Beauty and the Beast is probably my all-time favorite Disney musical.
My aunt took me to see the theatrical version on Broadway for my 14th birthday, and that sort of experience tends to be pretty formative (my 13th birthday was Phantom of the Opera, and I can still basically recite that play by heart without needing the music). But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the depth of the story:
It’s a call for open-mindedness and diversity that was pretty unusual for its day (1991) and remains relevant today.
Its heroine, Belle, is a much stronger woman character than had been typical to that point (only Jasmine is comparable until we hit the Tangled/Frozen era)
And its climactic song, unimaginatively titled “The Mob Song,” is a rousing and chilling exploration of how fear turns people into the beasts they so despise and war against.
In an effort to clear out some of my to-read backlog, I dove into Hell: A Final Word– a semi-autobiographical synopsis of Edward Fudge’s much longer and groundbreaking case for annihilationism as the biblical vision of the fate of the wicked.
Fudge, who died late last year, is little known outside of a very small group of people interested in challenging the traditional Christian notion of hell as the home of eternal conscious torment. In the 1970s, he was commissioned to spend a year researching the subject and to his surprise found that he felt the Bible taught that the souls of those condemned to hell eventually perished in the flames, thus the labels “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality.” That book was The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment; Hell: A Final Word was written to coincide with the release of a biopic about Fudge’s theological journey.
(While you might think a film about a preacher engaging in a yearlong quest of biblical scholarship about hell would be horribly boring, it’s surprisingly good! It’s called Hell and Mr. Fudge, and it’s worth your time if you’re at all interested in the subject. I ended up seeing a premier screening at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit lectureship in 2012, where I also bought the book. Fudge was a lifelong member of Churches of Christ, thus the ACU connection.)
All of that to say, if you’re dissatisfied (or not!) with eternal conscious torment – either because of your own research or because of your discomfort with the nature of the God it requires you to worship – this is a good popular-level primer for how Fudge came to articulate the most comprehensive case for one of the two major alternatives.
The latest front in the seemingly unending culture wars is Bible-believing Christians versus GQ.
In case you are blessedly ignorant of what’s been happening, allow me to ruin your day.
First, GQ decided to publish a snarky, irreverent piece essentially saying: “These 21 books are almost universally considered great. They actually suck. Read these other 21 thematically similar books instead.”
Now, obviously, the goal of a listicle like this is clicks. Fans of the dissed books will express their outrage, whether feigned or genuine, GQ will reap the ad-revenue and brand-expansion benefits, and the world spins on.
End of story, right? Well, no.
12. The Bible
The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.
So it’s been a few days years since I’ve blogged. I’ll talk more about that in a future post. But nothing gets the Disorientedblog-outrage juices flowing like an unexpected, vicious, evil assault on LGBT Christians.
And make no mistake, that’s what the “Nashville Statement” produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood this week is. Not only was it unexpected, but it comes at a time when LGBT people are feeling particularly vulnerable. It is certainly vicious.
And, yes, it is evil. I’ve discussed in this space before how the words of prominent Christians affect the lives of LGBT youth, who are at increased risk for homelessness, addiction, self-harm and suicide – almost all of it traceable to the shame and ostracism they feel from people who claim to love them.
Lots of people have said lots of things about the Nashville Statement (the condemnations have been refreshingly swift and fierce), but if I had to summarize the most interestingshockinghorrifying elements, it would be these:
Articles III and IV describe differences between men and women as “divinely ordained,” but does not attempt to describe what those differences are.
Article V says that genitals “are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female,” and posits a “God-appointed link” between a person’s genitalia and their self-conception.
Article VI acknowledges the existence of intersex people and affirms that they “have dignity and worth equal to all other” humans … but makes no effort to reconcile their existence with Article V’s emphasis on genitals being “integral to God’s design for self-conception.”
Article X is truly shocking, as it labels support of same-sex relationships and “transgenderism” (which isn’t a thing) “an essential departure from Christian faithfulness,” leading to the inescapable – and, to their credit, explicitly stated – conclusion that “faithful Christians” cannot “agree to disagree” on whether to affirm same-sex relationships and transgender people. This draws the line, and millions of baptized Christians who affirm the divinity and resurrection of Christ while also affirming same-sex marriages are on the wrong side.
Article XIII argues that the grace of God, rather than providing room to disagree on complex and sensitive issues like transgender identity, “enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions … that are at odds with God’s revealed will.”
And, going out of order, because this is the crux of my post: Article VII says a person’s notion of their masculinity or femininity “should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.”
But, um, where is the Scripture in the Nashville Statement? Article XIII discusses “God’s revealed will.” Article V mentions a “God-appointed link.” Articles III and IV mention “divinely ordained” sexual differences.
But where are the actual words of God?
Here, so far as I can tell is a complete rundown of all of the Bible verses directly or indirectly quoted in the 14 articles of the Nashville Statement:
Article VI quotes Matt 19:12 regarding intersex people: “… our Lord Jesus in his words about ‘eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.'”
That’s it. One verse that likely was never intended to address the subject the CBMW rips it out of context to address. For a group with “Biblical” right in the name and 14 articles discussing what they allege are biblical views of gender and sexuality, that’s awfully skimpy.
