Bigots and the Bible

Rachel Held Evans has been running a series of posts in which she invites various people with different religious perspectives to answer questions left by her readers. The most recent post is Ask a Gay Christian, where Justin Lee, the director of the Gay Christian Network, has been responding.

There were a number of good questions. One of which Hemant picked up on: “Is it possible in your view for someone to disagree with you – to believe that the Bible consistently teaches sexual activity is intended for heterosexual marriage only – and for that person to not be a bigot, homophobe, motivated by ignorance or fear?”

Hemant threw this open for comments. Here’s my problem:

The Bible contains perhaps a dozen “clobber verses” against homosexuality. That number could shrink or grow depending on how you define words and whether or not you bring adultery into the conversation.

The Bible contains perhaps 200 verses on the topic of the poor and economic justice. Again, that number could shrink or grow. I’ve heard estimates as high as 300.

As I look at modern American Christianity, it seems to me that those numbers could have been reversed.

To evade the charge of bigotry, you need to do more than say that you sincerely believe that the Bible is against gay marriage. You need to explain why you take the clobber verses as something important and relevant to today, while the statements like “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none,” aren’t.

There are arguments against taking the missional verses and the poverty verses and trying them to apply them today. Of course, many of those arguments could be turned against the clobber verses as well. Can it be shown that there is a consistent means of interpretation that would lead to the clobber verses being taken literally while the charity verses should be basically ignored?

Or think of it this way: would the hypothetical “man from Mars” who was innocent of Christianity and the culture wars really look at the Bible and come away saying, “Wow, we’ve really got to do something to stop gay marriage”?

Think about how this looks from the outside. The parts of the Bible that you believe apply today are the ones that require other people to make sacrifices. The parts of the Bible that would require YOU to make big sacrifices are not considered relevant. Look at it this way, and you’ll see why “bigot” is one of the nicer things you could be called.

  • swmr1

    The parts of the Bible that you believe apply today are the ones that require other people to make sacrifices. The parts of the Bible that would require YOU to make big sacrifices are not considered relevant

    Definitely. The hypocrisy is amazing.

  • http://www.brgulker.tumblr.com brgulker

    I agree with everything vorjack’s said here, but I want to tease out a distinction that isn’t present.

    Gay marriage has become a political battle, and evangelicals are making it from (mostly) theological grounds.

    Helping the poor / Obamacare / Etc., etc. are also political battles, and again, evangelicals are making their cases (mostly) from theological grounds.

    I don’t think I’ve ever met any Christian who thinks Christians aren’t obligated to help the poor as a result of being followers of Jesus. The political argument in the US, though, isn’t whether or not the poor should be helped, it’s primarily about the government’s role in doing so.

    • http://theascendancymemoirs.blogspot.com/ wazza

      but why would you object to the government helping poor people if you think it’s a good idea to help poor people? I don’t see a lot of protesting about the military budget…

      • hacksoncode

        I’m not a Christian, but even I would argue that the government taking my money, keeping a cut for themselves (administration costs, etc.), applying a lot of it to wars, and giving a tiny fraction of it to the poor isn’t helping the poor as much as if I were to give the money to a charity that helps the poor.

        Government charity simply starves personal charity. Since Xtians are theoretically supposed to engage in personal charity, it’s not a completely inconsistent idea that they might want government to leave them some cash with which to do it.

        • Sajanas

          All churches and charities have administrative costs… I think the fallacy Christians tend to make is they assume that their church is a charity, which it is not. Having been a Lutheran for most of my youth, I saw the church budgets for salaries, construction, maintenance. They did give to charity, but a lot of it revolved around people contributing their time and spare food and possessions, rather than directly connecting money to poor people. And none of that involves a large building.

          Now, I know everyone distrusts the government, but its hard to deny that is able to direct a huge amount of resources without breaking a sweet, and with the signing of bills provide vast incentives for hiring, building housing, and the like. Grassroots stuff is fine, but there is something to be said about having national organization and expertise. A poor community can only help its own poor so much.

