Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bible 101

"Selective literalism" is arguably the most destructive force at work in the "church universal" today. Taking snippets of scripture out of context and honing them into weapons of mass discrimination, selective literalists portray themselves as preserving “the faith received through the ages” while perverting the core Christian values of God’s inclusive love and abundant grace.
Well, next week is "Homecoming" at All Saints Church. The rector will be back and we'll be in full program swing and today was kind of a "warm up" for me as it was my first Sunday back from vacation and I was thrilled to be back and pleased to be back in the pulpit.

Informed in some significant ways by conversations on this blog the sermon was entitled "What is true in what is new" with the subtitle "Bible 101." It's available on video here ... or in manuscript below. Happy Sunday, everybody!
P.S. -- This is a new video format for us at All Saints Church so if anybody has any feedback about how it worked for you we' sure love to hear from you! Either a comment on the blog or an email to our communications office would be greatly appreicated! Thanks!

"What is true in what is new"

It's "back to school" week -- and odds are even those who are beyond the lunch box/backpack/car pool phase have hit the back-to-school traffic -- it's an annual cultural phenomena that leaves hardly anyone unscathed! But isn’t there a certain excitement and anticipation in the air with the new beginnings ... the new opportunities … that "back to school" brings to mind: along with a nostalgic recollection of sharp new crayons, shiny new shoes and itchy new plaid skirts.

Another thing back-to-school time is good for are refresher courses; review lessons ... opportunities to spend a little time going "back to basics." This morning seems like a great time to do precisely that ... and what a happy "coincidence" that the scriptures appointed for this 15th Sunday After Pentecost lend themselves so well to such an assignment. So, class, let's look at this morning’s texts in specific and at the Bible in general this morning. Let’s call it "Bible 101."

The Bible contains 66 books, 39 in the "Old Testament" or Hebrew Scriptures and 27 in the "New" or Christian Testament. It was written over a period of some 1,500 years, from around 1450 BC. (roughly the time of Moses) to about 100 AD. The New Testament as we know it today was canonized around 375 AD -- regularizing which books would be held in common for the Church. Centuries later, Christians throughout the world still hold this ancient collection of history, poetry, story and witness in common as an essential foundation of our faith.

That's what we hold in common. What we hold in ... oh, let’s just call it "tension" ... is the way we approach Holy Scripture ... the way we understand it to be the revealed Word of God ... and how we apply what we understand to how we live our lives in Christ. So let’s take our Bible 101 class from the general to the specific and look at this morning’s lessons, which offer an excellent case in point

We start with Deuteronomy ... and the Lord reminding Israel (through Moses) to "obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today ... by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways and observing his commandments, decrees and ordinances. Choose life!" Pretty familiar stuff. But ... with those words still ringing in our ears ... what on earth are we supposed to make of Jesus' words as recounted in this morning's Gospel: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." And we say "The Word of the Lord"

Ouch! So much for obeying the commandments ... "honor your mother and father" comes immediately to mind -- not to mention "loving your neighbor as yourself" ... which Jesus told us is second only to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. It helps a little to discover in Fred Craddock's Interpretation Commentary the important clarification that "to hate" is a Semitic expression which means "to turn away from, to detach oneself from" ... so Jesus is not referring to an emotion as we do when we use the word "hate." Jesus is not calling us to "hate" anyone ... but reminding us -- and all who would follow him -- that even God's most precious gifts ... the love of those closest to us ... can become stumbling blocks if we put those gifts in the center of our lives rather than the God who gave them to us. It's what my Old Testament professor used to call the greatest temptation: worshipping the gift rather than the giver.

OK – that helps. But it still leaves us with a HUGE challenge -- for there's clearly an enormous contradiction at work here ... or at the very least a paradox to deal with. We can't avoid the fact that taken literally, this morning's two passages from Scripture seem diametrically opposed to one another -- not at all that unusual if one spends much time at all perusing our Holy Scriptures ... which -- as we've been reminded in our "refresher course" – were written over hundreds of years recounting thousands of years of history and offering the witness of many diverse experiences of the God who is at the center of all our lives and all these writings.

And here’s where the rubber meets the road on the how we understand the Bible operates as the Word of God in our lives. And here’s where I give PROFOUND thanks for the Episcopal tradition I inherited – a tradition of "taking Scripture too seriously to take it literally." It is ironic to me that some of the loudest voices in the "Christian Values" business generally and the Anglican Schism business particularly make a lot of noise about the “clear truth of scripture” – about the Bible as a literal roadmap for their lives. But they’re oddly silent about today's Gospel aren’t they? At least I don’t recall seeing Luke 14:25-33 on any banners in football end zones or on picket signs outside other people's churches. Nope – instead they cherry pick a few passages that they claim support their perspective and then they elevate THOSE to “The Words of the Lord” – and dismiss those who disagree (that would be me!) as apostate Spongian revisionist universalist heretics. (Did I leave any out?)

