The other day, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a grotesque piece about the spate of gay teen suicides we’ve been experiencing, in which he claimed that he was “haunted” by the stories of Tyler Clementi and others, but couldn’t seem to break through the haze of his anti-realistic worldview to see that teachings like those propagated by, ahem, Albert Mohler are a big part of the problem. I responded to his piece here.
Amanda Udis-Kessler has issued a response of her own, published on the liberal Jewish site Tikkun, which reads like nothing less than a smackdown from someone who understands the scripture far better than Mohler. It’s always entertaining to me to read Jewish writers take on fundamentalist Christians, because they absolutely turn the faux-literalist approach of the fundies on its head.
Mark 3:1-6: Again [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they mightaccuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Was Jesus being a bad Jew here? That depends on your definition. If one must adhere scrupulously to the letter of the law, Jesus didn’t. But why didn’t he adhere scrupulously to the letter of the law? Because it was more important to contribute to the man’s well-being than it was to follow laws that could not possibly have been able to predict every single situation to which they would be applied long after they were written. Indeed, Jews know this, which is why there have been commentaries and debates about the interpretation of the commandments for centuries.
The above passage from Mark seems to me entirely relevant to the situation of Tyler Clementi and the hundreds of other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who have killed themselves because the messages they received from society (and especially from conservative religion) about their sexuality were life-destroying. Jesus rejected the letter of the law because it did not contribute to human flourishing – much like the way some Christians reject the “clobber passages” on homosexuality because they know that, even if those passages are in the Bible, they do only harm in the world, no good. They do not want under any account to be accusable of “hardness of heart.”
You describe yourself as a “Christian committed to biblical truth.” To prevent the Tyler Clementis of the world from jumping off bridges, you have to become a Christian as committed to human flourishing as you are to biblical truth – to walk the hard path of Jesus, not the easier one that the Pharisees are presented as following. There are many ways to read the Bible, and plenty of Christians who follow contemporary biblical scholarship and are both passionately devoted to Christ and completely and fully inclusive of sexual minorities. The Bible supports human flourishing. Jesus supported human flourishing when he healed the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, even though it went against some verses in the Torah. You could be a healer, Dr. Mohler, but you would have to go against some biblical verses to do it. Think about it. At the end of the day, would you rather say that you hewed to the Bible or that you saved lives?
Really, read it all.