Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Kudos to Joe Carter

I don’t often cite Joe Carter’s writings at Evangelical Outpost favorably, but I have to give credit where credit is due. His post condemning Jimmy Swaggart’s vile statement about killing homosexuals is dead on the mark. Swaggart said on a recent broadcast:

I’m trying to find the correct name for it . . . this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. . . . I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.

Joe Carter responds:

I wish I could honestly say that Swaggart doesn’t speak for all Christians. But the fact remains that violence against gays and lesbians is all too common and much of it is done by those who would claim to be followers of Christ. Hatred and loathing of homosexuals is not rooted in Christian belief. Yet there are many people who would use the Bible’s condemnation of same-gender sex to justify such repugnant attitudes.

While Christians should denounce such outrageous statements, we have a duty to do much more than just issue the generic pious condemnations. We should be taking as strong a stance against violence against homosexuals as we do against same-sex marriage. Our actions should show that such enmity toward gays and lesbians goes against all that we believe. We must make it clear that such un-Biblical attitudes have no place in our community. Above all else, though, Christians must show love toward others. We must love our neighbor, even when they engage in behavior that we reject. And we must also love our enemies – even when they take the form of televangelists.

Well said, Joe. Your statement puts you squarely on the side of morality, in my view. On the other hand, as one commenter pointed out, what Swaggart said isn’t so different from what the Bible itself says:

Leviticus 20:13 “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.

Of course some Christians will argue that the Old Testament law is irrelevant today because Christ fulfilled the law, while others argue quite the opposite, that the OT law should be instituted as the civil and criminal law in America. But in either case, the fact still remains that God himself (if you believe Leviticus to accurately represent God’s views – and I do not) condemns homosexuality and commands that they should be put to death (but only men who lie with men, not women who lie with women…perhaps God really IS male?). So I guess the question is, if Swaggart is morally wrong to say that gays should be killed, why was it not morally wrong for God to say that gays should be killed 3000 years ago? And might this be some of that “moral relativism” we’ve been reading so much about lately?

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Berez
    September 21, 2004

    I can’t cite the exact passage at this time, but in the New Testement, Jesus says that his comming does not change one jot of the old laws; so that whole argument that Jesus threw out the Old Testement laws is misguided.

    That said, I, too, am glad that Joe has joined the side of right. One good thing that will come about if the rapture is actually true- Swaggart, Fallwell and all those other jerks will float off into the sky. And the rest of us can have a nice peaceful planet for a change.

    On a side note I just searched for the passage I was refering to and got it from Judith Hayes wonderful site, The Happy Heretic. Judith writes:

    “…in the same “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus says this: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19) And again, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46-47)”

    http://www.thehappyheretic.com/09-03.htm

    But whatever. The important thing here is that Joe is on the right side, and urging others to put aside their hate as well.

  2. #2 Jim Anderson
    September 21, 2004

    I would bet that most Christian theologians would say that “all [was] fulfilled” in the crucifixion, where Jesus became the “ultimate sacrifice” and erased the penalty of “the Law.” Thus Jesus doesn’t destroy the law–he inaugurates a new law. At any rate, Pauline doctrine (the foundation of Christianity even moreso than Christ’s teachings) seems to have a much lower opinion of “the Law,” which Paul considers “dead.” At least, that’s my understanding. I invite a real theologian to correct it.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    September 21, 2004

    Jim-

    Yes, that’s fairly standard Christian theology, though some Christians obviously disagree with it and still seek to enforce the OT law today. For me, the issue goes a bit deeper than that. There are of course ways to dismiss the OT law as no longer binding, but that doesn’t change the key fact for me – that if you accept the bible as true, God, until 2000 years ago, thought that it was a good idea to kill homosexuals. And not just homosexuals, but women who weren’t virgins when they got married, unruly children, “witches” and any number of other people. I view all of those things as barbaric, and it seems to me far more consistent with the notion of an invented God, a tribal war God who gave sanction to the bigotry of those who claimed to speak for him than it is with the notion of an eternal, unchanging, all-knowing and benevolent deity.

  4. #4 Ruidh
    September 21, 2004

    Speaking as a progressive Christian, I would observe that Jesus was very critical of those who kept the letter of the Law but lost the spirit. This is a teaching repeated over and over again in the Gospels.

    The “jot and tittle” remark from Matthew, OTOH, is poorly understood and appears only once. The witness of the remainder of the New Testament is that the laws relating to ritual purity are no more: We wear mixed fibers, we eat shellfish and pork, we don’t avoid women during their menstruation.

    The progressive Christian believes that Jesus articulated the principles necessary to make good moral choices. The logical result of those principles is the choice you should make. Conservatives describe this as “situational ethics” and “moral relativism” and prefer to read the Scriptures as establishing a Divine Law which no man may set aside.

  5. #5 Chris Berez
    September 21, 2004

    I would bet that most Christian theologians would say that “all [was] fulfilled” in the crucifixion, where Jesus became the “ultimate sacrifice” and erased the penalty of “the Law.”