It is what is called "selective literalism" ... and I believe it is arguably the most destructive force at work in the "church universal" today. Taking snippets of scripture out of context and honing them into weapons of mass discrimination, selective literalists portray themselves as preserving “the faith received through the ages” while perverting the core Christian values of God’s inclusive love and
abundant grace.

Here’s an experience from this week past as a case in point. An international wire service news article quoted a bishop from Nigeria calling gays and lesbians inhuman and declaring them “not fit to live.” Now, these were pretty harsh words – even by Nigerian standards – and there’s still some lively debate going on about whether the bishop in question actually said the WORDS in question. But that’s not my point. My POINT is that this horrifying perversion of Christian teachings ROUNDLY criticized by some of the most outspoken conservative Anglican leadership also engendered this response from a bible believing blogger: I do believe that Bishop Orama’s view is more biblical than TEC’s version of Christianity.

Really? Denying the humanity of homosexual persons and pronouncing them "unfit to live" is more "biblical" that TEC's commitment to seek and serve Christ in all persons? This from someone who understands herself to be an orthodox, bible-believing faithful Christian person? Afraid so. And that brings me back to why I am so convinced that “Bible 101” should not be an elective! It is why I believe it is worth focusing on this morning even if all we manage to do is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff: because whether we want it to or not the street fighting going on in the church today always comes back to Scripture arguments and we owe it to the Gospel we proclaim to defend it against those whose delusion that they have sole possession of the absolute truth threatens to turn it into the bastion of bigotry they want it to be rather than the Body of Christ God called it to be!

Just this weekend I got an email from a Wall Street Journal reporter working on a story on the Anglican Communion who asked, “I keep being told that homosexuality is unequivocally forbidden by the Bible, particularly in Leviticus. What is the biblical text you use as a counter-argument to this?”

Finally a question I can answer without hesitation. And the answer is – there isn’t one!

There is no single text -- no specific chapter and verse -- that I can point anyone to and say, "Here is the clear truth of scripture" on the issue. Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" in support of the ordination of women. Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" on the sanctity of inter-racial marriages. Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" opposing the death penalty. Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" supporting the abolition of slavery.

Finally, if there WAS a single text argument for any of these hotly debated issues YOU WOULDN'T FIND AN ANGLICAN MAKING IT! We’re not a Sola Scriptura people. We don’t rely on Scripture as the sole source of God’s ongoing revelation. That is not how we do theology! It never has been – in fact it’s a large part of the reason the Puritans jumped ship from the Church of England in the 16th century and a large part of the reason people jumping ship from the Episcopal Church today. And they can jump as much but trying to make scriptural literalism Anglican is – as they say – a dog that just won’t hunt!

Arguably the most ancient "official statement" on the Anglican approach to Scripture can be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, dating back to the 16th century Reformation. Its framers tried, as tactfully as possible, to express our differences from the Calvinists on the one hand and the Roman Catholics on the other. In the 6th of these 39 Articles we read:" Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation ..."

Echoes of that language still exist in our ordination vows ... at the time of my ordination I signed the same statement former All Saintsian Peg Bradley signed just yesterday when she was ordained to the priesthood – a statement that says "I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation." And I do.

What I do not believe is that all things contained IN Holy Scriptures are necessary for salvation. I believe we are, therefore, called to read them both critically AND faithfully ... and be open to how God can and will continue to speak through them. What do I mean by “Word of God?” Being a traditionally orthodox kind of girl I mean what the Book of Common Prayer means in these words from the Outline of Faith:

Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
A. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.
Q. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?
A. We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.

And how does the Church ... our Church ...go about that important work?" Here's a wonderful summation I found in a book called "What Anglicans Believe in the 21st Century" by David Edwards. He writes: "The mind of the Church has [historically] been made known gradually, as a result of free thought and free speech. It is sometimes suggested that Anglicanism is a mere debating society, composed of individuals who are so "liberal" that they agree about nothing. (Rather) the word "liberal" ought to mean that we believe in liberty ... particularly in the freedom to accept what is true in what is new."

"The freedom to accept what is true in what is new …" may, in fact, be the greatest gift Anglicanism has to give the rest of the church universal. But it is a gift we a must treasure and nurture and use wisely -- not stick on a shelf somewhere and admire.

