Sunday, November 18, 2007

For the Bible Tells Me So

You may think that Nashville, Tennessee, is hopelessly locked in the buckle of the Bible Belt. But I lived there for a few years, and I came to love that city. It's not the neanderthal city that some might suspect.

Yesterday, Nashville's Tennessean newspaper posted an article that was a breath of fresh air to me. Staff writer Bill Friskics-Warren wrote, Does the Bible Always Tell Us So? He begins:

The Bible says that eating shrimp is an abomination and that working on the Sabbath is punishable by death. Not even the most devout Christian, though, thinks twice about ordering the shrimp scampi or checking their office e-mail from home on a Sunday afternoon.

Biblical literalists know that the customs and circumstances that gave rise to such injunctions were rooted in historical and cultural contexts very different from our own.

So why do so many Christians cling to the handful of Scriptures that cast aspersions on sexual relationships between people of the same gender? Why, when scholars tell us that these passages have nothing to do with sexual orientation as we've come to understand it, do some people continue to use Scripture as a club to judge and condemn?

"We have a long history of looking to the Bible to confirm our prejudices," said Daniel Karslake, director of For the Bible Tells Me So, a new documentary that explores these questions and looks at how this biblical heavy-handedness is tearing families, congregations and denominations apart.

His article reviews the documentary and discusses the "clobber verses" often used to hate gay men and lesbians. He concludes his essay with this text:

The cruel irony, as For the Bible Tells Me So depicts, is that casting gay people out of church doesn't just alienate them from their own spirituality. It also robs straight people of faith of the chance to get to know and understand vast numbers of their Christian brothers and sisters.

All of which, Armour [Ellen Armour, professor of theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School] believes, points to the need for a new theology of sexuality, one steeped in the values of love and justice, not hatred and exclusion. "I think you can make a case for (love and justice) as a broad theological imperative, certainly in the Hebrew Scriptures and picked up again in many of the New Testament texts, and certainly picked up by Jesus," she said. "That was what his first sermon was all about. Sexual relationships should be judged not on legal grounds but on how they manifest justice and love."

Karslake's documentary represents a crucial step in this direction. After a gay teenager in Iowa saw a segment of what served as the de facto pilot for the project, he sent the filmmaker a note of thanks.

"Last week I bought the gun, yesterday I wrote the note, last night I happened to see your show on PBS," he wrote. "Just knowing that someday, somewhere, I might be able to go back into a church with my head held high, I dropped the gun in the river. My mom never has to know."

It won't surprise you to know that the commenters on the Tennessean site are raking him over the coals. But read the article. It's encouraging to see that mainstream journalists are finally "getting it."


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