    Yeah, I was thinking that too. And I’m sure you’re right. I think we all aggree here with what Ed stated. What this all shows is the absurdity of trying to base any ethical system on the bible. It can only rely on picking and choosing what you want to accept.

    “I view all of those things as barbaric, and it seems to me far more consistent with the notion of an invented God, a tribal war God who gave sanction to the bigotry of those who claimed to speak for him than it is with the notion of an eternal, unchanging, all-knowing and benevolent deity. ”

    Yes, because that’s what really makes sense. I don’t know how one could get through to the hate mongers though. That’s the fundamental question to me. How do you reason with someone as twisted with hate as Swaggart or Phelps? It’d be like arguing evolution with Kent Hovind.

    The image I alays have at the back of my mind is the funeral of Mathew Shepard. Even there, groups of these evangelicals where holding signs and singing praises to god and yelling at the mourners about how Shepard was burning in Hell. When people are so far gone that they would act in such an unspeakably vile manner, how can we get through to them?

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    September 21, 2004

    Ruidh wrote:

    The progressive Christian believes that Jesus articulated the principles necessary to make good moral choices. The logical result of those principles is the choice you should make. Conservatives describe this as “situational ethics” and “moral relativism” and prefer to read the Scriptures as establishing a Divine Law which no man may set aside.

    The ethical system of Jesus, standing alone, is infinitely more rational and compelling than the OT law, in my view. And I fully agree with you that his purpose was to establish a basis for sound moral reasoning (the golden rule) rather than merely a list of rules and punishments. That’s a much more mature and intelligent way to think about morality, and it represents a significant advancement from the primitive and barbaric OT law. Viewed merely as a philosophical text, there’s much in Jesus’ ethical views that deserves praise. What I could not accept is the notion that the more subtle moral reasoning of Jesus comes from the same source that instituted the barbaric moral code that it seems to be such an explicit rejection of.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    September 21, 2004

    Chris Berez wrote:

    How do you reason with someone as twisted with hate as Swaggart or Phelps? It’d be like arguing evolution with Kent Hovind.

    Well, I HAVE argued evolution with Kent Hovind. It’s a monumentally frustrating experience, to be sure. He’s simply the most impenetrably absurd human being I have ever had the opportunity to meet and speak to.

  8. #8 raj
    September 21, 2004

    Um, let’s get a few things–uh–straight.

    First, Jimmy Swaggart is a bit long in the tooth to start threatening people like that. I’d expect him to maybe start thrashing somebody with his cane, but not much more than that.

    In any case, Jimmy Swaggart is a joke, and should have been known as being a joke since his little activity with a woman not his wife, as described here http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/religion/televangelists/jimmy-swaggart/ The idea that any christian (lower-case intentional) gives him the time of day is telling. Swaggart, of course, is the cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, who has been quoted as saying that he and Swaggart are both in the same business–the entertainment business. After he was caught cavorting with a woman not his wife, he cried his crocodile tears to try to get back into the good graces of his Assembly of Gawd congregation. It worked for a while. But apparently he’s now reduced to a mere shell of his former self.

    In point of fact, the most telling point of Swaggart-gate is that virtually no mainstream “christian” religious figure has condemned his comment. Nor have they condemned similar comments from other people like Swaggart. At some point, silence is tantamount to consent–and agreement. Mainstream “christian” religious figures have been silent for way too long. They agree with crap like this. That’s the telling point.

  9. #9 raj
    September 21, 2004

    Ed Brayton at September 21, 2004 04:42 PM

    >Well, I HAVE argued evolution with Kent Hovind.

    I’ve read the material on Panda’s Thumb, and have never understood why any biologist would “argue” evolution with the likes of Hovind or any of the other ID charlatans. The likelihood of actually persuading anyone in a “debate” like that is between slim and none, since it is unlikely that anyone is going to show up who does not already have a preconceived notion of relaity. People go to side shows like that to (a) be reinforced in their prior beliefs, and/or (b) for the hilarity of it all.

  10. #10 Jason Kuznicki
    September 21, 2004

    Speaking as a progressive Christian, I would observe that Jesus was very critical of those who kept the letter of the Law but lost the spirit. This is a teaching repeated over and over again in the Gospels.

    I’m curious now. See, the letter of Leviticus 20:13 is crystal-clear to me. The spirit seems pretty obvious too. And I would say that anyone who advocates either the letter or the spirit of this passage is entirely wrong.

  11. #11 Jim Anderson
    September 21, 2004

    Ed, I’m in full agreement with the “barbaric” tag for O.T. laws; they’re well in accordance with other ancient near eastern legal codes, and the ancient near east was a barbaric place. The same text that condemns sacrificing children to “the fires of Molech” also commands parents to kill rebellious tykes. Paradoxes, if not outright contradictions, are all over the place.

    Thousands of years later, Jesus never uttered one word concerning homosexuality; modern-day Christian teaching on the subject comes largely out of Paul’s writings, especially Romans 1 (they’re part of a long list of evildoers) and 1 Corinthians 6 (as part of another list). The homosexual issue apparently didn’t matter too much to the Galilean. Jesus did advocate marriage between a man and a woman, which was standard concering the social mores of his time, but his position on gay marriage is entirely speculative.