Many years ago I remember our then Bishop Fred Borsch leading a diocesan workshop on Scripture. He brought to the lectern not a Bible but an old, weathered spyglass – the kind you might imagine a sailor in a crow’s nest peering through for a glimpse of land. He held it up and told us to look at it -- isn’t it lovely, he said? The ancient polished wood and the etched brass fittings made it an objet d’art -- and yet, Bishop Borsch said, if we set it on a shelf and look AT it rather than THROUGH it we’ve missed the point altogether. And that, he said, peering at us through the spyglass, is what too many Christians do with the Bible – they look AT the words on the page rather than through them to the truths God continues to reveal to us through this Living Word which is SO much more than any Literal Words could ever be.

It is that heritage of finding what is true in what is new – over and over again down through the centuries we claim as American Anglicans – along with a proud history of upsetting the applecart of the traditionalist “but we’ve always done that way” folks along the way. Let me conclude our Bible 101 session this morning with these words of history and challenge from Bishop Jack Spong’s recent open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury: The Bible was quoted to support the Divine Right of Kings in 1215, to oppose Galileo in the 17th century, to oppose Darwin in the 19th century, to support slavery and apartheid in the 19th and 20th centuries, to keep women from being educated, voting and being ordained in the 20th and 21st century. Today it is quoted to continue the oppression and rejection of homosexual people. The Bible has lost each of those battles. It will lose the present battle and [if you lose with it] you, my friend, will end up on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of truth.

Nobody every accused Jack Spong of mincing words and in this case I believe he is spot on. I believe the challenge in his “Open Letter” is not just a challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury but to the WHOLE church – to the whole Communion. And because it is not a battle we can lose – at All Saints Church it is not a battle we WILL lose.

My brothers and sisters, our living God calls to us today in the ancient words of Deuteronomy to choose life – to choose life for each and every beloved child of God – each and every member of this human family. THAT is the Good News we have been called to proclaim – that is the hard word we have been given to do. Committed to finding what is true in what is new may we listen together to the God who still speaks to us through the Scriptures we inherit -- and may that same God give us the grace to speak truth to the powers that stand in the way of history, of morality and of truth – wherever we find them!

Here endeth Bible 101. Class dismissed! Amen.


Anonymous said...

"My brothers and sisters, our living God calls to us today in the ancient words of Deuteronomy to choose life -- to choose life for each and every beloved child of God -- each and every member of this human family. THAT is the Good News we have been called to proclaim – that is the hard word we have been given to do."

-the unborn thank you for your eloquence in defense of their rights.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the very first comment on your sermon illustrates your point on selective literalism, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

It's not intellectually honest to criticize someone for what he did NOT say.

The African bishop says he was misquoted, and I've read today (Sunday, September 9) that the reporter is apologizing for misquoting him.

Why not assume that the bishop is telling the truth? And if he didn't say these offensive things, then where's the problem?

-- Samuel


Samuel -- I'm going to give you a "remedial sermon reading" assignment. Please re-read the text above and note -- carefully -- that I specifically said whether or not the bishop said with the article said he said WAS NOT THE POINT.

The POINT was the response it engendered from the bible based blogger.

Whether he said it or not -- and I honestly hope it turns out he did NOT -- the POINT was that there actually are folks out there who believe what he was quoted as saying was more "bliblical" than what TEC preaches ...

And that, Samuel, is the problem.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan Russell,

Thank you for your reply. You said:

>>Whether he said it or not -- and I honestly hope it turns out he did NOT -- the POINT was that there actually are folks out there who believe what he was quoted as saying was more "bliblical" than what TEC preaches<<

Well, OK, but this still doesn't hold together. Somebody says something in response to something that someone didn't say -- and then what?

By the way, I can't begin to imagine what good one might think the Spong letter will do, except to make feelings even worse inside the Anglican Communion.

Do you think that a letter that's as confrontational as his will bring people around to his point of view?

With kind regards, Samuel

Anonymous said...

Excellent sermon! You hit the nail on the head with this one.

Huw Richardson said...

Susan - - someone pointed out my selective literalism as well on a post. I was talking about the parable of the Sheep and the Goats noting that Jesus doesn't ask any questions about theology or sexuality: only about our good works. And someone said I was conveniently ignoring the part where he talks about a literal hell.

I had to allow the point as they were right: that's exactly what I was ignoring. I had just tossed it out, actually. As my former rector (in SF) taught me - we need to deal with the entire scripture, rather than just the passages we like. You're right that some do this. You seem to miss that we all do this.

Our own choices of verses that support a vision of "core Christian values of God’s inclusive love" is just as selective as the people who want to focus on verses in Romans and Leviticus. I think we are right but we a minority voice among all Christians (globally and throughout history).

Anonymous said... have, in turn, misquoted that blogger.

I was extremely startled that you would do such a thing.

When they were suggesting that the African bishop's view was more "biblical" than the TEC, why did you assume that they meant that killing people in the name of God was biblical?

