Sunday, October 11, 2009

Disregarding the Hebrew Bible/ the effect on two subjects: homosexuality & the Jewish people

In my last posting on the Reformed Faith and the Jewish people, Writing about the Jewish people and Christian theology - 2 I stated that I would look at the use Christians have made and must make of the Hebrew Bible in regards to the Jewish people. This is not that posting but it will do for a lead in to the subject.

As the next General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) nears the overtures will start piling up and we are all fairly certain that one very large issue will be homosexuality. But another issue, that is rarely connected to the first one, will also contribute to the work at GA. That is, Middle East concerns. And I suggest, with this posting, that they are connected.

Many of the issues surrounding the ordination of those who are practicing homosexuals have to do with scripture and its authority. All of that authority is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.

For instance Jesus refers to the creation account of the Hebrew Bible when he speaks of marriage. He reminds his listener’s that God created the first two people as man and woman and brought them together as husband and wife. All New Testament ethics are Hebrew.

In the same manner the Christian connection to the Jewish people is tied to the Hebrew text. Every promise that anchors the Christian in the kingdom of God finds its foundation in the Hebrew Bible. Without the historical account of ancient Israel, the ancient people of God, the Christian’s faith floats in an uncertain universe tied only to whatever cultural milieu exists. Christ is no longer the promised one but simply a surprising creature arising out of anyone’s myth.

And so both become problems when those who proclaim the word begin to disconnect Christianity from the Jewish scriptures. And I have seen this happen lately. On homosexuality it was evident in the preaching of several women at the Presbyterian Women’s gathering. Most speakers were not pushing for homosexual ordination, but those who were either discredited some of the main texts of Joshua or misused the text for their own particular agenda.

For instance one speaker used the command in Joshua for the tribes to sanctify themselves as a means of insisting that part of that sanctification process means following God into “new landscapes and unknown territory.”Sanctify Yourselves

But in order to be faithful to the text as well as the history of the Jewish people one must be honest about what it meant to sanctify or as my translation puts it consecrate. And like the Israelites who came to the mount where the law was to be given the people were to separate from the unholy or even from the mundane; circumcision was a part of that. Yet the speaker led with her idea of a ‘new landscape’ until she was able to connect sanctification with the ordination of practicing homosexuals. She stated:


“A marvelous wonder will occur the day when the Church no longer needs to sort believers into specific boxes, because everyone is fully welcomed at the Baptismal Font and the Communion Table; and because everyone’s gifts are affirmed through the outpouring of baptismal waters and ordination oil; and because everyone’s ministry is empowered though the sharing of opportunities and resources.” (My emphasis)


Another speaker detached Jesus from the promises that arise out of the sacrifices and rituals of the Jewish Temple. She too called for the ordination of practicing homosexuals by suggesting we start kicking in some roofs. “Meddlin’

On the other hand such groups as the Israel/Palestine Mission Network detach the Hebrew Bible from the Jewish people of today. They do this by either denying the text of the Old Testament or by denying the ethnicity of the Jewish people.

There is a need to return to the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible. First one reads and studies in the Hebrew Bible the histories of the Jewish people as true and important. Then the fleshing out of Jesus Christ as he is found in all the promises, theophanies, shadows and types will allow once again our faith to rest in the Old Testament as it so securely does in the New. If Jesus the Christ is secured in the Old he is Lord of the Old. The commandments are his; the call for holiness is his. And the Christian is not disconnected from the Jewish people.

As Karl Barth puts it “… it is the unanimous opinion within the Church, that God is never for us in the world, that is to say, in our space and time, except in this His Word, and that this Word for us has no other name and content but Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is ever to be found on our behalf save each day afresh in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. One is not in the Church at all if he is not of a mind with the Church in these things.”

Instead the Church is being fed morality disconnected from the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Bible. At the same time Christ himself is anchored in our various cultural stories and disconnected from the Hebrew Bible. I believe we can expect a continuing barrage of unholy overtures on both issues which will grow steadily worse as Christ is moved further and further away from the Hebrew Bible, and as the Old Testament is further eroded by progressive exegesis.

26 comments:

Presbyman said...

Viola,

I think you make a good argument in principle, but in practicality there is some difference in the way the issues of sexuality and Israel are addressed within the church. Some evangelicals seem pretty anti-Israel to me, or at least made some very negative comments against Israel (Jerry Tankersley, John Huffman and Victor Penz come to mind. Maybe they don't intend to sound anti-Israel, but that's how they sound to me.). On the other hand, some pro gay ordination people are also pro-Israel ... John Wimberly and Barbara Wheeler come to mind. I don't think either one of them would object to being known as pro-Israel.

