Monday, September 26, 2011

The Root of the Anti-Gay Church

The source of anti-gay homophobia in the church is the Christian worldview that buys into incoherent biblicisim. It's the view that the Bible is God's Word and the literal exclusive authority for Christian faith and practice. It claims the Bible is (1), inerrant, (2), self-sufficient, (3), self-evident in its meaning, (4), internally consistent, and (5), universally applicable. These are the root of a host of misguided theologies in mostly conservative churches, not the least of which is the anti-gay rhetoric and "ministries" that attempt, in the name of God, to de-gay GLBT people.

But as Christian Smith argues in his new book, The Bible Made Impossible, this worldview is indefensible. In light of logic, the Bible's own assertions, and the historical/cultural context of its writings, none of these five claims hold up to scrutiny. Therefore, the many theologies associated with this brand of biblicism (in addition to the attack on gays are the "end times," idolizing the institutional church, and making moralism superior to love) are false.

A more sensible way of looking at the Bible can still uphold much of it as inspired by God and holding a type of authority. However, this alternate way recognizes much of what it asserts was never meant to be universally applied as a set of behavior codes but is culturally or historically conditioned. Moreover, many of its proclamations are misinterpreted or mistranslated due to the misguided assumption that the divine word is always self evident.

In the case of religious conservatives, a handful of passages are used to condemn all homosexual behavior while ignoring the cultural evidence that biblical writers were addressing unique sexual sins, such as cultic prostitution, pederasty, and exploitation; also ignored is the New Testament powerful theme that all things are lawful as long as no harm is done to one's neighbor and love rules.

I trace my own personal evolution from evangelical narrow biblicist to progressive believer, and particularly my transformation from an anti-gay to a pro-gay position, in my forthcoming book Confessions of a Bible Thumper. As I was sincere and well meaning in my views, so are today's religious conservatives. The path to understanding is wrought with psychological and theological struggles. Activists should challenge prevailing narrow views on homosexuality, but should also be aware how entrenched this worldview root is.

I welcome your thoughts and comments!


M. Fox said...

I found your blog a little while ago and your journey is very interesting. I identify with your comment about folks “making moralism superior to love”. What I seem to run into a lot at my church is folks basically implying not that “moralism is superior to love“ but that “moralism equals love”, real love anyway, not a squishy, sentimental love. I have to admit I often find this line of reasoning hard to refute possibly due to long years of conditioning. And yet, it often seems constricting and somewhat legalistic. Something seems not quite right. Thanks for your blog. It makes me think.

Michael Camp said...

M. Fox, Thanks for your comment. You're right, something seems not quite right. The problem is--and this is ironic--a "moralism-equals-love" ethic does not square with either Jesus' or Paul's teaching in the NT.

As Jacques Ellul says, "there is no moral system in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ," and in fact is "against morality" as Jesus was against the Pharisees, the most "moral" of people. In the parables, the hero has not led a moral life, and the one who has, is the one who has a lesson to learn (e.g prodigal son and brother). Paul says, "we have been released from the law" (and the law is a curse), and now serve in a new way, a way of love, a love that obeys no morality. A moral system requires law and repetition of duty, whereas love (both real and sentimental) requires the way of the spirit, i.e. real encounters with God.

If your church pushes "moralism equals love," whose moralism are they following? They are misreading the gospels and Paul for the sake of their traditional theology. That's my take.

Kerry Miller-Whalen said...

Hi Michael,

This is an issue I've been mulling on for a while now. The question is kind of glaring, after all! If "all things are lawful", and we have been released from law, then how do we reconcile passages that seem to condemn homosexuality, and the other smattering of practices from the early church that still seem legalistic.

I am aware that there are some arguments out there such as your own, that these Biblical passages are just "misinterpreted". I don't have the level of scholarship to really judge this, but somehow it seems too convenient. I suspect (though can't prove either way) that if you examined carefully every scripture that appears to condemn homosexuality, even using context and checking out all the nuances of the original language, you may soften or reinterpet some, but you'd still be left with scriptures that really DO say it is wrong.