And then in your teaching, your further publicize this assumption?

This is deeply troubling. Please take care.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

I've heard so much about Spong that I want to sincerely ask you if it is true that he does not believe in the three-day resurrection of Christ, the virgin birth or the ascension of Jesus?
If he doesn't, how does any Christian reconcile that with his former position as a bishop in the Christian church?
I know you don't like literalism but if the virgin birth is not true, if Jesus was not resurrected and ascended into heaven, what the heck are we doing going to a Christian church on Sunday?
My problem with Spong is that he denies the very vows he took as a bishop, IF he doesn't believe in those things.
But I will admit I haven't read much of Spong (I was more in the era of Pike) and what I know of him I have read from others.
But if one reads or repeats the Creed and doesn't really believe it how can one be a leader in the church?
That's enough questions. But I am sincerely curious.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim from Michigan

Anonymous said...

Susan, I and so many other GLBT members of TEC, thank you for expressing and reaffirming so eloquently the all inclusive message of Jesus- the Messiah. I wonder, sometimes, why I just don't give up on 'the church', then I read your sermon Bible 101, and I am reminded that no one, not even an AOC or archbishop in Nigeria, or my local bishop, can take away my inheritance, as a child of God, thru the sacrament of baptism. Thank you...I look forward to your next Bible lesson.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan.
I am a sola scriptura anglican. (That does not mean that I agree with what the blogger you quoted said BTW).
I hope you are not saying to me "I have no need of you".


obidiah -- what I'm saying is not that I have no need of ANYBODY ... but that you can "sola scriptura" til the cows come home but, as an Anglican, our history and tradition rests on an interactive hermeneutic of scripture, tradition and reason ... eloquently articulated by Terry Holmes in his still fabulous book "What Is Anglicanism."


anonymous (4:19pm) -- Sorry ... just checked. Haven't misquoted anybody. It's a comment on "titusonenine" -- #74 to save you from reading them all ... and I haven't said anything about anybody "killing" anybody.

I'm happily sticking by my assertion that understanding the declaration that some people are "unfit to life" is "more biblical" than TEC is balderdash, however. Just for the record.


And huw -- and yes, I understand the "we're all selective literalists" arguement -- been around that mulberry bush a time or two. I still think the litmus test for wheat and chaff in the Bible -- and yes, I think the Bible has both -- is the one Jesus gave the lawyer in the Temple -- if it's in the service of loving God and loving neighbor as yourself then it reflects the core values Micah proclaimed and Jesus incarnated.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan
Thanks for the point back to the original blogger's post here:

I went there and linked over to that blogger's email and have sent her an email asking her what she meant by her remarks.

I prefer to do that rather than assume the worst of people.

Thanks for the connection.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, for a second post here so soon.

Please help me reach understanding on this.

Susan, your teaching said this:

My POINT is that this horrifying perversion of Christian teachings ROUNDLY criticized by some of the most outspoken conservative Anglican leadership also engendered this response from a bible believing blogger: I do believe that Bishop Orama’s view is more biblical than TEC’s version of Christianity.

Really? Denying the humanity of homosexual persons and pronouncing them "unfit to live" is more "biblical" that TEC's commitment to seek and serve Christ in all persons?

As I understand your teaching above, Susan, you are saying the blogger in question was AFFIRMING the horrific idea that gay/lesbian people are "unfit to live" BECAUSE the blogger believed that Orama's teaching may be more biblical than TEC's.

This despite the caveat that the bishop in question may or may not have said these words, etc etc.

May I again humbly suggest that you erroneously read this connection into the blogger's words?

If this is true -- pardon the difficult observation that follows -- you may have used a false assumption in your teaching that slanders the character of a fellow Christian. If true, this would be unjust.

Perhaps you didn't intend to do this at all.

Perhaps you also really, really didn't intend to have your words sound kinda like "hate speech" toward people who believe differently than you.

This is troubling to me.



I allow anonymous comments on this blog because I realize what a pain it is sometimes to have to register for something you don't want to mess with just to make a comment on something. But it DOES make it difficult to engage in dialogue when you've got "anonymous" anonymous comments piling up.

At least an initial would help sort it out.




Sorry. Not biting. The definition I found of "hate speech" is "speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability."

Asserting that biblical literalists do not have sole possession of the absolute truth isn't there.

And, for the record, I'm pleased as punch to have sola scripture devotees around to be in both communion and conversation with. What I'm "over" is being told I'm "not a Christian" because my hermeneutic is different than theirs.

And now I'm going to go watch Dallas beat New York!

Huw Richardson said...

Hi Susan, thanks for your reply:

...been around that mulberry bush a time or two...

