Love Your Loopholes as Yourself

Love Your Loopholes as Yourself October 9, 2014

Benjamin Corey has a post about how many conservative Christians justify violence.

He says,

Bottom line: if you think that “love your enemies” is fair game for a thousand loopholes and can’t be taken at face value, then you probably shouldn’t be drawing hard lines on any other issue in scripture.

Because, if “love your enemies” isn’t straightforward, we should probably just throw up our arms and admit that nothing else in the Bible could be, either.

He also included two images to allow for easy comparison between how texts about homosexuality are considered straightforward, and texts about violence (or rather, refraining from violence) are considered in need of careful, nuanced interpretation:

The Bible is not so clearThe Bible is clear

See also Rachel Held Evans’ ongoing discussion of the book God and the Gay Christian.

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  • R Vogel

    The problem with this is, someone could turn the tables on him and make the same argument regarding progressive views about homosexuality and non-violence. Both extremes assume a clarity of scripture that does not exist.

    • Can you provide an example of the sort of thing that you mean? I can’t off the top of my head thing of someone who has made an argument that there are not also violent texts in the Bible, or someone who has argued that the Bible has a clear stance in favor of acceptance of same-sex relationships. I have heard arguments that individual texts within the Bible may be interpreted in those ways, but never that they are unambiguous or that the entire Bible is characterized by those viewpoints.

      • R Vogel

        Ben takes a very literal, and I would say potentially overreaching, approach to Jesus’ teaching of non-violence. He expects that to be literally accepted according to his plain reading interpretation while he is willing to allow room for exegesis with regard to homosexual relationships. It could easily be viewed as a double standard.

        • Michael Wilson

          I agree, both topics, in my opinion not entirely straight forward. As others have pointed out, the bible only condemns male homosexuality, then there other question regarding what biblical writers thought homosexuality was. Further I’m of the opinion that the bibles clear postion on something, even if it exist, should not be the final word. Even Paul allows that Torah is mediated through angels, so even it is a potentialy imperfect revelation. Most progressive Christians would disagree Cory’s own clear understsnding of Jesus teaching since he feels the radical call of non violence extends to not voting since that constitutes willing partcipation in a violent system. His criticism is meaningful regarding any one that thinks as he describes, and do agree, we have to doubt Jesus clear teaching on violence and with it the notion that the bible has straightforward messages on anything.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Most liberal christians would embrace the idea that the Bible is contradictory on a lot of moral issues. But if one is going to make Jesus’s teachings the “central” part of their Christian faith, they certainly have to do more exegestical gymnastics advocating for war than christians do who affirm homosexuality (for starters, due to the sheer volume of texts).

          • R Vogel

            Ahh, that’s the issue though. They don’t just talk about war, they expand it to ‘violence’ They are not just anti-war, they are non-violent. That is a much stronger position that cannot be easily justified, especially given that most of the context when Jesus talked about loving enemies and turning the other cheek is specific to the actions oppressed vis-a-vis their oppressors, in this case the Roman Empire.

          • arcseconds

            I dunno, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s all that much that’s unclear about Jesus’s statements.

            It’s true that many of them were in relation to the Jews’ behaviour towards the oppressors, but resistance to oppressive forces who are not adverse to violence themselves is surely a case where violence seems quite justifiable.

            If in fact the thing to do is to not just eschew violence, but to carry their packs for them, turn the other cheek to them, and heal their sick boys, then in what other cases could it be justified? Maybe one could interpret this to mean that violence is fine so long as you’re the oppressor, but that seems pretty warped.

            About the only case which seems to justify violence more than resisting oppressors is outright cases of self-defense, so I guess one could make the argument that Jesus didn’t cover that one case, and therefore that’s an exception, but I dunno, this seems awfully close to an oppressor kind of case to me.

            Also, note that the ‘who is my neighbour (that I should love them)’? discussion isn’t (initially, at least) about oppression. The answer (the good Samaritan parable) seems to be that everyone is your neighbour.