So where does that leave us? For me, I am coming to see Jesus as the message, and the other scriptures (OT, epistles, etc.) as the records left behind, by real people who interacted with God in their own context, and through their own cultural understandings. The early church was, after all, still trying to process the meaning of all that had happened. If, at the point of Christ's arrest and crucifixion, his disciples STILL didn't really "get it" - I don't think it's reasonable to assume they suddenly had perfect divine revelation a few months or years later.

I also don't think it's living in the real world, to think we have it all worked out now - but if we keep coming back to Jesus and to Love, we are walking in the way... yes?

Michael Camp said...

Yes, all good points! What most people don't get, in my mind, is that Jesus' message of Love is the key, and the Law is not. As Paul said, "Anyone who loves has fulfilled the law." We get hung up on the commandments, which as Paul said were temporary (Romans). Two other points:

1 - If you examine the scriptures as you say, you really DO come to the conclusion that it's only certain forms of homosexuality that it condemns (pederasty, shrine prostitution, exploitation), not homosexuality across the board. So homosexualty plus Love is acceptable. That's my conclusion.

2 - As I say in this post, people view the Bible a literalist way (internally consistent, universally applicable, etc.) that does not hold up to scrutiny. We must re-evaluate how to look at the Bible. Still inspirational, but not a set of self-evident timeless mandates/laws.

Kerry Miller-Whalen said...

Forgive me for taking so long to come back (I can be a bit of an inconsistent blogger)

I'm so with you that the Bible is not a set of self-evident propositional truths! It's a narrative, by real people, who encountered a real God - which makes it totally inspired - but not exactly a handbook of rules or self-evident truths!!

In the light of that, my second question is in a sense quite irrelevant, but I'm curious - The injunction in Leviticus 18 (in English, that is) seems pretty unambiguous to me. How do you interpret that??

Michael Camp said...

Kerry, Leviticus 18 is part of the Holiness Code for Israel. First, once you say, "that is authoratative for us," you must accept other things in there, like the admonitions to not combine two "kinds" of cloth, stone rebellious children, and cut off from the community those who have sex during a woman's menstruation (plus many more).

Two, the passage you refer to, is not talking about homosexuality across the board, otherwise it would mention lesbianism (which is not mentioned in the whole OT!). Three, one needs to understand what forms of male homosexuality were common in that day. Among the surrounding tribes, there were "male shrine prostitutes," mentioned specifically in other places in the OT (Kings, e.g.). Also, humiliating one's enemy through homosexual rape.

How do I interpret this? It may be an injuction for males to not have sex with each other (as one lies with a woman), but it's more likely a particular type of homosexual act that it condemns--cultic, idolatrous, and exploitive. Plus, it's for Israel for a specific time. Looking back from the new convenant, we must interpret such things in light of the law of love--"anyone who loves, has fulfilled the law." So, as long as people act in love toward others, this passage is not relevant.

Kerry Miller-Whalen said...

Thanks for answering, Michael!

I have a hesitation in getting involved in these kind of nitty gritty discussions. I think it is a matter of integrity not to twist the text, and I want to be able to look honestly at it - but I know it can just become academic "point scoring" - which I don't want to do so don't misunderstand me, please! (I think you are coming from the same place anyway, but just so I'm not giving the wrong message)

I was going to dismiss the "no mention of lesbianism" argument, because it was a patriarchal society and the law seems pretty much directed at men - but when I went back to the text, the very next verse has an injunction against women participating in bestiality. THEN I wondered if the idea that male homosexuality was associated with rituals and abuse was taking it too far since, after all, the passage is specific to sexual relations, not idol worship. Lo and behold, the previous verse forbids sacrificing children to Molech!

My intended reply has just done an about face!! Thank you, you've really made me think, and I think you may be right!

All that said, I love your final comment, and believe it is the only truly important thing "Looking back from the new convenant, we must interpret such things in light of the law of love--"anyone who loves, has fulfilled the law." So, as long as people act in love toward others, this passage is not relevant."

Thank you for the discussion!

Michael Camp said...

You uncovered a very important concept I failed to mention: always check the context! That's kind of cool that you did an about face as you looked at it more carefully. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Best, Michael

"You've really made me think." -KMW

That's why it's call Deep Thought Pub!