And these are just a few of the people who line up in these ways.

The way the politics works out is interesting to me.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

John Shuck said...

Interesting marriage of issues here, Viola.

Of course, Israel itself is the most progressive country in the Middle East regarding LGBT rights (including allowing gays to serve the military).

Then of course there are Jews who are progressive regarding LGBT folks. No need to appeal to Christian scriptures for them, right?

I do agree with your premise regarding how we interpret the Hebrew Scriptures. We should not divorce Jesus from them.

I would also argue from the standpoint of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves that we should grant equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in society and in our respective religious communities.

From the About article I linked to earlier:

"Not only are homosexuals accepted in Reform congregations, the movement also accepts gay and lesbian rabbis. It has been argued that since gay and lesbian Jews have experienced adversity, they can be more understanding and effective Jewish leaders.

Many in the Reform movement believe that gay and lesbian Jews would be committed Jews if they were welcomed into the Jewish community. The idea of officiating at homosexual commitment ceremonies is another way to reach out to this segment of the Jewish population."

Viola Larson said...

John,
Thanks for your thoughts. I know that John Wimberly is pro-Israel. And I didn't mean this as a complete blanket statement. However on the whole I think it holds. And I do think that sometimes Evangelicals fail to read the Old Testament the way it should be read. First as the important history of Israel, and second as that which contains Christ. It must be both; it cannot lose either of those aspects. I know a man who uses only the Old Testament to talk about Jesus to his Jewish friends.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Viola Larson said...

John S.
Of course not all Jews or even Rabbis except practicing homosexuals as Rabbis, etc. There is the same divide in the Jewish community as in the mainline denominations. And it still often hinges on their view of Scripture.

"I would also argue from the standpoint of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves that we should grant equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in society and in our respective religious communities."

I would like to have you enlarge on that.

Presbyman said...

Viola and John S:

Israel is a fascinating country, whose society and government cannot be easily measured along the classic Right-Left lines (or for that matter Evangelical-Progressive lines) we have in, say the US. That also goes for people who support the State of Israel.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

John Shuck said...

The call to justice is as clear in the Old Testament as it is in the New.

Viola Larson said...

Yes John, I agree the call to justice is as clear in the Old Testament as in the New. But justice in both the Old and the New is that the sinner should be transformed by a merciful Redeemer.

John Shuck said...

Fine. I am sure you would agree that biblical justice is more than individual justice for the individual sinner (although it certainly includes that).

Social even cosmic justice is also included in the redemptive plan, right?

The point of your post eludes me.

Are you saying that criticisms of the modern state of Israel and advocacy for lgbt equality are based on Christian ministers separating Christ from the Old Testament?

Viola Larson said...

John,
Yes, of course biblical justice is more than the individual transformation of sinners. But not only are we called to bring justice to those oppressed by social wrongs, we are called to proclaim freedom to those who are oppressed by their own sin.
“Social even cosmic justice is also included in the redemptive plan, right?” Of course social justice is, but I am not sure what you mean by cosmic justice.

I am saying that some criticisms of Israel and some advocacy for LBGT people are aided by separating Christ from the Old Testament and not taking the Old Testament seriously.

I am also saying that I have noticed an increase of sermons that tend to set aside the Hebrew text or simply a use of it as a jumping off place that really has nothing to do with the text.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Viola Larson said...

Paula 2,
I have deleted you because I have asked several times for you to leave your whole name, city and state. And I have good reson to believe you are someone I asked not to comment here again.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Pastor Bob said...

Viola

I wonder if there is a difference between what I would call more popular speakers and OT or Biblical scholars. I find that those who are Biblical experts take the OT very seriously when talking about homosexual behavior. I may not agree with their conclusions about the meaning of the text (although some make some interesting arguments) but they do take the text seriously.

An example and please excuse me if I have the name of the scholar wrong as I'm not in the office: I believe it is Rosemary Reuther who argues that you cannot make the Leviticus text on homosexual behavior talk about sacred prostitutes but then goes on to point out that most of the laws on sexual behavior around the texts on homosexual behavior deal with male sexual behavior and tries to make a case that the texts must be read while understanding that the texts are written from a viewpoint of patriarchy. I may not agree with her conclusions but she does take the text seriously.

For that matter I don't tend to see serious NT scholars try to separate the New and Old Testaments. How would one comment on the NT text without confronting the fact that the NT continually interacts with the OT?