I think we need to keep going, in order to be honest. Our brothers and sisters will have differing opinions on what to select. Christianity, to use a modern psych term, is very codependant that way.

I still think the litmus test for wheat and chaff in the Bible...

Mm. Rather than chaff, how about "grain for which we've not yet found a recipe"? Or "grain for which our ancestors had a use, but we can at least plough under as fertiliser"?

If the Bible is the record of our spiritual ancestors relating to God - even the parts that are uncomfortable form part of our foundation. We can't toss it out like chaff.


Interesting points.

I'm sticking with chaff.

All best,

Jack Sprat said...


While I was out running 11 miles this morning before mass (that's when I do my best thinking), I was feeling a lot of distress about the Hebrew Scriptures. Having just decided to repeat Year One of EfM, I'm faced with my own discomfort at some of the harsh and unfathomable language and emotion found in them. It seems to me that anyone looking for a justification to condemn anything at all need only spend a little time with the OT and something will be availble to use --whether or not in context.

Your sermon this morning gave me great hope -- which is why I'm re-doing Year One. I believe that an Anglican looking-through-the-spyglass method of viewing the Bible will greatly assist my earnest desire to find the revealed word of God, rather than merely recoiling from the thunderbolts and condemnations found therein.

My priest has already explained that the path to God's grace is revealed not through answers, but through questions.

Thank you for your eloquence, forebearance and integrity!


JimB said...

Today's lesson from Samuel: The Bible is not the only thing episcofundimentalists cannot read.


Trent said...

Thank You Susan for your Bible lesson today. Great reminders of who we are as Anglicans. I have always beleived there is more to the bible than the actual words written there and continually find new truths within. Our's is a Living God!

Huw Richardson said...

I'm sticking with chaff.

As you wish.

I don't think it helps us who claim to be about the ministry of reconciliation to do so, however. Christ offers us three tools: Do not resist evil. Forgive. and Love when they hate.

I will be selectively literal about that - not even applying to the OT for backup. It may take us to martyrdom at the hands of haters, but that's what the Gospel has always said.

We can be honest about our bickering - we want to kick "them" out as much as "they" want to kick us out.

Neither kicker seems very Christian.

Barbara said...

The video came through clear, strong, and true, as did your message.
Thank you.

Hiram said...

Susan, I would take what you say about conservative interpretations of the Bible with more seriousness if you showed some evidence that you have a working knowledge of the principles of interpretation that conservatives use. I have been an evangelical all my life, and I have an MA in systematic theology from an evangelical seminary -- and what you say about how we interpret Scripture is utterly unrecognizable to me.

If you are brave, audit a course on hermeneutics at Fuller, a moderate evangelical seminary. If you are braver still, audit a course on biblical interpretation at Biola University. If you are really brave, travel down to Escondido and audit a course at Westminster. It would be a lot of work to try to understand the worldview of such academic settings, but you would learn something that would help you in understanding what evangelicals and other conservatives believe and why they believe it, and so enable you to communicate more usefully to us.

As it is, what you say sounds as though you are merely repeating what others have told you about how we interpret Scripture – and what they have told you is wrong.


huw -- again, I respectfully diasgree. I fail to see how one cannot be about the work of reconciliation because one believes there is indeed chaff amongst the abundant wheat in the scriptural texts we inherit.

As for "kicking them out" I understand the impulse but I honestly don't share it. (Check out our "2002 Message to the Church" on the right nav bar home page of this blog for amplification on that.)

I actually believe that our particular charism as Anglicans is to hold in tension disparate perspectives ... historically evangelical, anglo-catholic and liberal.

The insistence by a VERY small percentage of the radical conservative fringe that their way is the ONLY way is I'm critiquing.

And NOW I'm off to my "day job" ... Happy Monday!

Anonymous said...

To Jim:

Where did you get the idea that I am an "episcofundimentalist" [sic]?

I have said nothing about fundamentalism and I am not a fundamentalist.

I did ask questions about the Spong letter, however, which have not been responded to at all.

Best regards, Samuel


Gosh, Hiram ... thanks SO much for the helpful suggestions. As I only have a lowly MDiv from the Claremont School of Theology where I studied Old Testament under Jim Sanders (of Dead Sea Scrolls and NRSV fame) and New Tesatement with (among others) Fred Borsch & Marcus Borg I'm sure my hermeneutic wouldn't pass evangelical muster.

I've also worked on Cursillo teams where my colleagues in Christ were grounded, faithful evangelicals -- I've teamed up with Brian Cox on Reconcilation Task Force seminars and spent HOURS at round tables listening to those who read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures we share from an evangelical perspective.

I appreciate their faithfulness to their understandings.

And there are places where my understandings depart from theirs.

And none of that has ANYTHING to do with the sermon I preached yesterday.