        • blotonthelandscape

          I’m sure I’ve had this conversation here before, but still:

          A lot of charities do good work, but they lack the capital to invest in the structural changes required to fundamentally alter society (that is, reduce the rich-poor gap, improve education levels, improve social/geographical mobility etc). Only government, with it’s tax income and leverage, can meet the scale required to shift poverty downward on the macro level.

          The other economic problem which government spending overcomes is the problem of the positive externality (the benefit to society exceeds the benefit to the producer, leading to underproduction). This relates specifically to “goods” like health and education. In these circumstances, an inefficient government will provide better than an efficient private sector.

          Last I checked businesses get tax deductions when they donate some of their profits. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          A huge proportion of the “administration” in governments goes on wages. This feeds back into the private sector, and into the personal donations of government workers.

          I agree that Western countries spend way too much on wars and the military.

          TL;DR: Pay your taxes

        • Rene Epicurus

          There are no specific proscriptions in the Bible against government helping the poor or engaging in what could be called charity. At the time those books in the Bible were hobble together from many sources, initially-mostly oral, often times people of greater means WERE the government or so intertwined with civil authority it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.

          To imply a zero-sum game because government provides very modest entitlements vis-a-vis the personal wealth of others is utter nonsense.

          The government does not and never has taken all of anyone’s personal wealth via taxes.

          Therefore, there is plenty left over for anyone having extra resources and greater means, who wants to engage in charitable practices.

          The net result would be the same.

          The problem is, most of the people invoking the “personal charity is best” argument, would not offer charity in any case, and are perfectly okay (philosophically or theologically – especially if Calvinist) to let the vast majority of poor people suffer and die.

          The real reason for all this anti-government rhetoric and activism is because the REAL people behind this movement want ZERO accountability for themselves, their families, and “business partners” – that’s the real reason.

          • RonF

            “There are no specific proscriptions in the Bible against government helping the poor or engaging in what could be called charity.”

            True. But there’s also no particular blessing of it, either. Jesus walked around telling PEOPLE to give to the poor. When he was confronted by government – the most powerful government in the world at the time and one of the most powerful that has ever been – he said nothing of the kind to it.

            I don’t hold that Jesus proscribed a governmental role in supporting the poor. But I can’t see how a reading of the Bible can be interpreted as commanding it, either. To oppose governmental spending on the poor and preferring private charity cannot be considered un-Christian.

            • vorjack

              When he was confronted by government – the most powerful government in the world at the time and one of the most powerful that has ever been – he said nothing of the kind to it.

              That would have been somewhat pointless, since Jesus seemed to believe that the Kingdom of God – the most powerful government imaginable – was about to come down and make everything right. The last would be first, the leaders would become the servants, the meek would inherit the earth, etc.

              Basically, God was about to initiate the most powerful leveling of the class structure that there could ever be. What’s a little bread and circus compared to that?

      • http://www.brgulker.tumblr.com brgulker

        I agree on being frustrated by the lack of outcry against the military budget. It is one of my ultimate political pet peeves.

        I’ve heard a few arguments that make sense. The most interesting one to me is that the government, as a giant federal bureaucratic agency, isn’t best equipped to actually help poor people, and as a result, their efforts that begin with good intentions ultimately fail. Not saying I agree, just that it’s a good question to ask.

        Ultimately, though, it’s a debate about the nature of government vs. the private sector and which roles belong to each.

    • http://messiestobjects.typepad.com messiestobjects

      Yes but the hypocrisy is still there. Apparently they believe it is the Government’s role to regulate your sexual and reproductive rights, but it is not the Government’s role to regulate your charity. Why the distinction? Just add the word into Vorjack’s original statement.

      “The parts of the Bible that you believe apply [to Government] today are the ones that require other people to make sacrifices. The parts of the Bible that would require [the Governement to make] YOU to make big sacrifices are not considered relevant.

