It is a grim roll call. Peter Enns at Westminster Seminary. Anthony Le Donne at Lincoln Christian University. J.R. Daniel Kirk at Fuller Seminary. Thomas Jay Oord at Northwest Nazarene University. Douglas Green at Westminster. Michael Pahl at Cedarville University. Chris Rollston at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. Michael Licona at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Bruce Waltke at Reformed Theological Seminary. Each of these people were professors at the above-mentioned institutions. Some had tenure. All were sent packing for various “heresies” against imagined Christian evangelical orthodoxies. In no case was it exactly clear what orthodoxy was at stake or what the professor did to cause offense. I mean, it’s not like any of these men apostatized! In the case of Dr. Enns, he wrote a book on how to interpret the Bible that seemed (to some) to question Biblical inerrancy and a literal approach to the interpretation of the Bible. Dr. Oord’s offense may be connected to his view that G-d’s love is not coercive … or it may also relate to the theory of evolution. Dr. Kirk’s separation from Fuller appears to be connected to his views on same-sex marriage.
These terminations follow a pattern. They are announced as a resolution achieved by “mutual consent” of school and professor. The school says nice things about the terminated professor. The professor says something conciliatory in return. The termination is proclaimed to be in everyone’s best interests. The details of the termination are never discussed—they are confidential. The professor leaves, quietly. A small group writes protests (like I’m doing here). Those that remain as professors at these schools are left to wonder what they need to do, and avoid doing, to keep their teaching positions.
We now have another name to add to the above list: Larycia Hawkins.
I learned the other day about something called Godwin’s Law: if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or the Nazis. Without knowing that this rule is a “law,” I’ve consistently tried all my life not to compare anything to Hitler. But I guess that the pull of Godwin’s Law is too strong. Here goes:
Last Saturday, Donald Trump told a crowd of students at Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa (yet another Christian college where I see strange things going on) that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like, incredible.” As he spoke, he put his fingers into the shape of a gun and acted out pulling the trigger. How did the crowd react? Some Dordt students protested. But others laughed, and applauded. Someone in the audience shouted out love for Trump, and Trump responded, “We love you too, man.”
Is it just me, or does it seem like the interreligious space has gone nuts recently? The latest piece of craziness comes from Wheaton College in Illinois, perhaps the most prestigious evangelical college in the United States (not to be confused with Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a secular liberal arts institution). A tenured professor at Wheaton, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, donned a hijab during the Christmas Advent season to proclaim her solidarity with her Muslim neighbors. She expressed this solidarity on Facebook, writing in part:
I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
The response from Wheaton has been swift, if opaque. The school initially placed Dr. Hawkins on paid administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.” Wheaton has since issued a Notice of Recommendation to fire Dr. Hawkins, and her case will ultimately be decided by the school’s Board of Trustees.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. I’ve been troubled by many things I’d like to talk about, but the words haven’t come. Where should I start? ISIS? Trump? Guns?
I think I’ll begin with guns. I’d like to talk about the speech Jerry Falwell Jr. gave on December 4 to his students at Liberty University. But I’ll start with a different story.
Last year, I invited my friend and Christian dialogue partner Anthony Le Donne to visit my synagogue in Los Angeles for Shabbat. I hoped he’d be impressed by our Buddhist-inspired meditation service, or our Torah teaching, or the conversation with my Rabbi during lunch. I think Anthony enjoyed it all. But when it was over, and we were alone to talk, the first thing Anthony mentioned was the security guard posted in front of the synagogue. I remember his asking me if the guard carried a gun. I didn’t know the answer, and I still don’t.
I feel like one of those cartoon characters who has been hit on the head by an anvil falling from a great height, and ends up with stars orbiting a bump on the head the size of a test tube. I was hit by a work project that I figured would take a week and took six instead. I doubt you want to hear the details, but my routine has been pretty much (1) wake up, (2) go to computer, (3) feel exhaustion set in 18 hours later, and (4) go to sleep. There’s some food thrown in between (2) and (3), but otherwise this is pretty much life as I’ve known it. Yucch.
Factor in that my wife is scheduled for a teaching gig in China for two weeks, and we’re trying to learn enough Chinese to amuse our hosts and embarrass ourselves (mission accomplished!). Plus we’ve have a few other crises involving struggling not-for-profits, and a civil war that’s broken out in the neighborhood. Where does the time go?
For me, part of what makes interfaith dialogue interesting is seeing something familiar from a new perspective, and sharing a familiar perspective with someone new. I’ve been looking closely here at Genesis 2:24, a Bible verse that has been tossed around quite a bit in the recent arguments over LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. As frequently translated, Genesis 2:24 reads as follows:
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.
