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Can the evangelical church embrace gay couples?
May 13, 2014 6:43 AM   Subscribe

A small but significant number of theologians, psychologists, and other conservative Christians are beginning to develop moral arguments that it’s possible to affirm same-sex relationships not in spite of orthodox theology, but within it. In books, academic journals, magazines, blog posts, speeches, conferences, and campus clubs, they are steadily building a case that there is a place in the traditional evangelical church for sexually active gay people in committed, monogamous relationships. They argue that the Bible, read properly, doesn't condemn such relationships at all—and neither should committed Christians.
Can the evangelical church embrace gay couples? Here Matthew Vines speaks to each of the 'clobber' passages used to attack homosexuality in engaging detail and describes his vision for the role of gay Christians in the church. (1:07:18)

Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible
One year after Matthew Vines was forced to leave the Wichita, Kan., church he had attended since birth — not because he is gay, but because he tried to convince people there was nothing wrong with that — he was sitting facing a crowd of 235 Christians, most of them gay or lesbian, at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The Bible backs same-sex couples: Point by point, why conservatives are wrong

The Reformation Project: Training Christians to Eradicate Homophobia From the Church

Various Evangelical Theologians have been quick to respond
posted by Blasdelb (154 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
A note of warning, Various Evangelical Theologians responding link has a chance of autoplaying video with sound
posted by Blasdelb at 6:46 AM on May 13


Dude Peter had a whole vision thing about this.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:59 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I can't talk to anyone who ignores all the other abominations in the bible they themselves engage in and instead go batshit insane over the one that they personally don't find appealing. Go piss up a rope.
posted by nevercalm at 7:06 AM on May 13 [53 favorites]


From the Salon article:
It isn’t surprising that the biblical writers didn’t contemplate the possibility of same-sex marriage.
Most arguments for how acceptance of LGBTQ rights fit in with Christianity use this same kind of underlying logic: "well, after all, the Bible isn't perfect, parts of it contradict each other, and the writers were human and lived in a totally different culture and era."

I happen to agree with that underlying logic, but you're not going to be able to use it to convince most conservative Christians of anything. If I use that logic with my conservative evangelical family (and I have tried), they instantly tune me out.

For most conservative Christians, that kind of thinking is impossible to accept. In my personal experience, most Christians, and nearly all conservative evangelical Christians are entirely ignorant when it comes to the very human way their faith was put together. They know nothing about when parts of the Bible were written, who wrote them, what we know archaeologically about the Bible, how the parts of the Bible were put together by councils into one text, how the faith developed.

To them, Christianity is a monolithic belief system that has been and always will be 100% consistent and 100% divinely inspired.

Homophobia is just a symptom. The real problem is that this is a large group of people that is almost completely uneducated about their faith and its history, that accepts it no questions asked, that refuses to see contradictions in the Bible, that believes fervently that the Bible is 100% "written by God," et cetera. This leads to black and white thinking on so many issues, not just the problem of homophobia.

I really applaud these people who are trying to reach out to conservative evangelicals and to get them to see the light. I'm just not sure how well they are attacking the underlying issue here, which is that mindset.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:07 AM on May 13 [85 favorites]


If the choice is "Let's try to find a way to shoehorn decency in and pretend we don't notice the crap" versus "Yay crap!", I'm glad when people try to do the former rather than the latter. But I wish more people would notice another choice: Don't worship an asshole.
posted by Flunkie at 7:11 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


It's actually really interesting how much support for same sex marriage has roots in Christian thinking. For example, interfering with the rights of marriage is actually an excommunication - worthy offense in Catholicism. I am constantly hoping they will update it for same-sex.
posted by corb at 7:12 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Homophobia is just a symptom. The real problem is that this is a large group of people that is almost completely uneducated about their faith and its history, that accepts it no questions asked, that refuses to see contradictions in the Bible, that believes fervently that the Bible is 100% "written by God," et cetera. This leads to black and white thinking on so many issues, not just the problem of homophobia.

I really applaud these people who are trying to reach out to conservative evangelicals and to get them to see the light. I'm just not sure how well they are attacking the underlying issue here, which is that mindset.


I respectfully disagree with you about which is the symptom and which is the mindset.

The people who lack the imagination to conceive of a nuanced world, with shades of gray, would tend to be afraid of those different from them, and would tend to embrace a mindset that justifies their "black-and-white" outlook. I disagree that conservative Christianity fostered that in them - rather, that it affirmed something already within them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on May 13 [25 favorites]


They will once they need and see the potential for easy money, just like the Mormons did when they did an about face and determined that colored people were human beings after all and could join them.
posted by Renoroc at 7:13 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


[Above-the-fold text edited down a bit, takes up less space this way. Thanks Blasdelb.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:14 AM on May 13


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only arguments that can lead to the conclusion that homosexual conduct or marriage are permissible within Christian ethics all involve hermeneutical moves that theological conservatives reject for reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality. The linked article gets at that a bit, but fails to capture just how significant that fact really is. You can read Romans 1--and any other passage you care to cite--as closely as you like, but if your methodology is objectionable, the discussion is over before it's begun.

And that's really all I have to say in this thread. Those interested in my further thoughts on the subject can look through my posting history or send me a MeMail.
posted by valkyryn at 7:18 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Shorter version: "Well, looks like we lost the culture wars. Time to retcon our theology!"
posted by mondo dentro at 7:23 AM on May 13 [27 favorites]


I prefer to think of it as moving out of the "They fight you" phase and into the "You win" phase.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:29 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only arguments that can lead to the conclusion that homosexual conduct or marriage are permissible within Christian ethics all involve hermeneutical moves that theological conservatives reject for reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality.

Maybe—on the other hand they're all moves that they've accepted (explicitly or implicitly) with regard to other things that the Bible explicitly condemns or explicitly approves contrary to their beliefs. Nobody, nobody at all, can claim to consistently follow Biblical codes of conduct without engaging in some variety of hermeneutical fancy footwork to get them out of the bits they don't choose to agree with.
posted by yoink at 7:31 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


From the last link:

"His arguments are not new, and his predecessors failed to win the day within the Christian community," said Dr. Evan Lenow, assistant professor of Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Therefore, I doubt he will have significant impact in the long term."

Has he looked out his metaphorical window lately?
posted by rtha at 7:32 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


It must be really convenient to base an entire culture of belief on texts so vague and poorly translated that they can be made to say anything one wants.
posted by cmoj at 7:32 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


We don't need to change the theology, we just need to change the environment. There were Christians who believed just as much that slavery was ordained by God, that mixed-race marriage is a sin, that lending with interest was immoral, and that women were chattel.

Change the environment, the theology changes. Not everywhere, not for everyone, and not all at the same time, but quickly enough that the hateful theology becomes the outlier. There will be gay friendly Evangelucal churches -- heck, there already are -- and people who no longer want to be associated with a hateful idiology that has been marginalized by the rest of society will join those churches.

Some old people will continue to say hateful, embarrassing things at Thanksgiving, but so it ever was.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:32 AM on May 13 [15 favorites]


I respectfully disagree with you about which is the symptom and which is the mindset.

I see what you mean, and I think we agree, actually, if you look at the larger picture.

The root problem here is a group of people who are very comfortable in simplistic, black-and-white thinking. They are happy looking at the world in a concrete way, avoiding challenging questions, and separating themselves off from people who aren't like them.

I think that leads them to accept a belief system that matches their attitudes. (I've certainly seen that in my family, which actually wasn't a Christian family until the 1960s.)

And once they get involved with this brand of Christianity, it in turn engenders even more concrete, simplistic, black-and-white, xenophobic attitudes, one of which is homophobia. It's a vicious cycle.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:34 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


It's been way too long since Christianity has had a good, proper schism. I can't wait.
posted by Behemoth at 7:35 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


The Christian Post link under "Various Evangelical Theologians" is the second in a three part series. The first is an interview with Vines, which contains an excellent observation: (emphasis mine)
"This type of misconception can arise because gay people are few in number. So when there is a lot of hostility toward them, it is extremely difficult for people on a broad level to understand them, and people are more likely to read into Scripture a worldly prejudice. And I do believe that homophobia is fundamentally of the world, and then therefore the church is tainted by accepting something that is worldly rather than godly. And I think that often times it is difficult for all of us to distinguish between what is of the world and what isn't, and in this case I think that once people have absorbed a societal prejudice, then they are more likely to read it back into the Bible, rather than allowing the Bible itself to direct the thinking on the subject."
Very true. Many people seem to be using the Bible to justify their own hatreds and prejudice, rather than thinking for themselves about its larger lessons that they purport to follow.
posted by zarq at 7:36 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I hear you, Old Man (I SO wanna say "eponysterical" but it doesn't quite apply here), but...it is possible to be raised in a conservative environment and have it still not quite sit right with you deep down. I mean, yeah, we got the whole nature vs. nurture thing going on, but...if something just doesn't sit right with you, it doesn't sit right with you, even if your parents and church are all trying to sell you on it. (I'd still be Catholic if that weren't the case.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "I disagree that conservative Christianity fostered that in them - rather, that it affirmed something already within them."

I'm not really sure I understand the difference. Whether it was in them from the start or not, conservative Christianity's strict adherence to black and white thinking on these topics certainly fosters those attitudes.
posted by zarq at 7:39 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Like I just told Old Man above - if something doesn't sit right with you, it doesn't sit right with you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on May 13


Can the evangelical church embrace gay couples?

It seems clear to me that the answer to this is "some can, some can't." Gay rights is likely to be the next thing that splits the American church. During the Civil War era, every major Protestant denomination split into Northern and Southern factions. We are already seeing churches divide over this issue. ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal. The status of homosexuals was the major contentious issue at the most recent Methodist general conference. Now, a lot of those denominations can't really be described as evangelical, but what is starting in the more liberal groups is spreading to the more conservative ones, quickly. In a relatively short time, there will be an identifiable evangelical cluster that embraces gay equality, as well as anti-poverty, anti-death penalty, and other social justice initiatives. That is a strong undercurrent now, and it's picking up speed. Whether the pro-gay evangelicals will outnumber the anti-gay evangelicals is hard to say. I think the question is how many pro-gay theological conservatives will leave their churches before they have time to adapt.

Shorter version: "Well, looks like we lost the culture wars. Time to retcon our theology!"

I don't really think that's fair. If you're protestant, the need for ongoing study and continual correction is built into your congregational DNA. Theology isn't static. And a lot of the younger people driving the change aren't really changing their theology so much as reconciling the hermeneutical impulses of their heritage with their pro-equality impulses.

