How Not to Cite Scripture

I’ve officially started the writing portion of my big semester-ending exegesis paper for Old Testament. “Big” is a relative term, as other grad students have assured me; 10-12 pages isn’t that bad, and I’ve found myself looking longingly at that kind of page length when I’ve been forced to chop my previous papers this semester to fit much smaller requirements.

Anyway, the topic is Leviticus 18, which is all about sex – mostly which family members you shouldn’t sleep with, but also some random verses about men sleeping with men, men and women sleeping with animals and, yes, men sleeping with women on their period. Oh, and don’t sacrifice your children to Molech.

Good times.

I’m not going to give away the thrust of the paper just yet, but let it suffice to say I take a pretty firm stand that this is not the appropriate way to adapt ancient Near Eastern holiness codes for a 21st century culture:

Continue reading How Not to Cite Scripture

‘Neither Male nor Female, Slave nor Free, Gay nor Straight’?

I like to rile people up sometimes, so a few months ago, I posted the following to my Facebook feed:

If Paul had been living in the 21st century, would he have added ‘neither gay nor straight’ to Galatians 3:28?

As you might know, Galatians 3:28 reads:

There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Most people who responded did so with a Christian version of, “Hell, no!” But I think we do ourselves and the Bible a disservice by pretending it universally contains specific, timeless admonitions and prohibitions. Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes it does. But usually those are pretty clear. Stuff like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The Old Testament mentions them, Jesus mentions them, Paul refers implicitly or explicitly to them.

You know, kind of like divorce.

Wait, what?

The Bible mentions divorce 34 times. It features prominently in the levitical law. In Malachi God is described as hating divorce, and in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus equates divorce with adultery and even gives specific reasons in which divorce is acceptable. Paul argues Christians shouldn’t even divorce their non-Christian spouses and reiterates Jesus’ command against remarrying after a divorce.

So how many people actually follow that? Nearly 40 percent of regular churchgoing Christians are divorced. And I would guess a good percentage have remarried or plan to be. They have already made the decision that the Bible’s clear, multitestamental admonitions are confined to a specific culture.

Perhaps you would disagree.

Would you also disagree about women covering their heads? Women wearing jewelry? Men wearing long hair?

Continue reading ‘Neither Male nor Female, Slave nor Free, Gay nor Straight’?

‘Keep Making Money’

If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest twists in the personal life of Kim Kardashian (it’s OK to admit it), she and her husband of less than three months, Kris Humphries, have filed for divorce.

This isn’t normally a topic worthy of consideration for this blog – although Kardashian does sound like the name of an ancient Near Eastern ruler, come to think of it – but reading stories like this one about the insane amount of money thrown around Kardashian’s ultimately meaningless wedding is sobering:

Kardashian’s divorce could be good for her “business”, which for the uninitiated precious few includes multiple TV shows, clothing lines, and brand endorsements of products ranging from perfume to booze.

Well, she certainly made her wedding work for her: while it is said to have cost $10 million, it was all paid for by sponsorships and tie-ins, from freebie $20,000 Vera Wang gowns (she wore three) to a deeply discounted $2 million Lorraine Schwartz ring. …

As for Kim Kardashian herself, she’s laughing all the way to the proverbial bank. The New York post pinned her earnings from the wedding at $17.9 million, a figure derived from adding up her various sponsorship deals and freebies. That’s overly simplistic, given the amount she’d have had to shell out to Jenner and various agents for their cuts. But this is a woman who made $12 million the year before her wedding extravaganza and charged $2,500 entry to her birthday party, so we can’t underestimate her money-making abilities. Using the $17.9 million figure as a crude estimate, Kim raked in just under $250,000 a day, and over $10,000 an hour, for her 72-day marriage.

And her brand won’t suffer either. Her next E! series on life as a married woman is already in the can, and as executive producer, she has the ability to go back and edit that footage to cast herself in a positive light. “Kris Humphries will look like a complete jerk,” Piazza predicts. “That’s what will end up saving her brand. It doesn’t matter; she’ll keep making money.

Is there anything that screams, “America!” more than that last sentence?

A couple of somewhat related thoughts came to my mind while reading this article.

