Opinion Columns & Blogs

Biblical literalists have a tough row to hoe

One of the most heated battles between progressives and conservatives in our country right now is the fight over gay rights. Right-wing media firebrand and Telegraph columnist Erick Erickson fired a broadside in that particular skirmish in an column that appeared on this page last week.

The specific target of his verbal lambasting in that particular column was the First Baptist Church in Macon that recently voted to allow gay marriages to be performed there. Erick took the church and all gay-friendly Christians to the moral woodshed in his typically blunt fashion, asserting that their liberal interpretation of scripture equates to “leaving Christianity for paganism.”

Erickson also proudly mentioned in his column that he was one of the original signatories of “The Nashville Statement,” a proclamation supporting traditional one-man/one-woman marriage that a group of conservatives published recently because…well…because people who feel that their opinions matter a great deal like to make proclamations, I suppose.

The key to conservatives’ rejection of the growing acceptance of the gay lifestyle in our nation and in a growing number of Christian churches lies in their insistence that a literal interpretation of scripture is crucial to the Christian faith. The Bible clearly states that homosexual behavior is a sin and to ignore that fact, they contend, opens the door to a general take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward all scripture. And they believe that is the road to everyone determining right and wrong as they see fit and, apparently, paganism.

But as many people smarter than myself have pointed out, taking the literalist path to studying the Bible can be a tough row to hoe. It’s is a very big book and says a lot of different things, some of which can be disturbing to our modern sensibilities. Let’s take the issue of “Biblical marriage” as an example, since it is a subject of so much discussion right now.

If you read the Old Testament you find that the contention that the Bible consistently mandates only the one-man/one-woman form of marriage takes a serious hit because of all the renowned patriarchs who had multiple wives. In Old Testament times, the Lord seemed to be OK with a one-man/as-many-wives-as-you-can-afford-to-support marriage, as it seemed to be widely practiced and is nowhere specifically condemned.

More disturbing to our modern sensibilities is the Old Testament’s outlook on marriage and rape. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 states, that if a man rapes a virgin and “they are discovered” he must pay her father 50 pieces of silver and marry the woman.

Think about that for a minute. A woman is raped and the “penalty” is that her attacker has to marry her. Imagine if this happened to your daughter, your sister, or someone else you love. Would you welcome the man who raped her into your family after reading this Bible verse?

Perhaps you can see the problem with proclaiming oneself to be a Biblical literalist. If you can pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to pay attention to, it’s a comforting point of view that prevents you from having to wrestle with complex moral issues.

But if you read all of it that way you are forced to accept that at some point in time God commanded his chosen people to do things that we find shocking and hard to explain away, up to and including the commission of genocide. In most cases the Israelites were commanded to kill every man, woman and child of some group of people whom the Lord disfavored, but sometimes they were allowed to leave the female virgins alive so they could marry them.

Slaughtering a girl’s entire family right before her eyes is a tough way to start off a marriage (probably even worse than raping her), but it is an example of Biblical marriage that God approved of, according to scripture.

That seems wrong to me, and it’s not the sort of thing I would approve of anyone doing even if they quoted me chapter and verse in the Bible where it was once done at God’s command. I doubt the people who signed “The Nashville Statement” would support such activities either, but I don’t think that necessarily means they are sliding towards paganism.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.