In seminary, we were taught the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a way of thinking about theology that goes back to Methodist founder John Wesley. Basically, you combine four things: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. So if, for example, my experience with gay friends shows me that that their relationships are committed and loving, and reason tells me that homosexuality is not a choice, but an inherited trait, then the need to bring those perspectives to the table when drawing theological conclusions is something that was literally taught to me in the fairly evangelical seminary I attended. As we understand things better and have new experiences, that should drive theological change. This isn't a new thing, either: this is basically how Gentiles were accepted into the church in the book of Acts.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:41 AM on May 13 [80 favorites]


The above quote about homophobia being a part of the surrounding culture, more than an intrinsic part of the church, rings true to me intuitively. That broader culture is changing and so too will religion.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:44 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only arguments that can lead to the conclusion that homosexual conduct or marriage are permissible within Christian ethics all involve hermeneutical moves that theological conservatives reject for reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality.

Bingo. The problem stems from trying to maintain that scripture is 100% infallible. The moment theologians admit that scripture is interpretable and not black and white they perceive to lose influence over their congregations. They really don't. People will always have questions, and if you are a preacher/priest of upstanding moral fiber with a any shred of decency and rationality, then you are equipped to offer guidance. The person who comes away from your interactions will have received comfort and you as their spiritual shepherd will have earned more of their trust and respect.

Ironically, the tighter they squeeze the more they lose. For every fanatic that drinks the dogma koolaid, 5 rational parishioners that aren't opposed to the idea of a higher power are pushed away, because, CRAZY. On paper, religion is supposed to use scripture as a guide to provide spiritual comfort and nurture the positive aspects of humanity. It's a salad bar. Take away the good, and recognize the garbage and filler for what it is. It doesn't invalidate the book as a whole. When scripture fails is when it is wielded as absolute truth: a historical reference or an instruction manual for how to escape damnation and go to heaven (little "h" because not everyone believes in the same paradise.) It's not MEANT to challenge science, and it's not MEANT to be a road map. It's designed to be more of a compass to give you a general idea of where you should be headed.
posted by d20dad at 7:45 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


i have a family member who has been an evangelical christian her whole life. her son is gay and when he told her she went to bed for a week, completely inconsolable. then she decided she needed to study, so she pulled out her bible and she found resources like this and she studied her faith more than she ever had before. she found that her preachers had been twisting some passages, been putting the focus on the wrong parts, and had, to her mind, led her astray. now she's a deeply believing christian and a strong supporter of gay people, and she finds no friction between those roles.
posted by nadawi at 7:47 AM on May 13 [28 favorites]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only arguments that can lead to the conclusion that homosexual conduct or marriage are permissible within Christian ethics all involve hermeneutical moves that theological conservatives reject for reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality.

Again, I have to disagree. Reading scripture in the original context, looking at what the message would have meant to the original readers before making application to one's own time is the first principle of any Biblical exegesis class I've ever been in. If you can show that the ancient writers could not conceive of a committed, loving gay relationship--that what they knew of homosexuality was more akin to prison rape or pagan orgies--then you have to take that into account when making application. People do this all the time with a variety of other passages. Similarly, it was my most conservative professors who emphasized the need to understand the original languages and do deep linguistic and grammatical analyses of text to be sure I understood the original meaning. And there are certainly some linguistic questions regarding translations of terms for homosexual, especially in the New Testament.

Finally, it's not like there are not already pro-gay theological conservatives. It seems kind of weird to me to say that something can't happen when people are already doing it. Whether you can be evangelical and pro-gay is not the question. Clearly, some people are. Now we are just trying to figure out percentages and trajectories.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:50 AM on May 13 [32 favorites]


"Homophobia is just a symptom. The real problem is that this is a large group of people that is almost completely uneducated about their faith and its history, that accepts it no questions asked, that refuses to see contradictions in the Bible, that believes fervently that the Bible is 100% "written by God," et cetera. This leads to black and white thinking on so many issues, not just the problem of homophobia."
Simplistically unexamined faith is pretty straightforward to deal with, there is a reason why it rarely survives through seminary, and young evangelicals seem to be having none of it. When you plot acceptance of homosexuality over time, regardless of the community, you tend to get a sigmoid curve bending towards justice and young evangelicals are just decade behind their non-evangelical peers on it. They seem to be remaining conservative, and remaining deeply evangelical in many ways, but the Hermeneutic approach of The Fundamentals is rapidly losing relevance in a world perfectly capable of confronting bullshit.

The rapidly accelerating number of people like nadawi's relative who find themselves confronted with what might have previously been irreconcilable is going to have big effects. It does strike at the heart of so much of Fundamentalism, but its going to do it.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:52 AM on May 13


But I wish more people would notice another choice: Don't worship an asshole.

But... um...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:57 AM on May 13


EmpressCallipygos: "...if something doesn't sit right with you, it doesn't sit right with you."

Rigid, inflexible religious faiths encourage rigid, inflexible thinking, behavior and lives. They're specifically intended prevent people from asking too many questions and thinking for themselves. We see this in fundamentalist Christianity and Islam and even in Orthodox Judaism, where you're encouraged to ask questions and learn, but only the "right" answers are considered valid.

Most fundamentalist communities focus their lives around their religions in an attempt to prevent people from leaving. People are shunned or even excommunicated in fundamentalist and evangelical communities when they publicly express opinions that violate the status quo. Or step outside religious community norms.

Old Man is right: it is a vicious cycle and breaking away from it is not always so easy, especially when religious faith becomes more oppressive.

"Pater Aletheias: " If you're protestant, the need for ongoing study and continual correction is built into your congregational DNA. "

For some flavors of Protestantism, this means objective assessment and the potential for change. For others, it means that there are laws and interpretations of scripture which are immutable, and proposed changes to them will always be rejected.
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


[assertion of position]
And that's really all I have to say in this thread.

Just say "fuck you" next time, would you? It's just plain old crappy to come into a discussion forum and say your piece and then declare that you're going to bail. It's dismissive of community and arrogant to behave as if you have some mighty truth to dispense to the masses that you consider too unwashed to engage with.
posted by phearlez at 7:59 AM on May 13 [33 favorites]


The root problem here is a group of people who are very comfortable in simplistic, black-and-white thinking

I would caution against simplistic, black-and-white thinking in your attempt to condemn others as simplistic, black-and-white thinkers.
posted by corb at 8:00 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Traditional Christians will get a lot better at distinguishing between the practice of homosexuality (sinful, just like other sexual problems, and requiring patience and wisdom to discuss) and treatment of homosexuals (fair, loving, etc.)
posted by michaelh at 8:02 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Again, I have to disagree. Reading scripture in the original context, looking at what the message would have meant to the original readers before making application to one's own time is the first principle of any Biblical exegesis class I've ever been in. If you can show that the ancient writers could not conceive of a committed, loving gay relationship--that what they knew of homosexuality was more akin to prison rape or pagan orgies--then you have to take that into account when making application. People do this all the time with a variety of other passages. Similarly, it was my most conservative professors who emphasized the need to understand the original languages and do deep linguistic and grammatical analyses of text to be sure I understood the original meaning. And there are certainly some linguistic questions regarding translations of terms for homosexual, especially in the New Testament.


I think you're neglecting WHY the passages were written in the first place and miss a large part of their context in doing so. Scripture was the first law. The first code of conduct written for civilization. It was designed to protect a civilization not only spiritually but physically. When the ancient Jews decided to demonize homosexuality, it had nothing to do with thinking it was evil or sinful. They were scattered warrior tribes. They hired themselves out to other nations and they fought each other over territory. The loss of life they experienced meant they needed all hands on deck all the time to make sure the tribe could survive. What's the best way to make sure all the men and women are making babies? Make sure they aren't wasting their energy in homosexual relationships. So they make it a sin. People try and go against their natures for the good of their souls (but more importantly the tribe). Those who don't are kept in line by the fanatics who believe what their rabbi are preaching.
posted by d20dad at 8:03 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Traditional Christians will get a lot better at distinguishing between the practice of homosexuality (sinful, just like other sexual problems, and requiring patience and wisdom to discuss) and treatment of homosexuals (fair, loving, etc.)

I'm going to choose to believe you're speaking in their voice, rather than informing a very large percentage of Mefites that our lives are sinful.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:06 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Or, indeed, any sexual practice which doesn't harm another person as being sinful, for that matter.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:07 AM on May 13


The problem stems from trying to maintain that scripture is 100% infallible.

Well and that any time someone says 'Scripture is infallible and it says X,' what they are actually saying is 'My interpretation of scripture is infallible.'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:08 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Rigid, inflexible religious faiths encourage rigid, inflexible thinking, behavior and lives. They're specifically intended prevent people from asking too many questions and thinking for themselves. We see this in fundamentalist Christianity and Islam and even in Orthodox Judaism, where you're encouraged to ask questions and learn, but only the "right" answers are considered valid.

Well, then, why do we have any ex-fundamentalists? Surely if these belief systems are so good at preventing people from asking the wrong questions, then surely we wouldn't be seeing anyone who was able to break away, if what you're saying is true, isn't it?

Old Man is right: it is a vicious cycle and breaking away from it is not always so easy, especially when religious faith becomes more oppressive.

Oh, I didn't say it's easy to do. Only that it is possible. And the reason why it is possible is, as I have stated, because of something within the individual person's makeup. Whether a person acts on that conflict between what they are being taught and whether it feels right to them, and how they act on that conflict, is a different issue - but that's why I'm only saying that it isn't 100% accurate to say that rigid belief systems completely instill that mindset into a person. They only bring a chunk of the puzzle to the table; something inside the person has also gotta decide to accept it.

It's a metaphysical "nature vs. nurture" argument, basically, and I just happen to be weighted towards the "nature" side.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on May 13


I can't talk to anyone who ignores all the other abominations in the bible they themselves engage in and instead go batshit insane over the one that they personally don't find appealing. Go piss up a rope.

This is how I feel about women and the Catholic church. They pretty much have to ignore every precept to even pretend they are valued members and not just breeding stock. Should they piss up a rope?

This is how I feel about pretty much any minority (but blacks especially) and the Republican party.

This is how I feel about gay people who want to be part of these religious organizations that want nothing to do with them.

This is how I feel about people who participate in animal charities while ignoring the ones for humans, or who are fine watching a person get shot on TV, but wing a dog and holy shit.

This is how I feel about people who won't eat meat, but don't consider fish meat.

This is how I feel able 90% of the books out there whose authors where misogynistic turds. Or the fine arts performers who were pedophiles or murderers.

Or, you know, not really.

People are capable of incredible compartmentalization. People are able to take pride in belonging to flawed organization (including countries). You're just upset that the parts they aren't ignoring are the parts you think should be ignored.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:12 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


But I wish more people would notice another choice: Don't worship an asshole.

I think this is dismissive of a tremendous corpus of wonderful guidance in many religious texts. The object of worship isn't the problem, it's following the interpretations and guidance of asshole organizations/people. Or sometimes even personally using texts that praise acceptance and inclusiveness to justify one's own desire to exclude, independent of organizations.