          • Michael Wilson

            On Jesus and Rome, did Jesus see the Judean occupation as a good a case for violence as could be offered? I think a wise Jew at the time was capable of understanding that overthrowing Rome wouldnt matter. The Hebrews had more to gain supporting Rome than fighting it, plain and simple. Resisting would fail, thousands die, rights taken away, and if they won, who would rule instead of Rome? A mob of violent religious fanatics. If Rome were illegitimate, then going the extra mile is like driving a murder to his victim . The Christian is the good subject. Going the extra mile says, make your master proud to own you. Paul saw Rome as the scourge of evil. I suspect Jesus thought the same, not because he thought Rome was the body of God, but Rome is the leser of evil. Rome and all heathen nations will all become subjects of the gospel, but until then, it is good that Rome maintains pax romana.

          • arcseconds

            That kind of argument could be made about any occupying force or repressive regime. The human cost of revolution is great, and one doesn’t know what one is getting afterwards. Quite frequently it’s far from wonderful, even in cases where one might have reasonably expected something better: the French revolution results in the Terror and Napolean, the Russian revolution with Stalin.

            Yet even after centuries of Christianity, we’re still inclined to think that freedom fighters are heroes, despite the fact it’s apparently quite contrary to what Christ taught. So according to Western norms of justification at any rate, resisting one’s oppressors violently is quite justified.

            As far as other cases go, we also have the account of his conduct after being arrested. The Gospels even report a violent scuffle with his disciples, that he stops. So not even in a self-defense case that is likely to (and actually did) result in one’s death is violence to be used, it seems.

            So we have a consistent portrayal here of eschewing violence, even in cases which we consider justified, which is also consistent with other things he says about loving everyone.

            Of course, we can try to run an argument, which you seem to be doing, that we don’t see every possible case that could justify violence being dealt with, so maybe he would be OK with violence in some circumstances. But that’s an argument from silence, and doesn’t it just end up being speculation?

            (There is the occasion with the whips in the temple, I suppose, so one can argue that not all forms of violence are right out, but this seems more like a spectacular form of protest to me more than anything that condones the use of deadly or even potentially crippling force. )

          • Michael Wilson

            Arcsecond, I think it was Hamilton that argued that a despot was perferable to anarchy so one should not rebel against every undemocratic ruler. One of the tenants of just war is that one should have a reasonable expectation of victory, other wise using war to address an injustice is just vain vengeance.

          • R Vogel

            No one thinks what they interpret the bible to mean is unclear. Nothing in the bible is particularly clear. This is why people have been arguing about it for thousands of years.

          • Michael Wilson

            Andrew, Jesus certainly says more about war than homosexuals. That is not surprising. Nazareth probably didn’t have a vibrant gay scene. Paul addresses the issue because his big city gentile followers did have a prominent gay sub culture. Jesus’s Hebrew neighbours didn’t because they accepted the anti gay teaching of the Pentatuach. The story of the woman caught in adultery suggest this early Christian thought Jesus thought adultery was immoral, I see no reason to suspect he didnt feel the same about men having sex with men. I suspect one could go their whole life in Galilee and not encounter a man known to be gay.

            Now I suspect he wouldn’t stone a man for being queer, but I don’t think we can feel sure he thought it was good. The belief that Jesus supported homosexual love think is not supported by the historical as much as the divine Jesus incarnated in those that practice love of enemies and universal community. The Christian community is Jesus, not the man who died on Calgary.

          • Andrew Dowling

            ? I wasn’t stating there was evidence that Jesus supported homosexuality, but I also doubt he understood any modern conception of it.
            My point was more about in the Bible, anyone purporting violence as an adequate conflict-resolution tool has many more texts to grapple with than someone who says a monogamous, faithful gay relationship is OK.

          • Michael Wilson

            I think your right Andrew, Jesus likely did not under stand homosexuality as well as we do. But while the Bible has a lot of material condemning violence, as a whole, not just the New Testament, has a lot of passages endorsing violence. That creates an ambiguous view on violence and It is reflected in the Christian worlds’ attitudes and doctrines toward it. On the other hand, while not much discussed is always discussed in negative terms. And it is an understatement to say Christian opinion on the subject has had less variety and leaning toward the negative. For anyone taught to see value in the Bible’s words that crests a problem toward acceptance.