I’ve already had occasion to consider the meaning of this verse. The verse seems like it should be paired with an earlier verse, where G-d declares that “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The verse begins with the Hebrew עַל־כֵּן֙, translated as “Therefore,” indicating that the verse is an “etiology,” a story that explains the reason or origin of something already in existence. I made the argument that an etiology is different from a law, or a command, or even a way we’re recommended to live. So, I would read Genesis 2:24 to say something like, “People hate to be alone; this is why we often see men leave home in pursuit of someone to cleave to.” In other words, the verse is not there to tell us to do something we might otherwise not do; it’s there to explain why people are already doing something—and this “something” may or may not be what the Bible tells us we should do!
I have written a series of posts here on Bible verses related to same-sex sex and marriage. In my last post, I shifted my focus to Genesis 2:24, a verse commonly described by traditionalists as G-d’s Marriage Law or G-d’s Design for Marriage, but which I think is a more general observation about how we don’t want to be alone. In that post, I introduced an idea I’ve been toying with, that there are certain Bible-reading techniques that fit well with interfaith dialogue. These are techniques that we can share in common, techniques where we don’t give preference to any particular tradition for reading the Bible. The fact that Jesus or Paul may have read an Old Testament text in a certain way cannot settle how Jews and Christians read this text together, any more than the reading of a Jewish sage like Rashi can settle this matter.
How should we deal with our divergent traditional readings of the Bible? Well … we can share them. That’s often the best we can do. Your Bible may read Isaiah 7:14 to have Isaiah predict that a “virgin” will give birth; my Bible may say that a “young woman” will give birth. Some Christians may agree that “young woman” is the right translation, but I don’t see what is gained by Jews and Christians arguing the point. Similarly, your church may teach that Isaiah 53 is a messianic prediction, or more specifically, a prediction that the Jewish Messiah must suffer and die. In contrast, my synagogue may teach that Isaiah 53 is prophecy concerning the entire Jewish people, that we will suffer persecution until the world comes to its senses and recognizes the G-d of the Bible. Jews and Christians have been batting this verse back and forth for 1,800 years, without any advance in Bible knowledge or mutual understanding.
The phrase that’s come to dominate the push for same-sex marriage is a welcome one. It’s “Love Wins.” It’s a good phrase, with roots in the Old Testament, and it’s a big part of how we hear Jesus and the Apostle Paul. It means that the central Bible commandments are love commandments. It means that two consenting adults who love each other should have the opportunity to marry.
Here’s another meme I’d like to see circulating. No one should have to be alone. OK, I admit, this doesn’t have the panache of “Love Wins,” but at least this answers a principle argument made by many opponents of same-sex marriage. This argument is that the Bible requires marriage to be between one man and one woman. In many cases, this argument is based on Genesis 2:24:
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Genesis 2:24 is important to Jews because it’s in our Torah. The verse is important to Christians for this same reason, and also because Jesus repeats it:
I knew a man that I did not care for
And then one day this man gave me a call
We sat and talked about things on our mind
And now this man he is a friend of mine.
Friend and Lover, Reach Out of the Darkness
I have been laying low for the past week or so, watching the Sturm und Drang in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. Oddly enough, it has me thinking of my 6th grade math textbook.
I think it was 6th grade. We were far enough into math so that the problems we had to solve required reasoning, and had to be performed in steps. Remember? “Two trains leave stations 450 miles apart and travel towards each other …” Lucky me! My teacher accidentally issued me a teacher’s copy of our math textbook, one with the answers in the back of the book. I guess I wasn’t particularly honest, because I held onto that book for a while, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to have it. But I guess I wasn’t completely dishonest either, because for the first few weeks I didn’t copy my homework answers from the back of the book. Knowing the answers were there was enough for me. It gave me a certain confidence.
Law school is a seemingly endless slog through thousands of legal decisions. As a lawyer, you remember a few dozen decisions by name. Some decisions are so important, or so controversial, that they become part of common speech. In the U.S., many know that Brown v. Board desegregated the public schools, and that the police must inform persons arrested of their Miranda rights. And there’s Roe v. Wade, of course. 40 years later, we’re still arguing Roe v. Wade.
You can now add Obergefell v. Hodges to this short list of legal decisions. Obergefell is not a name that exactly rolls off the tongue! (Not that anyone named “Behrendt” has a right to complain.) But if you live in the United States, or are interested in what goes on here, you’ll be speaking this name often in the years to come. We might as well learn the name now. Four syllables. O-ber-ge-fell. (Hope I’m pronouncing it right.) I’m practicing saying it out loud, just as I’m practicing typing it on screen.
The Supreme Court just announced the Obergefell case this morning, but it’s highly unlikely you’re hearing about it here first. Obergefell is probably the most important civil rights case in my lifetime (I was born a year before Brown v. Board). In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Obergefell that the U.S. Constitution requires all 50 States to license marriages between two people of the same sex.