That may not be an intuitive difference to those of us with more abstract or absent belief systems, but if believers didn't sever from organizations they considered corrupt we wouldn't have multiple sects.
posted by phearlez at 8:12 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


The loss of life they experienced meant they needed all hands on deck all the time to make sure the tribe could survive. What's the best way to make sure all the men and women are making babies? Make sure they aren't wasting their energy in homosexual relationships. So they make it a sin.

This is absolutely possible, but there's basically no way to know that it's true.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I'm going to choose to believe you're speaking in their voice, rather than informing a very large percentage of Mefites that our lives are sinful.


Christianity teaches that all people sin, and often.
posted by michaelh at 8:13 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Well and that any time someone says 'Scripture is infallible and it says X,' what they are actually saying is 'My interpretation of scripture is infallible.

I think it stands to reason that they aren't interpreting it at all. They're just reading the words and saying, "Yep. That's true," without understanding the historical context they were written in. Taking the latter into account there are dozens if not hundreds of ways Scripture can be interpreted; and like all literary criticism, there is no right answer. There's just a well argued one.
posted by d20dad at 8:14 AM on May 13


It's literally impossible to read much of the Bible and understand it without interpreting it. How do you read poetry and say "Yep. That's true" without interpretation. Biblical literalists might lie to themselves and claim that they're not doing interpretation, but they're wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:16 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


This is absolutely possible, but there's basically no way to know that it's true.


Dude, we're talking about religion and scripture. There's basically no way to know if any of it is true. But looking at the ancient Jews historically and factoring in general time frame in which this line in scripture first appears (by our reckoning) it's not hard or unreasonable to extrapolate the cause for such scripture was about survival.
posted by d20dad at 8:17 AM on May 13


It's literally impossible to read much of the Bible and understand it without interpreting it. How do you read poetry and say "Yep. That's true" without interpretation. Biblical literalists might lie to themselves and claim that they're not doing interpretation, but they're wrong.

That's basically what I said.
posted by d20dad at 8:18 AM on May 13


I think it stands to reason that they aren't interpreting it at all. They're just reading the words and saying, "Yep. That's true," without understanding the historical context they were written in.

All reading in interpretation, though. When Jesus is all like 'Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep' and an evangelical thinks that Jesus means people and not sheep, they're no longer adhering to a 'literal' reading. Literal reading is impossible.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Christianity teaches that all people sin, and often.

the rub comes when it's suggested that heterosexual marital sex is holy, but homosexual marital sex is sinful. i know some people really believe that to be the case, but true belief doesn't remove the offensiveness of the position.
posted by nadawi at 8:23 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Well, then, why do we have any ex-fundamentalists? Surely if these belief systems are so good at preventing people from asking the wrong questions, then surely we wouldn't be seeing anyone who was able to break away, if what you're saying is true, isn't it?"

There are literally entire organizations devoted to assisting people in escaping from various flavors of religious fundamentalism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have Footsteps. You're asserting that people can simply get up and walk away -- thereby minimizing the influence religious extremism can have on people's freedom. This is clearly not always the case.

Oh, I didn't say it's easy to do. Only that it is possible.

No, your initial assertion and the one I responded to was: "if something just doesn't sit right with you, it doesn't sit right with you" which struck me as an astonishingly glib assessment of the situation all things considered.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


My point was that "I think it stands to reason that they aren't interpreting it at all. " might be an accurate statement of what they believe they're doing, but they're wrong; they are doing interpretation. You don't need to understand the historical context to do interpretation, and you can't read the Psalms or a parable of Jesus and get any meaning from it without doing some kind of interpretation.

Biblical literalism is a red herring because it's not only wrong, it's impossible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Ok but the men have to get circumcised. Also no Irish.
posted by humanfont at 8:26 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


All reading in interpretation, though. When Jesus is all like 'Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep' and an evangelical thinks that Jesus means people and not sheep, they're no longer adhering to a 'literal' reading. Literal reading is impossible.

You make a fair point, but I think you're wrong that literal readings of scripture don't EVER happen. Maybe it's best that I amend the statement to, "Interpretation only occurs when the scripture seems nonsensical otherwise."
posted by d20dad at 8:27 AM on May 13


Metafilter: a group of people who are very comfortable in simplistic, black-and-white thinking. They are happy looking at the world in a concrete way, avoiding challenging questions, and separating themselves off from people who aren't like them.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:28 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Christianity teaches that all people sin, and often

And Christianity is wrong. Are you speaking in their voice--'kidding on the square'--or are you actually telling us that we are sinners?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:28 AM on May 13


Yeah, but we're so very, very pretty.
posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


(Timing is everything.)
posted by zarq at 8:29 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Agreed re methodological critique. As long as the approach is to use an X-acto knife to cut out the parts that are objectionable, it won't cut much ice with xians that have a commitment to the text. These are incommensurable logics, and the only thing that will work is a shift in hermeneutic. That'll happen. But I don't think it'll happen through a wholly rational, discursive process.
posted by jpe at 8:30 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Literal reading is impossible.

But the call of the text in the parables isn't to read literally. On the other hand, when Jeebus says "love thy neighbor" or Paul says women shouldn't speak in church, the call of the text is to read literally.

(that women speaking in church bit, I think, is an interesting one; clearly evangelicals disregard it, although I don't see any textual hook for doing so)
posted by jpe at 8:33 AM on May 13


the rub comes when it's suggested that heterosexual marital sex is holy, but homosexual marital sex is sinful. i know some people really believe that to be the case, but true belief doesn't remove the offensiveness of the position.

Yes, conservative Christians will have to recognize that there are also many problems with heterosexual marriages, both in theory and in execution. A lot of the internal disagreement in Christianity, and dissatisfaction in its response to gay marriage, is because of that double standard.
posted by michaelh at 8:33 AM on May 13


EmpressCallipygos: " Oh, I didn't say it's easy to do. Only that it is possible. And the reason why it is possible is, as I have stated, because of something within the individual person's makeup. Whether a person acts on that conflict between what they are being taught and whether it feels right to them, and how they act on that conflict, is a different issue - but that's why I'm only saying that it isn't 100% accurate to say that rigid belief systems completely instill that mindset into a person. They only bring a chunk of the puzzle to the table; something inside the person has also gotta decide to accept it.

It's a metaphysical "nature vs. nurture" argument, basically, and I just happen to be weighted towards the "nature" side.
"

The thing is, the acceptance you're referring to isn't necessarily going go be a matter of free will in many circumstances, especially when you're talking about indoctrination: children being raised to believe very specific things, discouraged from questioning those beliefs for years, and then growing up in a community with norms that prevent them from thinking outside the box. We agree that free will is a factor. I'm just saying, don't discount all of that.
posted by zarq at 8:36 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Embrace the embracers, and make peace with the peacemakers, and you'll get nowhere. Embrace a sinner, and at least you stand a chance of a social disease, and maybe some satisfaction.

Love that the loving gets bigger, and embrace that the warmth spreads. Stop dicking around and face the simple, cold, hard fact: Love is everything, and the rest is distraction. Homosensuality is reality same as any other sort. Move along, this doesn't require your assistance unless you are feeling especially warm and happy. ;-)

Go find a hater and figure out what they need. Seriously. Gays are the thing to worry about?! What, are they making too much beauty, too much art? Too much joyful noise, maybe?

Go find a hater. Fix their problem.
posted by Goofyy at 8:38 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Editing window timed out. Sorry.

All reading in interpretation, though. When Jesus is all like 'Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep' and an evangelical thinks that Jesus means people and not sheep, they're no longer adhering to a 'literal' reading. Literal reading is impossible.

You make a fair point, but I think you're wrong that literal readings of scripture don't EVER happen. Maybe it's best that I amend the statement to, "Interpretation only occurs when the scripture seems nonsensical otherwise."

Leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Leviticus 18:22 - "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."

"Homosexuality is gross, and homosexuals should die," is a literal reading of these texts.
posted by d20dad at 8:40 AM on May 13


And Christianity is wrong.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:28 AM


You know, don't you, that that really isn't any more helpful to the discussion than someone coming in here and unequivocally exclaiming that "Christianity is right"?
posted by mudpuppie at 8:40 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Just say "fuck you" next time, would you? It's just plain old crappy to come into a discussion forum and say your piece and then declare that you're going to bail. It's dismissive of community and arrogant to behave as if you have some mighty truth to dispense to the masses that you consider too unwashed to engage with.

This may be more of a side-note, but I really like when people come in and say their peace without getting into extended back-and-forth fighting about it! People are responding to the comment, and that's great, but if valkyryn doesn't have much more to add, I would greatly prefer he chill off-site than to keep going in a way he and others might find tiresome.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:40 AM on May 13 [21 favorites]


I think you're neglecting WHY the passages were written in the first place and miss a large part of their context in doing so.

Not that Pater Aletheias needs my help in any argument, but you do realize you just responded to an argument that we need to understand scripture by examining why it was written in the first place by saying that he's failing to understand why it was written in the first place, no?

Scripture was the first law. The first code of conduct written for civilization.

Biblical scripture? No. No it wasn't.

It was designed to protect a civilization not only spiritually but physically. When the ancient Jews decided to demonize homosexuality, it had nothing to do with thinking it was evil or sinful. They were scattered warrior tribes. They hired themselves out to other nations and they fought each other over territory. The loss of life they experienced meant they needed all hands on deck all the time to make sure the tribe could survive. What's the best way to make sure all the men and women are making babies? Make sure they aren't wasting their energy in homosexual relationships. So they make it a sin.

This is a Just-So story. You have no supporting evidence for it of any kind whatsoever.
posted by yoink at 8:42 AM on May 13 [15 favorites]


What I won't put up with is Christian gentiles quoting Old Testament law at me like it was something with which I need be concerned. Poor folks, so grossly mislead.

I am _NOT_ subject to Judaic law. Thank you Jesus, please pass the shrimp.
posted by Goofyy at 8:43 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


But the call of the text in the parables isn't to read literally. On the other hand, when Jeebus says "love thy neighbor" or Paul says women shouldn't speak in church, the call of the text is to read literally.

Inferring genre is itself interpretation, though.

I mean, yes, obviously I understand what you're saying, but there are plenty of places in the protestant canon where it's not exactly clear whether something is culturally-bound, specific, generalized, fictional, historical, etc etc., but the vast majority of those have a single We-Know-How-To-Read-This interpretation embraced by conservative Evangelicals to the point that they don't even realize they're not reading 'literally.'

Stone a disobedient child? Clearly a cultural relic best discarded. The lurid and sexy Song of Songs? Clearly a metaphor about God's love for his people. Jesus says 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his parents and his brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple'? Clearly being hyperbolic. No one in Evangelicalism even thinks of these as controversial.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:44 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


This back and forth about biblical literalism... that term has a specific meaning.

Even people who claim to be literalists acknowledge when the genre changes to parable, metaphor, etc. The argument comes down to when the genre actually changes.
posted by charred husk at 8:45 AM on May 13


You know, don't you, that that really isn't any more helpful to the discussion than someone coming in here and unequivocally exclaiming that "Christianity is right"?

