I received a reply from Alex Haiken, with whom I’ve been having a lively exchange for the last several weeks. I want to excerpt one paragraph from one of the last things he wrote me.
As you yourself have here admitted in comments to others about things you’ve grown weary of, I myself have grown weary of those who insist that the men of Sodom were gay, that Ruth and Naomi were lesbians, that David and Jonathan were lovers, that Jesus and John the disciple he loved were gay, and other similar notions.
The first thing I should mention, so you won’t jump to any unwarranted conclusions, is that Alex is “in a long-term relationship with [his] domestic male partner of almost 10 years.” The context of his remark is important as well. He was making some initial challenges to my thesis regarding gays and lesbians in Luke 17:34-35.
I do grow impatient and weary sometimes. When you hear the same things over and over, the same objections, the same arguments. Sheesh! It is an indicator of how well people stay on message; how practiced, for example, they are in doing a cut-and-paste job on Romans 1.
Alex, I understand your impatience and weariness with shallow, sloppy, or inadequately grounded interpretations of Scripture, especially ones which deal with relationships that could possibly have been sexual, but which cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, or are subject to serious questioning. In your list of such relationships, you begin with the popular anti-gay interpretation of Sodom, and move to three queer-friendly assertions.
In my own interpretation of the Bible, I do close readings–I focus on what’s actually present in the text, and attempt to follow the standard methods of exegesis I learned in Bible college, four years in several seminaries, and in my personal reading. Something that is ironic is that I am frequently accused of practicing eisegesis, that is, reading into a text things that are not there. These accusations come from people who aren’t haven’t read my various posts, or the various discussion threads, where I present my case.
Being a perfectionist, academic type, it is very important to me to be right. I hate being wrong or mistaken and having someone call me on it. In some contexts of life that’s a problem, but in my thesis-driven writing, it’s a plus.
But not everyone is a perfectionist, and they aren’t motivated to read the Bible to prove a point or win a debate. Thank God for them! They come to the Bible to solve their day-to-day problems, to find encouragement in the face of failure or discouragement. These people read the Bible for encouragement, and for survival in a hostile world.
This is one of the main reasons why I try to cut people some slack when it comes to Bible interpretation. Most people believe what they’re told, or what they were raised to believe. For them, they need to continue believing the things that everyone in their circle of friends and acquaintances believe, or risk their sense of belonging within their tribe. Changing their understanding of their faith is not worth being cast out. While we should be willing to become a church organization’s rejects, this is not easy for some.
Of course, there are limits to how much slack you cut people. I have taken issue with leaders like James Dobson, Steven Anderson, Philip Kayser, Curtis Knapp, Charles Worley and Frankie Purdue. These sorts of leaders need to be called out and held accountable. I admit that I would be astonished if any of these men have ever visited my blog! (Except for one of them, a United Methodist pastor unfortunate enough to have stumbled across my blog and left “sincerely wrong” comments . . . )
For Christians it is important that there be characters in the Bible with whom they can identify, people who look like them. How many people have said, “I’m glad Peter is in the Bible–I really identify with him.” When it comes to LGBT folks, I would not want to eliminate all the potential LGBT role models in the Bible because the exegetical legitimacy of those models didn’t meet my personal standards of close scrutiny or careful scholarship. That would violate the highest command and chief virtue of Jesus followers.
This is one way I apply Paul’s dictum, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”
This is how I try to deal with others. For me it is the loving and gracious attitude to have. This has nothing to do with whether I agree with all the queer-friendly interpretations of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, or Jesus and John. At this point in my life, I have not entered into those debates. I did write one post on Jesus and John, but limited myself to accurate reportage of what the Bible says, and left it at that.
There are reasons why some people accept all three of those pairs as being sexually intimate, or two pairs, or only one pair, or none of them at all. Those reasons are personal, and I don’t think it’s worth my time to persuade any of them to see “the error of their ways.” All I need to know is that, at this point in their lives, it is important to them to believe what helps them negotiate their way through their own personal challenges.
This would be an example of not arguing over gray areas. We are called primarily to love.
For myself, I attempt to be as scrupulous and careful as I can with my own interpretations of Scripture. That’s part of my fundamentalist heritage, part of letting the Bible say what it really says, and not making it say what you want it to say. In fact, there are things in the Bible that I don’t like, but I don’t lawyer the passages, forcing it to say something it doesn’t say.
I realize that the comments I’ve made may not flow naturally from what you wrote, that you did not personally articulate the things I responded to. I have run your comments through my own filters, and these are the responses that came to me.
When you mention not arguing over gray areas, it caused me to think of Paul’s comment in 1 Cor. 13 about our knowing and prophesying “only in part” and God’s reminders in Isaiah 55.8-9 that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than any of ours when we become stuck in our self-serving ways of thinking.
I know that when I make assertions in what I post on social media or in my sermons or in anything else I write or say, I need to believe wholeheartedly that what I’m offering is as consistent with God’s truth as I know how to make it; and at the same time I hope I exhibit at least a modicum of humility when I respond to others who see things differently from the way I see them, so that I don’t seem to be claiming that I have infallibly captured the mind of God in what I’ve offered, even if my gut tries to tell me I need to become defensive, or even to go on the offense, as though the other person is attacking me and not just what I have said or written.
Having silently been on the defensive for so many years prior to coming out, it is still too easy for that part of me to get triggered; but I’m getting better at sticking to the point and not lapsing into taking the emotional bait that gets both me and my interlocutor into trouble. You provide a good model for me in doing that, Ron, and I’m grateful for what you do. (And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that I agree with what you’re trying to do and appreciate the deep research you do and the careful way you construct your arguments and tell your stories.)
Thanks for your appreciation, Doug. I’m going through some unhappy adjustments right now (getting old, church troubles, etc.), so it’s nice to hear something pleasaant!
When I was in my 30’s, I could be quite belligerent in religious discussions. My wife said she couldn’t understand it, that I was usually so nice and easy-going, but then my “religious self” would come out during a Bible study or something and I’d become nasty and aggressive, in my own fundamentalist style. But when my bipolar disorder was diagnosed, and I got on meds, a lot of that went away.
The nice thing about blogging and what-not is that, if you’re smart, you can wait before you reply to something that irritates you. Not that I always count to ten, but it’s getting easier now.