Dealing with the OT text in relation to the existence of the modern state of Israel is another whole kettle of fish. I would make a distinction between Jewish scholars who's specialty in the Torah or the Tanakh and historians. Some find a clear connection between land and promise. Others, curiously, suggest Israel should not exist until the coming of the Messiah.

So I wonder if we don't need to make a distinction between those who are OT or Biblical scholars and those who are not.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

Viola Larson said...

Bob,
That might be true. I will have to think about that for awhile. And I think it might be interesting for you to read the two sermons I linked to in my posting. Both are from the PW Gathering. One is Margaret Aymer, assistant professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. I would be interested in your comment after reading the sermon. I find it hard to take her seriously. She, it seems to me, is just using the text as a way to bolster her position rather than listen to what it actually is saying. I did more on this in the review I did of Horizons for VOW. That is at http://www.vow.org/Documents/Doc0355.aspx.

I know that Rosemary Radford Ruether can be a serious scholar but then sometimes I find her writing way out there. I used her in my Master thesis as one of my examples of a Radical feminist. And I was concentrating on the theology that she and others wrote and attempted to use to under gird their feminist ethics. (I actually liked some of their ethics but not their theology.) But I am off subject here.
“For that matter I don't tend to see serious NT scholars try to separate the New and Old Testaments. How would one comment on the NT text without confronting the fact that the NT continually interacts with the OT?”
Here I am thinking of scholars like Dr. Mary Mikhael who has suggested that parts of Joshua cannot be true because it does not fit with the Christian picture of God in the N.T. I think that way of seeing the Hebrew Bible, at least for the orthodox, both Christian and Jewish is very offensive. But you have given me something more to think about. As usual.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

John Shuck said...

"...we are called to proclaim freedom to those who are oppressed by their own sin."

Agreed. What we don't always agree upon is who needs freedom from what sin.

Cosmic justice? I probably could find a better term. I was thinking of Paul speaking about the groaning creation.

As far as the point of your post is concerned, I'm not convinced.
Many people who take the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures seriously are either in favor of lgbt equality or critical of Israel or both.

Doug Hagler said...

"I am saying that some criticisms of Israel and some advocacy for LBGT people are aided by separating Christ from the Old Testament and not taking the Old Testament seriously."

Some. Yeah, ok, I'll totally agree there. True, as far as it goes.

Of course, this implies that there are those who promote LBGT equality and who criticize the modern state of Israel who do not push the OT/HB aside or divorce it from Christ.

;)

And I agree with that implication as well, as it has been my experience. There are people out there support LGBT equality who take the OT/HB seriously, who see Christ there even, and also who strongly criticize the modern state of Israel.

In fact, I think some of the best criticisms of the modern state of Israel (which I do not want to conflate with the Bronze Age people of Judaea - they are distinct but connected) can come directly from the heart of the OT/HB. Rather than throw it out, I'd dust it off.

Viola Larson said...

John,
I believe as Roman's 8 puts it that creation will be set free of corruption at the completed redemption of the children of God. But I believe also that that must begin now in the lives of Christians. However the completed act is the act of Christ's return and the resurrection of our bodies. I think the movie Spitfire Grill is a beautiful picture of that-a metaphor. Even the trees are redeemed.

As I said to the other John I wasn't putting out a total blanket covering on the issue of disregarding the O.T. I do believe I see a trend however.

Viola Larson said...

Doug can you explain what you mean by this-"which I do not want to conflate with the Bronze Age people of Judaea - they are distinct but connected" ?

Viola Larson
Sacramento Ca

Rob J said...

A couple of months ago I addressed the whole idea of conflating the modern Israeli state, with its singular inward focus, and the Biblical image of eschatological Israel as a blessing to the nations, a symbol of justice and equity. It seems to me it is those whose single-mindedly support the nation of Israel simply for its name that ignore the very plain Biblical description of what Israel is supposed to be that reject Biblical teaching. There is a monstrous difference between Hertzel's vision of the non-religious Zionist state and Isaiah's vision of the channel of God's blessing to the nations. Who, Viola, is truly ignoring the Hebrew Bible here?

Robert Johnson
Richmond, Virginia

Viola Larson said...

Robert I don’t believe my posting was actually about what you are saying but maybe I am misunderstanding you. I think you have raised more questions in my mind than anything else. What do you feel is the modern State of Israel’s singular inward focus? And how does Herzl’s vision of a secular non-religious Zionist state change the way Christians ought to feel about the Jewish people and there need for security?
I don’t think I am equating the modern state of Israel with Isaiah’s vision of the channel of blessing to the nations except with this qualification. They are still the Jewish people who God choose to bring forth the Savior. Roman’s 11: 28-29 states, “From the stand point of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” They are beloved and should be held that way by the Christian. And of course that includes both those inside and outside of the state of Israel. But still I may be missing your point.

