I had originally started working on this piece in the wake of World Visions decision to allow gay and lesbian persons to work at their U.S. branch. But WV has since reversed their decision as of yesterday. The reversal is in no small part due to a group of Christians giving an ultimatum that goes as follows: Because World Vision is allowing gays and lesbians to work at their US branch, I will no longer be sponsoring a child through the World Vision organization. While I would love to address this thinking here, it is ultimately not my goal. Instead, I want to get back behind what ultimately causes Christians to take this stand (or any other stand for that matter): the interpretation of scripture.
I will emphasize that this posts is not meant to be exhaustive, nor will it be extremely technical. Restoring Pangea is hoping to 1) encourage hospitable dialogue between two very different groups that are ultimately part of the same family and 2) challenge triumphalistic readings (e.g. “There is only one interpretation of this passage”) of the Bible. If you have stumbled upon this post in hopes of an argument via the comment feed, look elsewhere. However, if you are someone who is simply looking for a good word and an invitation to a conversation, read on.
I am a vehement pacifist. So much so that I refuse to vote! I am a Politics of Jesus kind of guy. It is impossible to overstate my commitment to nonviolence. In fact, it is difficult for me to separate Christianity from faithful, militant, Christian-pacifism.
Yes. You heard me right–I think that being a Christian and being a pacifist are two sides of the same coin. Violence, under any circumstance, at any time, or for any reason, is absolutely unbiblical!1 Now then, the careful reader has already begun to ask the question–”What about people who serve in the military and say they are Christians?!” This question is an especially pertinent one considering the fact that, within US history, serving one’s country and being a Christian is understood to be a tradition for some.
But this is insane to me! If Christians are to be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9), enemy lovers (Mt. 5:38-42 cf. Lk 6: 29,30), forgivers (6:14), lovers (Jn 13:34) and cross bearers (Mt. 16:24-26, Mk. 8:34-37, Lk 9:23-25) how do we justify murdering/killing people?! Now please, I am not naive. And I do not take kindly to patronization. Some readers may think that I am your run-of-the-mill, liberal, millennial, angsty-Christian-guy. But I have a lot of philosophy, church history and theology to back up my position and trust me–I have had to do just that many, many times.
So what’s my point? I have been told over the years (primarily in my earlier dogmatic days) that my position is too narrow or too obtuse. “Those people are sacrificing their lives for you–and you question their commitment to Christ?!” So much is wrong with this statement–but I digress. Originally, I took the position of, “Well… I’m right because the Bible says I am!” I would then proceed to reference all the above verses and sit back in my chair with my arms crossed–”Hmph!” But what I soon realized is that it wasn’t quite that easy…
Karl Barth made the argument that the Bible is a divine revelation documented by and interpreted by fallible, sinful, human-beings.2 This is why Christ is so scandalous–because God directly and perfectly reveals himself in the God-man Jesus Christ. Over the years, I have seriously considered Barth’s thoughts regarding the interpretation of the Word of God and I have come to the conclusion that my “Biblical interpretation” might not be the final one.
Christians using violence is, at best a contradiction and at worst a sin so far as I am concerned. And I can make a pretty strong case for Christian pacifism from the Biblical text itself as well as extra Biblical sources. But what I have come to realize over the years is that there are other serious, intelligent, devoted Christ-followers who have a differing opinion over a subject that I think is pretty cut and dry.
Humans are fallible interpreters of scripture. We, more often than not, let our own interests and personal biases get in the way of what the Word “actually says.” This is why it is critical that the church takes seriously hospitable dialogue between differing groups, Biblical scholarship and Christian tradition. I, along with countless others, have made and will continue to make concrete assertions concerning the connection between nonviolence and Christianity. However, I will never again so simplistically and so arrogantly pass judgement on a service member’s commitment to Christ simply because they serve in the military.
I’d like to make a case that in the same way I am having to learn how to partake in the Eucharist with G.I. Joe, other Christians, who have a more traditional understanding concerning the topic of LGBTQ matters, must learn to relinquish their infallibility and reaffirm God’s sovereignty and finality. Therefore both parties, while still disagreeing, affirm: diverse interpretations of scripture, humility before the text and the importance of unity despite difference(s).
Many will mistakenly assume I am promoting tolerance or some other form of “psychobabble postmodernism.” On the contrary! Just because you relinquish absolutism doesn’t mean you are not allowed to take a position on a given subject. I am simply arguing that one be informed about their position (through studying theology and Christian history), listen to those who disagree with your position (be it a friend, a specialist, a book, an enemy?), accept our fallibility as humans, and finally spend an immense amount of time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to give you guidance as you (and your community, i.e. church) discern the Sacred Text.
But remember, we do not get the final word–God does.
I will, till the day I die, preach and teach that any form of violence against another human-being is a sin. However, I will never again say that I know–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that someone who lives the lifestyle of a soldier is damned to hell.
In conclusion, this whole World Vision mess reveals just how desperate a certain constituency is to maintain some semblance of control over both the culture and the Church. And in light of World Vision’s recent reversal, this group feels as though they have won a major battle. But really, they’ve lost the whole legislation game. And while they may not know it (or be in denial about it),3 everybody else does. Many of these Christians have decided to adopt an adversarial policy towards alternative interpretations. Strict flat-footed-absolutist-Biblical-literalism will be accepted concerning this subject–nothing more, nothing less. Yet when it comes to Christian pacifism, the redistribution of wealth or the surrendering of one’s possessions, Christians have (creatively?) finagled a way out of these commandments.4
Dr. David Fitch wrote a piece earlier this month about Christians needing to humbly, and mutually engage in dialogue with people versus creating ideological safety zones where one’s preferences and opinions are perpetually affirmed. I agree. Yet, with this entire fiasco, we have seen that the dominant interpretation has won out (i.e. the rich, straight, white, male interpretation). This interpretation is not one that demonstrates hospitality but hostility. “You’re wrong–I’m right–and that’s settled.” Nonetheless, times are changing–interpretations are changing! And with each new interpretation, Christians have an opportunity to extend an olive branch instead of a sword.
1. I would hope that upon the conclusion of this piece the reader understands my use of “unbiblical” as a rhetorical device.
2. Hart, Regarding Karl Barth 36-39, 44.
3. See Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, 138. Says Brueggemann, “In our own time, the denial of what must be relinquished among us is everywhere around us. The political mantra ‘Take back our country’ is a desperate yearning not just for small government but for a safe, white, straight world from which the disruptive ‘others’—gays, Muslims, immigrants—are banished. That denial is featured in the seventh-inning stretch of professional baseball games where we sing, according the mantra of military consumerism, ‘God Bless America,’ God reinvigorate exceptionalism, God give us back the old world.”
4. For pacifism: see above. For redistribution: see Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 15:1-2, 7-11; Acts 2:43-47. For surrendering possessions, see: Matt. 19:21, 24; Luke 14:33; Acts 2:43-47.. to name a few.