Michael Hamer has written an insightful commentary in response to the news that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted on Saturday to secede from the Episcopal Church, citing the Episcopal Church’s ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson as the “latest and most galling proof of Episcopal Church’s rejection of biblical authority.” As is typical, observes Michael, the “conservative faction” base their action on the fact that “the Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination.”
Interestingly, Roman Catholic Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, in a recent letter-to-the-editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, cited biblical rather than doctrinal reasons for the Catholic Church’s “teaching” on homosexuality. I say “interestingly” because although some, including Archbishop Nienstedt, often argue that the church’s doctrinal stance is based on the “witness of scripture,” the Catholic Church tends to emphasize and rely more on “tradition” rather than “scripture” in justifying its prohibition on “homosexual acts.”
Why? Well, I think part of the reason is that most Catholics, including those within the hierarchy, know that the vast majority of scripture scholars question the appropriateness and validity of using ancient biblical texts to condemn our modern-day understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. On a range of issues, people realize that the Bible can’t be taken literally. Accordingly, even the Catholic Church has come to condemn biblical fundamentalism. Put another way, it no longer teaches that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
Yet what the Catholic Church claims, instead, as inerrant (and thus unchangeable) is its “tradition,” by which is generally meant its teaching on faith and morals. As a result of this claim, dialogue on any number of important issues is effectively shut down. Of course, what’s happened is that one form of fundamentalism has been replaced by another: biblical by doctrinal. The end result is the same: the Spirit, present and active in the lives of all – yes, even gay people – is denied, and the church’s living tradition becomes mired in hubris, intellectual dishonesty, and the fear of change.
I appreciate Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak’s perspective on Roman Catholic fundamentalism. In the September 28, 2007 issue of The National Catholic Reporter, Helminiak wrote: “The Vatican’s insistence on unthinking obedience, its policing of official teaching, and its determined disregard for all opposing evidence - regarding women, sex, medical procedures, liturgy, hierarchical institution, response to abuses - not only violate Vatican I’s teaching that reason and faith cannot be in true opposition but also, perforce, evince nothing other than fundamentalism.”
Fundamentalists, I’ve discovered, are incredibly insecure. The mere thought of development, growth, and change can send them into a frenzy. They have forgotten that religion should point to God, not be God. Yet sadly, aspects of their religious lives have become their god. Any threat to these idols is met with hostility fueled by both arrogance and fear.
In some ways, fundamentalists remind me of children who can only cry and scream when you take their toy horse away so as to lead them to see and feel the beauty of the real thing.
In Catholicism’s case, the fundamentalists are not, to use different imagery, “jumping ship.” Rather, they’re very much in control. Indeed, they’ve barricaded themselves on the ship’s bridge - all the while declaring that such an arrangement is God’s will.
Digging in or running off, the problem with fundamentalists is that, though they are yet to put away “childish things,” they are nevertheless seen as adults and, as has been noted, are often in positions of ecclesial power. They thus have the ability to inflict great harm, damage and suffering onto individuals and communities. For centuries, LGBT people, and thus the Body of Christ, have experienced such harm and suffering as a result of the words and actions of religious fundamentalists of various stripes.
Anyway, Michael Hamer was asked to write about this latest development within the Episcopal Church for Virginia New Source. Following are excerpts from the excellent column he wrote.
The problem . . . is that if one is to claim that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and to be taken literally, one should not be allowed to selectively pick and choose which Bible passages are deemed inerrant and which ones can be conveniently ignored. Most of the anti-gay rhetoric used by those seeking to split within the Episcopal Church or by anti-gay elements in general is based on passages in the Book of Leviticus where a large number of things are described as abominations.
Please do not get me wrong, I believe in the Bible; however, I am among those who do not believe that the Bible is literally true in all instances, and, although I believe that it is the inspired word of God, I believe that not everything it in should be taken literally. Unfortunately, if ALL passages are given the inerrant treatment used by those who oppose ordaining gays or acceptance of homosexuality, for example, then questions such as these need to be answered:
1. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Who is correct?
2. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
3. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Who is correct?
4. Lev. 19:19 states that thou shall not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind; thou shall not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and wool come upon thy body. Must I stop buying poly-wool blend clothing?
5. Lev. 11:12 says anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you. Must I give up eating shrimp and scallops?
6. Matt 5:32 says that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. Likewise, Luke 16:18 says that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Why are Episcopalians and members of other Christian denominations allowed to divorce and remarry?
While these questions are somewhat tongue in cheek, they highlight the obvious ridiculousness that a strict literal application of every Bible passage yields. Even the most rabid opponents to gay ordination or gay rights do not apply all of the foregoing passages – and many others – literally. Only in one area – homosexuality – is this mindless literalism still regularly applied today. If the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is willing to break from the Episcopal Church over the issue of gay ordination, it needs to immediately ban divorce and remarriage and a host of other things banned by a literal reading of the Bible. Otherwise, their action is not in fact based on unswerving loyalty to the Bible but rather plain bigotry against those who are different.
[Another] reason I believe the Diocese of San Joaquin is in error is that these people who are so afraid of gays in general refuse to recognize that modern day scientific knowledge of human sexuality and its inherent nature were unknown and not understood by the ignorant (by today’s standards), nomadic, tribal writers of the Old Testament. Passages in Paul’s epistles condemning homosexual conduct pick up directly from these same Old Testament passages. These same authors thought the earth was flat and the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around the earth. Isn’t it just possible, they were likewise mistaken about their condemnations of same sex relations? I truly cannot envision the mind set/world view of fundamentalists who refuse to ever admit that the Bible is NOT 100% accurate on all kinds of factual/historical matters that can be demonstrably shown to be inaccurate by modern science and knowledge. Their religion is a religion of fear and hate of others. This is decidedly NOT what Jesus preached.
For previous Wild Reed posts that discuss fundamentalism (of one form or another), visit:
The Bible and Homosexuality
When Unity Trumps Truth
For the Bible Tells Me So: A Must-See Film
The Stumbling Block of Fundamentalism
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
Listen Up, Papa!
The Blood-soaked Thread
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
Uncle Vince Is At It Again!
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Bishop Spong in Australia
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
Praying for George W. Bush
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
Keeping the Spark Alive: An Interview with Chuck Lofy
Image 1: Boy Playing with Toy Horse (lithograph, 1871).
Image 2: BLTC.