Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quixotic and damaging battle

Congress repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tagged several Fundie organizations as hate groups because they demonize gay people using false information. The ex-gay group Exodus International has ended its support of "Day of Truth," which was designed to counteract the gay "Day of Silence," so that it can better support the Golden Rule. All are signs of increasing acceptance of gay people and their relationships.

Which means those anti-gay Fundie organizations have a choice, says Tom Krattenmaker of USA Today. Do they continue to fight gays to the bitter end or turn their attention to other issues?

If they take the first choice their battle looks increasingly quixotic and damages both the reputation of the fighters and of Christianity as a whole. Since so many people know and are friends with gays the talking points are increasingly seen as not matching reality. Even young Evangelical leaders don't want their gay friends to be demonized.

But we have the Truth about the Bible! many Fundies claim. Not so fast, say modern biblical scholars. More on this below.

Those Fundie leaders insisting that being Christian means continuing the fight are defining Christianity as a hate group. And that is a ticket to infamy, similar to that of Bull Connor and George Wallace.

Those modern scholars produced two new books: Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust and God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael Coogan.

The conservative view of the Bible -- including the view that it roundly condemns all sex outside of a lifelong straight marriage -- has lead many Americans to conclude the Bible doesn't speak for them.

Here are a few of the arguments Knust and Coogan write about, as reported by Lisa Miller of Newsweek. I've heard some of them before.

* The Bible is an ancient text and its particulars don't apply to the modern world. It is a "record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and quality for all persons," writes Coogan.

* Sex in the Bible is sometimes hidden and is much more prevalent in the Bible than most believe. References to sex organs are sometimes disguised as "hands" or "feet" -- Ruth lies down next to Boaz and "uncovers his feet."

* That which is forbidden is also allowed. Tamar, a widow, poses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law so that she will have children. David loved Jonathan, "Your love for me was wonderful, passing the love of women." The Old Testament approves of divorce, but Jesus does not. The message is contradictory.

* Accepted interpretations are sometimes wrong. Top example is insisting the story of Sodom is about homosexuality rather than hospitality.

The purpose of these two books, and others like them, is to fight against the "official" interpretation of the Bible. With these books providing healthy skepticism to balance our faith, we can read the Bible for ourselves.

Which is exactly what conservatives don't want us to do. Our reading and study should be supervised by proper authorities. They say not everyone is qualified to read the Bible. We may come to the wrong conclusions. The Bible has been used to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That particular argument seems ironic because many (if not all) of those supposedly wrong conclusions were supported by the official church, the ones who are telling us we need their guidance to read the Bible correctly.

I do need the input of scholars who have come before me. But when issues of sexual morality are this divisive (and when I'm at the center of the storm) we should not simply cede the field without debating what the Bible actually says.

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