Continue reading ‘Keep Making Money’

Guardian Angels

I had a post all set to write this morning, and then I saw this one from Richard Beck:

I think every Christ-following church should start talking to their youth groups, saying unambiguously: We want you to be a wall of protection for kids like Jamey. Seek out and protect–emotionally and socially–every weird, weak, nerdy, lonely, queer kid at your school. We don’t care if they are a goth, or a druggy, or a queer. Doesn’t matter. Protect these kids. Churches should train their youth groups to be angels of protection, teaching them to find these kids and say, “Hey, I love you. Jesus loves you. So no one’s going to bully you. Not on my watch. Come sit with me at lunch.” That’s what I think. I think every Christ-following church should start Guardian Angel programs like this, teaching their kids to stick up for kids like Jamey. Not with violence. But with welcome and solidarity. Because it’s hard to bully a group. So let’s welcome these kids into a halo of protection and friendship.

That’s what I think Christians should be doing to change our public schools. We shouldn’t be fighting battles over stuff like school prayer. Because you know what I think God thinks about our battles regarding school prayer? I think God is shouting from the heavens, “Why don’t you shut the hell up about school prayer and start sticking up for Jamey?”

And if you think my language is strong, sensitive reader, know that I’m just paraphrasing the prophets. Read how the prophets speak about prayer, song, and worship when the People of God allow injustice at the gates. You want God in our public schools? So do I. But guess what? God is already inside our public schools. Standing by kids like Jamey.

Read the whole thing.

Focus on the Bigotry

I’ve come to believe that Bible-loving Christians can come to different conclusions on the acceptability of homosexuality. But I can accept that there are those who would disagree with that statement, that the Bible is clear in its denunciation of same-sex relationships. It’s a tricky issue, certainly.

Regardless of what we believe on the subject, I think we can all agree that discrimination against those who identify themselves as gay – or are identified, rightly or wrongly, by others as gay – is wrong. We should all agree that bullying is unacceptable, and that schools should take steps to make children understand that a classmate’s perceived sexual orientation does not make him or her fair game for bullies.

Suicides are much higher among children who identify themselves as gay, and we Christians, as lovers of life, should be able to rally behind anti-bullying campaigns designed to reduce incidents of suicide. First and foremost, we should be protectors of life in all its forms, especially those who are rejected by the rest of society. This is what Jesus commands, is it not?

None of this seems controversial to me. Apparently, Focus on the Family would disagree.

This is vile. I have no other word for it. Continue reading Focus on the Bigotry

Redeeming Homosexuality

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight is discussing a book by William Webb called Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts.

In the first post, McKnight looks at Webb’s savvy commentary on the history of corporal punishment in the Bible. Namely, the original commands for corporal punishment are so draconian that no one today would adhere to them without a full (and justified) expectation of being thrown into prison and having their children removed from their home.

In fact, Webb lists seven different ways in which even those who argue that spanking is mandated by the Bible advocate doing so in ways that are unbiblical. A sample:

The age limitations: most today advocate spanking up to six years or old or pre-elementary, though it used to be pre-teenage years. But the Bible indicates corporal punishment for teens — and perhaps even beyond.  The beating of fools in Proverbs seems to be focused on teens, and probably older than teens but it is a punishment that applies to children and older. E.g., Prov 18:6; 19:25, 29; 26:3; 29:19

Webb doesn’t point this out to ridicule James Dobson for hypocrisy (that’s low-hanging fruit anyway), but to argue that Christians – even those with an overly literal view of the Bible, known sometimes as biblicists – apply a “redemptive hermeneutic” to Scripture, which is to say we look at the culture of the era in which it was written and apply the principle while acknowledging that times have changed.

McKnight quotes:

Here’s his big thesis: “We do not want to stay with the static or frozen-in-time ethic reflected in the concrete-specific instructions of the Bible, rather Christians need to embrace the redemptive spirit of the text and journey toward an ultimate ethical application of that spirit” (62). And then this, and if you get this you get the whole: “Movement is (crucial) meaning.”

Spanking isn’t the only subject on which Christians apply a moving scale to the Bible’s commands. Slavery, for example. As Webb and McKnight note, Exodus 21:20-21 sounds barbaric today:

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

Continue reading Redeeming Homosexuality