Jackleg theologies

Jackleg theologies May 31, 2018

• This is an infuriating story: “Inside the Pro-Trump Effort to Keep Black Voters From the Polls.”

The reason I think Bruce Carter was so easily manipulated, and so willing to endorse and support Trump, is hinted at in two almost parenthetical items in this long piece. 1) “An alleged physical altercation over his support for the president-elect led his former girlfriend to obtain a protective order against him.” And, 2) “Carter is also working on a new political movement  … a coalition of single mothers, felons, hospitality workers, and those who owe child support” (emphasis added).

The first is an obvious red flag. The second is subtler, but whenever you encounter a man who is aggrieved about the child-support system, run the other way.

• Mark Silk on “Why the Catholic Church Lost in Ireland.”

What seems to have turned a narrow margin into a landslide was the case of Savita Halappanavar, the dentist who in the midst of a miscarriage died of sepsis because she could not be given an abortion while there was still a fetal heartbeat. Halappanavar became the emblem of the movement to strike down the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which insisted, like the Catholic Church, that the unborn’s right to life is equal to the mother’s.

That position conflicts with the visceral human understanding that an early-term miscarriage is not the death of a person; that the mother’s life and health are more valuable than the life of the unborn; that a woman who becomes pregnant by rape or incest should not be required to carry to term.

The Church has always opposed abortion, but there was a time when its doctrine reflected that visceral understanding.

The personhood-begins-at-conception doctrine is a recent innovation. It’s also wrong — factually, biblically, morally. The consequences of that immoral new doctrine are immense and unjust. And that’s not even counting the more corrosive consequence of the toxic, sanctimonious self-righteousness and pride this sinful ideology has injected wherever Christians have embraced it.

The ideology of pro-liferism is not an example of moral values. It is a grievous, deadly sin that urgently needs to be repented of.

• I have just learned a new and delightful work thanks to its skillful and precise deployment by Baptist theologian Molly T. Marshall — who was purged in the Southern Baptist’s so-called “conservative resurgence.” Here is Marshall writing about “The peril of selective inerrancy“:

Ossified theology has been the hallmark of the conservative resurgence, and Paige Patterson stands as chief exemplar of this tradition. Destructive in its application, this theology has fostered cruel outcomes. While I eschew the proposition of inerrancy,  believing that it claims for Scripture something it does not claim for itself, Patterson’s selective inerrancy has been pursued out of self interest and fear of the power of women. Better to control them with jackleg complementarian theology, he concluded.

Jackleg.” Lovely, evocative … useful. That’s a keeper. Use it three times and it will be yours for life.

• The substance of Marshall’s post is also important. For an example of what she describes as “selective inerrancy,” take a look at this news from here in Philly: “Employees quit American Bible Society over sex and marriage rules.”

One of the oldest nonprofit organizations dedicated to distributing Bibles around the world will soon require all employees to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and heed a conservative code of sexual ethics.

Employees are resigning in protest of the new policy, which will effectively prohibit sexually active LGBT people and couples in cohabitating relationships from working for the American Bible Society. But the organization stands by it as a measure intended to bring “unity and clarity.”

… The affirmation is just the latest sign that the organization has shifted away from its ecumenical roots toward a more narrow evangelical identity. That shift began in the 1990s when the American Bible Society changed its constitution to make it a ministry that undertakes “Scripture engagement.” Previously it published Bibles “without note or comment.”

That avoidance of “note or comment” wasn’t an attempt to evade doctrinal quarrels. It was, rather, an assertion and expression of doctrine. It was a product of the idea that the Bible is “perspicuous” — that it’s meaning is simple, plain and obvious, and can be easily determined without interpretation. The perspicuity of scripture meant that the Bible required no “note or comment.”

What this belief in the Bible’s “perspicuity” always means, in practice, is the assertion that anyone who reads the Bible in good faith must be compelled to interpret it exactly as we do. Therefore, when others disagree with us about the meaning of the Bible or its priorities, those others have proved that they are not reading the Bible in good faith, but rather are twisting it in support of some dubious agenda. (“They” have an “agenda.” “We” do not. “We” are naive blank slates who approach the scripture, and all of life, with absolutely no agenda other than humble submission to its perspicuous dictates.)

What always happens, then, is what has happened here. The perspicuity of the scripture winds up needing to be fortified and explicated, revised and extended with note and comment. Statements of Faith must be written and endlessly expanded. The clarity of the Bible must be perpetually clarified.

Perspicuity is a jackleg game. That’s my first note and comment.



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