The Joke Called “Biblical Authority”

WELL, we’ve done it again. And boy, when we do something we really do it well. Oh yes, this week was another week when I was beyond proud to be an Evangelical. Because on Sunday I decided to take a couple days off from blogging and perusal of internet articles so I could get some studying done. Two days later, I check back into the blogsophere and within five minutes my reaction is:

In case you’re as out of the loop as I was yesterday…let me fill you in.

Thus far this week, three notable things  have happened:

A) My Hebrew exam didn’t go so well. But whatevs. That’s neither here nor there. Still. Just, ya know… feel sorry for me.

2) Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine had the audacity to ask the following question:

“Not meaning to stir things up BUT…is there a non-speculative or non ‘slipper slope’ reason why gays shouldn’t marry?”

Evangelical chaos ensued.

D) Then Sarah Palin publicly stated to an NRA rally that, if she were in charge, terrorists:

“…would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

And Evangelicals are all like:

So on the one hand, Haseltine’s comments were followed by a deluge of outrage from the Evangelical community. The conclusion was quickly reached that Haseltine was not simply asking a question, but was in fact in support of gay marriage and, what’s worse, believed that homosexuality was Biblically acceptable (neither of which he said).

Us Evangelicals responded to this with

On the other hand, Sarah Palin’s comments were left, more or less, untouched.

Evangelicals take comments like the ones against Haseltine on the basis of Biblical authority. As Michael Brown of Charisma News stated in his response to Haseltine’s heresy (note, sarcasm):

“…the argument against same-sex “marriage” is based on the consistent testimony of Scripture, affirmed by Moses, Jesus, and Paul, and it is never contradicted a single time from Genesis to Revelation.”

Okay, I can go for that. So let’s break down the logic behind the outrage:

Point 1: The reason Haseltine’s alleged support of gay marriage is a problem is because the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.

Point 2: The Bible also must, allegedly, somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet, say that the Church and State must be intimately connected and the morality of the church must be imposed upon the public. No light shining on a hill or anything.

Point 3: The Bible also, must, somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet, layout “traditional family values” that were the basis of the ancient Church though, ironically, somehow, they look eerily similar to the mission statement for Focus on the Family.

Point 4: The Bible also says that asking questions is a sin and open conversation about controversial topics is a sin. This is shown the the way the Bible holds up the Pharisees as paragons of piety and Christ-likeness.

Conclusion: Given all these points, it makes sense that Evangelicals would get pissed at Mr. Haseltine on the basis of Biblical authority.

So, yea, great job us.

On the other hand, this would also explain why we didn’t get outraged over Sarah Palin’s atrocious and offensively sacrilegious (note, not sarcasm) association between baptism and torture. Because, for one, the Bible clearly states that we are to be citizens of a nation first and foremost. What’s more, the Bible tells us that America is the godliest nation out there. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Bible states that America is God’s chosen people. So we’re supposed to be allegiant to America. Ergo, anyone that threatens America is obviously evil of the most vile kind and ought to be dealt with in nothing short of jihadic violence.

Because, to quote Sarah Palin:

No where in the Bible does it say to “love thy enemies”, no where in the Bible does Jesus portray a non-violent attitude towards those who are trying to tear him limb from limb. Nowhere.

Thus, the two mutually opposed reaction to these comments make sense.

 

But this is why Biblical authority has become a joke. This is why our claim to stand on Biblical authority is met with apathy or offense.

Because we, as Evangelicals, make it a joke. The cultural stances we choose to take on the basis of Biblical authority consistently portray us to be, at worst, bigoted and hateful, at best, illogical and mind-numbingly incapable of anything close to scholarly examination of our hallowed text. And what’s worse we can’t figure out how to use punctuation:

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One of many public, “Christian” responses to Haseltine’s inquiry.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in the Bible did Jesus recommend that those who opposed him go drown themselves. Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in the Bible does Jesus avoiding asking tough questions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in the Bible do we get the impression that every now and then it’d be a good idea for the religious majority to step back and allow ourselves to be approachable. Rather, the appropriate response to addressing those who disagree with us is most definitely:

If that doesn’t work, then we should try water-boarding them. Right, Palin?

