Ultimatums, Interpretations and an Old World Vision

world vision
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.

Josiah R. Daniels

END NOTES:

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.

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  • Anthony_Curtis

    “the rich, straight, white, male interpretation” this is a rather raciest and offensive way to end an article about peace and equality. You may not be aware of this but there are a lot of very conservative Black Christians out there that also hold the view that homosexuality is a sin.

    • Josiah Daniels

      Anthony,
      I appreciate the challenge.

      First off, my
      father is an African American conservative.

      Second, I have the
      honor of being from a biracial home (my mother is German-Irish) so it is a bit difficult
      for me to imagine being racist against half of myself.

      Third, the locus of racism is hate. I never said that I hate
      white-Anglo-Saxon-men, I am simply lamenting that the popular resources on
      theology, biblical exegesis, social theory etc… primarily come from one particular
      group (rich, straight, white, men). This has been
      historical documented and it is a bit difficult to make a case to the contrary.
      Ultimately, you would be hard pressed to make a case that I am asserting my
      hate for this group (not only because of my heritage but also because I am a
      pacifist and I deeply believe it is critical that I love my enemies). It is more so a disappointed critique.

      A question: If you are a Christian, when is the last time, in your church, that
      you and your community used the resources of people like James Cone? Brian
      Bantum? Oscar Romero? Phyllis Trible? Elsa Tamez? Sojourner Truth?

      Grace and Peace of Christ.

      • Anthony_Curtis

        Do you think of these people as your enemies? Regardless of your background or philosophy of pacifism, If you are a follower of Christ and so are they, then you are part of the same body, as Paul says there is no more Master, Slave, Jew, Greek, Male, Female. So why even bring up the race issue. There should not be an us verses them attitude, let the arguments stand based on God’s unchanging truth, not the economic/ social status, race, or gender of the person he speaks them. As far as “new” interpretations go being newer does not make something true. The Bible says what it says. If a society “advances” to the point that the position of the Word of God no longer seems true, it is not up to the Church to adjust to meet the standards of a society or to become politically correct.

        • Josiah Daniels

          Anthony,
          Again, thanks for the interaction.

          1. In keeping with years of Christian teaching, I feel comfortable in saying that those who promote racism (whether it be overtly or covertly) show that they are part of the world and not part of God’s kingdom. So I actually don’t think that we are “part of the same body.” Indeed, that would be impossible, seeing as they wouldn’t accept me or my perspective on Christianity.

          2. You have actually proven my point in quoting Gal 3:28 (cf. Rom 10:12; I Cor. 12:13; Eph 2:11-22; Col. 3:11). I agree that Paul is against an “us” verse “them” mentality (fairly nonviolent, don’t you think?). This is why Paul highlights racial, social and economic differences–to emphasize that all people are equal in God’s kingdom. Gender, social, economic and racial distinctions should not determine table fellowship. All are one in Christ, and all should be given the opportunity to speak and be listened to. In times where one group is dominating another, the Apostles call them out (Acts 15; Rom 11:17-21, 25; I Cor. 12:12–26; Gal 2:11-21; Eph. 2:11-22). Christians should follow the Apostle’s example in this regard.

          3. I never say that “newer” interpretations are “truer” because they are “new.” I also never advocate for “political correctness.” I think you may be reading something into my piece that’s not there.

          Finally, I am a bit disappointed that you (1) did not answer my last question and (2) have successfully avoided interacting with the main thrust of my argument. It seems you are caught up on a peripheral phrase (the rich, straight, white, male interpretation). So let me emphasize my thesis again: why is it, that those who serve in the military are allowed to reinterpret Christ’s condemnation of violence yet when the LGBTQ community reinterprets passages they are belittled, rejected and condemned?

          Grace and Peace of Christ…

          • Anthony_Curtis

            To answer that last question I can say I have not used any of the works you listed. As for Christ condemnation of violence, why did he instruct his disciples to sell their cloaks to buy a sword is there is never a reason for violence?

            • Josiah Daniels

              Anthony,
              No. I don’t believe there is ever any reason for violence. Also, the text you used is not the best proof text for Christ approving violence.