There are "progressives" (for lack of a better label) who believe the Bible is "just a book" and Jesus was "just a teacher" ... I'm not one of them.

And there ARE evangelicals who unscrew the scripture leg of the proverbial three-legged-stool and use it as a blunt instrument to beat into submission those with whom they disagree ... and you're not one of them.

Finally, as far as continuing education options, perhaps you might consider a course in liberation theology at EDS or a seminar on feminist theology with Rosemary Radford Reuther.

It would be a lot of work to try to understand the worldview of such academic settings, but you would learn something that would help you in understanding what feminists and other progressives believe and why they believe it, and so enable you to communicate more usefully to us.


Samuel -- Re: Jack Spong's letter, I'm working on a piece around that ... stay tuned.

NOW I'm off to the office!! :)

Huw Richardson said...

You don't need to release this from moderation - but thanks for your hospitality.

And have fun at your day job!


Huw Richardson said...

The reason "chaff" is a problem: It's a "making the weaker brother stumble" issue. What one side sees as chaff the other sees as terribly important. Don't make them stumble.

Anonymous said...

anon.comment#1 is selective in that it omits the known penalty for causing a miscarriage (paying whatever fee the husband demands), and omits the Hebrew equivalence of breath with life. So, anon.#1 is making a new conclusion that is not based firmly on Scripture alone.

Just saying...

One fun way of looking at Scripture is improv. acting. Study group participants read passage beforehand and think about it, then come to meeting where each individual is assigned a "character" in the story. Act out the story in colloquial terms, then discuss people's interpretations and other possible interpretations, motivations behind them, etc.

It's a good counter-approach to complement conventional textual analysis.


Hiram said...

Susan, I am glad that you have spent time with Brian Cox (whom I know and admire) and with others who are conservative. Nevertheless, when you talk about how conservatives interpret the Bible, you show no indication that you know basic evangelical principles of interpretation. All I am saying is that if you are not ignorant of these principles, your knowledge does not show.

Anonymous said...

One of the greatest things about the moral commands and prohibitions in Scripture is how consistent they are with the long-term well-being of humanity. Adultery and homosexuality, for instance, seem like good fun until you examine the long-term effects on families, on physical well-being, on emotional well-being, on society in every aspect. The connections are subtle enough that they can't be codified in a free society but real enough that spiritual renewal must have the effect of minimizing or eliminating these things in a godly manner (i.e., not forcibly, as in Islam.)-- J

Anonymous said...

In answer to Jim’s good question, re Spong: I can’t summarize all of his books, or those of the many other biblical scholars into a couple of paragraphs. And I don’t speak for Susan. However, there are many Christians who do not believe in, or are doubtful about, the virgin birth and literal resurrection and ascension. There is debate about the biblical word “virgin” actually referring to a “young girl.“ There are many miraculous birth stories, flood myths and creation myths in cultures all over the ancient world. The birth stories typically include a genealogy, a reference to advance notice that this was to be the birth of a special person, and a reference to precocious behavior on the part of the child. Just like the birth story of Jesus. If we could go back in time and take a DNA sample from Jesus, what would it reveal?

The ascension of a god-like figure into the heavens made sense in the three-tiered universe of the ancient world. The gods were thought to live in the heavens just above the clouds and among the stars. Augustus Caesar was referred to as both “lord” and “savior.” Sacrifices to the gods were common to many cultures. The writers of the Bible, writing decades after the crucifixion, wrote in the language and context of their time. If they had written in the language of our time, that of Einstein and Hawking, that would have been remarkable.

To many, what is important is that, as James Carroll says, the people who knew Jesus and those who heard him speak could not forget him. That is the good news of the Gospel. Their stories endure and remain compelling 2000 years later. The Bible is very much a human product of the religious history of the Jewish people. Centuries later, determinations were made as to which books got in, and which did not. The primary question for many is not, are the stories literally true, but rather, what do these stories mean? Is the Bible the lens through which we catch a glimpse of the mystery of God? Or is the Bible itself to be an object of worship?

We go to church to rejoice in the teachings of Jesus. We try to follow them. We believe he came that we might have a more abundant life, and that “abundant” did not refer to material things. Collectively, we try to feed the hungry, heal the sick and minister to the marginalized. We don’t see anything in Jesus’ teachings that condones the scapegoating and demonizing of LGBT persons, or red-haired or left-handed person, for that matter.

My personal belief is that Jesus is not the sole pathway to God. This would mean that at birth God assigns billions of souls to hell simply because they will be brought up in the religious tradition of their family of origin, be it Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish etc. What kind of god would do this? These kind of questions are unanswerable. We cannot know the mind of God. We all do our best to understand the mystery of faith. I recognize that some people have deeply held beliefs that are different than mine. I believe that there is room for all on this journey.

