Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Falwell, the Bible and Me

Falwell writes a nasty letter about the Christian Alliance for Progress:
Last month, a new leftist religious organization announced its inception to battle the alleged domination that Dr. James Dobson, Pat Robertson and I have on modern day politics. This organization, the Christian Alliance for Progress, is hardly "Christian."
The Bible says:
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? – James 4:11-12(KJV)
Falwell continues:
First, the sole purpose for Jesus' ministry on earth was stated in His own words: "... for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:30). Any organization that deems to calls itself "Christian," simply must have as its basis the reality that Jesus asserted that salvation could come only through Him.

I wonder if the leadership of the Christian Alliance for Progress would state that Jesus Christ, who conquered death following His crucifixion, is the singular avenue to eternal life in heaven? If not, how can the name Christian be suitable for this organization?
But Christ himself is pretty clear about the requirements for getting into heaven and they sound darn liberal to me:
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. – Matthew 41-46 (KJV)
Falwell:
Here is a reality of the Bible: it clearly forbids homosexual behavior and, for that matter, any sexual activity outside the bonds of male-female marriage. The Word of God unmistakably speaks against homosexual behavior in Romans chapter 1, describing a time in history when, as today, men and women gave themselves over to unnatural sexual relations. There can be no mistaking that these passages condemn same-sex relationships. The Christian Alliance for Progress can label themselves "Christian," but they are willfully daring to distort and dispute biblical writings forbidding homosexuality.
Here, I would argue that the Bible is not intended to be a cudgel. It’s not intended to be used to force anyone to act in some manner that you agree with, but is intended to be used to guide individuals’ choices. In fact, just after the section in which Paul condemns homosexuality – along with backbiting, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient children, whisperers, the implacable and those without understanding – he goes on to say, at the beginning of Romans chapter 2, that
(T)hou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Falwell goes on:
Further, abortion is clearly not the will of God. The Bible does not expressly address abortion, but in Psalm 139, we see a beautiful and remarkable picture of Almighty God ministering to us even within the womb:

"But you covered my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother's womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Marvelous are Your works" (Psalm 139: 13, 14)

Bottom line: personhood begins in the womb at conception; and the Bible is clear - "Thou shalt not kill."
Yet Falwell has found arguments against killing less than convincing before. In fact, he argued that not only should the death penalty continue to be used, but the process of killing criminals should be sped up, saying that “we need to reduce the time between conviction and execution.”

It seems to me the only way that someone could both say that the Bible is unequivocal about killing and yet still support the death penalty is to harken back to the Lex Talionis or “Law of Retaliation,” known to most people as the rule of an “eye for an eye.” The rule shows up in its most often mentioned reference, Leviticus 24:17-21:
And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
While Leviticus is clear here, it’s important to note that there are numerous sections of Leviticus which Christians don’t really believe ought to be strictly enforced anymore. Does Reverend Falwell advocate the stoning deaths of those who curse (Leviticus 24:23), like, say, President Bush or Vice President Cheney, who have both cursed publicly? Does he believe that the blind, the lame, the crooked backed and the little people should not be allowed to worship the same as everyone else (Leviticus 21:18-20)?

Interestingly enough, the Lex Talionis does show up somewhere else in the Bible and, in this place, the Bible actually does “expressly address abortion.”
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25)
So, while the abortion addressed here is an accidental one, it shows that the Bible does not place the same value on the life of the unborn as it does on the life of an adult. If it did, then wouldn’t the man who made the woman abort have to be killed? Of course he would. The Bible, however, allows the husband to set the value of the unborn, much as he would for other property.

Me, I don’t like abortion and nor do I “believe” in it, but, like other members of the Christian Alliance, I think that prevention of unwanted pregnancy is a much better choice than the criminalization of abortion.

Falwell’s letter goes on:
Finally, the Alliance calls for peace and an end to war, but they cannot understand that the only true peace that man can know comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was not a hippie do-gooder, but rather the Son of the Living God who came to earth to pave the one way to heaven for mankind. To present Him as anything less is an outrage.
Yet Christ certainly seems at least a little “hippie-like” in calling for His followers to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I don’t think, therefore, that it’s foolish to suggest that Christ would have preferred an “end to war” if possible. Unfortunately, an end to war probably isn’t possible.