              (Lk 22:36-38) 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,”he replied.

              It says directly in the text that the reason Jesus admonishes his disciples to get a sword is so the prophecy can be fulfilled (v. 37). Also, if Christ would have truly expected the disciples to defend him and themselves why did he (1) tell them that two swords would be “enough” and (2) condemn Peter’s use of the sword (Mt. 26:52 cf. Lk 22:49-51)?

              Ultimately this post isn’t dedicated to discussing the finer points of nonviolence. However, there will be a post dedicated to this topic in the coming months. This post was more interested in bringing attention to the fact that when soldiers reinterpret passages to align with their lifestyles of violence very few people even bat an eye. But when the LGBTQ community reinterprets passages they are belittled, rejected and condemned.

              I’ve enjoyed our conversation and I hope that you will visit again. I also hope that you might consider using some of the resources I listed above. Feel free to explore the blog as many of the names I mentioned make appearances on our posts quite frequently.

              Again, thanks for the interaction and I hope you visit again soon. Grace and Peace of Christ…

              • Anthony_Curtis

                One last question, so if homosexuality is no longer sinful, are pedophilia, and incest, okay as well, or are there any standards for morality that can be drawn?

                • Josiah Daniels

                  Anthony,
                  First off, I purposely did not address whether or not “homosexuality… is sinful” in this post. I simply suggesting that for certain Christian communities, they have decided to use a different interpretive method when looking at passages that have historically been translated to condemn homosexuality (this interpretive method is similar to the one that Christian soldiers use in order to justify them killing people).

                  Secondly, your question inappropriately draws a correlation between pedophilia, incest and homosexuality. Just because someone is gay or lesbian doesn’t mean that they are a sexually abusive. Mutual intimacy between two consenting adults is, by definition, vastly different then sexually abusing a child or a father raping his daughter.

                  Perhaps I was unclear with my last response so let me be clearer here: I feel as though you have been (1) avoiding my actual thesis, (2) reading things into my post that are not there and (3) lastly, you continue to ask questions that lie outside the scope of this post. Therefore, while I am thankful you visited our blog, I am afraid that this conversation has run its course. Nonetheless, I would hope that you visit again so we can both continue to challenge one another.

                  As always, grace and peace of Christ…

                  -Josiah

  • Frank

    The difference is there is absolutely no scriptural support that homosexual behavior is not a sin. Its of no benefit to the faith if we give options the same weight as biblical truth.

  • Ricardo

    I would agree with your comment that it is all about control.
    Most of us want control of our environment, control of our beliefs, control of our future. Most of us would rather have a list of rules to follow, rather than risk the unknown.
    Most of us would rather live by the Law, rather than by Grace.
    Especially if we become absolutely familiar with a finite set of rulebooks that we can quote frontwards and backwards. Don’t get me wrong. Most of us fully believe in whatever interpretation we chose. That is why we have so many denominations.
    Grace is risky. It is unknown. And yet, Jesus tells us: “Jump in!” “Be all that you can be!”
    Give up control! Grace is an adventure!

    • Josiah Daniels

      Beautiful.

  • Thanks. I enjoyed the post. The truth of the matter is that we all selectively choose the scripture that we want to inform our beliefs, usually because it seems to confirm some preexisting bias. I have plenty of scriptural ammunition I could unload on those who seem fixated on condemnation of homosexuality (i.e. clear “biblical” commands that they and their heroes routine ignore or violate). But if I’m honest I’d have to admit that I do the same thing.

    That’s help me come to believe that the Bible isn’t best used as a place to mine proof-texts to launch like missiles at those who disagree with us.

    As my disgust at the WV fiasco subsides, I’m feeling relieved that it has helped me come to the decision that I’m done with that way of thinking. I’m satisfied that Scripture (along with other things) reveals the character of God, and with an understanding of that it’s not rocket science to figure out how we should behave. I’m satisfied that that was an important part of what Jesus teaches.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Josiah Daniels

      Hey Bill,
      Thanks for the thought provoking response.