      • http://www.brgulker.tumblr.com brgulker

        I’m not saying there’s no hypocrisy. I’m simply pointing out that the arguments are slightly more nuanced than originally presented.

      • RonF

        “Apparently they believe it is the Government’s role to regulate your sexual and reproductive rights,”

        Hm. How? Are they promulgating laws to punish extra-marital sex? Or homosexual sex? Or to prevent you from having children (as we see in China?)? No. Your sexual rights are not at stake. Neither are your reproductive rights. They do want to restrict abortion. But that’s not seen as a reproductive right, that’s seen as a right to life, which supercedes all others. You exercised your reproductive right when you chose to have sex while risking the chance of conceiving. The fact that you freely exercised your rights but regret the outcome doesn’t give you the right to kill someone, even if that someone has yet to be born.

    • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

      Re: “I don’t think I’ve ever met any Christian who thinks Christians aren’t obligated to help the poor as a result of being followers of Jesus.”

      Some Christians — including the most vocal members of the Religious Right — believe that being poor is a choice that people make. Cutting the poor off from any and all support, their philosophy goes, will force the poor to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and make them prosperous. Giving them things just entrenches their belief that they’re “entitled,” and encourages them to remain lazy.

      Giving “temporary” help is OK, but only so long as it’s “temporary” and accompanied by haranguing about how the help is only temporary and that one should “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” They seriously think this way. I’ve heard it with my own ears.

      It’s a consequence, I think, of the Protestant work ethic, which presumes that hard work and faith in God is rewarded with wealth. This idea has a consequence: A corollary of assuming that wealth always comes to the devout and hard-working, is that anyone who happens not to be wealthy, must therefore be degenerate and lazy. In turn this means that the poor deserve to be poor, because of their degeneracy and their laziness. God wants it that way, you see.

      That someone might work hard, and even have faith in God, yet still be poor nonetheless, is apparently not something these folk accept as possible.

      • Transformed

        I think the problem goes much deeper than what you may be implying here. Poverty has something to do with poor politics, but I think the deeper end of the pool has more to do with poor education.

        For example, my mother is one of the christians you are describing. Poor and devoutly religious (although I’ll give her that she’s cooled off in the last 2 years or so). Her drought in prosperity is directly linked to her incredibly horrible financial sense. She has no idea how to invest or to make sound fiscal decisions. This is a failure of our educaitonal system more-so than a failure of bad ideology spewed by poorly educated politicans(themselves) .

        If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times; education and knowledge have the power to change everything, Poeple just need to be educated….

        • Rene Epicurus

          I’m sorry but that does not wash, and is terribly cliché.

          There are THREE general substantive reasons for massive wealth, which incidentally has utterly corrupted our political AND educational systems:

          1) Historically – Inter-marrying (how “great houses” were built/extended), and various forms of “partnering” that are similar to marriage from a legal/business standpoint. The key thing to focus on in such relationships is the demonstrable fact that MOST people will never be afforded such opportunities.

          2) Inheritance (you know, the old fashioned way to get rich).

          3) And just plain old good/dumb luck – timing, serendipity, “blessings” (I’m throwing up in my mouth on that one but I’m trying to be “charitable”).

          Once you get that one big break in your favor, it’s not many people who do NOT have enough jungle cunning to capitalize on it and (more importantly) hire the outside expertise and partnerships to make a windfall grow into something bigger and bigger…

          So to dismiss the vast poor as making a choice, or being lazy, or being “immoral” is just ignorant and cruel – to a sickeningly sadistic degree.

          Does hard work and “education” affect one’s financial viability and success?

          Sure, but it’s highly contextual. I know many people with advanced degrees (I work in a large academic institution) and “education” is very contextual and more focused than most people realize. Highly education folks have their prejudices and intellectual blindsides just like anyone else, including the “uneducated poor”.

          Many of the most “successful” businessmen, entrepreneurs, movers-and-shakers, creative artists/performers, etc., in history did not finish college or never attended. How might we apply our “education is key” paradigm to that embarrassing and stubborn fact?