You know, don't you, that I'm gay and categorically object to someone walking into a thread like this and dropping a big steaming turd calling me and millions of other people sinners?

I am perfectly comfortable with saying that Christianity is wrong on this matter. I have no qualms at all. It is a statement which is obvious on its face, and I have no need to explain it any further.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:46 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Scripture was the first law. The first code of conduct written for civilization.

There are a few people who might disagree with that idea.
posted by cjelli at 8:47 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


[I strongly suggest moving on from the sinners part of this discussion since we seem to be having that same problem where one person's "just sayin" is another person's real life concern. Be mindful, please.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:50 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I mean, I don't know if you have kids, Empress, but I can tell you from experience that being a Conservative Jew myself and trying to raise kids who will both question their religion in an quasi-agnostic way and value thinking for themselves is turning out to be a really difficult needle to thread. Much harder than I ever thought it would be. My kids are still young and they come home from synagogue and repeat what they've heard as if it is fact. It's important to me (and I think to them, too) that they not accept what they're hearing with blind faith. So we talk about what they're learning.

Doing that, you see how certain beliefs and assumptions might become self-fulfilling prophecies. How accepting just one thing as fact can lead to a snowball effect of conclusions.
posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


Zarq - interestingly, and to your point, the conservative synagogue I pass to and from work every day just recently put up a banner that says: "Want Answers? Call a psychic. We encourage questions at Beit Schmeggege."
posted by Sophie1 at 8:55 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


Leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Leviticus 18:22 - "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."

"Homosexuality is gross, and homosexuals should die," is a literal reading of these texts.


Well, no, it's not. You've run miles away from the "literal" meaning of the words "lie with" there. Literally those texts would seem to imply that male-on-male blowjobs, hand jobs, sex in standing positions etc. etc. etc. are all just perfectly fine. "Literally" the texts also imply that if you have three kids--two boys and one girl--and they all three share a bed you ought to put the two boys to death. After all, both boys "lay with a man" in precisely the same way that they "lay with a woman."

So, no, you've gone a very, very long way from any "literal" reading of that text to construct a whole set of cultural norms and practices that you're also assuming into existence. And the problem is that you're assuming them into existence based largely on your modern cultural beliefs and understandings and hardly at all on what we might know about the original cultural context from which these texts emerged. (Indeed, it's unlikely that the writers of those texts had a concept such as "homosexuality" per se--although they certainly had ideas about specific same-sex practices.)
posted by yoink at 8:56 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


(that women speaking in church bit, I think, is an interesting one; clearly evangelicals disregard it, although I don't see any textual hook for doing so)

Actually, there are evangelicals who don't; one has put up a sermon saying that women can gossip before the sermon, and sing hymns, but shouldn't say a single word (including "amen") during the sermon. If they have questions, they ask outside of church, or ask their husband to ask the pastor next time.
posted by jeather at 9:02 AM on May 13


And if that's the way one chooses to read Leviticus, why is it one of the few surviving taboos when most of the rest have fallen by the wayside?

I certainly hope everyone opposed to homosexuality avoids eating fat, touching unclean animals, letting their hair become unkempt, eating pork or rabbit, reaping the entirety of a field, holding back the wages of an employee overnight, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich, mixing fabrics in clothing, trimming their beards, tattoos, treating foreigners differently from native-born countrymen, doing work on the Sabbath, selling land, or any number of other things.

AND I hope they work just as hard to marginalize and ostracize people who do these things as they do gay people. It's only fair.
posted by Foosnark at 9:04 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


The way I understand this, the "Bible" is a more or less random compilation of stories that support a specific doctrine. The Old Testament stories are more or less a record of the tribes, handed down from pre-literate times, then codified as writing began to take hold among the priests. The New Testament is a carefully curated set of writings that support a male-dominated society that had certain, very specific, notions of how the soul is invested in humans. Other versions of the "days of Jesus" and "the advent of The Christ" were either ignored or suppressed. Starting from the days of Paul, the versions we get are what men wanted us to have, not what God sent to us.

In other words, if you replace the word "faith" with the word "fiction" you will probably have a better reading of the Holy Scriptures. My point is, the rot is in the system, not in its interpretation. Our God is bigger than your god. The intensity of the neeners depends on the denomination, but the idea is always the same.

I agree with the "don't worship an asshole" version of this discussion. I can't make a simple statement about the church without feeling the need to qualify it. For example, "they" send medical missions, which is good, then they send the priests, who demean the cultures they believe they are bringing to salvation. I guess arrogance is the operative term here. I see more in a hummingbird's wing than I ever did in a church. I'm open to the notion of a creator, and the idea that the creator actually may turn out to be inscrutable. I can't quite wrap my head around the notion that a creator of the universe would give a shit about what I think, but then, what do I know?

I would love to live to see the day the LGBT community becomes yet another parenthetical aspect of the human condition (like people with red hair or charming smiles), but I won't bet the farm on the prospect of humans suddenly becoming, um, humane.
posted by mule98J at 9:06 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


In other words, if you replace the word "faith" with the word "fiction" you will probably have a better reading of the Holy Scriptures.

I'm not sure why you are in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:10 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, that comes across as meaner than I wanted it to. What I meant to say is I'm not sure why someone for whom the entire discussion is moot or stupid would want to participate in the conversation anyway. It just seems like a waste of your time.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


i've never understood anyone who uses leviticus for their clobber passage. you don't see a lot of evangelicals atoning for menstrual cycles by bringing birds for their preachers to sacrifice or not sharing couches with menstruating women.
posted by nadawi at 9:15 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Can the evangelical church embrace gay couples?

Can evangelicals embrace the idea of leaving people (gays, Jews, Muslims, etc.) alone, is a better question. They can jump through whatever rhetorical hoops they need to jump through but they really, really need to learn how to stay out of other people's legal and personal affairs, and that includes those of gay couples.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:16 AM on May 13 [17 favorites]


I certainly hope everyone opposed to homosexuality avoids eating fat, touching unclean animals, letting their hair become unkempt, eating pork or rabbit, reaping the entirety of a field, holding back the wages of an employee overnight, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich, mixing fabrics in clothing, trimming their beards, tattoos, treating foreigners differently from native-born countrymen, doing work on the Sabbath, selling land, or any number of other things.

Many Christians believe that the sacrifice Jesus made rendered the laws of the Hebrew bible null and void. Therefore, Christians may eat pork and shrimp and wear mixed textiles and the rest, however, the laws against homosexuality continue on into Romans, therefore, those remain "legitimate".

(FYI - Queer Jewish atheist answering this question)

Also, fat is not banned. Have you eaten Jewish food? Oy, the schmaltz.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:18 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Peter A. wrote, "Reading scripture in the original context, looking at what the message would have meant to the original readers before making application to one's own time is the first principle of any Biblical exegesis class I've ever been in. "

So I mostly went to Catholic schools from 1st grade through college; my kids now attend the local public schools. One of the things that I think they are missing is an exposure to their faith that treats it like an academic subject: better knowledge of your religion makes you a better believer.

In my classes we read the actual bible, and then compared it to the primary texts of other faith, and pointed out where it was lived (or not!) in the world, and then did service hours to put those lessons into practice. I learned tons of things that made me a better Catholic and Christian -- and some of my friends finally got specific reasons that they didn't want to be Catholic, which is fine since they are now informed.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:20 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Sophie1: ""Want Answers? Call a psychic. We encourage questions at Beit Schmeggege.""

I love it. :)
posted by zarq at 9:23 AM on May 13


Many Christians believe that the sacrifice Jesus made rendered the laws of the Hebrew bible null and void. Therefore, Christians may eat pork and shrimp and wear mixed textiles and the rest, however, the laws against homosexuality continue on into Romans, therefore, those remain "legitimate".

Really? I have never heard this before. But again I was raised R.C. so I might have missed this. What an idea….
posted by wenestvedt at 9:26 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Here in Britain, the evangelical leader Steve Chalke recently came out in support of same-sex relationships. His article on 'The Bible and Homosexuality' (short version here, extended version here) is somewhat us-and-them ('us' at the centre, gay people on the margins, so that it's 'our' job to welcome 'them' into the church), but it's a thoughtful attempt to find a biblical basis for same-sex relationships.

To find a Baptist minister leading the way here, while the Church of England is still dithering, challenges the usual lazy stereotypes about 'conservative' evangelicals and 'liberal' Anglicans. Of course Chalke's views aren't typical of UK evangelicalism -- in fact his Oasis Trust has just been expelled by the Evangelical Alliance -- but it's interesting that it took over a year for the EA to make up its mind. As the pro-gay pressure-group Accepting Evangelicals points out:

The reason for such a protracted deliberation is clearly the change which is occurring among evangelicals. Gone are the days when there was one evangelical view on sexuality, and yet organisations like EA try to continue as if this were true.

In the C of E we're still waiting to see which way Justin Welby will jump when he finally decides to get off the fence, but there are encouraging signs. In Britain at least, there is a real shift of attitudes taking place among evangelicals, even though most people in this thread don't seem to have noticed or don't want to believe that it's happening.
posted by verstegan at 9:28 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Three answers to my one, Zarq - gimme a chance to catch up!

There are literally entire organizations devoted to assisting people in escaping from various flavors of religious fundamentalism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have Footsteps. You're asserting that people can simply get up and walk away -- thereby minimizing the influence religious extremism can have on people's freedom. This is clearly not always the case.

Then I didn't speak clearly, because I actually did not mean that people can "simply get up and walk away". Organizations like Footsteps don't forcibly drag people out - the ultra-Orthodox who use Footsteps have to seek them out, and the reason that they seek them out is because sometime, at some point, the still small voice in them that realized that it was uncomfortable with the ultra-Orthodoxy got too loud to ignore. It's not like Footsteps is attracting people who are happy as can be with the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, or that they're, like, kidnapping people and brainwashing them themselves. My point is, at some point that the people who utilize the "paths out of fundamentalism" services have themselves realized they want to leave, despite the years of indoctrination they've been living under.

> Oh, I didn't say it's easy to do. Only that it is possible.

No, your initial assertion and the one I responded to was: "if something just doesn't sit right with you, it doesn't sit right with you" which struck me as an astonishingly glib assessment of the situation all things considered.


You left off the half of my comment where I said that I had just responded to someone else. The reason it sounded "glib" is because I didn't feel like repeating everything I had just said in the comment directly above yours, and that is why I told you I'd just said it - so you could read my fuller response.

I mean, I don't know if you have kids, Empress, but I can tell you from experience that being a Conservative Jew myself and trying to raise kids who will both question their religion in an quasi-agnostic way and value thinking for themselves is turning out to be a really difficult needle to thread. Much harder than I ever thought it would be. My kids are still young and they come home from synagogue and repeat what they've heard as if it is fact. It's important to me (and I think to them, too) that they not accept what they're hearing with blind faith. So we talk about what they're learning. Doing that, you see how certain beliefs and assumptions might become self-fulfilling prophecies. How accepting just one thing as fact can lead to a snowball effect of conclusions.

