “faith” informs what he knows of God.

    If you’d like to see our dialogue on the troubling parts of Scripture, it’s at http://rmfo-blogs.com/steve/archives/2004/12/02/the-law-of-god/

  3. Excellent question, Michael.

    For my own part, and I could give very detailed memories on this topic, I believe churches must return to educational excellence in Bible study, Sunday school etc. Youth groups must be more than pizza and football, as great as those things are. Until more evangelicals know about Al Mohler then James Dobson, we have an issue on our hands. And men like Mohler must realize this. If a rational, kind and intelligent Christian worldview is to take shape among the Church, we must find a way to gently purge the Dobsons and the Falwells from our ranks.

  4. The first chapter of the book that our mutual friend Telford Work is working on deals with this very issue. After 9/11 he couldn’t help noticing the uncomfortable resemblance between Islamist rhetoric and a lot of the Old Testament, and it didn’t help matters that that was when he met me and I brought up the same questions. I don’t know when the book will finally come out but I hope it will contribute to dialogue about this.

  5. I would say the answer to the Old Testament dilemma is an issue of hermeneutics. Forgive me, Michael: I read your article on Christocentric Bible interpretation several months ago, but I don’t have the energy to read it tonight. From what I remember, it sounded very good and slightly dangerous.

    I’m all in favor of reading all of the Bible in light of Christ. That’s exactly what Jesus himself and the Apostles taught us to do. But the problem is, what exactly does that mean? Some people believe that it means that you can take whatever portion of Scripture you don’t like, look at it through a preconceived “Christ” grid (which is really nothing more than the projections of the interpreter; it actually has very little connection to Christ), and then say that it’s pure drivel. You don’t like the icky parts of Romans 1:18-32 about God’s wrath and homosexuals? Well, just say that Jesus wouldn’t like that either, and the problem is solved. Please note, Michael, that I am not accusing you of doing this, but plenty of others have done it, and I’m not sure how your hermeneutic can fault them for it.

    A better approach is to read the Bible for its authorial intent, which always points to Christ. This would involve understanding the differences between the covenants. We are not under Israel’s covenant (a fact made abundantly clear in the New Testament, especially Galatians); therefore, it would be wrong for us to execute homosexuals, for instance. Because of the nature of the covenant that they were under as a theocracy, it would have been wrong for Israel NOT to execute homosexuals. But the covenantal differences are the key.

  6. I hope you’ll keep writing about this–you’ve raised troubling questions that I’d love some more help with!

  7. You know, God does NOT have to answer to us for what he says or does. He is CREATOR and we are creature (albeit made in his image and good). Americans are the precious few who struggle with this distinction in the world. It is more “cultural” of us to be asking these questions than anything else. Why in the world would God have to answer to us or anyone else for killing or wiping out an entire nation? He can do as he wills. He is GOD! Period. The thing that we can TRUST is that he will never do anything outside his nature which is both full of justice and full of mercy and grace…in tension. We just don’t like tension – as Americans I think. Maybe God cannot be completely figured out. Huh? Maybe creatures get what they get and HE remains “in the know” and he remains GOD. Maybe he gets to hold all the cards and maybe he gets to work his creation for HIS glory – in HIS way….without asking what we think about all of it. Hmmmm.

    Respectfully, yes, I think we can ask God anything and bring to him our thoughts, questions, and concerns, and even our lack of understanding into his ways….but the fact remains, you will not ever get it all. You and I are creatures. Period. We so want to be GOD though. This tendancy has been with us since the garden.

  8. David Lafayette says:

    THIS IS THE ANSWER. SHARE IT:
    the answer is love. Leviticus, Joshua, and Judges all show God’s love in His Law. the Law is what was present in the Old Testament and was fulfiled in the New Testament by Jesus Christ (“[Christ] is the end of the Law”)-Paul. the law was created to protect God’s children. God commanded Joshua to kill the Canaanites because He would not allow His children to be influenced by their idolatry. God’s love and justice come together in His protection of the Israelites by wiping out all people who could influence them. This protection of God’s chosen people is seen again 3000 years later with the Puritans and Pilgrims establishing America as a godly refuge. God transformed America from a refuge to a fortress of protection (athiest writers manipulate the truth – read the real history and you’ll see God provided everything: cleared away enemies, stopped famine, and brought provisions and allies – all through the Christians prayers). God’s love and justice still coincide and that is why Christians must stand firm. It is appointed to man once to die and afer that the judgement. Everyone of us will either demonstrate God’s love and mercy by entering heaven or display is justice in hell for eternity.

  9. >It doesn’t matter that there are no Christian >churches turning away worshipers over these >matters.

    Except, some are. My parents (and mine past) church, infact. A longtime member admitted to having homosexual feelings which she had been hiding, and had never acted on. First they removed her from nursery work and teaching sunday school, and then pushed her out of the church completely.

    I can’t believe that this is the only case, or even an uncommon way to treat homosexuals in many churches.

    Sorry my only comment is a pick. I just found your blog – very thoughtful and thought provoking! Thank-you!

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