We want to know why the rest of the world can’t take us seriously for claiming to stand on Biblical Authority? This is why.

Fellow Evangelicals, we need to fix this. If Biblical authority is going to have any credence to an increasingly post-modern society, then we have got to adapt the way we promote it. We have got to take a good long look in the mirror and ask ourselves what battles we’re fighting. We’ve got too. Or it will all just become a joke.

I’m going back to studying. See ya in another two days.

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An Open Letter To Franklin Graham

 

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Dear Franklin Graham Along With Your Associated Board of Directors,

I’m writing to you concerning the recent uproar involving the non-profit organization World Vision. For the benefit of those reading this letter, I’ll briefly provide the back-story which led to said events into three concise parts:

First:

On Monday, World Vision made the decision to amend their employment standards. Previously, the company had stated that employees were not to engage in sex outside of marriage. On Monday, the organization publically announced that it would now allow the employment of individuals who were in same-sex marriages to be included under their previous standards.

Said World Vision President Richard Stearns:

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there…Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.”

Then:

As many might have imagined, there was an immediate public reaction. Some Christians heralded the issue and applauded World Vision for their avocation of unity in the church. Others were not so happy. Many who had financially supported children through the organization stated their intentions to cut funding. Numerous Evangelical leaders spoke out against the decision.

And lastly:

World Vision revoked its previous decision and issued a letter of apology.

Shortly thereafter, I read of the whiplash and public outcry from several Evangelical Christian organizations. Needless to say, there was already more commentary on the event than one could possibly read and process in a day. But your statement on World Vision came across my radar. Because I am an Evangelical Christian and indeed a student at a seminary that has strong traditional ties to your organization, I was curious as to your reaction.
Again, for the benefit of those reading, I’d like to share what it stated: 

 

“I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God.

World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. 

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.”

 

Upon reading this concise but scathing statement, my heart also broke. And I had a million questions. So I decided to write this letter. Because I’m sure I’m not the only one with these questions.

As I stated earlier, I am a student at an Evangelical Seminary. I am training to become a pastor; my heart’s desire is to serve Christ and His Church. Inasmuch, I submit and adhere to the Evangelical position and the stance of Biblical authority on this issue. It is obviously a question that has presented itself before.

That being said, your reaction prompted questions. So I’m asking you, with humility, I’m asking you Franklin Graham: why?

Why did the actions of World Vision require such a severe and immediate statement? Why is this the manner in which you have decided to handle the issue?

I can understand your frustration with people like me. I am young, impressionable, and culturally influenced. I understand that I belong to a generation of Christians who seem to have dropped the ball from the previous generation; one that fought for the preservation of a Biblically-based moral code in a culture pitted against such.

But I still have to ask: why do you and your organization repeatedly make statements such as these that present the issue of homosexuality as imperatival to biblically-sound Christianity?

Of course, you would probably say, it all has to do with Biblical authority. I too believe in the authority of the Bible and the numerous issues it addresses. But where do you find the authority to place one Biblical issue above another?

World Vision made their original and final decision in an effort to promote unity within the church.

You found this “offensive,” because, according to your statement, the Bible presents a consistent teaching across the Old and New Testament concerning homosexuality. And, thus, that issue has precedence over that of church unity.

But an argument on the basis of “Biblical authority” can be made for numerous issues, the unity of the church absolutely being one of them. Paul opened his letter to the Corinthian church appealing that “there be no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10). This was his first line of business in the epistle, preceded only by a traditional greeting and thanksgiving. This was a church, as I’m sure you know, planted in the midst of a city and culture renowned for its sexual promiscuity. Yet Paul doesn’t begin his letter with a proclamation concerning any of these topics; he begin it with an appeal to the unity of the church.