I don't have kids, but I remember being a kid - and doing exactly the same thing with Catholic dogma. Kids can and do buy into things full-throttle when they're kids if someone they look up to is telling them that.

But kids get older and start thinking themselves about things too. And that's why I also remember the moments when I got a little older and started learning more and realized "waaaaaaait a minute...." and started thinking more about the dogma I'd been spouting and realizing that I didn't quite buy it any more. I wasn't being encouraged to question my faith, but I did anyway. The fact that you're encouraging your kids to think about things is laudable - but there are a lot of people who do that anyway, at least deep down. Whether they act on those questions is a separate issue, but there are people in the pews and the synagogues who do question whether they're really buying what the church is selling, deep down. Hell, even Mother Theresa sometimes questioned her own faith, it turns out, and she was a flippin' nun.

If people really did absorb this kind of black-or-white mindset entirely from their faith, there wouldn't be any need for groups like Footsteps, because no one would want to leave. But something is making some people want to leave. Groups like footsteps are helping them act on these desires, but it isn't instilling the desire in them - that desire is coming from within themselves, and that is what I mean when I say "if something doesn't sit with you, it doesn't sit with you".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on May 13


I thought Matthew Vines' speech was an excellent example of exceptionally clear and eloquent teaching, with a specific emphasis on accurately and even sympathetically capturing his opponents' points of view before dismantling them. This should be standard practice.
posted by shivohum at 9:29 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Really? I have never heard this before. But again I was raised R.C. so I might have missed this. What an idea….

Well it's funny because in Acts there's this scene were a gentile is gonna come hang out with Peter and Peter is all freaking out because GENTILES ARE ICKY and then he has a dream where there's a sheet descending from heaven filled with nonkosher food and then a voice (in the dream) is like 'Don't call anything God made unclean' and Peter wakes up and is like 'I don't know what this dream means' and then God says to him 'DUDE IT WAS ABOUT THAT GENTILE GUY' and then the gentile guy comes around to hang out and is like 'How come you let me hang out with you' and Peter says-- this is actually what Peter says-- 'I had a dream and God showed me that I should not call anyone unclean.'

Like, Peter specifically interprets the dream to be about people and not food. He says, out loud, that the dream is about how Christians shouldn't call any person unclean or impure or less-than.

And so to this very day Evangelicals eat ham on Easter and refuse to associate with homosexuals.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:32 AM on May 13 [75 favorites]


Really? I have never heard this before. But again I was raised R.C. so I might have missed this. What an idea….

Well, it's not because of being raised RC--the most elaborate theological account of the relationship between the OT and NT is given by Thomas Aquinas (tl;dr: "it's complicated"). There are very few mainstream Christian churches that hold that the OT is completely superseded by the NT. Almost all hold that the OT contains some core moral teachings which Christians are enjoined to obey (e.g., the Ten Commandments). Where things get fuzzier is in the more arcane prohibitions in Deuteronomy etc. which Aquinas held to be merely "ceremonial" laws--perfectly appropriate to their time and place as the community's way of performing and signifying their obedience to God's will, but not essential parts of God's ethical injunctions to humanity.

The NT itself blows hot and cold on the question. Famously, Jesus says this:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you want to get "literal" about things, this seems pretty definitive. But then there are other moments where he specifically abrogates Mosaic law, so there's definitely license for choosing to read this non-literally.
posted by yoink at 9:42 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Right, and I guess it's in that "until everything is accomplished" bit that I always figured Jesus paused -- being nailed to the cross, as he was -- and thought to himself, "I'm pretty much done here, and now we can shit-can the 'no shellfish' rules and other assorted junk," and then died.

I guess I am projecting a little. :7) Boy, my theology teachers would be disappointed!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:46 AM on May 13


And so to this very day Evangelicals eat ham on Easter and refuse to associate with homosexuals.

Shakespeherian: Any chance I can quote you on this for the rest of my life? LOVE it!
posted by Sophie1 at 9:47 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


All proceeds to charity.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:58 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


I really applaud these people who are trying to reach out to conservative evangelicals and to get them to see the light. I'm just not sure how well they are attacking the underlying issue here, which is that mindset.

I don't think we can underestimate the power of shifting the culture.

This is just another example of religion being "updated" to fit with the times - theology that doesn't fit contemporary morals needs to be reshaped to fit.

Even die-hard fundamentalists have a faith that has changed over time. It's much less common now to find conservative Christians who use biblical arguments to justify slavery, to ban interracial marriage, or to say that women shouldn't have the vote. There are still some. but far fewer than there used to be. They still believe the Bible is 100% inerrant, but interpretations change over time to fit the needs of the community.

Religious arguments like this probably change very few minds directly, but the fact that they exist and are being expressed openly is part of that cultural shift. And they provide a "way out" of homophobic beliefs for people who are ready to change.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:05 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


And so to this very day Evangelicals eat ham on Easter and refuse to associate with homosexuals.


The Slaktivist has a great, classic post on this matter, along with a ton of other posts centering the idea of reading the Bible "literally", particularly regarding things like abortion where "literalists" have been quite happy to in some cases, rewrite the Bible to make it say what they want it to say. As others have mentioned upthread, nobody reads the Bible "literally", even if they say they do, and insisting that fundamentalists can't be swayed because they read the Bible "literally" is a red herring.
posted by damayanti at 10:33 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]



There are a few people who might disagree with that idea.


Those were TOTALLY religious texts.
posted by d20dad at 10:40 AM on May 13


How timely. My nephew just came out this month, and I hear that his dad is struggling with it (though he's never been a fundie, so I think he'll get over it pretty soon). Many of us in the family are entirely unsurprised, though the fundie ones are of course upset about it. But those of us who are unconcerned/supportive are all the younger ones, and quite honestly, we're going to be here longer and so I think we already win.

He's a good kid, and he'll be fine, and I don't doubt he'll find an accepting church if he needs one. I think we have taken a huge step on this, culturally, and I don't think it's going to get reversed. (though in other countries the struggle is still life and death).
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I meant to add: were I still a Christian, I would approach this with the following question: do I worship a book of texts collected and written by fallible humans, or do I worship a deity who repeatedly emphasized love over judgement? A guy who specifically talks about not stoning sinners because all have sinned, so mind your own ding-dang business and do something about feeding the poor already?

I think you can make a strong case that modern fundamentalism is actually idolatry; they might as well dip a King James Bible (and maybe an approved commentary) in gold and put that up on an altar and pray to it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:50 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Change the environment, the theology changes.

I've seen it work. Evangelicals I know (as well as someone who came from a very homophobic culture) have experienced a kind of conversion after meeting a gay person and understanding their goodness and humanity. The theological arguments become meaningful ONLY after such an encounter.
posted by beau jackson at 10:54 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


but if valkyryn doesn't have much more to add, I would greatly prefer he chill off-site than to keep going in a way he and others might find tiresome.

Not re-treading the same thing or continuing a discussion past where you think it's going anywhere is, I would assert, somewhat different than pre-emptively stating that nobody could possibly say anything worth further participation.
posted by phearlez at 10:57 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I certainly hope everyone opposed to homosexuality avoids eating fat, touching unclean animals, letting their hair become unkempt, eating pork or rabbit, reaping the entirety of a field, holding back the wages of an employee overnight, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich, mixing fabrics in clothing, trimming their beards, tattoos, treating foreigners differently from native-born countrymen, doing work on the Sabbath, selling land, or any number of other things.

The reason this argument doesn't work is because the New Testament (in Acts 15) describes the very first "Church Council" where it is said that the Apostles met to decide what to do about Gentiles who became Christians (or "followers of the Way" or "believers" as they were called at the time). Would Gentiles be required to keep the Jewish law? That is to say, all the stuff you've just listed and more. This is said to be the letter they wrote giving their decision on the matter:
“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25 we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from πορνεία (porneia). If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
That word "πορνεία (porneia)" is usually translated "fornication" which has traditionally been thought to refer to sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. And so laws in the Jewish Torah regarding sexual conduct have traditionally been held to be binding on Christians even though the rest of the Law (your list) does not.

Blasdelb has a fantastic comment here summarizing some of the current discussion (that includes Evangelicals) arguing that πορνεία in the New Testament actually refers strictly to forced prostitution.
posted by straight at 10:58 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


@yoink

Apologies, I should have clarified. In this instance, if we are to take the events Exodus and subsequent books pre NT with any degree of historical probability it's very easy to infer that all the strife the Jews experienced securing their kingdom would have left their population in a sorry state. It's also important to note that this would also be the first time they stop being scattered bands of war tribes and started being a unified nation. And yes, if we are talking about the ancient Jewish People as a single nation established by the events of Exodus, Scripture was the first law of their nation. Hell, the whole point of their lives were to create an entire culture of rabbi that could then go out and indoctrinate the whole world.

It's also important to note that I've pretty much made it clear that this is an inference that can be drawn from historical context from Akkadian, Egyptian, and Sumerian texts where the pre-Judaism tribes are mentioned.
posted by d20dad at 11:01 AM on May 13


And so to this very day Evangelicals eat ham on Easter and refuse to associate with homosexuals.

And the Council in Acts is said to be a direct follow-up to Peter's dream and subsequent baptism of gentiles. And their verdict is basically: Ham? Yes. πορνεία? No.

Evangelicals may be mistaken that πορνεία refers to homosexuality, but it's not because they're ignoring the story about Peter saying "I should not call anyone unclean."

On the other hand, I think shakespeherian may be right that Evangelicals have missed the point of the story, because while they would deny that their opposition to homosexuality was related to this concept of being ritually unclean, in practice, a lot of the opposition really does seem to be rooted in some sort of visceral "Ick! Unclean!" and as the new generation of Evangelicals increasingly have friends who are openly homosexual and obviously not icky, there is suddenly a huge desire to re-examine the question.
posted by straight at 11:12 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Those were TOTALLY religious texts.

Not really? They invoke religion in the course of making laws, and insofar as that's true you could call them religious texts, but that's not a particularly helpful definition in understanding them. It would be like saying a legislative meeting that opened with a prayer is, in its entirety, a religious service: yes, there's some religious there, and there's interesting information we can infer about how people saw civic and religious society's interrelations, but that doesn't mean they aren't different things.

They are, first and foremost, codes of law. They are not scriptural texts, which was your claim: "Scripture was the first law. The first code of conduct written for civilization." They are not primarily (or at all, in some cases) concerned with worship or religious belief; they are not scripture.

I haven't read anything in the original Akkadian, Sumerian, etc etc, but having read them in translation I have a hard time seeing how you could read them as scripture, or, indeed, as primarily religious texts.

Which isn't to say that there isn't scripture that pre-dates anything still extant; it is pretty clear from what records we do have that there must have been laws pre-dating what we know -- the extreme specificity of the Code of Hammurabi, for example, suggests that it's less a first draft of over-arching principles than someone trying to summarize case law. I mean:
228. If a builder build a house for some one and complete it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface.

