Saturday, February 16, 2013

Garden hoses vs the Gospel

The editor publishes my email address after each column for the convenience of readers who wish to respond. Many do. One asked whether I was aware of how many people disagree with me. I told him how affirming it was to learn that.

I write to challenge prevailing attitudes and to make clear not everybody in Wyoming thinks like those who have the loudest voices, hold most of the public offices and preach from a majority of the pulpits. My goal is to speak for the minority. Plenty of folks speak for the others.

Rev. Bob Norris’ guest column in last Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune-Eagle challenged my beliefs. What I believe is that there’s a whole lot of theological malpractice going on out there. I confess to not knowing whether Rev. Norris and other evangelical preachers are the culprits or am I? I believe we are all guessing and I am going to err on the side of acceptance and love.

Rev. Norris called my columns “omnipresent.” He criticized the numbers of topics I write about, asking rhetorically, “Is there any area of life that Rodger is not an expert on?”

Truthfully, I’m not an expert on much. But I am at a time of life where I’m not asking anyone for a job or a vote, the politicians can’t fire me or cut my budget. However, the good Lord gave me a lifetime of experiences and an opportunity to speak from the perspective of what I learned from each; thirty years in politics and law, eight years on Congressman Teno Roncalio’s staff, a year directing Habitat for Humanity operations in poverty and war-torn Nicaragua, eight years heading Wyoming’s child welfare agency and mental health and substance abuse programs, three years in the middle of my life attending seminary, earning a Master’s of Divinity degree used to serve as a jail chaplain and now to pastor a church.

The gifts of those experiences would be wasted if I didn’t use them to speak out now. They have allowed me to cross paths and have relationships with many marginalized people including the homeless, the ill, the captives and those with sexual orientations different from mine. My experiences haven’t made me an expert but they taught me tolerance, empathy and compassion. Together, they’ve given me a view of the world from which to speak about injustices to the poor, the oppressed and victims of bigotry.

Rev. Norris resurrects our debate over same-sex marriage during a seminar sponsored by the Wyoming Association of Churches a year-and-a-half ago. We don’t share the same recollections from that event. My lasting impression was not of Rev. Norris quoting scripture, but watching him hold up two sections of garden hoses to crudely make his point that two “male” fittings don’t go together. Maybe not Biblical but quite as much literal as offensive.

You see, Bob thinks Christians are stuck in a time warp, required to cling to 4000 year-old thinking about matters such as homosexuality. I think God gave us not only the Bible, but also a brain and expects us to use both. Bob doesn’t share my belief that God continues to reveal God-self to us even today.

Nor do we share Biblical interpretation. He interprets it literally. Others choose to take the Bible literally or seriously. I cannot do both. Bob’s right. Scripture contains several judgments about homosexuals calling them an “abomination.” When every verse is read as literally as Bob reads those, there’s a long list of abominations that no one takes seriously anymore, not even Bob.

Scripture says it’s an abomination to lend money at interest. I haven’t seen the Bible literalists in the halls of the legislature to stop payday loan sharking. In the verses immediately following Leviticus’ judgment on homosexuals, God also condemns holding a worker’s wages overnight, allowing cattle to breed with a different kind, sowing fields with two kinds of seed, wearing clothing made of two kinds of cloth, rounding off the edges of your beard, getting tattoos, marrying divorced women, and “approaching” God if blind, lame, a dwarf, a hunchback, or with crushed testicles.
We don’t take the Bible literally because Jesus didn’t. Jesus taught that Biblical interpretation should be guided by the commandments to love of God and one another, adding, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Oh, and that name calling, I simply borrowed from Jesus who called the Bible literalists “a brood of vipers.”
I’ll start taking Bible literalists more seriously when I hear them condemn all those other behaviors the Bible calls abominations as strongly as they condemn homosexuals. Until then Bob, dump the garden hose act and preach the Gospel.

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