Rather than go any more at length into the manifest wrongness of the Nashville Statement – and make no mistake, it is wrong on nearly every count, whether you’re looking at it morally, psychologically, scientifically or biblically – let me just respond with a few Bible verses the CBMW maybe could have used to create a statement more in keeping with the Jesus they claim to follow:
“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for a person to be alone.'” – Genesis 2:18
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18
“Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. … Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.” – Song of Songs 8:6-7
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. … Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. – Isaiah 1:13, 17
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings? … He has shown you, oh human, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:6, 8
“So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
“‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40/Mark 12:30-31
“‘Which of these do you think was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” – Luke 10:36-37
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you [tithe] but you neglect justice and the love of God. … And you experts of the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:42, 46
“This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15:17
“You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” – Romans 8:37-39
“Each of us will give an account of themselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” – Romans 14:12-13
“Now to the unmarried I say: … If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The person who thinks they know something does not yet know as they ought to know. But the person who loves God is known by God.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I am nothing. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3, 13
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
“Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his purpose.” – Philippians 7:12-13
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12, 14
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates a brother or sister, that person is a liar.” – 1 John 4:7-8, 16, 18-20
This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.
It’s cited widely elsewhere in the Bible – in all three of the synoptic gospel’s portrayals of Jesus’ divorce teachings, in 1 Corinthians 6 and in Ephesians 5. And it’s lately become the crux in what I call the template argument, in which this verse provides the proof that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman.
This verse came back to my attention while reading the short – though quite dense – book The Septuagint, Sexuality and the New Testament by William Loader, professor of New Testament at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. Loader is looking for ways in which the Septuagint translators changed the Hebrew text of certain Old Testament passages dealing with sexuality, and how those changes influenced the arguments of Greco-Roman Jews relying on the Septuagint, particularly Philo of Alexandria and Paul of Tarsus.
I’m reading through Eldon Jay Epp’s book Junia: The First Woman Apostle, which has succeeded in blowing my mind, and we haven’t even gotten to Junia yet.
Epp starts the book by talking about textual criticism, the means by which scholars look at the oldest texts we have and study their language and variations, and the problems such criticism poses for exegetical certainty. For example, everyone here is familiar with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting.
Pretty clear, right? But let’s zoom out a little and see what we find when we include it in context:
31 You can all prophesy one at a time so that everyone can learn and be encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets. 33 God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace.
(Like in all the churches of God’s people, 34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting. 36 Did the word of God originate with you? Has it come only to you?)
37 If anyone thinks that they are prophets or “spiritual people,” then let them recognize that what I’m writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If someone doesn’t recognize this, they aren’t recognized. 39 So then, brothers and sisters, use your ambition to try to get the gift of prophecy, but don’t prevent speaking in tongues. 40 Everything should be done with dignity and in proper order.
The parentheses, which Epp includes in his treatment of these paragraphs, kind of give it away: One of these paragraphs is not like the other two. You could read from verse 33a to verse 37 without any trouble, as if verses 33b-36 didn’t exist. That’s interesting enough, but by itself doesn’t prove that verses 33b-35 or 36 are later additions to the text.
But Epp goes on to point out that not every text of 1 Corinthians place verses 34-35 between 33 and 36; some place it after verse 40. So this text is a little more mobile than your typical Pauline text. Also, though every text of 1 Corinthians 14 we have includes this passage, at least two of our earliest versions (Codex Fuldensis, dated to 547, and Codex Vaticanus, dated to the 300s) include scribal notations also found with such passages as John’s story of the woman caught in adultery, a well known case of textual variation. As Epp puts it:
This combination of literary analysis and text-critical assessment has moved a sizable group of scholars to view the passage on “silent women” as a later intrusion into 1 Corinthians and most likely one never written by Paul. (19)
So what does this mean? What do we do if one of the key passages governing gender roles in conservative and fundamentalist churches turns out to be a later, non-Pauline addition? After all, it’s still in our Bibles, and – at least theoretically – Paul is not of greater importance than any other biblical writer (though we Protestants certainly seem to prefer him to, say, James).
But the point is not to simply dismiss pieces of the Bible we don’t like; the point is to recognize that the Bible itself – not any particular passage but the very nature of the texts we have – rejects our attempts to flatten it into a cut-and-paste set of rules for 21st century life and worship.
A lot of times, it seems progressive Christians get caught between two sides each screaming pronouncements at each other.
On the one hand, there are the conservatives, with their line drawing and their hard-and-fast pronouncements: The Bible is inerrant! Evolution is a lie! You’re probably going to hell!
On the other, there are the liberals, no less enamored with their own lines and declarations: The resurrection didn’t happen! Jesus wasn’t really divine!
Progressives share a lot in common with liberals – certainly more than conservatives – but are a little leery with the hollowing out of the faith that seems to occur over there, just as progressives are leery with the view of God that seems to govern the inflexible fundamentalism of the conservative camp.
So we sit in the middle, and when someone asks us a question, we tend to step aside.
“Well, that’s not the right question …” or, “It depends how you look at it,” or, “Each of us is going to have a different answer based on our own biases and experiences.”
I find myself doing this quite a bit. A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago whether I thought Israel’s exodus from Egypt – not an unimportant part of the Bible, as you may know – actually happened. And my answer began with something like, “Well, you never know for sure,” or something like that. After all, anything can happen, right? Progressives may not be sure about miracles, but we’re not really comfortable ruling them out definitively. Maybe the exodus did happen. Maybe hundreds of thousands of men, women and children spent 40 years in the fairly small space of the Sinai Peninsula and didn’t leave a single archaeological trace of their presence. Who knows, right?
Here’s the problem, though: The exodus didn’t happen.
If any other purported event – i.e., one that wasn’t recorded in the Bible – was supported by exactly zero evidence, and in fact contradicted by whatever evidence did exist, we would say it didn’t happen. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being sensitive to the faith and feelings of those who might not be ready to handle the significant lack of historical accuracy in much, if not all, of the Old Testament, but if you’re here reading this, you’re probably OK with handling some hard things, so let’s talk about why the exodus didn’t happen – and why that’s not really a problem.