Scripture, sin, and psychology
April 29, 2006
Original post date: 4/29/06
I've spent a lot of time over the past months trying to be very compassionate to our brothers and sisters across the theological divide, trying to understand their point of view.
It occurred to me yesterday that while it is very important to keep compassion and love in all of our daily discourse, so is it important to name the things that are putting people in the positions they are in.
Scripture is not the authority for those who would keep women in positions of inequality, divide cultures against each other through religious intolerance, and demonize gays and lesbians with talk of judgement and choice of sexual orientation. They would claim that it is, but it is not.
They would claim that it is their authority, and I think they would probably even believe it, but it is not the source of their energy and response to the issues facing our world and our church. Their true authority is coming from something deep and dark within, from something too terrible for even them to name. Misogyny, racisim, and homophobia– these are the things which give the authority to those who cannot fully embrace all of humanity. Fear is their motivation, although it may be buried so deep they cannot realize it even themselves. That is our broken-ness. That is our sin. That is why Christ came for us. He himself was so different that people were scared of him and as a result he was crucified. Crucified for this very problem we face today.
I believe this problem is psychological in nature. The problems facing us are not so much about the authority of scripture as they are about the broken-ness of the lives of the people who so feel compelled to act against those that are different then they are.
In some cases, the fear even runs so deep that they are even filled with self-loathing. I even read a post today from a few women who, after the election of a women in Texas as Bishop Suffragan, were disappointed because they believe that a women's place is only to serve under a man. I can only imagine the pain, the self-imposed limits, the horrible lack of self-esteem that a woman must have to make such a statement that so devalues the worth of women everywhere. God gave us reason- let's use it, for God's sake!!
Of course, the Scriptures are then used as the defense mechanism for the justification of these fears. In these women's case, they feel unworthy, so they find a reason in Scripture why they should feel unworthy to reinforce their already devalued position. Instead of looking at the Bible as a whole, instead of tracing the historical relationship of God with God's people over time, how God has, time and time again, valued ALL people, they pull specific pieces out of context.
Of course it has been done before. Historically people have taken the Bible out of context since the Reformation, and before. But we are learning. We are growing with God. And, as a result, our lives are getting healthier. Our lifespans are increasing as we learn to take better care of ourselves. Part of that includes understanding that every life has equal value. EVERY life. I can't imagine any respected mental health professional would ever tell a woman that she is mentally sound if her self-esteem allowed her to believe she could not perform any duty or responsibility that any man could perform simply because of her gender. She would need at least a little more internal work. Again, this is not about Scripture, but Scripture is the victim of the broken-ness.
So it is with gays and lesbians. The conservatives have tapped into the fear of even some moderates- fear of those that are different, fear of that which is not understood, fear of sex stemming from our puritanical roots, fear of losing control, fear of losing power. If you look at the propaganda of the right, you will find stories playing into these fears, describing how gays are "plotting to take over" (fear of losing control/power), gays are promiscuous (fear of sex), gays do strange things (fear of those that are different), and so on. It usually doesn't matter to what degree the allegrations are true, and there are usually no counterpoints to show the "normal" majority of gay people who have more in common with their straight counterparts then different. Of course, since being gay is not about sex but is about sexual orientation, and most of us no more choose to put our sex lives on display then straight couples do, even the one significant difference between us is, in reality, muted, but amped up by the fears of the conservatives.
And so, as the fears abound, fears pile on fears, anxieties arise, and Scripture is used as a justification to feed them. What happened to these people that they are so scared? Why can they not let go, accept the overwhelming love of God, love of self, love of others? Why are they so focused on the sin of others, instead of the sin and broken-ness of self, and the healing that Christ offers? The irony is that they assert that Inclusive theology has lost focus on sin and brokenness. I say that they have lost sight of their own brokenness while focusing too much on the perceived brokenness of others. "First remove the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor's eye" (Mt 7:5).
Of course it is dangerous to generalize. I realize that there are varying degrees of brokenness, and there are probably those who earnestly want to believe in a God of love instead of a God of judgement but have been taught along the way that it is impossible because of Scripture.
I also write these things not in order to demonize those who use Scripture as a justification for exclusion, but as a way to have compassion for them. I believe, understanding the inner torment that must go in, say, for the women who don't believe that they are qualified to do anything more then be subserviant to a man, that it is much easier to be compassionate and understanding of these folks. Granted, they make it difficult sometimes. There are folks on both sides of the aisles that do that, and some days I am one of them. But compassion and understanding are the keys to love, and love one of the keys to hope, and without hope we are lost.
I think I can say that I love these people, because I know how hard it is to let go of that brokenness inside. It takes years of hard, gutwrenching work with a professional and good guide to go on that journey with you.
What I cannot do, though, is say that it is ok for them to codify intolerance into law, secular or canon, based on these fears. I will work with all my heart, mind and soul to prevent that, but I know in my heart that it won't happen- at least for very long. God won't allow it, and I do have hope in that, because God is not a God for the few, a club for the selected. God is a God for all of God's creation. It is in God that I trust, not just in God's Holy Scriptures and our (in)ability to interpret them, and knowing that gives me great joy and hope that we are moving forward down a wonderful road on a beautiful journey with our loving Creator towards something bigger than we can possibly imagine. Glory to God!