Can Civility Cloud the Truth?

The morning after North Carolina voters amended their state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions, I posted an angry comment to Facebook:

2008 presidential voting notwithstanding, North Carolina voters are still embarrassingly ignorant. Yet another state that in 20 years is going to collectively say, “Oops. Sorry about taking away your civil rights back there. No hard feelings for the last two decades of second-class citizenship, right?”

I received some hard pushback from some friends of mine:

Those are pretty harsh words, the kind of rhetoric that inflames the political and moral discussion about straight-gay issues from both sides making it impossible to move the dialog forward.

WOW! I would not say that standing up for God’s intended purpose of marriage is “Embarrassingly ignorant”. Pretty harsh.

I won’t assign to anyone an appellation that fits only their worst characteristic if they also have noble ones. … Note, I have not indicated here what I think of the amendment but I’m confident that faithful, intelligent people of good conscience voted on both sides.

Tough to preach tolerance and acceptance amid name-calling those with different beliefs, especially in this case when many on the other side are God-fearing Christians and productive citizens attempting to follow what they’ve read in the Bible.

Continue reading Can Civility Cloud the Truth?


Was Mary Really a Virgin? (Part 11)

I’ve spent more than two months now working methodically through the notion of the virgin birth – what the text says and doesn’t say and what critical scholars argue about the stories – and I think we’re close to wrapping this thing up. First, however, we have to deal with theology.

I tried to do that a couple of weeks ago and wasted everyone’s time (well, not everyone’s; these posts are actually not well read, so I’ve wasted very few people’s time, apparently). So this week I read through Robert Gromacki’s The Virgin Birth: A Biblical Study of the Deity of Jesus Christ.

You might gather by the linking of Christ’s deity with the virgin birth that this is a conservative work. Which is exactly what I wanted, an in-depth study of the virgin birth from a traditional perspective, one that treats both the problems raised by modern scholarship and the theological implications for those problems.

I’ll let Gromacki have the floor with minimal commentary from me. Next week, I’ll respond to what he says, but for now, let’s just see what that is.

Continue reading Was Mary Really a Virgin? (Part 11)

Why Don’t Christians Support Polygamy?

The question might seem to have an obvious answer, but I’m not so sure.

I was having a little Facebook discussion about homosexuality and, typically for me, pushing back against some folks’ notion of a completely inerrant, universally applicable Bible that unequivocally condemns homosexuality as we know it today. If by now you haven’t figured out I don’t think the Bible is inerrant as evangelicals use the term, nor do I think all parts of it are universally applicable (and neither does anyone else, even if they say they do), nor do I think we can so easily draw a straight line from “homosexuality” as used in the Bible and the kind practiced and debated today.

Nevertheless, over the course of the discussion, someone threw out the template argument. I would call it the third leg of the stool used to support Christian opposition to same-sex intimacy (I try to avoid using the “h-word” in this context because some Christians, after all, have moderated on scientific grounds to allow for people being gay and celibate, which means they are not opposed to homosexuality as an orientation, just acting on those same-sex attractions).

These are the three legs:

  1. Leviticus – Yes, this is still used as an argument despite its obvious weaknesses.
  2. Romans – A much stronger argument, though in my opinion the passage is heavily culturally conditioned, evidenced by Paul’s Stoic-influenced appeal to the “natural” and “unnatural” and the fact that homosexual behavior is not the sin he’s condemning but rather the consequence of the true sin of idolatry.
  3. The Template – This is the argument that the creation story of Genesis 2:4b-3 serves as a template for God’s ideal relationship. Its arguers then use Jesus’ citation of it in a completely different context to counter the notion that he never said anything about same-sex relationships.

You could add the vice lists to these arguments, but they seem to fall in the same area as No. 2, only with less detail or certainty as to what Paul is actually discussing.

Here’s the thing, though. As weak as they are regard, none of these arguments even applies to polygamy. Continue reading Why Don’t Christians Support Polygamy?

A Radical Feminist Rabbi Named Jesus

Jesus Christ is the true and final Word of God, in relation to whom scripture is God’s secondary, written word of witness and testimony. – Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible

When Rachel Held Evans last put out a call for bloggers to discuss the nature of men and women in the church, I responded with a discussion about the radical femininity of Christ, which was mainly a few observations about the actions of Jesus and the testimony of the early church from a historical perspective.

This week, Evans has proposed a “synchroblog” on the same issue, calling it “Mutuality Week.” Which seems like as good a time as any to look some more at exactly how the gospels record Jesus treating women. Because lost in the big debates over what Paul thought about women is what should be a more important question: What did Jesus think about women?

Continue reading A Radical Feminist Rabbi Named Jesus

Was Mary Really a Virgin? (Intermission)

The virgin birth needs better defenders. Or at least a better defense.

After more than two months of research into the viability of the virgin birth, I felt like there was a pretty good – though certainly not overwhelming or ironclad – case to be made for the virgin birth being the “winner” of two competing traditions about the physical origins of Jesus, with the more likely one, an illegitimate birth, being consigned to mere hints in the biblical text and the accusations of Christianity’s opponents.

Nevertheless, it’s not a terribly strong case, and if the virgin birth is theologically necessary for Christian belief, then I would feel comfortable supporting it. What last week’s Google search to find such theological justification showed me is that the popular reasons for supporting the virgin birth are pretty lousy.

Continue reading Was Mary Really a Virgin? (Intermission)

The Christocentric Canon

There’s a little Marcion in each of us.

I was happy that my Amos and Ethics class last week spent a good deal of time hashing out the questions of theodicy inherent in Amos (I might have had something to do with that). As I mentioned before the class, as much as liberals love Amos for its emphasis on social justice, it is difficult to reconcile that emphasis with the ever-present specter of divinely sanctioned, if not divinely commissioned, slaughter and suffering.

I see two ways to reconcile this. My professor appeared to prefer one, and I prefer the other.

The first way is to talk about God’s role in the movements of history and chalk the language of Amos (“I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not good,” or, “I will never forgive them,” or, “I will oppress them,” or the rhetorical question in 3:6: “If a disaster falls on a city, is it [not] the Lord who has done it?”) up to a literalization of the mysterious and sometimes metaphorical role of God in the workings of nations and armies.

That’s not particularly satisfying because it leaves unresolved the key problem: If God is just by any recognizable definition of the word “justice,” then how can he further afflict the poor and oppressed – the innocent people whose suffering has led to this punishment in the first place – with the tactics of perhaps the most terrorizing army in the history of the world? Amos does not assume some rhetorical movement here; it is direct and forceful, and it gives God complete agency over the future, though still unnamed, armies that will destroy Israel 20 to 40 years later.

I think there has to be a better answer, and the key is to understand the failed prophecies of Amos.

Continue reading The Christocentric Canon