Rob J said...

Thanks for your response, Viola.

My point is that the modern state of Israel, which contains Jews, is not the same as the promised, Messianic state, at least not by the evidences the Scriptures offer for the distinctives by which that state can be identified. You (and others, like Presbyman, for example)seem to take critical comments directed at the state of Israel as, ipso facto, about "the Jews." I contend (and many non-Zionist Jews as well, I might add) that we should, in no wise, conflate the modern state of Israel with "the Jews". It is a state not based on religion, or (except in the case of those most exercised about the continuous planting of settlements) not about God's promise or command, but about their own self-perpetuation.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with states desiring to protect themselves against incursion by hostile powers. However,modern Israel itself deserves no more or less consideration than any other state because it is like every other state - for itself. If the mere presence of Jews in large numbers makes a place special, than we should grant special status to New York and south Florida as well.

IF it is like every other state, and, using the Hebrew Bible as the standard to identify God's Israel, it is not the promised Messianic home, it should not receive any special dispensation in its creation or continuation.

That we exhaust ourselves, to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars of aid to Israel, and support of every other type as well over the last 60 years - more per capita than any place on earth, and have yawned as atrocities across the globe have occurred tells me that something more in going on in the way Israel is judged. It is not just because it is threatened by its neighbors.

Is it guilt over the Holocaust? Is it a desire to see secular Judaism established? Or is it because people have conflated this Israel with Biblical Israel?

Viola Larson said...

Robert,
I am going to quote from a story that I really must write a review of. The author is such a good writer. She is the granddaughter of one of the Iraqis that had to leave Iraq after Israel became a state. The book is Last Days in Babylon: The History of a family, the story of a Nation. The author is Marina Benjamin.

She is no Zionist because she feels the Israelites misused the Arab Jews who had to leave their various countries because of Israel becoming a state. Her grandmother escaped to India and then to England where the author grew up.

But her feelings for Israel are what many Jewish people may feel. She writes this as she returns to Iraq to look for traces of her family during the beginning of the American-Iraq war. There is a very tiny Jewish community there.

Her quote:

“’No U.S.A. No Jews’ was a common example [of anti-Semitism during this time]Across one of the walls of the antiquities museum in old Baghdad, someone had scrawled: ‘God is great against the Jews.’

In the postwar armosphere of hatred and suspicion, Jews were once again the bogey man. Variously portrayed as friends of the foreign occupier, Zionist spies, or simply as individual returning under cover of false identities to reclaim property stolen from them in 1951, the Jews were not to be trusted. ‘They had become the symbol of chaos: the Americans, I was told more than once, were all Jews.

This was an abstract and symbolic anti-Semitism that voiced itself in slogans and not a targeted campaign directed specifically against Baghdad’s handful of indigenous Jews, who—let’s face it—were too small in number and too insignificant culturally to bother with. Nevertheless, its presence was disconcerting. Jewish people will often remark that only in Israel does their feeling of Jewishness disappear, because only in Israel, where being Jewish is the pervasive norm is it inconsequential. Having visited Israel several times I can vouch for having experienced this strange unburdening.” (Bold mine)

My thought here has to do with Jewish persecution everywhere and my insistence is that no matter how early or later Zionist meant it our sovereign God has for this time has provided them a place of safety. The Jews are the beloved and this is their place of safety. No not spiritually, but since when have we Presbyterians insisted that the spiritual is all that matters.

I repeat too many sermons are disconnecting from the reality that is the Hebrew Bible.

Dwight said...

I wanted to lift up what John Shuck has noted, Judaism on the whole has been far more accepting of glbt folks than the church has. Reform Judaism's position is the same as the UCC's except for that they got there earlier. Same with Reconstruction and Humanistic Judaism. Conservative Judaism is moving that way but it probably is like the mainline and the PCUSA, divided, and therefore not likely to be definitive either way on this issue.

I think it's worth highlighting because Judaism often gets associated with phrases like "Judeo-Christian" as a form of conservative social politics which is disconnected from jewish movements and certainly any polls to be found among Jewish voters who are consistently more socially liberal, more so than atheists really, and more so than most demographic groups in the US.

