How we handle words tells a great deal about us. The questions I have raised about secret city council deliberations with Bill London, ex officio something, I haven’t figured out what yet, have raised some hackles out there. For example, Rose Huskey, one of our volunteer litigant ladies, has posted an, um, enthusiastic response to this recent series of mine, but she has cleverly left me with something of a handicap. At the end of her post she says something to the effect that her email is in some sense copywritten, and that the text may not be reproduced, I assume in any verbatim fashion, with quotation marks and all, without written permission of the person writing said post, commonly known as the author. Since I do not have her permission to quote her verbatim, including this prohibition of hers, the material being copywritten and all, I will just have to resort to circumlocutions and summaries. Her point, as I understand it, is that she wants to acknowledge that she is wrong about everything.
No, that was not exactly her point, it was just how I choose to interpret her words. It was how her words made me feel. However silly this might appear, this is the end of line when we can treat the words of others as though they had infinite elasticity.
I am not quite prepared to be serious yet. One of her points was a sentence of eight words, the first part of which consisted of a description of me opening my orifice for verbal communications and then she closed with a two-word that rhymes with “fomiting bets,” which you can readily decipher by substituting a v for the f, and a threa for the be. Anyhow, it was bad. The image conjured up was one of me appearing before the Latah County commissioners with black smoke issuing forth from my nostrils, and from that point of origin ascending up and blackening the sun. Fulminations, fire, thunder, lightning, and blue ruin. That kind of thing. And what had I said that caused this lurid description? Rose helpfully included a transcript of my testimony which revealed a lot of things (including the fact that I don’t speak in complete sentences). But Rose helpfully placed in bold the two most offensive things I said on that black day of infamy. They were (and I think I can quote these, because I said them) the following: “I think it opens Latah County up to a great deal of exposure” and (compounding my sin with more threats and villainous murder) “I just wouldn’t want Latah County to make a very expensive mistake.”
To adapt a very famous line from some movie, “What we have here is a failure to interpretate.”
The other day, Nick Gier wanted me to imitate the behavior of some contemporary exegetical impresario and learn to interpret God’s instructions to wipe out the Canaanites as actually meaning that God did not want them to do this. But of course, if the words of Scripture are this elastic, what is to prevent other creative theologians from coming along and taking all those troublesome “nots” out of the Ten Commandments?
Hermeneutics, the art of interpreting words, is a discipline that matters when it comes to Scripture, the Constitution, local zoning codes, and the words of your adversaries in the midst of a polemical exchange. And I have to say that our friends on the other side of these exchanges have really stripped their hermeneutical gears.
The problem is fundamentally one of interpretation. Some people interpret the Bible the way other people interpret the zoning codes, as though they were assembled out of two by fours. Other folks want to the interpret the Bible, and our civil laws, as though they are made out of some gumby-like material. Very stretchy, but only stretchy to the left, or in a way that is consistent with sliming Wilson.
This is what was behind the canard that Nick Gier was circulating that held that I wanted to execute homosexuals and that, in a “generous moment,” I allowed that exile might be okay. The issue here is not homosexuality; the issue is how we read Scripture, and how we read one another’s words. We are called to read Scripture honestly, and without any intent to twist the words of Scripture (as St. Peter describes it) by putting them on a rack and torturing them to death.
Some people cannot be trusted with laws, because they treat them as a wooden absolute. Other people cannot be trusted with laws because they bend and twist them at liberty to suit their own desires. We are called to interpret Scripture as Scripture presents itself to be interpreted, and we interpret each Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture. Consequently, the fact that adultery was potentially a capital offense in ancient Israel has to be taken at face value. It was. At the same time, we have to handle it together with the fact that Jesus turned the tables on the accusers who brought a woman caught in the very act of adultery, and wanted Him to condemn her — which He refused to do. Why did He refuse to do this? There are a number of factors, but they are require diligent study of the Scriptures as a whole. We cannot just jab an accusing finger at one verse, and then at the woman, demanding that she be stoned. She was caught in the very act, hey? But where was the man? He presumably had to be there. If the Mosaic law required the execution of one, it required the execution of both. There is far more to this incident, but the greatest part of it is that the law was a preparation for the coming of the Christ, the Savior of the world, who is able to cleanse the stain caused by the sin of adultery. And that is precisely what Jesus did with this poor woman.
The same thing is true of homosexuality. The Mosaic code did allow for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. But for those benighted brethren who read Leviticus the way some people’s children read Moscow’s zoning laws (clunkity clunkity clunkity), they need to be reminded that this was not a mandatory penalty. It was not a minimum penalty — that was my reason for citing the fact that two of Israel’s kings were commended for actions that did not include executions. And, bringing the same principle down to the New Testament, we find the same glorious forgiveness offered to homosexuals that is offered to everyone else. As St. Paul says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [catamites], nor abusers of themselves with mankind [sodomites], Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Note the words in bold. Homosexuals commit sodomy, heterosexuals commit adultery, and thieves steal. Welcome to planet earth. But Jesus came to forgive sins. Christ saves sinners, all kinds. Not only that, but He welcomes them into His church. Notice what he says to the saints of the church in Corinth. Such were some of you. There was no requirement for those in the Corinthian church with a homosexual past to go jump off a bridge, thus fulfilling in a vigilante way the intent of God’s law given to Moses. Christ has come, and He has brought healing with Him. Those who want to clamp mandatory, inflexible penalties on us because of one verse in Leviticus want the Bible to do for them something it simply refuses to do. The Bible jumps through no man’s hoops.
But some will notice what they will call sleight of hand here. This is what happens when people comb through my words without reading them. “Yes, they will say, but notice that even if you don’t believe in the death penalty for homosexual behavior in all circumstances, you have (by implication) said that there could be occasions when it is called for. Admit it!” Okay, I admit it. And I will even give you one instance of the kind of thing that I think calls for it. The recent revelations of homosexual abuse of boys by various predatory priests over the course of many years is the kind of problem that I think should be addressed (in the civil realm only) with a tall tree and a short rope. Not only am I not ashamed of thinking this (because of Leviticus, in context), I believe that those who are willing to defend such predators should be ashamed of themselves. But there is no reason why such a homosexual predator, justly condemned to die, could not turn to Christ in faith and be received by Him into glory. Christ died on a gallows too, and He died to save sinners just like that and worse. He died with the Father’s judgment of homosexuality upon Him. He rose again from the dead so that we could rise with Him, and so that our old patterns of sin would no longer have dominion over us.
These are comforting words, but, like all words, they can be twisted.