229 If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

230. If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.

231. If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.

232. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.

233. If a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.
And don't get me started on all the rule about oxen.

'Were the earliest human laws civic or religious' is ultimately unanswerable, given the incomplete record we have, and given that the idea of chuch/state separation is rather novel. My point was simply that "Scripture was the first law" isn't supported by the evidence we do have. It's certainly early and incredibly influential; just not necessarily the earliest.
posted by cjelli at 11:17 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Assuming the Follow-Up-Council in Acts (about Peter's dream) referred to sexual immorality as defined by the OT, is there any room for homosexual marriage being allowed within a church? It seems like a literal translation here would be used, and the OT says that homosexuality is immoral.

Just curious, I like seeing trains of thought all the way through in my head.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:48 AM on May 13


I would encourage those who are still making an honest effort at comparing the laws in Leviticus to disregard comparisons between homosexuality and clothing fibers or shrimp and focus more on the comparison between homosexuality and niddah (ritual uncleanliness during menstruation). There is a load of prohibitions about sex during menstruation compared with sex between two men (or two women - none). As far as I know, Christians do not practice any of the laws of tacharat haMishpacha (family purity) contained in Leviticus - and this would be a far more apt comparison.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:49 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


NOT that I am encouraging evangelicals to take up tacharat haMishpacha AT ALL.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:50 AM on May 13


yep - that's why i always go straight for the sacrificing doves and skip the mixed fibers. although, i like throwing the clearing the fields one in just because it puts the point on what christians should be spending their energy on - findings ways to perform service for the less fortunate.
posted by nadawi at 11:53 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


> "'Homosexuality is gross, and homosexuals should die,' is a literal reading of these texts."

Well, first, as others have pointed out, I don't know why anything in Leviticus is regarded as relevant to Christian thought when much of the New Testament is interpreted by all stripes of Christianity as, "Hey guys! Let's throw away everything it says in Leviticus!"

But be it as that may, if for some reason it is believed (as, to be fair, many seem to) that *this* particular passage of Leviticus must be retained verbatim despite the fact that every *other* passage of Leviticus can be ignored ... are you absolutely 100% sure of that translation there?

Because another, absolutely literal reading of the original text would be "Do not lie with a man in a woman's bed - it is ritually unclean."

Which is pretty different, actually.
posted by kyrademon at 12:03 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


It must be really convenient to base an entire culture of belief on texts so vague and poorly translated that they can be made to say anything one wants.

Considering the alternative, it's a good thing these texts are so vague, or rather, that people are so adaptable not to keep being stuck in outdated and down right dangerous theology.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:14 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I've kind of last track of how this relates to the discussion, but, no, the rules in the Old Testament aren't laws in any judicial sense. Many of them were unenforceable without some supernatural help. E.g., how do you enforce a prohibition on covetousness?

There are also a lot of property rules about Jubilee years. Very specific stuff that would have required a huge enforcement mechanism and lots record keeping. There's no evidence that any of these rules were ever practiced.

Ancient Israel is depicted in the Bible as an absolute monarchy, or a place with a tribal elder type of structure. Think about what place a law code would have in a society like that. It might sort of influence the values of the rulers, but this ain't the Magna Carta.

So, some of the rules in the Old Testament are rules about rituals. Some of them state some tenants of moral behavior. Some of them are sort of pie-in-the-sky Utopianism. None of them are laws in a way we're familiar with in a "code of laws" kind of sense.
posted by chrchr at 12:36 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My old roommate was studying for his doctorate in theology, with an emphasis on hermeneutics, so I'm pretty familiar with the arguments. It's sort of an odd thing from the outside, where it would no doubt improve a great many people's lives if Christianity writ large could come to terms with LGBT identity, and I think that a great deal of interpretation gets done with that as an end goal. But there are a couple hangups for me, despite my willingness to argue against fundies about their interpretation: 1) It's not hard to believe that iron age priests were homophobic; there's plenty of evidence of strict, reductive gender roles and opprobrium for pagan gays. That, obviously, doesn't mean they were right, just that the project can be a little bit like looking for gay subtext in popular media, where the text is less important than the reader's intent. 2) It does all assume that there is an ongoing, eternal and consistent theology grounded in an interventionist deity, and I just don't think that's really justifiable. I had a talk once with a guy who wrote an article about going through conversion therapy, and how it didn't turn him straight but it did turn him atheist. Without some pretty huge, dubious assumptions, the project of aligning Biblical sources with modern ethics can feel a lot like fanfic for a very old fandom.
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Three answers to my one, Zarq - gimme a chance to catch up!

:D

Then I didn't speak clearly, because I actually did not mean that people can "simply get up and walk away".

Honestly, I didn't realize that until your last comment. That's why I tried to clarify in a subsequent comment

Organizations like Footsteps don't forcibly drag people out - the ultra-Orthodox who use Footsteps have to seek them out, and the reason that they seek them out is because sometime, at some point, the still small voice in them that realized that it was uncomfortable with the ultra-Orthodoxy got too loud to ignore. It's not like Footsteps is attracting people who are happy as can be with the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, or that they're, like, kidnapping people and brainwashing them themselves. My point is, at some point that the people who utilize the "paths out of fundamentalism" services have themselves realized they want to leave, despite the years of indoctrination they've been living under.

I agree. My point was simply that for the people who are using Footsteps, the organizations are a lifeline. Without it, they would be really unlikely to be able to escape. Both because that indoctrination is so thorough and also, they are dependent on their community's infrastructure: they don't really know or understand how to live in the outside world.

You left off the half of my comment where I said that I had just responded to someone else. The reason it sounded "glib" is because I didn't feel like repeating everything I had just said in the comment directly above yours, and that is why I told you I'd just said it - so you could read my fuller response.

No, I read your response. I disagreed with it! :) But, okay.

I don't have kids, but I remember being a kid - and doing exactly the same thing with Catholic dogma. Kids can and do buy into things full-throttle when they're kids if someone they look up to is telling them that.

It's made for some fun moments in our house, though. At four years old my son returned from synagogue and announced that "G-d made everything." Everything in this case included trees, people and cars. He was WAY more confused by the end of that conversation. :)

Anyway....

But kids get older and start thinking themselves about things too. And that's why I also remember the moments when I got a little older and started learning more and realized "waaaaaaait a minute...." and started thinking more about the dogma I'd been spouting and realizing that I didn't quite buy it any more. I wasn't being encouraged to question my faith, but I did anyway.

The fact that you're encouraging your kids to think about things is laudable - but there are a lot of people who do that anyway, at least deep down. Whether they act on those questions is a separate issue, but there are people in the pews and the synagogues who do question whether they're really buying what the church is selling, deep down. Hell, even Mother Theresa sometimes questioned her own faith, it turns out, and she was a flippin' nun.

Perhaps questioning faith to oneself is not the primary issue here. Many theists question. That is part of the nature of religious observance.

Questioning faith publicly in fundamentalist communities is an invitation to backlash. This is the rigidity I am speaking of. It's a self-enforcing inability to step outside very clearly delineated lines of what is and is not considered acceptable.

We have, from the very start of this discussion been speaking about people on the highly observant range of the religious spectrum: conservative evangelical Christians. Not simply conservative theists, but fundamentalists. In whose communities questioning the status quo aloud may be possible, but not acceptable and might invite backlash or shunning. Where trying to leave is met with rejection and often made much more difficult by the actual structure of the religion, it's culture and the religious infrastructure and strictures of the community one lives in

Theists observe their faiths at different levels, and the level of religious observance that they follow and was indoctrinated in them as children often has a great deal of influence on whether they can effectively question those beliefs later in life.

My childhood experiences and the way I'm raising my kids today don't directly map onto the conservative evangelical life. When I walked away from Judaism it was easy: I simply stopped going to synagogue. If I had been Orthodox, that would have been much harder. If I had been ultra-Orthodox, perhaps it would have been next to impossible. The Orthodox can be fundamentalists. The ultra-Orthodox are outright fundamentalists.

If people really did absorb this kind of black-or-white mindset entirely from their faith

You began this discussion by saying that conservative evangelicalism doesn't foster a rigid mindset. I continue to disagree. Nowhere have I said that people absorb a "black-or-white mindset entirely from their faith." Haven't even implied it. You keep trying to frame this discussion in absolute terms: one or the other. I am not.
posted by zarq at 1:14 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


An open letter from the moderator of the United Church of Canada to the LGBTQ community.

I'm not a practicing Christian any more, but I'm proud to have been baptised in the United Church. They are one of the leading organisations in Canada, religious or otherwise, working for equality and social justice.
posted by jb at 1:23 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My point was simply that for the people who are using Footsteps, the organizations are a lifeline. Without it, they would be really unlikely to be able to escape. Both because that indoctrination is so thorough and also, they are dependent on their community's infrastructure: they don't really know or understand how to live in the outside world.

Right, but they are a lifeline for people who ultimately decide themselves that they want to use them.

You began this discussion by saying that conservative evangelicalism doesn't foster a rigid mindset. I continue to disagree. Nowhere have I said that people absorb a "black-or-white mindset entirely from their faith." Haven't even implied it.

No, I said that conservative evangelicalism doesn't create a rigid mindset from whole cloth. If I was not clear in that, that was due to poor word choice on my part - what I mean is, the conservative mindset is not entirely and wholly created by religious endoctrination, which is something that many opponents to religion do seem to be saying. That's a black-and-white mindset as well - the implication I get from that argument is that we are all tabula rasa until religion gets hold of us, and if the wrong religious mindset gets hold of us we're just doomed and have no more free agency whatsoever.

You keep trying to frame this discussion in absolute terms: one or the other. I am not.

I'm honestly at a loss to figure out why you're interpreting my qualifiers as "black-or-white, one-or-the-other".

Perhaps questioning faith to oneself is not the primary issue here. Many theists question. That is part of the nature of religious observance.

But the act of questioning one's faith to oneself is precisely what I am getting at. Yes, it is true that all theists question their faith - but they do not all come up with the same answers, because they are all different people. That is what I am getting at.

Questioning faith publicly in fundamentalist communities is an invitation to backlash. This is the rigidity I am speaking of. It's a self-enforcing inability to step outside very clearly delineated lines of what is and is not considered acceptable.

I realize that, and am not disputing it - but that "questioning the faith publically" is what comes after you have questioned your faith to your own self, and come up with answers that lead you to suspect that your faith is actually wanting. I'm looking at the part of people that questions their faith - which is something you grant all theists do - and at what happens when someone comes up with answers that differ from what their faith has taught them. Where else do those answers come from, if not from within them?

