Searching for Common Ground: Another Response to "Mark"

"Mark," Once again, thanks for your thoughtful response.  I appreciate your willingness to continue the conversation.  I suppose the way for me to proceed is to offer my thoughts and questions about what you’ve offered.

I’m not sure I know what a “cohesive approach to interpretation” means.  Do you mean an “approach to interpretation” that you and I could agree upon, so as not to “be debating past each other due to wildly different presuppositions?”  If so, I fear we might both be disappointed, inasmuch as I see our “approaches to interpretation” to be the issue.   You say, for instance, that you “see Scriptures as the Word of God and understand the law, as expressed in the Torah, to be perfect and true….yet somewhat arbitrary.”  It is not clear to me what you mean by “perfect.”  Do you mean Torah is “perfect” in some universal sense (i.e., for all times and all places)?  Because I too could say I find it “perfect”—by which I mean suited to the time and context in which it was given.  That difference, it seems to me, is crucial.  Our “approaches,” if I am right about what you mean, are largely incommensurable—meaning, there’s not a lot of middle ground (at least that I’m aware of) in which one could say, “Torah in all its detailed legislative application is perfect both universally and particularly” (i.e., in this case, not universally).

Moreover, I run into the same problem when I read that laws about “conduct and sexuality . . . are correct and even good.”  Correct in what sense?  Good as ends in themselves?  Or as expressions of some larger good?

I want to make sure I get this right.  Because you could be saying that the truth behind what appears to be “arbitrary” in the law—to use your example, men with crushed gonads being prohibited from serving before God—is universal, while its application is particular.  That is to say, you could be asserting that the reason behind the law is universal (e.g., God deserves only the best), without attaching to a particular instantiation of that principle (e.g., men with crushed gonads) universal force, since an instantiation of a universal principle is a contextually time and culture-bound affair.  In other words, 21st century Westerners would largely be horrified to claim that men with this particular characteristic are imperfect, and therefore, aren’t acceptable as consecrated servants of God.  That doesn’t mean, however, that 21st century Westerners don’t think God deserves only the best; it’s not God who’s changed, but our understanding of  “best” that is provisional.

If the latter view of interpretation were the case rather than the former, we would have some grounds to compare our respective “approaches to interpretation.”  If however, it is the former, we will always be in danger of talking past each other, since although we could both agree that scripture is “true,” we may not come to terms on the particularly sticky issues of “true in what sense?” or “correct in which situation?” or “good as ultimate or provisional?”

You are correct to observe that Jesus mentioned judgment.  However, what you fail to point out is that Jesus’ judgment most regularly falls on those religious folks who are convinced that they have sufficiently divined the mind of God, are prepared to enforce their understandings of what they know to be true, and will brook no opposition from those who come to different conclusions.  Since you treat it as an aside, I won’t dwell on it either, except to note that 1) Jesus never addresses homosexuality (or, with few exceptions, even sexuality at all), and 2) his most extended treatment of judgment comes in Matthew 25 (i.e., the sheep and the goats), which once again deals with God’s judgment of those who understand themselves to be on the inside religiously, but who fail to extend God’s mercy to those who’ve been forgotten (at best) or left outside on purpose (at worst).  But, as you say, all of us depend on grace, so I’ll leave it there.

Whether or not the proscriptions in Leviticus 18 have the worship of idols as their aim is one argument, I fear, no matter what I offer will be acceptable to you as “reasonable” on “hermeneutical grounds,” since it is the very ground of hermeneutics that is being contested.  Let me just reiterate a broader principle, which takes precedence in my view—though, I suspect you will find it unsatisfactory.  Whatever sleeping arrangements are prohibited by Leviticus or Paul are largely beside the point, inasmuch as the same sex relationships being argued for by LGBTQ folks and their allies (i.e., long term loving relationships between two people of the same gender based on love and mutuality) are not arrangements that could even have been conceived of until recently.  It would be as if laws dealing with the treatment and use of horses in the warfare of Mongols were to be ripped from their context and reintroduced as a way of regulating the production of Ford Mustangs or Chevy Broncos—though some of the words seem to correspond, they’re talking about different things.

As for your “absolute” conviction that “the prohibition against homosexuality is true and firm and still applies to us today,” while your passionate certainty is perhaps commendable, it fails to persuade.  I should be clear that my own passionate certainties are probably neither closer to persuading someone who begins with the same assumptions with which you begin—but not because either of us thinks the bible is untrue.  Rather, I don’t know you well enough to know whether your positions are made intelligible by the life you live in trying to follow Jesus; and you could say the same thing of me.  I suspect that our lives are the ultimate argument for our theological positions.  At least I think the way we live our lives in one another’s presence will ultimately be more persuasive than our abilities to out-argue one another.

To the question of how you conduct your sex life during your wife’s menstruation, I will leave that alone entirely.

I appreciate your readiness to think through these things with me, "Mark."  I’m a Disciple of Christ, which means, at least according to my old professor, Michael Kinnamon, that having these conversations (whether they ever persuade anyone) are worth having.   It seems to me that having conversations like these goes a long way toward cultivating the virtue of hospitality—which I believe to be a Christian virtue worth cultivating.