On a side note, as a liberal I wanted to note my opposition to boycotts and express support for Israel (and a future Palestinian state). I'm more impressed by supporting groups who are doing good work in the region than punishments. And I think a lot of the moves by the PCUSA (not just on Israel but in funding work by messianic "Jewish" groups is problematic in light of their relations/dialogue with Judaism). But I say this as someone who is Disciple, not PCUSA these days. And while I disagree with the social politics of this site on a consistent basis, I appreciate it when a theme like this is lifted up (and should be lifted up regardless of where one sits on the spectrum)

Viola Larson said...

Dwight,
I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

The truth of the matter is on homosexuality and the Jewish people it is divided about the same way as the mainline denominations and for the same reasons. Reform Jews and certainly Reconstructionist Jews take many of the same positions on the Hebrew Bible as Progressive Christians do.

And those who are called the New Historians in Israel, or biblical minimalist do not believe there was ever an exodus, a Moses, or even a David. So on Israel their perspectives can also be the same although not always.

On the other hand, I know orthodox Jews who understand that it is the nature of Evangelicals to evangelize and understand. Although certainly not all. I hope you are aware of Corrie ten Boon whose whole family died in concentration camps for hiding Jews but who also believed in presenting the gospel to them. True biblical love is not a contradiction.

Please leave your name and city and state next time.
Viola Larson,
Sacramento, Ca

Rob J said...

Viola:

I understand the argument that asserts that Israel is the place of safety and acceptance for the Jew. I would never say that the Jews do not have a right to be somewhere. Furthermore, should they desire to do so, they should be able to live in the Levant, and do so unmolested.

So should those who lived there for a millennium or more until they were displaced by powers who decided that making the Jews the Arabs' problem was preferable to trying to conquer the anti-Semitism in their own societies.

Do I think Jews matter more than Arabs, in terms of human rights? No. Do I think the United States should continue to whistle and look the other way while Zionists and Orthodox Jews continue to expropriate Arab lands to make settlements, which Israel winks at, and then protects? No. Today's Presbyweb (10/15) has a story about similar land grabs in Jerusalem, as well.

If it were simply a matter of the Jews finding a home, a sanctuary of safety and security, it would be one thing. You and I both know that the aims of the current Jewish state, and many of its citizens go far beyond a place to live in peace. They seek to establish a new dynasty, and believe they have the same commission to do this now that the Israelites had when slaughtering the Canaanites.

If this were just about a warm and snuggly place for Jews to be happy, that would be one thing. It is not. It is now about the establishment of empire. Our continued intervention has prolonged what should have been settled long ago. Instead of praying for the peace of Jerusalem, we have continued its struggles. Acting as though Israel is exempt from the exigencies of other states makes things worse, not better. And, as I have repeatedly said, unless this Israel is the eschatologically expected Israel, we should not view them differently than any other state.

Robert Johnson
Richmond, Virginia

Viola Larson said...

Robert,

Please don’t tell me that you and I know the same thing because I don’t agree with you. When you write this: “You and I both know that the aims of the current Jewish state and many of its citizens go far beyond a place to live in peace. They seek to establish a new dynasty, and believe they have the same commission to do this now that the Israelites had when slaughtering the Canaanites.” I strongly disagree.

Of course there may be some, but “the current Jewish State and many of its citizens?” If Mexico and Canada had in their founding charters had as their purpose to destroy the United States, and they kept lobbing rockets into Southern California and the State of Washington, whether they killed and insured thousands or a few I think we would start defending ourselves. I just don’t agree with you.

And isn’t that a rather snide remark, if it was “just about a warm and snuggly place for Jews to be happy.”

No it isn’t that, it is about a place for where they will not be killed, maimed, raped, gassed or even called pigs and apes, etc., etc.

In the book I wrote from the last time I answered your comment, the author writes about the riot that took place in Baghdad just as the Axis nations were losing their power. It was Pentecost and the Jews attempted to celebrate. She writes of the horror that fell on the Jewish community at that time. And they had numbered around 100, 000.

“Soon after, other attacks took place, this time in the Jewish areas. One body was found lying in the road, near the movie theater on Ghazi Street. Eight more were found in the poor Abu Sifayn area, while Bab al-Sheikh, a group of enraged students began dragging Jews off a bus and beating them to death on the street…."

"In Bataween, cries of horror and suffering could be heard thoughout the night, drifting up from the old mahallah, where women were being raped, babies crushed, children mutilated. In this free-for all slaughter, Jews old and young were killed. …”

This was not Germany this was Iraq. And it has happened over and over in so many places. I do not find it at all amusing that you refer to the Jewish need for safety as needing a warm and snuggly place. Shame on you.

Presbyman said...

Thank you, Viola, for standing for simple decency. "Warm and snuggly place" is indeed a terrible thing to say given what we know from history.

John Erthein
Erie, PA