Fullstop theology

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for your letter. I’m glad you’ve taken time to write. Clearly you’ve read the things I have written on homosexuality and, more recently, in support of same-sex marriage. I am sorry you’re not happy with me. The truth is you join a good number of people who are disappointed by my views. Apparently I’ve been dropped off a few prayer lists and added on to others!

Among other things you’ve exhorted me to read my bible more. That’s good advice. I love the bible and have read it through, cover to cover, a few times now. In fact, the more I read it the more my regard for it grows. The fact is, the bible remains the most formative text of my life. Certainly as a Baptist I happily acknowledge its authority and am committed to taking it seriously. More particularly you’ve challenged me to read what the bible says about homosexuality. ‘Don’t try to interpret it to fit into your own thinking,’ you say; ‘God says it is wrong, fullstop.’ It’s here, Jeff, that you lose me.

You are right of course; there are texts in the bible that appear to make God’s view of homosexuality crystal clear. Words like ‘abomination’ and the command that perpetrators be ‘put to death’ make it a chilling read. It’s not your encouragement to read these texts that bothers me. It’s your final statement: ‘God says it is wrong, fullstop.’

The truth is, Jeff, I have some trouble with this ‘fullstop’ approach to the bible. It infers that I have no choice but to take the literal statements and commands of the bible just as they are, and that any effort at interpretation will lead me down the dark alley of compromise. If that’s the case, there is a long list of biblical exhortations that I simply don’t know what to do with.

  • ‘For I hate divorce, says the Lord’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling‘ FULLSTOP
  • ‘Women should be silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘If a man commits adultery both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘On the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘You shall not make any tattoo or any marks upon you for I am the Lord’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘All who curse father or mother shall be put to death’ FULLSTOP
  • ‘For no one who has a blemish shall draw near (to the presence of God), no one who is blind or lame, no one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles’ FULLSTOP

Good heavens, we’re all in serious trouble aren’t we?!

Yes, I know. For me to list these exhortations in this way is to take them completely out of context and thus to abuse any real truth they might point to. The fact is, every one of these statements has a textual, cultural and historical context absolutely essential to understanding how it applies to us today. You are right, Jeff; the art of biblical interpretation is a dangerous and risky business, but do we really have any choice?

I don’t mind at all that you disagree with my view on homosexuality. Join the queue! And I reckon having a respectful conversation about it is essential. But if we begin with a fullstop approach to the bible, then the conversation is over before it begins.

Regards,

Simon

[‘Jeff’ wrote anonymously to me some time ago, providing no surname or return address. My original posting of this response was provided in this form for want of no other way of replying to him]

16 Comments

  1. Thanks Simon. Well put. You’ve given some examples of unhelpful “fullstops”. To you, are there any New Testament “fullstops”? If so, can you provide an example of one and how you arrive at it being a “fullstop”?

    Reply

    1. Thanks Julian. By New Testament full stops, do you mean instances where the same challenge applies? Perhaps the exhortation for women to be silent in the church, or for slaves to submit to masters. Or perhaps you are looking for exhortations that speak to more eternal truths, the non-negotiable sort! To be honest, I’m not sure I like the idea of full stops in any conversation really. It appears to shut down the wrestling with and for truth that we are called to do in the life of faith. Having said that, I really value the example of the story of the Good Samaritan. The identification of the two laws that bookend the Torah, the summary of the law’s essence: love God and love neighbour, and then a story that presses the radical nature of such a way of life.

      Reply

  2. Thankyou Simon from my heart. Thankyou for your courage and heartfelt position. Thankyou for being open to dialogue, and I sense peacemaking. Thankyou Simon, Blessings to you and your family, Mary McCowan

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Reply

  3. it is interesting to day I read a post by Richard Rohr on Non-Duality – growing in contemplative thinking which is just what you have been saying Simon. think in second half of life that is both-and thinking rather than full-stop thinking

    Reply

  4. So well put Simon – it looks like you are still a chef at heart, serving up a beautifully presented nourishing feast of thoughts, enticing the reader chew them over and reflect on them.

    My first thoughts were that I am with you on a possible FULLSTOP verse:

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” FULLSTOP

    But really there is no fullstop except when the author puts down the pen – the rest are periods which end one sentence so the next can begin. I am thankful that God uses periods in the story of my life – giving me so many opportunities to end old thoughts and habits and start afresh. He is truly the God of new beginnings and new thoughts.

    Finally, a shower-time thought. I remember reading about micro-dots when I was a boy – micro-graphic printed messages that looked like a period unless examined with a microscope.

    What if I read the Bible seeing every period as a micro-dot with the hidden message “God is Love!”.

    I too find many of those FULLSTOP verses you listed very confronting, along with so many other passages of violence and intolerance in the Bible. Although, as the story of the Bible is about our “good but fallen” world, I should not be surprised that “The Word of Truth” will reveal humanity’s brokenness as well as its glory.
    Now as I read each sentence as ending with the thought “God is Love!” it will remind me that God is at work redeeming the whole world.

    Blessings,
    Ian.

    Reply

    1. It is so wonderful to hear from you, Ian. Thank you for taking the time and for your insights in all of this. I have loved having Kerith coming along to Collins Street. She has turned into such a delightful adult and as insightful as her parents have ever been. Every blessing to you as you continue the journey.

      Reply

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