Sunday, October 30, 2005
As if on cue, a story from Florida illustrates the end of "liberalism"
Published Friday, October 28, 2005
Theology Experts Explore Bible, Sex
FSC lecture speakers challenge some widely-held "truths."
By Cary McMullen
Ledger Religion Editor
LAKELAND -- A trio of visiting scholars challenged conventional understandings of the Bible's prohibition against homosexuality at a symposium at Florida Southern College on Thursday.
With two more lectures on tap for today, the participants all expressed views that run counter to prevailing policies toward gays in most denominations.
The topic of the annual Bible Symposium, held in the Hollis Room at FSC and sponsored by the Department of Religion and Philosophy, is "Sex, Love and Marriage in Scripture and Tradition."
Delivering lectures Thursday were James L. Crenshaw, professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School; L. William Countryman, professor of biblical studies at The (Episcopal) Church Divinity School of the Pacific; and Mary Rose D'Angelo, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.
In his lecture, Crenshaw noted that the Hebrew scriptures were written over a period of 12 centuries and that because of shifting circumstances, "We possess no statement describing a normative practice" of sex and marriage. He pointed to conflicting views of divorce, which in earlier centuries were easily obtained but were later frowned on by prophetic and rabbinic pronouncements.
Crenshaw said the biblical book, "Song of Songs," a lengthy love poem, displays a view outside the usual moral and social code, that of "fulfilled sexual desire outside of marriage," in which a woman initiates sexual encounters.
"The lovers defy convention in the way lovers have always done," he said.
With respect to homosexuality, Crenshaw said it is forbidden in the book of Leviticus, along with bestiality and cross-dressing. However, he said the biblical prohibitions should not necessarily be taken as final.
"We must reject at the outset any notion of the supreme authority of scripture. . . . Even those who take most literal interpretation of biblical texts, who claim to believe everything literally, nevertheless sit in judgment on their meaning at every juncture because readers determine meaning," he said.
[If there was ever a post-modern comment, well, that was it.]
As a result, Crenshaw said, "those who practice alternative sexual lifestyles" should not be condemned.
"Is God more interested in our sex lives than in our integrity, our good deeds and our chaste thoughts?" he said.
[Funny, I thought that our sex life was part of our integrity, good deeds and chaste lives.]
Crenshaw's school, Duke Divinity School, is associated with the United Methodist Church, which permits gays to be members of its congregations but prohibits them from being ministers.
The Episcopal Church, in which Countryman is ordained as a priest, has been divided by controversy over the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire.
In his lecture, Countryman emphasized the primacy of the gospel, which he said is "the good news that God made us all alike and loves us all equally."
[See what I mean about about not getting caught up in "mere words"? Mere words must not get in the way of the Exodus/liberation motif.]
He then turned to the first chapter of the New Testament book of Romans, written by the apostle Paul, which apparently condemns homosexual practice by men and women. Countryman said the passage does not contain a prohibition.
"The language is harsh, but Paul doesn't say explicitly that it is sinful. . . . All we can say is that the case isn't very strong. For myself, I'm frankly unconvinced," he said. "Most important of all, the gospel doesn't enter into it."
Countryman said the passage should be interpreted as part of the entire book, in which Paul forbids Jews and gentiles to have attitudes of superiority toward each other.
"We still hear Paul as agreeing with our own prejudices, whether for homosexuals or Jews. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to get things wrong," he said.
Countryman's interpretation was challenged by a member of the audience.
"Paul never gets away from the law (of Moses). He says the law is good, it teaches me what is wrong," said Frankie Dippy, a senior studying religion at FSC. Dippy also argued that a word in the original Greek text, which Countryman said is ambiguous, specifically refers to homosexual acts.
"You're just wrong," Countryman responded. "The meaning of words is not determined by their etymology but by their usage. (With that word) we have no information to go on."
[Well, the elite has spoken. Let all others be silent!]
In a lecture titled "Sex and Politics in the Beginning of Christianity," D'Angelo compared a list of people named by Paul at the end of Romans with depictions of freed slaves in Roman funeral monuments.
It is likely that some of those named by Paul were former slaves, and because slaves were often sexually used by their masters, the Christian message of freedom from sin would have had a particular appeal, she said.
"These are people whose sexual integrity would have been suspect to Romans," she said.
The Roman social milieu had one thing in common with the present, D'Angelo said.
"Sex was everywhere. There was a lot of erotic art, some of it in public places. It sounds a lot like the 21st century," she said.
At 8:30 a.m. today, Theodore W. Jennings Jr., professor of biblical and constructive theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, will give a lecture on "Gay and Lesbian Issues in Scripture and Tradition." At 11 a.m., John J. Carey, a retired professor of religion who formerly taught at FSC and Florida State University, will lecture on "Current Developments in the Sexuality Debates."