P.S. to a different post:

What about the “long-term effects on families, on physical well-being, on emotional well-being, on society in every aspect,” of war? Shouldn’t we be a little more concerned, as Christians, about our current war, for example, than the sexual orientation of the couple down the street? Is it helpful to equate adultery and homosexuality? Apples and oranges, like embezzlement and eye color, or murder and height. Am I virtuous because I resist the “fun” of homosexuality? Or am I simply not interested, because my sexual orientation, which I did not choose, is heterosexual?

Anonymous said...


First, thank you for your thoughful answer. It is one I have heard in many forms before.
If I let my world mind take over, I would believe the same way.
But my God is awesome, He is capable of every miracle in the Bible and more.
In the reasoning that you provide, and again I appreciate its intellectal approach, there doesn't seem much room for faith. The belief of the impossible.
Trust me, I don't argue much about this anymore. I work among professionals - and I guess many would classify me as a professional - but I truly believe God sent an Angel to Mary and that she became with child exactly as presented in the Bible. If I didn't, I'd be on the golf course or watching ESPN and not wasting my time reciting a Creed that contained a number of statements I don't believe on any given Sunday.
There are plenty of service clubs that I could join and do good works. I could tithe my paycheck to any number of worthy causes - American Red Cross or MDGs - if you will - and eliminate the expensive middle man that is the American church (not just the TEC).
I could still meet with a group of like minded friends and have coffee and donuts without pretending to recite words I didn't believe.
I respect your point of view, but a church that preaches that does not leave a lot of room for me, one who believes on faith that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified for my sins, walked around and talked to his leaders after his death and then rose to heaven where he awaits faithful believers.
Jesus himself told us that the gate was narrow and that He was the only avenue to the Father. I don't know what his design is for those who haven't heard or believed his word, but I know what he said.
That may seem childlike and simple to sophisticated folks, but it was what I was taught in the Episcopal Church and what I have always believed. It never occurred to me that bishops would come along, take an ordination vow to uphold all those beliefs, and then turn around and deny them. Sounds too much like Peter.
From across the divide, thanks for the response.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim from Michigan

Lorian said...

uffda51, Thanks for your comments. You summed up my beliefs quite well. I appreciate you taking the time to formulate it so clearly.

J 12:29PM, I have heard your position quite a number of time from fundamentalists/evangelicals. They like to cast aspersions on gay and lesbian people by suggesting that homosexuality is somehow harmful or detrimental to society as a whole and to the individuals in particular. What they fail to do, however, is to clearly demonstrate how this is so.

We no longer depend, as a species, upon high rates of individual reproductivity. Not to mention the fact that many gays and lesbians, myself included, are parents. Nor can you support a claim that gays and lesbians in committed, covenantal relationships are any more likely to suffer physical ailments than their straight counterparts. Certainly, promiscuity and casual sex with strangers are unhealthy for ANYONE, gay or straight, and there are plenty of straight people who practice that "lifestyle." There is nothing inherent in homosexuality which is more or less healthy for the individual or society than heterosexuality.

Anonymous said...

Lorian --

The amount of illness among homosexuals is 10 quantum leaps above that of heterosexuals. In addition:

A study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence examined conflict and violence in lesbian relationships. The researchers found that 90 percent of the lesbians surveyed had been recipients of one or more acts of verbal aggression from their intimate partners during the year prior to this study, with 31 percent reporting one or more incidents of physical abuse.

· In a survey of 1,099 lesbians, the Journal of Social Service Research found that slightly more than half of the lesbians reported that they had been abused by a female lover/partner. The researchers found that "the most frequently indicated forms of abuse were verbal/emotional/psychological abuse and combined physical-psychological abuse."

· A study of lesbian couples reported in the Handbook of Family Development and Intervention "indicates that 54 percent had experienced 10 or more abusive incidents, 74 percent had experienced six or more incidents, 60 percent reported a pattern to the abuse, and 71 percent said it grew worse over time."

· In their book Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence, Island and Letellier postulate that "the incidence of domestic violence among gay men is nearly double that in the heterosexual population."

Gay and lesbian vs. other opposite-sex intimate partner relationships

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice confirm that homosexual and lesbian relationships had a far greater incidence of domestic partner violence than opposite-sex relationships including cohabitation or marriage.

· The National Violence against Women Survey, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, found that "same-sex cohabitants reported significantly more intimate partner violence than did opposite-sex cohabitants. Thirty-nine percent of the same-sex cohabitants reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a marital/cohabitating partner at some time in their lifetimes, compared to 21.7 percent of the opposite-sex cohabitants. Among men, the comparable figures are 23.1 percent and 7.4 percent." -- J

Anonymous said...

