Monday, June 8, 2015

Evangelicals and culture

The headline is "Some Evangelicals Take New Look at Bible's Stance on Gays".
Few [pastors] are dropping their opposition. But aware that they are seen by many as bigots, some evangelical leaders are trying to figure out how to stand firm without alienating the increasing share of Americans — especially younger ones — who know gay people and support gay rights, or who may themselves come out as gay.
The argument that the Bible doesn't explicitly and unambiguously condemn homosexuality doesn't sit well with everyone. One pastor argues that if one accepts that the Bible doesn't say that, the result is "the loss of all confidence in the Bible".

I would argue that if the Bible is inerrant, the obvious answer to manifest error is human misinterpretation. Or, don't lose confidence in the Bible, Pastor: lose confidence in your assumption that you have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of what the Bible actually says.

I think that assuming Biblical inerrancy is a pointless exercise: translation introduces inaccuracies that render any translation hopelessly suspect. But if you hang your hat on inerrancy, well, blaming the pastor (or minister, or ...) for misinterpretation is a way to keep your dream alive.

But that's not the reason I mentioned this article. What I want to examine is a different pastor's quest "to deescalate the fight over homosexuality". “Not everything has to be a culture war,” the Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach says. And yet:

He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.” Openly gay couples attend his church, he said, but are not allowed to serve on the leadership board.
On the one hand, how evangelicals square the circle — how they reconcile their interpretation of the Bible as condemning homosexuality with their strategic interest in appealing to those who might be open to their message were it not for their view of homosexuality — is really not interesting to me since I'm not an evangelical.

On the other hand, I can't entirely ignore what evangelicals do because they insist on pushing their values on me. It's not enough for them to live the morally upright lives they deem necessary for spiritual salvation: they seem to think the law has to mandate that the rest of us live that supposedly morally upright life, too. Sexual intercourse outside marriage? Abortion? The moral probity of these behaviors is a matter of vital disagreement between reasonable people, but it's clear, or it ought to be, that permitting these behaviors does not compel anyone to engage in them or to deem them morally acceptable. Making these behaviors illegal, on the other hand, prevents those who disagree with evangelicals from acting in accordance with their moral beliefs. We all must share the evangelicals' morality whether we will or no.

That's as profoundly disturbing as any violation of the First Amendment I can imagine.

Evangelicals, if you disagree, tell me exactly how permitting but not requiring behavior of which you disapprove is a violation of your rights. Then explain exactly how prohibiting behavior of which you disapprove isn't a violation of my rights.

As a rhetorical matter, I also have to wonder exactly what it means to "accept", but not to "approve". That sounds like the attitude one adopts around people who smell bad: you accept that you can't do anything about these people's presence in public, but you avoid them as much as possible. That attitude wouldn't make me feel especially welcome.

I'd have a smidgen of sympathy for evangelicals if they weren't so sanctimonious. They'd be a lot easier to get along with if they didn't spend so much of their time judging the rest of us.

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