Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pagans and Presbyterians

An abomination is no big deal.

So says Presbyterian gay rights enthusiast Linda Malcor, who has taken on the unenviable task of trying to prove it.

Malcor’s effort is herculean: she lists every reference to the word “abomination” (Hebrew to'ebah) in six different English translations and even provides a search tool so you can duplicate her results yourself if you wish.

Unfortunately I’m at a loss what Malcor expects Christians to do with her conclusions.

Expectations, Penalties and Responsibility

Part of Malcor’s problem is the (very common) failure to distinguish Jewish Law from biblically-prescribed Christian conduct. One pass through the New Testament starting in the book of Acts should make it obvious to even a cursory reader that a significant change in God’s expectations of his people took place in connection of the death and resurrection of his Son. As well, there has been a significant change in the penalties to be applied to people who violate God’s expectations, as well as in who is responsible to apply those penalties.

In short, the average Christian does not argue for the application of Old Testament legal penalties by secular governments to their secular citizens or to citizens with other religious beliefs. We might think such laws would make our societies better places in the short term, but we recognize law is as ineffective a tool in transforming the hearts of men and women today as it was in Israel.

If you want to remake society via law, ask a Muslim for help.

Literalism and Context

But Malcor thinks those of us who take a literal view of scripture are compelled to argue for the imposition of the entire Law of Moses on our fellow citizens. In her view, if you believe homosexuality is displeasing to God, you ought to want homosexuals dead, as the Torah demands.

Thanks, but I’ll leave that to the Lord to work out. I do not live in a theocracy. I do not make the rules. I have enough work to do just bringing my own life into line with the will of God without attempting to flex my political muscles.

Being a literalist does not force me to ignore the context in which various instructions in scripture were given, to overlook to whom they were given, or to fail to ask why they were given.

A Long List of Things That Displease God

If Malcor were a pagan instead of a Presbyterian, we could leave it there. Homosexuals outside the church are accountable to God, not to me. But since she’s doing extensive word studies in the hope of convincing Christians that “abominations” are nothing worth getting worked up about, I will happily stipulate to most of the following (except the pants remark — that one’s just silly):
“Of the sixty-five occurrences of the word in the Old Testament, five refer to something as being an abomination to another people. Thirteen of the things labeled ‘abominations’ are dietary restrictions, the observation of which would bar a person from consuming such things as clam chowder, shrimp and, one of my favorites, the non-existent four-legged insect, which certainly refers to something besides what we call ‘insects’. Seventeen refer to improper sacrifice, although I am hard pressed to think of a single Christian (or Jewish, for that matter) congregation that slaughters animals on their altars these days. Outright adultery and adultery cause by divorce, which is prohibited by the Bible even though it is a widespread practice today, account for three of the verses. In addition to Jesus’s comment in Luke, the love of money is decried as an abomination in two Old Testament passages. Four related verses cite dishonest trading practices as abominations. Twelve other verses list behaviors ranging from murder to women wearing ‘anything that pertains to a man’ (for example, pants). Eight passages, including the one from Revelation, are not clear about what they mean by ‘abomination.’ ”
Very good. And, well … so what? Malcor has generated a lengthy list of things that displease God. Some displeased him among his covenant people in the past. Some displease him among his covenant people in the present. Some displease him no matter who does them and when they do them. Figuring out which is which requires the application of numerous other scriptures to the discussion, something Malcor does not even begin to attempt.

In the end, an “abomination” has always meant and still means something bad. Nothing Malcor discovers changes that.

In Short …

Those who want to please God will continue to avoid homosexuality, adultery, the love of money, dishonest trading practices, cross-dressing and — in the unlikely event they remain wholly unable to get their heads around the difference between Law and Grace laid out throughout the New Testament — even shrimp and clam chowder.

As for me, I’m not a big seafood fan anyway.

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