In other places Paul exhorts Christians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace” and to “live in harmony with one another” (Ephesians 4:3 and Romans 12:16). He encourages us to “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1).

Jesus, of course, also prayed for the unity of his followers (John 17:20-23). Jesus also created numerous scandals for his association with characters of questionable sexual purity (Luke 7:36-50, John 4 being two prominent examples). These were just a few actions by our Savior that outranged numerous members of  the moral majority Pharisees.

Where, in your statement, did you present your desire for the Biblical mandate of unity within the church? Furthermore, what about World Vision’s actions were so offensive to you? The fact that they took a stance based on Biblical authority? Or the fact that they took a stance on a different Biblical issue than yours?

Following World Vision’s announcement and your statement of opposition, numerous Christians publically expressed their intention to cut financial support to children whom they had previously funded through World Vision. Their logic rides on the back of the Scriptural authority you so vehemently claim.

But if the Bible has a unified voice on anything it is the Christian call to charity and provision for the poor. The instances in which God expresses his concern for the downtrodden and commands his people to be equally concerned are extensive and not nearly limited to: Exodus 22:22, Exodus 23:11, Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 25:25, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 15:11, Psalm 69:32-33, Psalm 112:9, Isaiah 41:17, Matthew 19:21, Mark 12:40, Romans 12:20, James 1:27…the list goes on. Quantitative and exegetical evidence clearly point to the Scriptural authority on this issue.

Why are we, as Evangelicals who look to you for leadership, choosing to die upon the issue of homosexuality at the expense of several other issues which present themselves with equal (if not greater) Scriptural authority? Of all the issues concerning which “Biblical authority” is loud and clear…why is this the flagship of Evangelical Christendom?

Maybe it’s not our fault. Maybe its because we took a stance and culture has labeled us as something we are not simply because we choose to speak out on an issue of contemporary significance and political buzz. Maybe we can point the finger.

But your statement saddens me for this very reason. Because I realize we can’t point the finger. This fight didn’t come to us: we went looking for it. We jumped on this issue. Case in point: hardly a few hours passed after World Vision’s announcement before you issued a public and scathing indictment against it.

In moments like this, are we more concerned with defending the Gospel or our own agenda-laden version of it?

Should we not ask this question? Should we not hold our punches for just a moment? At least briefly, momentarily? At least to let each other explain?

Why?

I’m asking, because it breaks my heart, the heart I have for the church. “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Why do we ignore this proclamation? Why is our resolve: “What about a house divided into 33,000 denominations, Jesus? What about a house that is divided over a really, really, really important issue? Surely then it will stand, won’t it?”

Why?

I ask because on more than one occasion I’ve had a member of my youth group approach me with all sincerity and question: “why does the church hate gay people?”

I ask because I’m preparing for a summer of church planting in Iceland, a country you recently visited. In researching the religious climate of the country, I learned of numerous forums in which the message of the gospel, the message you carried to the country, was lost behind a veil of perceived homophobia.

I ask because we were warned to be “shrewd as serpents” and as “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and I see neither innocence nor shrewdness in our approach to this issue. Instead all around me I see Evangelists rising up against each other, in a public forum, standing upon “the authority of scripture”, attaching themselves to specific issues and allowing this “authority” to create lines of divide through church. Paul warned us that without love our words become clanging symbols (1 Corinthians 13:1). I ask because it appears to me that we aren’t as concerned with properly loving as we are properly enforcing and instead are using these clanging symbols to beat each other down.

I ask because I want to know. Of all the other issues we could chose, of all the fights to pick…why this? Why this fight?

My heart breaks for the church that is snapping from the inside, drawing lines based on a politically charged issue. My heart breaks for the pain we have inflicted, the pain to which we blind ourselves with shaded glasses of “biblical authority”.

So please, tell me. I’m asking with humility and a desire to advance Christ’s church.

I’m asking: Why?

 

 

Sincerely and Humbly,

A Fellow Brother