This week Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill which was aimed to protect pastors from being forced to perform gay marriages, as well as ensuring various protections for faith-based organizations. It is called the Free Exercise Protection Act and many are rightly suspicious that Deal’s veto was more in response to pressure from corporate America than from his own moral principles. For example, the NFL declared that they would bar Atlanta from hosting the Superbowl if the bill were passed. Disney made a similar promise, maintaining that they would no longer film in the state. These are just two examples. Other large corporations who likewise threatened Georgia include AT&T and Bank of America.
Like it or not, the winds of moral change are blowing in America and they directly contradict a Christian ethical system. So what challenges lie ahead for the Church in America? What should we do now to prepare ourselves for what is coming?
The answer to this question is myriad, but here’s the one I want to emphasize today: We must recover the authority of the Scriptures in our churches. The issues we are currently facing all trace back to this.
To flesh out why I think this is the case I want to share with you an article I came across recently in the New York Times by columnist Frank Bruni. This article came in light of the recent controversy in Indiana involving a Pizza Parlor and a journalist looking for a story. In response Frank writes,
But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.
It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.
It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.
And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.
So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.
Bruni’s argument here is two-fold. First, notice the belittling way in which he speaks of Scripture. It is a collection of ancient texts written by people who were also biased and had their fair share of “blind spots”. Here he is essentially arguing that the Bible is an ancient book held hopelessly captive by its own biased historical-cultural context. In his view the biblical text should be accepted or rejected on the basis of where it does and does not conform to modern political, social, and scientific views. Thus in the first prong of the argument the Bible is undermined as it is placed under the scrutiny of modernity.
But his second argument is a little more subtle. He writes that interpretation is “subjective, debatable”. In other words, we can’t really know what the Bible means. I find this argument laughable because the whole time he was writing this piece he was banking on the fact that you and I would be able to read, understand, and interpret his words correctly. Hmmm. I think I detect a double standard. Why should he be afforded this right and not the apostle Paul?
In essence, Bruni argues that the Bible is an ancient book with ancient biases that should “rightly bow to the enlightenments of modernity”. Besides, he would add, even if the Bible was still authoritative, we can’t be certain that we’re interpreting it correctly. Oh, and for an added flare, he’s sure to insult the intelligence of those who submit to the Bible’s authority, describing our adherence to God’s Word as “unthinking obeisance”.
Brothers and sisters, this is precisely the reason why I’m so passionate about biblical interpretation. If we decide that Yeah the Bible got it wrong here we are placing ourselves on a slippery slope. Once we begin to set aside passages with which our current culture does not agree we undermine its authority in those areas and it won’t be long until we decide to set aside the whole thing. Make no mistake, the content of our faith comes from the Scriptures. It is in them that we hear God’s words. His words to us. From the same apostle who condemned homosexuality as sinful (as well as all other manner of sexual deviance), we also learn that we are justified by faith through grace. It is from him (and the other biblical writers) that we see that Christ suffered and died as our Substitute so that we could be reconciled to God. If we decide the writers of Scripture aren’t trustworthy in the area of homosexuality, why should we think them to be any more trustworthy in other areas of significant doctrine? We simply can’t have it both ways. Nor should we want to.