A college president recently spoke out in defense of a decision to bring a pastor on campus to speak to students. It’s not all that unusual for a college official to have to defend a decision to bring a speaker on campus if for one reason or another they are considered controversial, and the circumstances involved in this one certainly fit that classification. I don’t generally devote a great deal of attention to such things, and rarely use this space to comment on them, but this one is different.
The school involved is American Baptist College, located in the distinctively ‘Bible Belt’ city of Nashville, Tennessee, and Bishop Yvette Flunder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California, is the prospective speaker. Bishop Flunder identifies herself not only in reference to her religious credentials, but also in reference to her sexual orientation as a lesbian. It appears that the school’s decision to bring an openly lesbian ‘pastor’ in to speak was met with some criticism. Imagine that. Some people have apparently expressed some discontent with the decision to bring in a lesbian pastor to lecture at an institution established for the purpose of teaching and training students for Christian ministry. The president’s reaction is noteworthy. He considers such critics and their criticism “narrow”, and in response, he said this, “…Sad that people use religion and idolatry of the Bible to demoralize same-gender-loving people.” And further, “When people say [the Bible] is synonymous with God and the truth,” he said, “We can’t be dictated to by a first-century worldview.”
I’m not an alumnus of American Baptist College (for which at this point I am thankful), but I find the news of this event disturbing on several levels, and altogether too egregious to ignore. The underlying motives for planning an event like that are, in my opinion, worthy of more exploration than space would allow here, but the content of the statement offered in its defense compels a response.
Forrest Harris, the college’s president, characterized those of us who believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God not only as “narrow”, but as idolaters. Let me briefly clarify the position he considers “narrow”, and why it’s important that we must not be drawn into his kind of thinking. We believe that the Scriptures in their original autographs were directly and specifically inspired by God, and as such are inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. Further, we believe that the Bibles we have today are trustworthy translations of those original autographs, and thus are a written repository of His words. But, the accusation of equating the volumes we hold in our hands as “synonymous with God”, is more than offensive and unwarranted. It is categorically inaccurate, unjustified, and indicative of the attitudes held by the lunatic fringe of religious liberalism. To hear such things from the president of a Baptist school is deeply distressing.
There is a familiar obstacle faced by all who claim to be associates of Jesus, but who openly deny the validity and authority of what He said and did. His words become a problem, because what He really said and what he taught fails to approve or accommodate some of the behavioral ‘rights’ they claim. Feigning integrity while advocating and/or engaging in behaviors that are condemned by the One you claim to serve is always challenging. It’s a tough sell to parade yourself as a prominent representative of the One whose very words and ideas you arrogantly reject, demean, and repudiate by your lifestyle. So, the quest for justification comes down to this … the behaviors have to be relinquished, or the prohibitions against them has to be denied, and it’s invariably the words that get rejected.
Believing the Bible doesn’t make us perfectly obedient, but neither do we attack the standard we strive toward. We venerate the Word of God, because it reveals who He is, but that doesn’t make us idolaters. Let me share an example of literary idolatry, a case these learned gurus of spiritual enlightenment would do well to consider before leveling accusations.
Earlier this week in Afghanistan, a woman was accosted by a crowd of angry men in a marketplace where she was shopping. They assaulted her and proceeded to beat her to death right there in the street, because someone had accused her of burning a copy of the Koran. After they had beaten and killed her in full view of the crowd, and with their apparent approval, they set her body on fire, and threw her remains in the river. That’s what literary idolatry really looks like.
If we compare the attitude and opinion of this college president toward the Bible with the approach that Jesus had toward those same Scriptures and to the authority of God’s Word in general, we encounter a stark and sobering contrast. The college president says we can’t be dictated to by an archaic first century world view. If age, then, equates to the deterioration and corruption of ideas, then Jesus must have somehow missed that, since He practiced and advocated a world view that was considerably older in His day than a mere couple of thousand years. In spite of their ancient status, He declared an unshakable allegiance to them, and refused to discard them. On the contrary, He was so thoroughly ‘dictated’ by them, that He would validate their authority and their worth to the end by fulfilling them to the letter.
One of my favorite writers, Jill Carattini, said this in a recent essay, “…the abstract is both hopeless and of no use without the concrete (inasmuch as the concrete is a desert without the infinite)”. We don’t worship words on a page, or even just the ideas they convey. We worship the One those words reveal, the One Who became one of us, and who embodied all that they mean. Jesus brought together the transcendent ‘idea’ of God, and the concrete, tangible exposition of all that is meant by the words that introduced Him. He didn’t come into the world looking like a rolled up scroll of parchment. He came looking as real and as human as we do, but when we read those words written about the eternal God on the scrolls, we discover something amazing. The pictures of God and the life woven into them look just like Him. The words on the page alone are not synonymous with God Who gave them, but to deny the authority of the one is to refuse the grace of the other.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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