January 17, 2013

Unequal Measures

Reading Martin Kuhrt's response to Steve Chalke reminds me of the basic problem I have with the dyed-in-the-wool (and apparently wool-over-the-eyes) hermeneutic of the conservative evangelical movement. The main problem lies in the fact that they apply a very loose and freewheeling reading to the Scripture, a "reading" which actually wanders very far from what the text says, all under the cover of being particularly faithful to it.

Thus they go on and on (joining conservative catholics) about Genesis 1 and 2 revealing a divine plan for all sexual behavior, even though, as the text makes abundantly clear, it is speaking of two individuals (how after all could the man be "alone" if there were others?). They continue to misread Jesus' words on this text as some kind of pronouncement on complementarity when it is in fact a dissuasion from divorce, again in reference to the pair becoming a unit. It is particularly ironic that at least some conservative evangelicals have swallowed the pill of remarriage after divorce (the actual substance of Jesus' teaching) by means of the very "progressive" reading of Scripture and church history that they reject when applied to same-sex marriage.

The hermeneutic that Kuhrt seems to call for, in his rejection of a "progressive" hermeneutic (such as that which Augustine advocated in Of Christian Doctrine -- that all Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor; and which it is also fair to observe is the general hermeneutic applied through most of Christendom, at least to other texts) would ultimately require approval of slavery, condemnation of the consumption of unkoshered meat, and an end to the modern investment banking system, at the very least. In short, the conservative evangelicals either lack the conviction of their alleged hermeneutic or they are simply hypocrites. In either case it is the employment of unequal weights and measures.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, there's so much that's out of kilter in Martin Kuhrt's paper that I found myself smiling early on, and I had to force myself to to read on without dismissing the rest of the paper out of hand.

We do not and should not welcome into intimate fellowship or leadership gossips, slanderers, God-haters, heartless, faithless, senseless people as gossips, slanderers, God-haters, heartless, faithless, senseless people.

Some of those types are in fellowship and in leadership and remain, even in conservative evangelical circles, and are not excluded.

And then, when Kuhrt went into his spiel about how some of his best friends are gay, I pretty much gave up.

I confess that I am confused by your final paragraph. Are you saying if we view all Scripture in the light of the Great Commandment that we must approve slavery, etc.?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. In the last paragraph, I meant that Kuhrt's proposed hermeneutic is not in fact that commended by Augustine, nor the one he really uses. In other words, if he applied the hermeneutic he actually uses in all else, instead of veering in to the smudged technique he applies to same-sexuality, he would come to the same conclusion as Chalke. If he were to apply to those other issues the same technique he applies to sexuality, he would have to end up supporting slavery, condemning lending at ingeres, etc...

Sorry it wasn't clear. It is incredibly confusing to see people, on this one subject, lurch into a kind of biblical primitivism (that simultaneously misreads the actual text!) in their squirming efforts to condemn that which is clearly not referenced in Scripture: same-sex marriage (or in this case, civil partnerships).

June Butler said...

Since I view the whole of Scripture through the lens of the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule, I'm relieved to read your clarification. From the Hebrew Testament my touchstone passage is Micah 6:8.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

G said...

*sigh* Remember when Fulcrum set up to be the voice of "open" evangelical Anglicanism? Now it's as if they're bending over backwards to show the Reformistas et. al. that they're not too open!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, those are the same spectacles I use. The problem seems to be that the folks at Fulcrum wear bifocals -- reading anything that applies to others one way, and things that might apply to themselves another! (And of course, they like to pretend that they don't have "lenses" at all, but are just seeing the plain and facial evidence. Not!)

Geoff, so sadly true. There is very little "ev-" in their "evangelism." The distortion of Romans is in particular troubling, as it rather destroys Paul's whole point about not judging others when they use chapter one to bash people with.

JCF said...

What Geoff Said. When you're a homophobic hammer, every Biblical passage looks like a nail.

Erika Baker said...

To be honest, he lost me in the first paragraph when he writes that Steve Chalke "claims that this is the result of his ‘grappling with Scripture’"
Whenever people start an argument with what someone else "claims" they are already implying that it's a dubious statement.

I can see that one might conclude that a claim to a particular interpretation of Scripture is dubious, but to say someone "claims" to have wrestled with Scripture is so insulting and patronising that the writer immediately loses all my respect.

Thankfully, these people are all fighting a rearguard battle, more and more high profile Christians from all church traditions are beginning to speak out in favour of same sex equality, the walls are crumbling.

When I started to campaign for lgbt equality in the church some 8 years ago most of those who contacted me were lgbt people with harrowing stories to tell.
Now the majority are traditionalists who are changing their minds about gay people and who want to talk to me about that and who ask for my thoughts of how best to take that new awareness back to their traditionalist churches.

The times they are indeed a changin.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. This is a major problem with some of the "conservative" folks -- they dismiss a priori any conclusion that differs from their own, in spite of the fact that they have not troubled to revisit and "wrestle" with the Scriptures, but instead apply a very skewed hermeneutic that is at base the precise "liberal protestant" response they appear to reject!

I have more respect for the truly fundamentalist folks who continue to press for "male headship" and so on; though of course even they have their escape clauses for things that even their cultural accommodation would not tolerate.

The arrant misuse of Scripture by some who supposedly hold it in high regard is nothing short of appalling. The good news is you are right about the change in the atmosphere; which I can only attribute to constant witness and the Holy Spirit at work. Deo Gratias.

Tim said...


Though I have known a few who are openly hypocritical (measuring conviction is above my paygrade), I am far more likely to ascribe the inconsistencies you mention in the post to a general failure to follow the original premise through and see all of the possible consequences of said premise.

Regarding the active rejection of differing conclusions, I would argue you are looking at the dark side of Confirmation Bias, where people filter out information so that what they view/hear is what they already believe and disregard the information which conflicts with what they believe. While we have always experienced this, in a digital age where search heuristics and a fire-hose of media, what news and opinions you get varies upon what websites you visit, resulting in what is called an 'information cocoon'. To fight that, one must know of Confirmation Bias and realize the problems inherent therin as well as being willing to work outside one's comfort zone and accept that everything you ever knew may be wrong.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


That would be another explanation, and surely a possible one. I don't actually believe most of these folks are hypocritical --- they simply have been deluded by their own self-confidence, which is another way of saying that they are plagued with confirmation bias.

My point, though is actually narrower --- though the haste with which the post was composed may have obscured it. It is the alleged hermeneutic that concerns me; as well as the presumptive or explicit assault upon the hermeneutic used by others. Thus, for example, some evangelicals clamor for a "canonical reading" but do not apply such a canonical reading to the texts they use negatively; and are unwilling to apply such a reading to texts that would lead them to conclusions they might find embarrassing or inconvenient. Again, this may be intellectual carelessness rather than intellectual dishonesty --- I have no window into their souls --- but I do see the inconsistent result often enough to find it inexcusable, especially when the problem has been pointed out to them and they continue along the same well-worn path.

And yes, it is very difficult to work outside a comfort zone and accept that everything you think you know may be a mistake or an error; but it seems to me that that is the only way to learn anything of value. To use the language of computer science, it is the only way to transform data into information. "Tell me something I haven't heard before" should be the watchword.