It is well known that some conservative Christians accuse liberal Christians of simply going with their personal preferences, in a manner that can be and has been called “Talladega Nights theology.” (If you don’t get the reference, click through to see the video clip).
That is a danger – and not exclusively for liberal Christians. But be that as it may, the accusation does not always fit.
David French’s post (to which I linked above) suggests that the acceptance of not merely gays and lesbians as people, but of homosexual intercourse as something no longer to be regarded as immoral, is merely making Jesus (and Biblical ethical teaching) in our own image, and according to our own personal and cultural preferences.
In response, it is not enough to point out that Jesus never said anything explicitly about homosexuality or homosexuals. Since he was Jewish, silence cannot easily be filled with a viewpoint that was not common in Judaism in the first century – however much one might go on to insist that Jesus’ views did not always mirror what most people thought.
But as I highlighted in a recent post, which took as its starting point a post by Fred Clark, we may or may not pick and choose more or less than conservative Christians – even those who deny doing so. That isn’t the central issue.
But many of us do have a rationale for doing so.
Jesus taught us to allow love for neighbor and concern for human beings to trump other concerns – even if it leads to healing on the Sabbath or eating sacred bread. Even if it means to breaking other laws, laws which according to the Bible were laid down by God himself.
Ancient Israel’s marriage laws reflected those of the time, and the workings of the marriage institution as an element of patriarchal society allowing men to treat women as property so as to ensure that their other property passed to their legitimate heirs. Times have changed, marriage has changed, and none of the conservative Christians I know who are married are involved in anything that mirrors “Biblical marriage” in all its features.
There is nowhere in the Bible where marriage is instituted by God as opposed to being legislated as a human institution already in existence, nor where a manual for appropriate and enjoyable sexual intercourse is provided. Don’t tell me that Genesis 2 or the Song of Songs provide this. They do not – and not only because they were not written until too much later. Genesis 2 simply places a man and a woman together, no ceremony, no instruction. Song of Songs is a wonderful love poem, but it reflects erotic love rather than offering guidance about it.
And so of course our thinking about marriage reflects the wider perspective of our time and place. Thinking about marriage among the people of God always has. And as with so many issues, such as women’s equality and slavery, we sometimes advocating the setting aside of practices that can be justified by careful exegesis of certain Biblical passages, on the basis of more fundamental Biblical principles. We pick and choose from both the Bible and our culture based on overarching principles and convictions about the centrality of love, the importance of justice, concern for the poor, and so on.
Some of us feel that the actions of Christians in the past, and in many instances continuing right up to the present, far from being faithful to the Bible’s teaching, are so fundamentally at odds with its core principles as to deserve an apology from us.
So whether it is changing our views about homosexuality, or about how to treat those with whom our forebears disagreed or those with whom we ourselves disagree, it is not a matter of picking and choosing based on personal preference. It is a matter of allowing the principles which Jesus laid down as fundamental to be the definitive guide to our morality.
I encourage “conservative Christians” to adopt the same approach, since any other approach to morality, no matter how often it appeals to the Bible, is fundamentally sub-Christian.