The Bible is the Problem

 

I was talking to a colleague last week about the homosexuality debate at the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference. He is on the conservative side of the issue and remarked that he did not appreciate the argument that advocates of LGBT inclusion were using.

“I love gay people, too,” he said, “and I don’t plan on treating them poorly or differently. So it’s not a matter of ‘loving your neighbor’ to me. It’s a matter of what Scripture says.”

To which I say, Bingo!

The Bible is the problem with our debate – over homosexuality, the role of women, politics, and any number of other contemporary social issues. There is a huge divide in the Christian church over the authority of Scripture. It slices across denominational lines and national borders. The division is between those who cling to a more authoritative, literal reading of Scripture, and those who … don’t, for any number of reasons.

I don’t know if there will ever be unity in our own denomination until we navigate this concern.

Let’s be honest – Scripture does not look kindly on homosexual behavior. The Levitical code in the Old Testament is blunt. Paul in Romans 1 is blunt. No amount of scholarship is going to change my mind that the Biblical writers assumed that homosexual behavior was sinful.

But to be honest – Scripture does not look kindly on women in church leadership either. And it looks far too kindly on slavery.

So I say, plainly but with much fear and trepidation, since I was raised in an evangelical home and live in the Bible Belt – Scripture is wrong!

… (crickets chirping)

Let me restate that. Regarding cultural norms and social practices, Scripture is often wrong. But we are wrong to read Scripture in this way.

Why is it wrong to read Scripture in this way? Because it is impossible! I don’t know anyone who lives completely and consistently obedient to every norm laid down by the New Testament, much less the Old! That would mean silent, jewelry-less, head-covered women in worship, men with short hair, and children who are completely submissive to their parents.

It’s also wrong because Scripture was not meant to be read in this way. The Bible is not, contrary to popular clichés, a guide to successful living, nor is it a rulebook. It is not the authoritative guide to science, history, or human behavior.

Instead, Scripture is a collection of letters, poetry, outlandish visions, oral reports, stories, and songs. Primarily and most importantly, Scripture is the written witness of God’s people to God’s own revelation. It’s our book of how we have seen, heard, experienced God.

And, of course, our primary experience of God is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. In fact, Jesus is the Word of God. The whole point of the New Testament is to make that argument, and to point our attention, our focus, and our allegiance to Jesus.

How frustrating, then, it must be to God, that for many Christians, the primary attention, focus, and allegiance has gone to the Bible instead! It’s easier, I suppose, because it’s something written down in black and white. But in the end, it’s simple idolatry. Biblio-idolatry.

John tells us quite clearly why he wrote his gospel: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In recent times, the church has surprisingly and happily discovered that gays and lesbians can have life in his name, too – without denying their sexual orientation.

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9 comments

  1. Dale Lature (@dlature)

    Problem is, the ones who say they have a view that preserves authority and literal sense of Scripture are themselves cherry picking what is literal and what is not. The idolatry is to one’s own appropration of Scripture, not Scipture itself. So it’s not the Bible that is the problem. It’s one’s filters applied to the Bible (including one’s understanding of what inspiration entails)

  2. Brandon Lazarus

    Thank you for this Wes. Last week at New Day we read the story in Acts where Peter is told by God to eat the very animals scripture and tradition have told him not to. With General Conference still very fresh on my mind I read this with new eyes. Sometimes God calls us to something new, something that contradicts scripture. Peter challenged God with tradition but God retorts with “what God has made clean, you must not call profane”. We need to make sure to listen to what the Spirit is saying. God trumps scripture. Now discerning if it’s truly God speaking…that, I will admit, is a little more difficult.

    • Oliver Iluvaimee Kurr

      so when did or Father appear to anyone and tell them that there is now only one sex, and it doesnt matter who loves whom?
      Christ did not condone slavery…he did not condone adultery, he did not condone murder, but he for gave the slave masters, the adulterers, the murderers, and rebuked them to sin no more…however, he did not approach the sin of homosexuality..it WAS Paul, who if i am correct spoke with the authority of God and the Christ, when he reaffirmed Levitican law, that this act is an ABOMINATION before the Lord….i accept that i am a sinner, and i try not to repeat the sins i commit…it would be different if the gay/lesbian community accepted their sin, but for some reason, they are suddenly practicing an “acceptable alternative lifestyle” and my question is, when did God make it clean, and normal?

      • Brandon Lazarus

        I’m not entirely clear how we can say explicitly that Christ id not condone slavery. I don’t think he did, but not sure I can back that up explicitly in scripture. I can say that I do not see how you can love your brother or sister and still enslave them. I don’t however see how having a same sex loving relationship in any way restricts someone from loving their neighbor or from loving God. Paul says nothing about two people of the same sex loving each other. If we are saying that Paul was reaffirming the Levitical laws when it comes to sex then heterosexual marriages in which they have sex for any reason other than procreation is equally sinful. We need to really look at the contexts in which the writers were writing and then look at todays context and what we know today. If you can truly take all of that into account and say that homosexuality remains a sin then I guess we will need to agree to disagree because a mere comment section on a blog is not going to change either of our minds. Even if I were to put certain words in all caps.

  3. Rev. Paul McKay

    The Church with its Bible has always been used as a weapon to wield power and control over people, including women (big-time!), homosexuals and slaves–that’s why Christians so adamantly, and violently, opposed the abolition of slavery in the South, because the slave owners could take the bible and scripture to justify the ownership of people like so much property and livestock. That’s why people in my own lifetime were using the Bible to sustain segregation–you can find justification for the in the Bible if you want to justify the segregation we had until laws were made over often violent resistance in this country. (Again, in my lifetime. I grew up with the separate bathrooms and water fountains in Bible loving Texas and the South.). Paul did call on the early Apostles to treat their slaves well, but there is nothing in the epistles to show that they wanted the ownership of human beings abolished. Of course Paul and the early Apostles thought the end would happen in their lifetimes so there was no need to shake up the system with the end so near. They missed it by 2,000 years so far. But anyway, what Christian alive today thinks it is justifiable to own another human being as if that human were another cow or piece of property they owned. What Christian today will look at the acceptance, if not the condoning of slavery in the New Testament, and argue that it is OK because the Bible justifies it? New times call for new duties, as they say, and new interpretations of scripture by new generations.And lest we forget, Jesus was pretty clear about divorce, but even Paul softened the stance of Jesus on that a bit. And the biblical terms of divorce didn’t give a woman any say in it. I honor the Bible–it is primary with me as an ordained minister–but that does not mean God never does a new thing and-or that the Bible isn’t subject to critical interpretation and testing in every generation. I am sick of the bible being used as a weapon against gays who live in and by Christ and God’s Word and their families and loved ones. And if we want to live by the Leviticus Holy Code by the letter, it calls for the ultimate stoning of a child who sasses mom or dad. Resistance is always about power and control and there’s a lot of that in our own beloved Methodist Church today and my God I am sick of it. Don’t get me started.

  4. John Wilks

    If the Bible is wrong, then our Doctrinal Standards are wrong too. Why would anyone choose to be a clergy person in a denomination where they disagreed on basic doctrine in such deep, sharp ways?

    • wesmagruder

      Your first line is a little unclear — exactly where do i suggest that our Doctrinal Standards are wrong? I’m willing to debate the subject …

      However, as I say in another post, the reason I am UMC clergy is because God has called me here, and until I hear differently, I will stay here. In a very real sense, I didn’t choose the UMC, God called me into it.

  5. Pingback: Spinal Tap and the Story of the Bible « The New MethoFesto

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