The Bible Is Not a Rulebook for Other People

The Bible Is Not a Rulebook for Other People April 9, 2012

Tony Jones recently invited Scot Miller to blog about Robert A.K. Gagnon’s massive, circle-the-wagons text on The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

The link above there is to Tony’s wrap-up, which links back to all six parts of Miller’s review, which is thorough and incisive. Miller gets to the heart of his disagreement with Gagnon — and to the fact that the heart of that disagreement is not at all what Gagnon seems to imagine it to be — a conflict between Gagnon, righteous defender of the Bible, and the apostates who despise that Bible because they love gays so much. I recommend reading all six parts of Miller’s review.

Scott Paeth sums it up this way:

As Miller notes, Gagnon seems to have decided what he wanted the Bible to mean on the subject of homosexuality, and then read the Bible in the way that reinforced that.

But there are other ways to put the Bible at the center of one’s faith, and for me, understanding it not as a set of divinely ordained commands and norms, but as the very human story of how the community of faith comes to understand itself as related to God, in a very fallible and evolving way, is much truer to what one can actually read from the text. And what that means for the Christian community is that we too have to struggle to understand ourselves as related to God, in light of the experiences of those who have come before us, and in conversation with the world we find ourselves in the midst of. At the center is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which defines the core of the Christian reality. Apart from that, we are in dialogue both those who came before us, and those who travel the road with us now.

Which is all good and interesting and actually quite important. But not quite as good, interesting or important as this note, from one of “those who travel the road with us now”:

And I don’t know what will happen but I am done playing like I’m something I’m not and if my parents don’t love me anymore because of this then I realize that’s not my problem and it will hurt but not as much as the way I hurt right now. I feel like if my mom and dad would just think about things they’d realize that what they always say and how they always hate gays is not what Jesus would do and maybe there is a chance that they will some day love me like Jesus would. I am their kid afterall.

Any hermeneutic that can’t contend with those three sentences isn’t worth defending.

The Bible is not a Rulebook for Other People. Those who pretend that it is are always, always trying to tell you who it is that you don’t have to love. When that’s your starting point, you’re reading it wrong.

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  • Blainstum

    Scott’s posts are great. I would have enjoyed Scott picking apart Gagnon’s argument about desires/inclinations versus actions a bit more. Christians have marched that argument out to me multiple times and I find the implications of it horrific. What someone like Gagnon is asking of a gay man like me is to live a life of isolation and alienation. Thats not an argument that beams with “Christian love” to me.
    But I guess my question is: even if someone believes homosexuality is a sin, why the intense, blistering focus on it to the exclusion of other sins that are indisputably mentioned/condemned far more often in the Bible? Why a 400+ page book on it? If it is mentioned so few times in the Bible, why does someone like Gagnon feel the need to write about it so much?

    The note from that kid breaks my heart. And even if Gagnon wants to admit it or not, that’s the kind of behavior his position inspires all too often. If someone really believes there’s a sin so unforgivable that they have the right to alienate, shame, oppress and harm those closest to them, theyre not a Christian in my book.

  • Any hermeneutic that can’t contend with those three sentences isn’t worth defending.

    Word.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Any person who wants to take Deuteronomy at its word first needs to acknowledge that they would be stoned to death for wearing mixed fabrics if anyone still considered Deuteronomy to be at all relevant.

  • Anonymous

    The Bible is not a Rulebook for Other People.

    Well, duh. 

    One of the problems with maintaining that the Bible is a rules book is that it totally ignores the fact that the rules of the game are constantly changing; even baseball, that great bastion of the status quo, changes its rules every now and then.  And as someone who will now be officiating my 20th high school football season this fall can attest, there hasn’t been a single season where at least one rule wasn’t changed, amended or added.  The rules of the game are constantly changing to reflect the changing nature of the game itself.  And rules that pretty much never change (i.e. holding) are still interpreted differently over time.

    The Bible is not a science book, and for damn sure it’s not a rules book.  Those who insist otherwise are not to be trusted.

    But if the Bible IS a rules book, then we should be allowed to examine its impact on the game (life, faith, religion) and work to reinterpret the rules to help create a better game.

  • Matri

    But they do. Christianists keep re-interpreting the book to “help create a better game”. For them.

    As far as they are concerned, us Others should just disappear.

  • Anonymous

    Even baseball, that great bastion of the status quo, changes its rules every now and then.

    But at least we can all agree that the infield fly rule and designated hitters are the work of the great enemy.  I’d hate to think I was consorting with the sort of satanazis who thought they were okay.  I mean – what’s next – not enforcing catcher’s balks?  Outlawing the spitball?  INSTANT REPLAY?!

  • Anonymous

    To the charge that it’s disproportionate to spend 400+ pages  on something which at best is a minor side-issue in the Bible, this reply I thought had a point:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/04/05/reading-gagnon-overstated-exegesis-scot/#comment-28995

    Essentially the point being that Gagnon probably felt it necessary to devote a lot of detail to the argument because there’s already a lot of words being spent arguing for the reverse case: that the Bible doesn’t say much (or anything) about homosexuality in general, that where it does appear to mention it it’s a misapprehension/mistranslation or they’re talking about some particular kind of homosexual practice that either doesn’t exist today or is still seen as problematic (rape, ‘male temple prostitution’, whatever that is).

    Chris, the author of that post, seems a lot more sympathetic to Gagnon than I am (on the basis of Scot’s posts, which is all I know about the chap), but I agree with this point.  I’ve certainly been prompted to spend a lot of time arguing for things that in the greater scheme aren’t all that important by someone disagreeing with me — I wouldn’t want anyone to think that the time spent is proportional to how important those issues are!  

    (Perhaps I’m not immune to criticism on this point — but I’m not the only one around these parts who does this!)

    Another point I’d add is that Gagnon’s book is pretty scholarly, and it’s par for the course for scholars to write enormous tomes about minutiae. 

    That’s not to say that Gagnon’s keeping this issue in perspective.  But we can’t tell that he’s not simply from the fact he wrote a book about it.

  • GC1

    The reason so many focus on it as the “one big sin” is because they can say that’s the one sin they don’t commit or even have an urge to commit. (Not that homosexuality is in anyway a sin.) 

  • Dr. Gagnon and I had a fairly extensive conversation here.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/03/28/bible-condemn-idolatrous-homosexual-practice-gangnon-lee-torn/

    I’m not sure how I did, but it was kind of fun, and maybe I learned something.