          I can tell you this, however, if more people had a progressive and broad education in Liberal Arts, History, Logic, and practical Mathematics, there’d be less “believers”, conservatives, and Republicans trying to deprive large swaths of people of their rights, simply because those “others” in the “out-groups” look, eat, believe, and make love differently than the (thankfully) increasingly small group of BIGOTS on the RIGHT.

          • Transformed

            I do not argue that the condition of the poor is due to laziness or bad choices…. And maybe the definition of education can be broadened a little in the sense that I mean. I do not mean at all a commitment to degrees. What I mean is in practicality (specifically) of our (American) educational system in general.

            As you alluded to in the last paragraph of your statement, more specifically when you said this….

            “I can tell you this, however, if more people had a progressive and broad education in Liberal Arts, History, Logic, and practical Mathematics…”

            that a broad sense of education and its application to our lives can be revolutionized if we valued it honestly and with integral reverence to having ‘correct’ – or at least having as correct an answer we can have – and then teaching that to our youth without any cultural biases. With the example of my mother (in my previous post) I alluded to the deficiency of education with respect to her decision making process. If financial responsibility were valued and therefore incorporated into even our elementary schools, my mother would (inevitably) be more informed a human and citizen. Unfortunately, because of the failures of our educational system she never had a chance.

            I can still agree that poor politicians and inter- house marriages are attributable to the ‘poor condition’ (if you will); I just think that if people were more informed (educated) of the world around them; as a collective the eradication of poverty would be just a few specific (maybe govern- mentally sponsored) programs away.

          • RonF

            I would love to see the schools teach “Liberal Arts, History, Logic, and practical Mathematics” It’s the best way I know to produce conservatives. In fact, I’ve long proposed that every High School Junior be required to take at least one semester of Logic. It would help people cut through the emotional nonsense that most leftist politicians (and consumer advertisers/marketers) use. Practical mathematics would help people realize how unsustainable our current deficit spending is. And History teaches us that trusting that other societies and nations don’t respond to appeasement or reason and that “if you would have peace, you must prepare for war”

      • RonF

        “Some Christians — including the most vocal members of the Religious Right — believe that being poor is a choice that people make. Cutting the poor off from any and all support, their philosophy goes, will force the poor to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and make them prosperous. Giving them things just entrenches their belief that they’re “entitled,” and encourages them to remain lazy.”

        There may be some few who believe that. But I suggest that a great many others don’t. Certainly there are many poor people who are poor because of the choices they have made – to have children out of wedlock, to become addicted to drugs, etc. There are also people who are flat out born poor – a kid whose mom is 16 and whose father is long since out of the picture is going to be born poor through no choice of his own.

        Such people – poor by circumstance or poor by dint of bad choices – should get help from society. I see nothing wrong with reminding the latter that they are in their situation due to their own bad choices, as many are in denial of that fact and they need the point brought home. But both groups should be helped. What gets people upset about the way that such funds are handled is when people who are being helped don’t do what they can do on their own. For example; if you are born poor you should be given an opportunity to get a decent education. That’s a responsibility of society. But it is then the responsibility of the person involved to actually take advantage of that opportunity. If, instead, that person makes the choice of not studying and playing sports or video games for all hours then people see that their money is wasted.

        “God helps those who help themselves”. So does society. But if the person will not do what is within their power to help themselves there’s nothing that society can do to replace that.

  • vasaroti

    When you look at the conditions of marriage in the Bible, I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a Christian living today (outside of a cult) who would happily go along with having their spouse picked for them, being bartered, etc. Perhaps modern Christians have “drawn the line” at same-sex marriage in order to distract attention from all the other un-Biblical social customs they engage in.

    • UrsaMinor

      There are also sins of omission. I don’t see too many Christians rushing to marry their dead brother’s widow the way they ought to according to the Bible.

      And what’s with the rabid objection to Biblically-approved plural marriages?

