August 04, 2014

Biblical Controversies: Perspectives influence often contradictory interpretations

We've talked before about God's changeable morality, both in general and specifically with regards to abortion.

God's morality isn't stagnant. It's shifting, changing, with the perspective of the people interpreting holy works. I find this glaringly obvious when you look at the Christian reception of the LGBT+ movement. On the one hand, you have sects that are fundamentally opposed. On the other, you have churches involved in lawsuits in a number of states, claiming that marriage equality bans are violating their religious freedom, as they are unopposed to same sex unions.

Today, I have two examples for you to bring into focus just how marked this division is.

The first is a letter writer in The Tennessean:
I never cease to be amazed at the claims of some concerning what they think the Bible says about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. A letter writer(July 17) seems to think the Bible leads some to condemn it and some to favor it. Further, he leaves the impression that God guides the conscience of some in one direction and the conscience of others in the opposite direction. But God said, "For I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6). 
Without equivocation, the Bible, in both testaments, condemns homosexuality and holds up legitimate marriage as being only between a male and a female. The Apostle Paul affirmed the sinfulness of homosexuality in I Corinthians 6:9-10, while going on to show the possibility of forgiveness (verse 11). Later, Paul declared that the things he wrote were "the commandments of the Lord" (I Corinthians 14:37). 
God does not "lead" people to either ignore or to disobey His will. "The faith" has been "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), and claiming that God is "leading" people to believe and teach things not substantiated by Christ's last will and testament, the New Testament, is to be uninformed of the most basic truths concerning the Scriptures. 
Hugh Fulford
I'm sure you can all tell what I'm going to latch onto really briefly here: "But God said, 'For I am the Lord, I do not change', and yet, we've shared time and again how God's morality has, in fact, changed.

But I digress. In the other corner, we have an insightful Huffington Post blog by Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier-- "The Hidden Error in 'Biblical' Arguments Against  Gay Marriage".

Achtemeier highlights first his own progression. You see, he originally believed, based on biblical arguments, that homosexuality, and thus marriage equality, was wrong. However, over time, he came to see a fatal flaw in that way of thinking, which he highlights beautifully:
Irenaeus explains how this can happen. Imagine, he says, that a skilled artist has created a mosaic picture made out of colored stones. All these multicolored fragments together form a beautiful portrait of a king. But now suppose that another artist comes along and disassembles the original mosaic, sorting all the stones into little colored piles. This second artist re-assembles the stones into a new mosaic, and he travels around showing off the picture, saying "Behold the King." Only this time, in place of the original portrait, the new arrangement of stones forms a crudely-drawn picture of a dog. Every single stone in that new mosaic comes from the original portrait. But that does not make it a true picture of the King! 
This, says Irenaeus, is what the false teachers have done with Scripture. Like the individual stones making up a mosaic, they have taken individual quotes from all over the Bible. But the quotes have been pulled out of their original contexts and rearranged in such a way that they no longer form a true picture of the Bible's message. Individual scripture quotes can lose their connection to the "true portrait" of God's love in Christ that is the Bible's overarching focus.
Achetmeier has had, you might say, a Road to Damascus moment. He describes his own transition:
I myself had learned to support the categorical condemnation of same-sex relationships by appealing to scattered fragments of Scripture. But Irenaeus helped me understand that being able to cite Bible passages in support of a particular teaching is no guarantee that the teaching is either true or faithful. Where does that leave us? 
Achetemier goes on to explain a litmus test for scriptural teachings, to make sure that they are inline with the whole mosaic.

He also touches on how this phenomenon has affected social progress before:
This is not the first time well-meaning Christians have made such a mistake. Some of my devout Presbyterian ancestors used fragmentary quotations from Scripture to defend their traditional beliefs supporting slavery and the subjugation of women. In those cases the church eventually came to embrace a more faithful interpretation of the Bible that did a better job of remaining in touch with the "true portrait" of God's love for all people in Christ. 
So here we have two people, one admittedly more eloquent than the other, and yet, both claim a scriptural and religious basis for their beliefs--and yet, those beliefs are widely divergent from each other.

Often I have heard the term "moral relativism" hurled at atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists, and such by believers, but I'd argue that Christianity itself isn't free of that claim. Moral relativism is a key part of Christianity too.

God's morality changes based on where you are standing.

That's about as relative as it gets.

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