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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Bible: Letter and Spirit

Christine and Dennis Wiley are the pastors at Covenant Baptist Church. It is the only traditional black church in DC to perform same-sex unions. This is a very controversial issue within American churches, and the two pastors explain their position in today's W. Post. I would like to copy here only one fragment, where they discuss what the Bible has to say about:

When issues of gay rights and gay marriage come up, the first question many black people ask is, what does the Bible have to say about it? This seemingly innocent question doesn't acknowledge that when we approach the Bible, our perspective has been shaped by where we were born, by whom we were raised, what Grandma taught us, where we went to school and what our pastor preached in church -- usually conservative ideas on matters such as homosexuality. Therefore, we tend to interpret the Bible not objectively, but through the lens of our cultural and historical context. The conservative strand of black religion is evident in what Harvard professor Peter Gomes calls bibliolatry -- the practice of worshiping the Bible rather than worshiping God. It is also found in a literal interpretation of the Bible that focuses more on the letter of the text than on its spirit, and concentrates on passages about domination, oppression, hierarchy, elitism and exclusion rather than on the major themes of love, justice, freedom, equality and inclusion that run throughout the Bible.

This fragment reflects very well the views of the two pastors, and people of faith with their courage deserve admiration. I think however that bibliolatry is a too heavy word: deity and sacred book should not be put in opposition. I know that Protestant culture puts an emphasis on the dangers of idolatry: any human activity, any human value can become an idol, i.e. a fake god. Even organized religion, including its authorities, rites and traditions. People need however a guide: hence the principle of Sola Scriptura.

Well, Protestants went further. If any human endeavor hides a possible idol, the same should be said about sacred books. Here the Protestant solution was, yes, we know that even Bible can lead to idolatry, however we need to take this risk, otherwise we wouldn't know any way toward God. In other words, fear of idols should not go so far as to suspect even the way toward God. It seems that some contemporary Protestant theologians started to nuance even more, between letter and spirit. It is a very difficult issue and different Christian churches come with different views on this subject.

Speaking about letter and spirit in the Bible, we went away from the main topic of the article from Washington Post: the same-sex marriage. There is a fact: there are religious people who consider that inclusiveness must prevail in all matters; there are religious people who consider the same-sex marriage as blasphemy. It is as simple as that. Each camp has legitimate concerns, and the controversy should be treated with moderation and mutual respect. And each camp has the legitimate right to have the own church.

(Church in America)


  • I agree with the Wiley’s view of the importance of culture in Bible interpretation. While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. Also the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm. The Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women. Full reasons for these conclusions are given on the Gay and Christian website (www.gaysandslaves.com).

    By Anonymous Raycol, at 7:09 PM  

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