      • trj

        Don’t forget the biblically approved concubines.

        • UrsaMinor

          It’s been a while since I read those passages, but I had the impression that borking your maidservant to produce an heir was optional.

          • trj

            Concubines are not mandatory, for sure. But neither are they discouraged anywhere in the Bible. David had many (along with his hundreds of wives). And as the Bible tells us, David always did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

            • UrsaMinor

              Including the whole Jonathan affair?

      • thread_of_fire

        “And what’s with the rabid objection to Biblically-approved plural marriages?”

        Simple minds which can’t see past cultural norms.

        I also wonder about the term used in the bible: ‘sexual morality/immorality’

        even as a beleiver it seemed that the bible did not define it very clearly, and even then people use that term as if it’s definition goes-without-saying and applies to everything. And it obviously means “one man one girl missionary position for life” or something like that.

        • RonF

          “And what’s with the rabid objection to Biblically-approved plural marriages?”

          It’s called the New Testament. You know, that set of books that actually speaks directly to Christians to distinguish them from Jews?

          • Howard Bannister

            …and I’m still waiting for any verses from that New Testament saying to stop having multiple wives…?

      • vasaroti

        That’s true. If you look at 19th and early 20th century family trees, you’ll find a lot of that. Partly about keeping property in the family, partly because in small rural communities there could be a shortage of women a man wasn’t closely related to. The Christians certainly eagerly got on board with the increased social mobility and the marriage for love movement of the 20th century, but don’t look for any thanks to Benjamin Tucker or Victoria Woodhull. Instead, they pretend in their books and movies that Biblical spouses were mutually attracted to each other.

  • http://theascendancymemoirs.blogspot.com/ wazza

    “The origin of the word bigot and bigoterie (bigotry) in English dates back to at least 1598, via Middle French, and started with the sense of “religious hypocrite”.” – Wikipedia

    so it’s appropriate in any case…

  • Lucas

    Brilliant last paragraph. I wonder how many of the Protect Marriage proponents are divorced….

  • FO

    Brilliant.

    It is my experience that what is actually written in the Bible is largely irrelevant, as most Christians know only hearsay.
    Among these Christians I include many of my friends, whom I otherwise esteem.

  • Hamish Milne

    Interesting point, but one that is easily explained. If you cling to the values of a 1700-year-old book, you’re probably going to be clinging to traditional cultural stereotypes, including the heterosexual marriage paradigm. If there are verses of said book that support this and condemn deviants, so much the better.

    • RonF

      Values of a 1700 year old book? There have been some variations to the form of marriage since the institution was created. But in all the many places and many times and many religions that have sanctioned marriage, the one constant, with insignificant variations, has been that it involves people of two different sexes. Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish, Islamic – pick your religion or culture and you’ll find that this is overwhelming true.

  • Robster

    They’re (the organised religions) worried about couples that don’t produce truck loads of offspring to keep the money flowing in on Sundays. More bums on pews is what they need. They know without these sheeple in the churches, their future source of power and funds will evaporate. The christian (and muzzy) religions can’t condone couples that don’t/won’t/can’t have a barnfull of babies, ready for some tasty indoctrination into stone age religious nonsense. Their future is at stake.

  • Kip

    A prime example of a ‘buffet christian’: pick and choose what you want and disregard what you don’t.

  • Kessy_Athena

    Wouldn’t the first question the “man from Mars” would ask be, “So, what’s this devil you keep talking about?”

  • Transformed

    “That number could shrink or grow depending on how you define words”

    We are talking about the one, infallible, Holy God, right? I can’t imagine such a being would afford his holy text to be subjected to such a thing as interpretation. Ridicule, hatred, intolerance.. maybe… But interpretation? C’mon, now… Oh wait…

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  • Ryan

    “The parts of the Bible that you believe apply today are the ones that require other people to make sacrifices. The parts of the Bible that would require YOU to make big sacrifices are not considered relevant”.

    great thoughts.

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