    Ironically, Paul’s “the Law is dead” position mostly seems to concern ritual matters; on moral matters, his writings echo (and are probably directly patterned after) Leviticus. It’s hard to say what Christianity would look like if Paul’s branch hadn’t dominated over Peter’s. (See Galatians 2)

  12. #12 Ruidh
    September 22, 2004

    Jason says:I’m curious now. See, the letter of Leviticus 20:13 is crystal-clear to me. The spirit seems pretty obvious too. And I would say that anyone who advocates either the letter or the spirit of this passage is entirely wrong.

    What’s not at issue is the sense of the specific text, but the entire sense of the message which is being imparted.

    Look at how Jesus has criticized the scrupulous teaching of the law. He gives is the papable of the Good Samaritan. A jew is travelling and gets beaten up, robbed and left bleeding and for dead by the side of the road. Several of his countrymen pass him by and do nothing to help him becuase he is covered in blood and their touching his blood will make them ritually impure. The person who does help him — indeed who goes out of his way to help him and see that he is cared for — is someone from another region and another religion. (See Luke 10: 25-37)

    By placing their own ritual purity above someone else’s desperate need, they have missed the point. They have kept the letter of the Law but completely missed the spirit of the Law.

    So it’s not about what does this line mean. It’s about what does the whole sense of Scripture mean. I believe it means that there are values we need to uphold and moral decisions are based on whether our actions uphold or deny those moral values. THe values are: love, faithfulness, concern for others, fidelity. In choosing to uphold hese values we can choose to support gay couples who have made lifelong committments to one another because doing so supports the values of love and fidelity.

    Ed says: What I could not accept is the notion that the more subtle moral reasoning of Jesus comes from the same source that instituted the barbaric moral code that it seems to be such an explicit rejection of.

    The summary of the law found near the passage I mentioned above (Love God and Love your nbeighbor) is itself found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It wasn’t original to Jesus.

    I prefer to view the history of God’s revelation and subsequent development of moral codes to be similar to how we raise a child. At a young age, a poarent disciplines a child on the basis of adherence to strict rules. “Don’t go into the street unless an adult is holding your hand.” Young children can’t be expected to know how to cross a street safely.

    Once they can obey such rule-based directives and once they have matured more, the rules subtlely change. “You must cross the street at the corner but only cross the big road at the crossing guard.” The child now understands somthing about crossing the street and can be trusted to begin to make judgements about when it is appropriate to cross the street.

    Eventually, the child grows up and assumes responsibility for choosing when and where to cross the street. The young adult knows how to safely cross a street, understands the consequences and can made decisions. These decisions will inevitably conflict with the earliest rules which were designed to be simple, easy to understand and easy to follow.

    Any rule-based moral system will eventually get out of sync with the cultural millieu which develops. I could give numerous examples of QT rules we currently ignore. They were for a different time when people weren’t used to having to make moral decisions and needed some hard and fast rules as a starting point. But, once we understand the principles behind making moral decisions, we can assume the responsibility for making them. But along with responsibility comes accountability. Either you believe that there is accountability or no accountability. Choosing no accountability means there is no need for moral rules.

    That’s not a world I choose to live in.

  13. #13 raj
    September 22, 2004

    >Jason says:I’m curious now. See, the letter of Leviticus 20:13 is crystal-clear to me.

    It is? Sorry, I can’t read the source language. Can you? And I don’t know the historical context. Do you? If you can’t say yest to both, the “letter” is hardly crystal clear.

  14. #14 Jason Kuznicki
    September 23, 2004

    Ruidh: How can the “spirit” of an entire work be so overwhelmingly good, when it contains even one atrocious passage like this?

    I bet that if I wrote my own moral guide, and if I included the command to “kill all redheads,” no one would blather on about the lofty spirit of the thing.

    Also, raj, while I can’t read the source language, plenty of other people can. And I trust their judgment, for want of anything better. This is something that people do all the time, and it should in general be unproblematic.

    As it happens, I do know at least something of the historical context of the Bible. Further, I know a great deal of subsequent history that the writers of Leviticus did not live to see. By these standards I consider myself worthy to judge, and I reject the idea that humans are too feeble to think for themselves about morality. (The human being who invented THAT doctrine was one tricky bastard, but I digress…)

    And you know… If we followed your logic to its necessary conclusion, both you and I would be forced to completely disregard the entire Bible, since I presume that neither of us can read Ancient Hebrew or Ancient Greek.

    I think I prefer critical engagement.

  15. #15 Ruidh
    September 24, 2004

    Jason, I think you set an impossibly high standard when you expect that any written work contain only true statements. It is for me a matter of belief that the Bible contains some very important truths. It contains other things of a less reliable nature. But most importantly it contains a history including the mistakes of the people concerned as well as their successes. I think it’s rather easy to pull the best stuff from Scripture once you get past the idea that the text wasn’t dictated word for word to an inspired scribe and that each word is not literally true. Lots of fundamentalists are still stuck in the literal truth of every word, but that’s not where I’m coming from.

    Sorry, it wasn’t me who insisted on being able to read the source language. It was the next poster.

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