Last year at this time, the Christian blogosphere was still working through the aftermath of Rob Bell’s almost-denial of the existence of hell; but when the decade as a whole is analyzed, it will be the issue of homosexuality that has generated the most heat.
This time around, unlike at his non-blog, Southern Baptist prez Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. was unable to turn off comments, which probably number around 7,100 as you read this.
At CNN’s Belief Blog, Mohler deals with the issue, “If the Levitical laws still apply why do we eat shellfish?” As someone who was treated to a rare lobster dinner on Saturday night, I have a personal stake in this issue. Mohler’s response is to direct inquiries to Acts 10, where Peter is told, ““What God has made clean, do not call common.” (vs 15) But he says this is limited to the kosher food laws.
Some people then ask, “What about slavery and polygamy?” In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity. For this reason, the abolitionist movement was largely led by Christians, armed with Christian conviction.
The Old Testament did allow for polygamy, though it normalizes heterosexual monogamy. In the New Testament, Jesus made clear that marriage was always meant to be one man and one woman.
“Have you not read that He who created them made them male and female?” Jesus asked in Matthew. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” For this reason, Christians have opposed polygamy on biblical grounds.
In other words, Mohler believes that this New Testament passage affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman. (A right the LGBT has lobbied for aggressively, but an issue that really forms a small subset of the greater issue of behavior and practice.)
Mohler speaks with the authority of his office, but I’m not sure his words would convince someone better versed in a gay-and-Christian apologetic.
Or, as it turns out, even those outside the gay movement like Fred Clark at the blog Slacktivist.
I should note here that Mohler’s interpretation of Peter’s vision is widely held and quite popular among American Christians. (I wrote about this earlier in “The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon.”)
But while popular, this view utterly contradicts Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. If Mohler is right, then Peter was wrong. If Peter was right, then Mohler is wrong.
For Peter, his rooftop vision wasn’t about kosher dietary laws — it was about people. He says this explicitly: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
That’s a very different conclusion from the one Mohler draws. Mohler says this story — this scripture — is about purity laws. Peter says this story is about God’s commandment that no people should be excluded as impure.
I’m going to have to side with Peter on this one. Peter was right. Mohler is wrong.
Mohler’s case for his interpretation of Peter’s vision only looks plausible if you extract a tiny portion of the story from the rest of the chapter, but if you read all of Acts 10, you’ll see that the story doesn’t allow that.
Consider, for example, the purpose of Peter’s vision. It wasn’t sent because Red Lobster was about to bring back “endless shrimp,” but because of the people who were about to knock on Peter’s door. The author of Acts makes sure we don’t miss that point, writing: “While Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the [impure, uncircumcised, bacon-loving Gentile] men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.”
But Matt Kennedy at the blog Stand Firm challenges Clark’s interpretation:
Fred wants to set Peter’s recognition that the holiness code no longer stands between Jew and Gentile because God has made all things clean in Jesus against the vision in which Peter was told that God has made all things clean. The “tiny portion” of Acts 10 that Fred wants us not to pay attention to is the vision itself – the part where God declares the unclean animals clean; the part where God sets aside the first to establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). The holiness code is the reason Peter would not have gone to Cornelius’ house before the vision. The removal of that code is precisely what leads him to say yes and go with his visitors.
Like most revisionist activists the Slacktivist is a selective reader. He loves the part where Peter affirms that (in Fred’s words) “no people should be excluded as impure” because he thinks that orthodox Christians believe that homosexual people are “impure” but the part about the removal of holiness code is terribly inconvenient so he simply pretends that the obvious connection between the two isn’t there and trusts that his readers have as much interest in actually reading the bible for themselves as episcopal bishops do.
(Personally, I think the last sentence clause was a really cheap shot.)
I would have preferred for Kennedy to articulate the nuances of his argument a little differently, I find the clarity of Clark’s thesis — including an earlier stating of it back in 2004 — more appealing.
But in so doing, I’m not awarding victory in this matter to Clark. I just think that whatever Mohler and Kennedy are on to, they’re taking a muddy path to get there.
Which is why I keep coming back to an entirely different setting for the debate that I believe would provide more understanding for people on both sides of the issue.
While comments are welcome here, greater discussion value might be found at the blogs linked.
Image: Red Lobster (where else?)