Let me stress that I am in no way a pacifist myself (I just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, after all), but I don’t think the war in Iraq meets the standards that my fellow Catholics like St. Augustine, St. Thomas More and, yes, that wild-eyed hippie Pope John Paul II felt a war must meet to be considered a “just war.” As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) put it, "The concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." It could be argued, though, that, since I mention only Catholics here, that Falwell is simply showing his anti-Catholic bias, but that’s clearly not the case. Most Christian denominations I know of refer to Christ as Isaiah’s promised “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Falwell has gone further before, though, even saying that “God is pro-war.” The only problem is that he can’t find a single New Testament source which suggests that Christ would support war. They don’t exist. Sure, there are plenty of Old Testament verses that recommend violence, but, as a Christian, I believe that Christ came along not only to open the path, but, also, to simplify the rules. He takes not only the Ten Commandments but, also, the Levitican and Deuturonomical laws and rolls them all up into the requirement that Christians love God and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 5:36-40)

I believe that Falwell does mean well, but I would argue that he’s wrong in many of his conclusions about how a Christian should live. As I suggested before, Christianity is not a faith to be forced upon anyone, whether that force is conducted by an inquisition, the Crusades (one of which spawned a 400,000 person peace rally in Rome, by the way) or through the legislative process. It's a faith to be chosen and the Bible is that faith's handbook. And Christ reminds us that even the "rules" of a faith must be broken in order to help others when he talks of the good Samaritan. Technically, it could be argued that the priest and the Levite who refuse to help the wounded man were correct in not helping him, because if he had actually been dead then they would have been rendered unclean. As Father Timothy Radcliffe puts it:
The priest is also going to Jericho. In fact many priestly families lived in Jericho and when they had finished their turn in the Temple they would have gone back home down this same road. And when he sees the body of the wounded man, he passes by. Why? It is not necessarily because he is heartless. The wounded man is described as ‘half dead’. It is usually agreed that he could not have touched the body of this half-dead person because it would have made him impure. The God of life has nothing to do with death, and so the priests of the Temple were completely forbidden to touch corpses. He does not see a man in need of help but a threat to his holiness. And the Levite, who served in the Temple too, would have passed by for the same reason.

The Samaritan was utterly remote from the holiness of the Temple. He was a heretic and a schismatic. The Samaritans had even set up another Temple. They were impurity incarnated. But his gestures of compassion reveal the new place in which God’s holiness is revealed. It is even possible that the reference to the wine and the oil refer to two elements used in the Temple sacrifices. Here you have the true place of sacrifice in which God dwells. The whole text is haunted by the text of Hosea 6.6, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice".
So, as Christians, we are not called to judge others but to help them.

While I would gladly be willing to discuss this with Reverend Falwell – or any other Christian who believes as he does, I’m frightened by the fact that this "us against them" view of Christianity is becoming more and more popular in the United States. Now, it's not enough to be a Christian, but the Reverend and others will tell you if you're Christian enough.

Falwell ends his letter that it is a “sincere pleasure and privilege to be laughed at and scorned because I have chosen to walk with and live out my life in servitude to the Christ of the Bible.” I’m not sure who’s been laughing at the reverend for his choices, but I’m not one of them. I can’t see how it could any of this could be considered funny.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.

5:25 AM  
Blogger Lex said...

Excellent post. It's prophetic, in the prophets-of-the-Old-Testament sense.

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Lantern Bearer said...

Your post is not a great post nor an excellent post. It is a brilliant post. My religious upbringing was a mixture of Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist. I have maintained a healthy regard for the best of each of these contributors. I have also maintained a healthy mistrust for those who would espouse the worst components of these. I have found from deep research that the best historical leadership came through those who recognized the evil of utter social conformity and supported a freedom of conscious and free choice in the expression of belief even unto disbelief. In the years of the English Cromwellian Republic, it was Cromwell himself, the profound and riotous Puritan who held out to all freedom to think and worship as they saw fit. He even held this out to Jews and Catholics who were in everyday danger for their lives and the loss of their property in that period of English history. This mean spirited and parochial element that has risen to stamp out all that is not theirs can not sustain itself. They will in time disintegrate into objects of hate and shame. They are not of a universal God but rather of Moloc and of the graven image.

Lantern Bearers do not posess all truth but they must seek out truth with the lamp of intellect and skepticism.

LB

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