I was raised in a strict Fundamentalist Baptist home. I struggled free of that world, but I still have friends and family who are deep within it. I find myself increasingly troubled by their obdurate stand on scientific and social issues— the most recent being their rush to weigh in publically on human sexuality.
I want to ask them why they dig in their heels on dogma at the cost of compassion, why they refuse to change their minds even when the scientific evidence is well past critical mass. The truth is I already know why.
The root of the problem is a faulty view of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, one that defines revelation and inspiration as objects instead of events.
For the most part, Evangelicals hold to a view of scripture set forth by Fundamentalism. The original Fundamentalists were Harvard-trained theologians who wrote a series of books, The Fundamentals, as a response to Secularism and Modernism. They boiled the fundamentals down to five tenets, four about Jesus, and one affirming the inerrancy (entirely without errors of any kind) of scripture. I can remember sitting as a youth in church and hearing the preacher say, “If you can find one single error in the Bible, then you can’t trust any of it.”
Since that time, Conservative Evangelicals have viewed their scripture as God’s final—and therefor unquestionable—word on matters of not only faith, but also science and history. Paul’s statements about human sexuality in Romans and I Corinthians are not informed by his first-century Jewish perspective on those pagan cultures, but are the very words of God.
Biblical literalism led Martin Luther to defend the geocentric model of the universe because, as he saw it, scripture clearly states that god made the sun stand still and not the earth. This same faulty hermeneutics is at the heart of modern conservatives’ refusal to reconsider human sexuality based on findings in psychology, neuroscience, genetics and epigenetics.
Recent setbacks abroad notwithstanding, I believe—I hope—that eventually this view of homosexuality will fade into history. Future Christians will look back on it in the same way they themselves look back on Luther’s mistaken cosmology. Good people will no longer have to choose between supposed theological correctness and compassion. They will be free to do what Jesus did—come to the aid of those who are marginalized, discriminated against, harmed.
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