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6.30.2015

Shaking Off the Dust: Why I Am Giving Up the Fight with Fundamentalists

My friends know that I love to argue almost more than anything else. I nearly pursued a law degree. I still fantasize about taking the bar exam, and sometimes I skip the first act on Law and Order episodes. So, naturally, Supreme Court decisions are important to me—I love the idea of hearing an argument, deliberating, debating, and finally producing a beautifully long-winded document that explains the logic and rhetoric behind a decision and its concomitant opinions and dissenting opinions.

This is also the reason that I get totally, shamelessly sucked into internet debates. YouTube comment threads? Sign me up. These conversations, to me, are often fruitful because the textual genre allows each party to do their own research, construct their own rhetorical design, and argue a point in a measured conversation with rebuttals, counterarguments, etc. The best comment threads can actually begin to resemble a Socratic dialogue where two or more parties eventually synthesize an opinion out of compromise, arriving at a new, better opinion than before.

But there is another fight that has been happening for a long time, and has seen especially heightened airtime this week in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage. That is the argument between Christian fundamentalists and their more liberal counterparts. My friends also know that I take a somewhat heterodox stance toward my faith—blending cultural values, internal spiritual dialogue, and doctrinal flexibility. Much like the United States constitution, I believe that the Bible is an old document that was designed to provide a flexible framework to create a better life for generations to come. I love arguing this point. It's important to me, and I want to convince the world to see faith this way. But recently I have felt less heroic in these conversations—they feel angry, futile, and lacking in the kind of noble poise and dignity that I think makes the argument worthwhile.

Giving this some further thought, I think it is time to give up the fight about marriage equality with fundamentalists. Just as SCOTUS has already made its ruling, rendering most further argument obsolete, Biblical precedent already has this debate covered.

1. Jesus has already rebuked these people.


Jesus proclaimed that he came to fulfill the law, but many Christians still insist on arguing for a legalistic interpretation of scripture. These cherry-picking fundamentalists reiterate passages in Leviticus and then ignore Christ's gospel of love by condemning the poor and needy, disavowing their own friends and family members, and preferring to put orphans in institutional foster care instead of in loving homes. Jesus dealt with these same characters in his own time:

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it."
(Matthew 23 ESV)


Here Jesus condemns the teachers of the law who pick and choose how they derive value, rather than embracing a holistic view of holiness. In today's church, we see people more concerned with the specific wording of the Bible than with its whole message, and those more concerned with a strict interpretation of the constitution than what Ginsburg calls its "animating principle." 


Jesus also spoke of evidence of the faithful earlier in Matthew, "every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit." What  fruit has same-sex marriage produced? And what fruit does fundamentalism reap when taken to its logical end?



2. Paul already warned about this.


The Apostle Paul is a complicated character. He understood the complexity of cultural differences and what it meant to be an outsider. His is one of the greatest conversion narratives ever told. Like fundamentalists who would see to the persecution and denial of rights for LGBTQ people, Paul initially began his career persecuting Christians, but had a change of heart because of a powerful personal experience. Paul's writing is defined largely by some very conflicted dialogues on legalism and freedom—he struggled with these issues, but nevertheless come to some striking conclusions.

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths."
(1 Timothy 4)

Paul was an advocate for reasonable consideration of facts and the formation of a doctrine that fits those realities accordingly. In Corinthians, right after disparaging sexual immorality, he invites the reader to "judge for yourselves what I say," assuming that he "speak[s] as to sensible people."

"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For 'the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.' If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience."
(1 Corinthians 10)

The above passage couldn't be more clearly directed at those fundamentalists who wish to retain their "right" to deny service to whomever they deem to have a sinful lifestyle. The whole wedding cake incident could have been avoided if the parties involved had considered Paul's warning.

3. Jesus has clear instruction for people who refuse to listen.


Just as Paul reserves his instructions for "sensible people," Jesus warned that some simply won't want to hear the truth. Amazingly, he uses fundamentalists' most oft-quoted "proof" of homosexuality's dangers and God's impending wrath on America.

"If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." 
(Matthew 10)

Indeed, many with whom I have argued will not listen, but have instead hardened their hearts. I think that I have done my part to argue this point—but in the end, the opinion has been written and it's time to shake off the dust and move on. We have more issues that need attention, and moving forward sometimes means leaving a few people behind.



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