Read This Text, Literally

By Lavender May 23, 2008

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This column might be divinely inspired. When I type, I don’t even look at the keyboard! Therefore, you should do whatever these words say. Buy local. Subscribe to Wanda Wisdom’s podcast. Shoot the sheriff, but not the deputy. OK, two out of three is an acceptable prophetic average.

Now, have you heard this one? “The Bible is the inerrant word of God, and it condemns homosexuality.” If you haven’t, you’re either lucky or extraterrestrial. Queers and Jesus share the frontline in a war over accuracy and meaning of language.

I pondered Biblical literalism recently at the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Methodists are reconciling, which, in Christian-talk, means gradually, not-too-quickly moving towards affirmation of GLBT people.

During the debates, some of the strongest opposition to GLBT-inclusive wording of the global church bylaws came from developing nations (a contentious term itself) in which French, Portuguese, and Spanish is spoken. In a tragically ironic twist of history, none of these languages are indigenous to African and South American communities whose current worldview they were communicating.

The following sentiment echoed throughout the afternoon: “You gave us the word of God. We faithfully follow it. You now say it might not all be true. How can we continue to believe in God and in you?”

Ouch. Colonialism and fundamentalism went hand-in-ugly-hand. Now what?

On the pro-GLBT side, one delegate quipped that if literalism governed Methodism, and required all to abandon their possessions in order to serve God (as Jesus commands), no Americans would left in the church. Cue in uncomfortable laughter from the crowd. Oh-no-he-didn’t!

Even the hard-core Biblical literalists seem to pick and chose when it comes to their beliefs.

Where is the ascetic spirit of Christ in the prosperity gospel preachers? Have Christian mercenaries always been exempt from God’s call to mercy? Is snake-handling void north of the Mason-Dixon Line? And how come Catholics get to keep from speaking in tongues?

These are legitimate questions if one is willing to go there, into the abyss of Biblical literalism.

One man recently took the proverbial plunge, and lived to write the memoir. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs, was published in late 2007. If it didn’t make your Christmas wish list last year, get it now. I know what my spiritual frenemies and allies are getting for their next birthday.

With humility, LOL humor, and praiseworthy zeal, the author attempts to live out hundreds of scriptural dos and don’ts. Its 300-plus pages of top-notch research and entertainment show again that only those who have not studied or even read the Bible can claim to follow it literally.

I constantly am reminded of the widespread permissiveness of Bible-alleged condemnation of GLBT people even in the secular world. It seems to be the status quo for many elected public officials who pave the way for a Constitutional amendment that would enshrine social inequality in the name of their take on God’s will.

So, GLBT Americans long have looked to Europe as some sort of postreligious Promised Land populated by legally married same-gender couples raising their legally adopted gender-variant children in gender-neutral historic cultural settings. Dream on!

Recently, the European Commission reversed its decision on the right of religious schools to fire openly GLBT teachers. The law allowed such action “to prevent undermining the religious ethos of the institution.” The commission initially ruled this provision incompatible with overall European Union antidiscrimination stance. Then, the Irish government lobbied for an exception: Because no legal definition of the terms “undermine” and “ethos” exists, religious schools should be able to self-determine, etc. Apparently, the New Testament defines arsenokoites clearly enough.

You don’t have to study abroad to get clobbered. More than 200 American high schools, colleges, and universities under denominational patronage or heritage enjoy their right to persecute GLBT students, faculty, and staff, while perpetuating falsehood about sexual orientation and gender identity. North Central University, Northwestern College, and Bethel University are among local institutions with GLBT-discriminatory policies.

In a dramatic 45-55 percent vote, Methodists decided to remain homophobic, at least for four more years. Some pro-GLBT resolutions failed by a 49-51 margin. That calls for a modest celebration anyway.

The burden of proof is sliding off our shoulders, and into the laps of those still clinging to literalism. Next time someone tells you that the Bible condemns you or your GLBT friends and family, just matter-of-factly state that it does not. No means no.

If your conversation partner has reservations about this idea, encourage him or her to investigate further. No higher power known to humankind ever condemned love. The rest is details. Plenty of theological scholarship and scientific data is available to sort through them.

I always carry a small bibliography (no time off!), and I’d be happy to share it with you, so you can pass it on.

I can’t wait to meet an illiterate literalist! Until then, I have little reason to indulge the laziness of minds perfectly capable of self-education. I hope the literalists enjoy reading.

Ask alexey@soulforce.org.

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