Monday, May 7, 2012

Radical Inclusiveness and the Bible

We have a futon couch. With just a minor adjustment, it becomes a bed. With just a little “adjustment,” we can do the same thing with Biblical interpretation and derive almost anything we want.

We visited a Presbyterian church in downtown Manhattan this Sunday. The pastor taught about eunuchs, citing Deuteronomy 23:

·        No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation. No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord…(Deut. 23:1-3)   

He then cited Isaiah – writing 700 years later – to show the egalitarian “evolution” of the Israelite religion:

·        Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely exclude me from his people." And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree." For this is what the Lord says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant-- to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial…” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

For this pastor, Isaiah’s understanding had evolved far beyond Moses’. I guess Moses must have misheard the Lord at Sinai, and the Lord, in disgust, allowed Moses to promote his errant message.

The pastor then brought his portrait of Biblical evolution into the modern times of the Gospel, where we find Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch into the body of Christ. The pastor concluded that the religion of the Hebrews had finally achieved inclusiveness.

Predictably, he applied this lesson of inclusiveness to those living out the homosexual life, gaily proclaiming that he and those of his understanding had achieved the radical inclusiveness envisioned by Jesus. However, he warned that there are still “Pharisees” – the Evangelicals - within the church. So much for inclusiveness! I guess he didn’t see his inconsistency.

Hadn’t he converted a bed into something it wasn’t – a reclining chair? Was Moses really so adverse to inclusivism? It seems not! Although the Passover could not be celebrated by non-Israelites, God explained upon His great deliverance from Egypt that this could be remedied:

·        The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover: ‘No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker [who remain uncircumcised] may not eat of it.’” (Exodus 12:43-45)

Circumcision was the entry ticket, as it had been for all Israelites! This represented radical inclusiveness – even for the despised slave. There were no literacy, income or racial requirements. However, the included had to abide by the same standards as the native-born Israelites. God affirmed that there wouldn’t be any distinctions:

·        “The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you." (Exodus 12:49).

How then would we reconcile this with the restrictions of Deuteronomy 23? Clearly, the eunuch and the various foreigners hadn’t become circumcised! Had they, the doors would have swung open.

In light of this understanding, Isaiah would gladly shake hands with Moses. In fact, he and all the prophets never suggested that they had any differences with the Mosaic Law. However, with just a twist here and an adjustment there, the Bible can be made to say almost anything.

However, I was glad to hear the pastor’s preamble to the Lord’s Supper. He explained that it was open to any “who sincerely turned their back on their sins.” Clearly, being a eunuch wasn’t a matter of sin. It isn’t an action but a physical condition. However, the homosexual lifestyle does represent both choice and action. Many have proved this by actually turning their back on this self-destructive lifestyle.

I was wondering how the pastor had convinced himself that homosexual behavior wasn’t a sin that required repentance. I had supposed that he regarded pedophilia, adultery and extra-marital sexual behavior as sin. Why then not homosexual behavior?

I went to the coffee hour hoping to pigeon-hole the pastor. However, neither he nor his associate pastors came – not exactly the ideal modeling of inclusiveness. However, I did corner a defenseless woman who was overseeing a sign-up table. I shared with her my perplexity, and asked her how the pastor could be sure that homosexuality wasn’t a sin in view of the many verses forbidding it. She couldn’t answer, but expressed her hope that the pastor would soon come for his coffee. Evidently, he had found coffee elsewhere.

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