What they do after that point - as I have stated repeatedly - is different. They may decide to rededicate themselves to their faith and ignore their doubts, writing it off as "the devil" or something. They may wrestle with their "lack of faith" their whole lives. They may have their doubts in secret. They may seek out groups like Footsteps. They may make a public decrying of their faith and leave in a huff. They may talk themselves into buying the faith again. But none of those things happen if they don't question their faith and come up with an answer from within themselves which makes them doubt their faith.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


No you have to all wrong. Leviticus says you don't lie with men like you lie with women. With men you lie about which women you've had sex with, with women you lie about which women you havn't slept with.
posted by humanfont at 2:22 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Right, but they are a lifeline for people who ultimately decide themselves that they want to use them.

I have already agreed with you about this. But it's tangential to my point which is that the organizations are needed for a reason.

No, I said that conservative evangelicalism doesn't create a rigid mindset from whole cloth. If I was not clear in that, that was due to poor word choice on my part - what I mean is, the conservative mindset is not entirely and wholly created by religious endoctrination, which is something that many opponents to religion do seem to be saying.

You didn't say that at all, EC. If you had put it in those terms I wouldn't have disagreed.

That's a black-and-white mindset as well - the implication I get from that argument is that we are all tabula rasa until religion gets hold of us, and if the wrong religious mindset gets hold of us we're just doomed and have no more free agency whatsoever.

This is not an argument I am making. I'm not really sure that anyone in this thread has made it, but I know for sure that I haven't.

You're bringing up ideas I haven't actually said.

I'm honestly at a loss to figure out why you're interpreting my qualifiers as "black-or-white, one-or-the-other".

Okay. Here are the two examples that I've been talking about:

1: "If people really did absorb this kind of black-or-white mindset entirely from their faith..."

2: "Well, then, why do we have any ex-fundamentalists? Surely if these belief systems are so good at preventing people from asking the wrong questions, then surely we wouldn't be seeing anyone who was able to break away, if what you're saying is true, isn't it?"

I have not said that a rigid religious mindset must come entirely from faith. I have not said that fundamentalist belief systems prevent everyone in all circumstances from asking the wrong questions. Your responses project qualifiers on my statements that I did not say, and cast my arguments as black or white when they are not.

----

But the act of questioning one's faith to oneself is precisely what I am getting at. Yes, it is true that all theists question their faith - but they do not all come up with the same answers, because they are all different people. That is what I am getting at.

Yes, but I don't think anything I said implied otherwise, did it? If you're coming away from something I said with that impression, then I'm not communicating well.

I realize that, and am not disputing it - but that "questioning the faith publically" is what comes after you have questioned your faith to your own self, and come up with answers that lead you to suspect that your faith is actually wanting. I'm looking at the part of people that questions their faith - which is something you grant all theists do - and at what happens when someone comes up with answers that differ from what their faith has taught them. Where else do those answers come from, if not from within them?

When a person studies Jewish theology and scripture, they are encouraged to think about multiple interpretations of every passage. In some cases, multiple interpretations can be gleaned from every sentence. In such cases, the religion itself is inviting analysis and questions. Religious Jews who study scripture are quite literally trained to never accept what they read at face value, or to have blind faith with regard to religious doctrine. We are supposed to be thoughtful.

Everything up to and in some cases including the existence of G-d is acceptable to question. Judaism itself fosters that attitude. It's expected that you as a Jew will think about what you're being taught and draw your own conclusions.

One of my favorite columns is this: Let there be light in Kansas. It's by Gene Weingarten. A letter from God to the Kansas Board of Education about teaching evolution and creationism, that contains a simple idea: "That's what I made you for. To think." That's what Judaism encourages. Or at least, that's what it's supposed to encourage. So the only answer i can give to your question is that in non-fundamentalist Judaism questions about pretty much anything: faith, doctrine, ritual, ceremony, life, etc., may come from within the religion or from a person's heart. In fundamentalist Judaism, the same attitude applies, but the accepted answers are far more rigid.

I believe the attitude shown by a religion towards inquiry and skepticism matters and has a wider effect on its followers.
posted by zarq at 2:49 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


"No you have to all wrong. Leviticus says you don't lie with men like you lie with women. With men you lie about which women you've had sex with, with women you lie about which women you havn't slept with."

rimshot.gif
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Pretty good post today from popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans defending the notion that pro-gay Christians are taking their cues from scripture and the church.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:58 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


> No, I said that conservative evangelicalism doesn't create a rigid mindset from whole cloth. If I was not clear in that, that was due to poor word choice on my part - what I mean is, the conservative mindset is not entirely and wholly created by religious endoctrination, which is something that many opponents to religion do seem to be saying.

You didn't say that at all, EC. If you had put it in those terms I wouldn't have disagreed.


And that's why I said "if I was not clear in that, that was due to poor word choice on my part." So since you agree with me, on this point, what on earth are we arguing about?

> But the act of questioning one's faith to oneself is precisely what I am getting at. Yes, it is true that all theists question their faith - but they do not all come up with the same answers, because they are all different people. That is what I am getting at.

Yes, but I don't think anything I said implied otherwise, did it? If you're coming away from something I said with that impression, then I'm not communicating well.


Quite frankly, it looks like what happened is that you read something I said to someone else entirely, interpreted it incorrectly - partly because of my own bad word choice, I admit - and have been disputing with me based on your incorrect assumption, and all this time I've been trying to clarify what I was saying in the first place. You've been debating with me about an argument I never even MADE. So, no, you didn't say anything like that, but there ARE people who HAVE said this, and they are the people I was thinking of when I DID make my initial comments to Old Man above, which is why I said what I said in the first place to him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:14 PM on May 13


feckless, everyone is a sinner. Whether there is a God or not, there are some things that humanities tend to believe are wrong. There seems to be an innate human sense of right and wrong that most humans agree with, an ideal standard of behavior we can never achieve. In each behavior that falls short of the ideal, we sin. Aspiring to such an ideal doesn't require a God. All you have to do is fall short of your own ideals to sin.
posted by lhauser at 3:17 PM on May 13


That assumes a definition of sin that not everyone shares. I agree that everyone acts imperfectly, makes mistakes, is cruel. I don't necessarily agree that you can define those things as sins; it's sensible to define sin as involving religion specifically, though not the only possible definition.
posted by jeather at 3:20 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Oh, for fuck's sake. If you choose your words poorly, don't tell me that I'm somehow at fault for misinterpreting you, especially since your repeated attempts to clarify twisted my words by arguing against strawmen.

Walking away now.
posted by zarq at 3:20 PM on May 13


Not sure how admitting something is partly my fault is somehow blaming you, zarq, but I'm sorry we're not communicating well. And by "we" I include myself too, of course.

Anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:28 PM on May 13


Andrew Rilstone, whom I understand to be a pro-gay evangelical Christian, wrote a FAQ about this some years ago: The Ballad of Reading Diocese. The main bit is here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:22 PM on May 13


I laughed hard at this bit from the article linked upthread about the Presbyterian schism:

"Eshoff said the church he left had been drifting away from orthodox interpretations of the Bible over the last 25 years. 'Love and tolerance are becoming more important than holiness and righteousness,' he said" (my emphasis).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:45 PM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Whether there is a God or not, there are some things that humanities tend to believe are wrong.

Wrong is different from sin, to me. I don't have a religion and never did. I do not believe in the idea of sin. I know that other people believe in it and that's their belief system and it's fine for them. To me, and perhaps people can tell me if I'm just wrong about this, belief in the idea of sin basically requires the belief in a god or a higher power because that's what makes sinning different from just being wrong or immoral. This may just wind up being nitpicking about what the actual definition of sin is, but just like I don't believe in heaven but I understand that others do, I don't believe in sin.
posted by jessamyn at 5:28 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Something often elided in these discussion is the institutional momentum towards homophobia, i.e as Western people from less homophobic societies make up increasingly smaller proportions of the church, and people from developing countries that often have more homophobic societies become a larger proportion of the church, administrations face a tricky balancing act in placating both members. You can see this with the Anglican church and its very conservative African members, and the Catholic Church and the way homophobia is far, far more prevalent in South America (and in Africa, too).
posted by smoke at 5:54 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


My favorite definition of sin is Francis Spufford's: "the human propensity to fuck things up."
posted by straight at 6:06 PM on May 13


Andrew Rilstone, whom I understand to be a pro-gay evangelical Christian, wrote a FAQ about this some years ago: The Ballad of Reading Diocese. The main bit is here.

Rilstone points out that the stuff I wrote regarding the "decision" about what to do with Gentile converts to this new Jewish sect is just the tip of the iceberg. A rather significant chunk of the whole New Testament is devoted to questions of how Christianity should relate to the Jewish Law and traditions: Should Christians be circumcised? Which day(s) should be holy? Why aren't we doing animal sacrifices anymore? Are we still members of the group to whom the Jewish scriptures are addressed, and if so, what does that mean? If Gentiles aren't going to keep the Law, how can they and Jewish Christians live together peaceably?

Modern-day Christians seldom have these questions in mind when they read "the Old Testament," but the way they read it is a legacy of the ways the early church answered them. So it's kind of ignorant for people to try to formulate "gotchas" about supposed inconsistencies in the way Christians read the Jewish scriptures, as if we haven't already been arguing about it for 2000 years.
posted by straight at 6:22 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


You know, don't you, that that really isn't any more helpful to the discussion than someone coming in here and unequivocally exclaiming that "Christianity is right"?

No, because one of those statements is objectively true. This is a ridiculous false equivalence. You can say Christianity is wrong, because that statement is backed up by actual fucking evidence. Choosing to have faith doesn't give those people a pass on logic.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 7:51 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


oh jesus christians embracing homosexuality isn't a new thing - we ordained gays in the 70s and there are still a million of us.
i really get heated about this - the evangelicals suddenly start figuring out that they're wrong and america swoons all over them.

There have always been progressive Christians! They've always been in the minority! Jesus was one of them! etc.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:04 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


This article, written by a Southern Baptist mother about her trans daughter, came across my feeds today.
My God taught us to love one another. Jesus sought out those that others rejected. Some people choose to embrace Biblical verses that seem to say being transgender is wrong. I choose to focus on verses like First Samuel 16:7, which says, "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" My daughter is a girl in her heart. She knows it. God knows it. That's good enough for me.
posted by Corinth at 9:19 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure why you are in this thread.

I didn't see anything mean in your comment. I don't consider religion to be a moot or inconsequential topic. Religions are pretty much universal. They have shaped almost every known civilization that's ever existed. On the other hand, I don't see any value in a debate over the validity of any religious tenet. After you read any particular passage you are left with a discussion of its interpretation. Once the topic gets to whether or not God actually said (or meant) such and such, there's no place to go.

In my view, religious persons are not any less intelligent because they have beliefs that are not based on reason, but faith. My truck is with assholery, which seems to be built into both Christianity and Judaism (the subject of the discussion). Religion and science (or critical thinking) may sometimes overlap (I'm thinking here of archeology that validates the existence of religious figures or events). I have experienced places in the mountains that impressed me with a palpable, and sometimes creepy "sense of place," in ways that made the hair stand up on my arms, and ran chicken skin up and down my back. None of this (sort of metaphysical inkling) makes me want to burn anybody at the stake or refuse them admittance to my version of paradise.

