I've been too busy writing to be able to blog lately. I was at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) on Thursday and Friday to cover the Equality Ride. If you haven't heard about it, go here. I have to file a story that is tangentially related to the ER, so I'll be able to say more after the story runs. In the meantime, since it's unrelated, I wanted to toss a couple things out to see what people think.
The young people on the ER seem very sincere, committed, zealous even, and polite. By the time I met them, they seemed a bit road-weary, which is understandable. Still, they were courteous, friendly and accomodating. I interviewed a few of them for a new series of films some friends and I are creating (more on that in another post). Some stock phrases kept popping up in our interviews: "take the Bible seriously but not literally"; "you can take the Bible seriously or literally, but not both"; "what makes sin sin is it's impact on society (or community); "what harm is there in two same-sex people loving each other," etc. By the fourth interview I was like, okay, you've been reading Marcus Borg, or been coached by someone who has; I get it.
The gist of Borg's argument about sin goes something like this: If we are going to bring something from the old law into the new covenant, we need to provide a compelling reason for doing so (i.e., adultery, murder, lying, etc., all destroy community, and murder destroys a life as well). God doesn't just make arbitrary rules for us to follow; there is a point behind laws. If we cannot show a compelling reason why something is not okay, then we should recognize that law was for another time or culture.
I don't completely disagree with Borg's argument here, but there are some problems:
- One person's assessment of what constitutes damage is different than another's.
- Saying laws were given for a certain time or culture makes God some sort of capricious emperor. Slavery was okay for them, but not for us. Women as property; sure, as long as you lived 2500 years ago. Dietary restrictions. Civil laws. All those things seem to have changed. Were they really God's laws?
- The arbiter of what constitutes a good law becomes some sort of human construction and humans themselves, making something that might ought to be transcendent into something very anthropocentric. (This is not to say there aren't already difficulties in determining what "laws" ought to be kept.)
As I said, I think Borg's position has some merit. For the life of me, I can't understand what harm there is in letting two gay people marry. And it's no good to say, "The Bible clearly says..." (There is almost nothing clear about what the Bible says, except about social justice issues, and those are conveniently ignored.) However, my experience has been that the GLBT community needs to do a better job of articulating and living a sexual ethic that is based on covenant relationship, and not some slippery notion of human sexual behavior. Mom and Pop America are never going to buy the "you don't understand the complexity of human sexuality" argument. (This is also not to say that heteros don't necessarily need a better ethic of human sexuality. They do.)
Borg's take on the authority of Scripture is worse than his hamartiological views though. Borg creates a false choice when he says we can either take Scripture literally or seriously, but not both.
- That is a caricature of many evangelical positions. Many are not wooden literalists. They understand Scripture as narrative, poetry, history, apocalyptic, etc. They read and interpret the various genres in context.
- To say that Scripture has authority is not to say that it must be read literally at all times and in all places. That is not how authority functions. It isn't always tied to a literal read. However...
- Some portions of Scripture are absolutely to be taken literally. The task of hermeneutics and exegesis and the various critical methods is deciding which. It is not an either/or proposition.
Borg needs that false choice so he can push his pre-Easter/post-Easter Jesus talk. The problem with Borg's whole argument is that we only have texts concerning Jesus from post-Easter. We have no way of knowing what the Jews who followed Jesus thought of him prior to Easter. The only possible construction for an identity for Jesus based on Scripture and extra-Biblical material must be developed with post-Easter documents. Which is to say that as far as the Church is concerned as expressed by the canon, the only difference between Jesus pre- and post-Easter was the necessity of his glorification through the cross and resurrection. Borg would have us believe that Jesus as God did not come about until many years after Easter Sunday. The texts don't really bear that out, of course, so he resorts to creating an argument without textual evidence. It's pure speculation, but he speaks and writes well, so the smoke and mirrors game kind of works. The game creates the necessity of insisting that the authoritative texts aren't all that authoritative.
All of this is to say, GLBT community, if you're going to hang your hat on a theologian, make sure it isn't Borg.