I agree with your analysis that your shouldn't look for some clear pronouncement of Scripture in order to come to a determination about God's will, and the example of slavery is right. The touchstone is God's love and the well-being of mankind. In the case of slavery, God loved every individual so much as to give His Son for them, and that is the diametrical opposite of treating a person like an object to be bought and sold. In the case of homosexuality, it is likewise the well-being of the individual who happens to be inclined that way -- neither disrespecting him nor encouraging him to act on that inclination, since the preponderance of evidence demonstrates the harmfulness of it beyond all reasonable doubt. -- J

JimB said...


I supoose that I got the idea from reading what I thought you wrote.
If I erred, please accept my appology.

As to your questions about +Spong's truth telling letter, I am afraid I have lots track of them. If our host does not mind, perhaps you might re-post? Alternately, feel free to send them to me directly. I cannot promise an answer, but I will promise an attempt.


Suzer said...

J --

No matter how many times a lie is repeated about GLBT people, it doesn't make it true. Using junk science or selective quotes from studies about other topics to attempt to smear the lives of GLBT people does nothing but harm yourself, really. Your posts may simply be an attempt to get GLBT folks here to take the bait and argue with you -- that I won't do. However, I cannot let the untruths you spread go unrefuted. I am sorry you have been taught these untruths and that you apparently believe them.

I am surprised, and disappointed, that Rev. Russell has allowed your comments to remain here, as they are a clear attempt to use misinformation to strike at GLBT people. I read enough of this tripe on other sites, I had hoped I wouldn't have to read it here, too. I haven't the time or energy to track down at length the actual sources you've cited(which I'm sure include the "Family Research Council" or Paul Cameron, among other purveyors of untruth about GLBT people), and frankly wouldn't give these sources the satisfaction of my valuable time spent refuting them. Refutation of these sources has been done elsewhere by others, and you can research it yourself. However, a quick Google search showed me the general places your quotes come from, which are all biased sources and likely have been roundly discredited in academic communities.

Rev. Russell, I've enjoyed your blog and the discussions with some of the conservatives here who are respectful and considerate, and who do not use lies to support their prejudices. I suspect this is the end for me, though. I expect to find lies and toxicity on places like StandFirm and VirtueOnline -- which is why I don't go there. I had hoped not to find it here. I am truly hurt that you have allowed the lies and misinformation against GLBT people in J's comments to stand, as they do spiritual violence against your GLBT brothers and sisters. Of course, it is your blog, your rules, and I respect that. There may be a reason you've let this misinformation be published that I am not aware of.

Good luck, and God bless.

Susan H.


Suzer -- there IS a reason an it's because I get an average of three-to-five such comments posted DAILY and always "moderate them" and this time decided to let it stand as a example of the bull shit that's out there.

That's right ... bull shit.

This would be me -- not choosing my words either unadvisedly or lightly!

Lorian said...

Suzer and Susan, thanks for beating me to it.

J - your "statistics" are baseless misrepresentations of data. I've seen them before. Suzer is right that most of them are drawn from "Family Research Council," Paul Cameron, James Dobson and their ilk. If you had linked your sources, as someone who wished to present academically sound information would probably have done, the flaws in your source material would be abundantly clear in your post.

Suzer, sorry you had to be subjected to such drivel. I've developed a tough skin for it, but it still turns my stomach to see the levels to which some people will sink to try to discredit gays and lesbians.

Anonymous said...

I guess it would be blog-pimping if you promote someone else's blog:
Jim Burroway writes
a blog about the misuse of science to bash gays.

I will say that from the forensic viewpoint, lesbian on lesbian murder is very rare. Gay on gay is slightly more common - the current example being a three-person murder-suicide involving a prominent Republican political consultant, a friend and possibly a procurer for two congressmen including one congressman with some fraud issues, and one other man. Sex, or graft? It's a topic on Kos, Americablog, and others. But that's for high flyers. Ordinary (mostly Democratic) gay men in our town are quite peaceable. Yes, that's a snark you see, mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

Drat, forgot!

The boxturtle blog plug was by me,


David said...

I get an average of three-to-five such comments posted DAILY and always "moderate them" and this time decided to let it stand as a example of the bull shit that's out there.

I found the comments both typical of the junk "science" that gets spouted over & over at places like T1:9, SFiF, etc... and quite disgusting.

However, I think you're right in posting them this time. As a straight, white male, I can't imagine the sort of garbage you must receive on a regular basis (tho' I do get some, usually when the usual suspects discover I'm one of those awful "Liberals" ;) But like my grandmother used to say, sometimes the best way to get rid of certain kinds of nastiness is to get it out in the sunlight.