My view of creation myths is that they are all notions that attempt to put a cultural cloak on our human beginnings, and perhaps imply some purpose to our existence. So, to me, they are neither right nor wrong, true nor false. Maybe it would be fair to say they try to describe the interface between our body and our mind, what we can see and what we can imagine--clearly there is more to know that we can ever possibly imagine. I find certain creation myths enchanting, even poetic--the coyote turd theory, for example. I value them as stories; some of them seem to have an enticing vision of the link between what we know and what we don't.

My disgust with certain aspects of religions often has more to do with the human failings of the practitioners than the tenets. Having said that, I admit that I find certain aspects of some religions disgusting. Circling back to my basic notion, religions are not trivial.

I look with amazement at the way Christians are warping biblical text in an attempt to meet modern sensibilities. Whatever it was that the god of Judaism and Christianity meant to impart, he is still working on it. Or else all these people may as well believe in the Cosmic Muffin. I find the situation with Christianity and the LGBT folks to be poignant, nearly heartbreaking. I understand and respect the need to connect with a creator. The need to touch the face of God seems to be fundamental, if not entirely universal. Maybe assholery is, too. At the bottom of it, though, my version of the cosmos puts religions as fictitious constructs. That doesn't mean they are any less real than, say, capitalism.
posted by mule98J at 11:51 PM on May 13


pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated: "No, because one of those statements is objectively true. This is a ridiculous false equivalence. You can say Christianity is wrong, because that statement is backed up by actual fucking evidence. Choosing to have faith doesn't give those people a pass on logic."

...And for the most part just about everyone in this thread would rather talk about this interesting movement, set of ideas, and hermeneutic focus than do religion 101 for you all over again.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:53 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


"On the other hand, I don't see any value in a debate over the validity of any religious tenet."

Because it affects millions of people throughout the globe? I mean, believe it or not, but one of the reasons why it matters how Christianity squares the gay circle is because Christians are a pretty big chunk of the global populace and getting them to accept that love is more important than orientation is a big step toward making sure that everyone has equal rights.

So, while the debate itself may be esoteric, the stakes are high.
posted by klangklangston at 1:25 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


So, while the debate itself may be esoteric, the stakes are high.
posted by klangklangston


I couldn't agree more. Any version of any god necessarily relies on something that can't be proven. That doesn't mean that agreements based on faith don't have real consequences. I think a nuanced argument is necessary to show that validation and faith are not mutually exclusive, but there's a difference between making a religious assertion and an argument based on a provable fact. So the issue comes down to where you stand, not whether your point of view is valid. Why argue, then, about whether one ought to circumcise the boy child? Why argue about the humanity involved in ones sexuality? In the case of the first, you could use science to show that circumcision is not necessary (or, perhaps, that it is). In the case of the second, no amount of reasoning will move the truly religious person from departing from the holy commands of his god. In any case the issue either is secular, and you will do what you think is best, or it's religious, and you will do what you are told.

In my cosmos, the stakes don't happen to be my immortal soul. I imagine the stakes in this instance for the LGBT folks who are involved to be much higher. Not only must they deal with the Lord, but they must deal with others who share their belief in God. Although I am sympathetic to this awful plight, I can't presume to know how that must feel.
posted by mule98J at 12:19 PM on May 14


Most arguments for how acceptance of LGBTQ rights fit in with Christianity use this same kind of underlying logic: "well, after all, the Bible isn't perfect, parts of it contradict each other, and the writers were human and lived in a totally different culture and era."

I happen to agree with that underlying logic, but you're not going to be able to use it to convince most conservative Christians of anything. If I use that logic with my conservative evangelical family (and I have tried), they instantly tune me out.


The most irritating thing about this is that the same literalistic fundamentalists who are so averse to the "totally different culture and era" thing go right ahead and use it to explain away the whole David and Jonathan story: "It was a covenant, not a marriage. No, really, it was totally normal back then for two guys to take their clothes off and kiss and declare a love 'more wonderful than the love of women.' It was symbolic!"

While there is certainly some legitimacy to such claims--it's the hypocrisy of the selective application of the interpretive lens I object to--the fact is that, no matter how you spin it, the story of David and Jonathan is by far the most romantic part of the whole Bible, and passages from it could very easily be used as vows in any wedding. It wouldn't take much for even the most squeamish denominations to accept that the Bible contains a high profile (royal on royal!) same-sex love story (even if those dudes were totally just BFFs) and adapt it into a ceremonial thing, utterly separate from (or at least turning a blind eye to) any behaviour the church might object to.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:11 AM on May 18


go right ahead and use it to explain away the whole David and Jonathan story: "It was a covenant, not a marriage. No, really, it was totally normal back then for two guys to take their clothes off and kiss and declare a love 'more wonderful than the love of women.' It was symbolic!"

I've always felt this interpretation was a big stretch, and the people I usually see advancing it seem to *want* to believe it true. Their objectivity seems suspect.

There's enough clarity in the original Hebrew that by knowing both which phrases were being used and the specific rituals described, it makes it unlikely the text is describing sexual love between them. The same phrases are used in other areas of the Torah in a clearly non-erotic fashion. The phrases typically used in the Torah to signify sexual relationships are also absent. The Mishnah appears to back this up. Much of this is discussed at the link you provided.

In my totally lay opinion: is it possible? Sure. Likely? No. Even if we take a super-generous interpretation it still seems doubtful.

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have a smoking gun to smack homophobic hypocritical fundies with. But that ain't it.
posted by zarq at 9:49 AM on May 18


You seem to have missed my point. Maybe read the whole comment before responding. Even the very next sentence.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:59 AM on May 18


There's enough clarity in the original Hebrew that by knowing both which phrases were being used and the specific rituals described, it makes it unlikely the text is describing sexual love between them.

That was Sys Rq's whole point. When it comes to keeping the gays out of the "plain meaning of the [translated] text" the fundies are very happy to get into "the original Hebrew" and "knowing both which phrases were being used and the specific rituals described." It's only when people start saying "the plain meaning of the text" misleads us into thinking the Bible is more clearly homophobic than it actually is that the fundies get all "I don't care about your damned book-larnin'--if the King's English was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for me!"
posted by yoink at 12:06 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: "You seem to have missed my point. Maybe read the whole comment before responding. Even the very next sentence."

I read the entire comment. Your point was not apparent to me.

Thank you for clarifying, yoink.
posted by zarq at 2:19 PM on May 18


Surely Song of Songs is the most romantic part of the Bible. It's specifically an extended metaphor for erotic love. After that, I'd say the story of Jacob and Rachel, and perhaps Ruth and Boaz.

As for the story of David and Jonathan, bearing in mind that all we know of them is the Biblical account, the thing that really stands out in the Books of Samuel is that the author was very judgmental and condemnatory. Both Saul and his son Jonathan are condemned for breaches of ritual law, and ultimately die as a consequence. And David is criticised for other things, too. None the less, there's no mention of Jonathan or David being condemned for being gay.

If the author of the Books of Samuel meant their audience to understand that David and Jonathan were gay, then he also meant to convey that there was nothing wrong with it. And the audience, and the people who transmitted the text, must have been oblivious to it. So an argument that the text actually depicts a gay relationship really rests on a belief that nobody noticed the characters were gay for the first three thousand years of its transmission. Which I think is unlikely. I suggest that the most you can say about the text is that it raises eyebrows, and that in a more pro-gay milieu it would have been seen as homoerotic.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:58 PM on May 18


So an argument that the text actually depicts a gay relationship

...is not an argument anyone has made here.

Surely Song of Songs is the most romantic part of the Bible. It's specifically an extended metaphor for erotic love.

Romantic ≠ erotic.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:17 PM on May 18


Have you actually read it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:13 PM on May 18


Song of Songs is two people telling each other how hot they look (and how hot other people say they look) and how much they want to / enjoy having sex. Erotic, perhaps, but not much in the way of romance.
posted by straight at 7:27 PM on May 18


Have you actually read it?

Yes. It reads like a particularly awful bodice-ripper based on the Sears catalog.

(And maybe it loses something in translation, but "Your hair is like a herd of goats" just doesn't strike me as particularly hot, no matter how many times they say it.)

Seriously though, there's a difference between the romantic and the erotic; it is the difference between an emotion and an erection.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 PM on May 18


Oh come on, Song of Songs was great if you were 13 and evangelical and desperate to read anything having to do with sex.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:58 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


There can be a difference, but it's not required or automatic. They are not opposites.
posted by rtha at 9:13 PM on May 18


There's a pretty great theory that the Song of Solomon is a Hebrew version of the fertility rites of Ishtar and Tammuz. Tammuz is a shepherd god. Ishtar is his sister. It's hard to miss the numerous reference to these figures in Song of Solomon once you've read about the fertility gods in Near Eastern religion. If I recall correctly, the story is kind of like Isis and Osiris where Ishtar descends into the underworld to restore Tammuz to life.
posted by chrchr at 11:26 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]


"Your hair is like a herd of goats" just doesn't strike me as particularly hot, no matter how many times they say it.

"Your teeth are like the calcified debris found inside molluscs" isn't very "hot" either. It's easy to make fun of metaphors when you don't share the cultural referents that made them meaningful. I'm actually a bit nonplussed: how can you read something like the excerpt below and deny that it's romantic?
I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one,
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”

I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?

My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
on the handles of the bolt.

I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.

The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city;
they beat me, they bruised me,
they took away my veil,
those watchmen of the walls.

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that you tell him
I am sick with love.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:31 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: "Yes. It reads like a particularly awful bodice-ripper based on the Sears catalog."

The evangelicals should really put out a bible with Fabio on the cover. Shirtless, with long, flowing locks underneath his yarmulke. Fending off Philistines with a sword and dipping the dusky-skinned, heaving-bosomed Hebrew maiden while leaning in to plant a manly kiss on her lips.

A second edition could show two shirtless Fabios in chaps, holding each other in a virile, masculine embrace... sharing an intimate moment while surrounded by power tools and Die Hard batteries.

Sales would go through the roof.
posted by zarq at 7:46 AM on May 19


how can you read something like the excerpt below and deny that it's romantic?

I guess I haven't met many people who would think, "I had a wet dream about you last night; here let me describe it..." was romantic.

Seriously, every single line in the poem is either about the lovers praising each other's looks or how much they like and want to have sex. There's no hint that the word "love" refers to anything beyond sex. They address each other, but as one might make a declaration of love alone on a mountaintop: "Solomon, you're so gorgeous! I love you!" There is no conversation, no indication that the man even knows the woman's name.

Context is everything, of course. The poem (just like sex itself) can be romantic in the context of a romantic relationship, but I don't really see anything inherently romantic in the poem itself.
posted by straight at 12:23 PM on May 19




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