I'm a fan of the news and political commentary as delivered by MSNBC. I watch Rachel Maddow religiously, and I watch Lawrence O'Donnell while waiting for Jon Stewart. I bet you can guess my position on most current social issues.
I am an Episcopal priest, not an evangelical, but I was surprised to hear Lawrence O'Donnell seem to claim on Jan. 11, in his end of show screed, which I usually admire, that Rev. Giglio has graciously declined his invitation to offer a prayer at the Inauguration in response to offense taken by the Inaugural Committee to his position on gay and lesbian persons or homosexual activity as articulated in a 20 year old sermon, which O'Donnell claims simply states what the Bible states. O'Donnell seemed to imply that whoever replaces Giglio would be someone vetted for politics, not theology, more similar to the current administration, and that person would be less biblically based than Rev. Giglio. It was yucky. Maybe I'm not used to that kind of thing on this channel directed at ministers, not politicians, but yuck.
I am not the clearest thinker at 10:45 p.m. I was hoping he was going to say something about how Rev. Giglio's ideas have evolved over the last 20 years, so I listened.
It started well. I think O'Donnell claimed that there are many other claims in the Bible that we would not defend today. The Bible supports slavery and polygamy among other things that most Christians have agreed to no longer support. The letters of Paul idealize celibacy for all Christians and ask women and slaves to try not to rile things up unnecessarily. The Bible is complicated and regularly being translated and re-translated as new information informs how we engage ancient texts. O'Donnell alluded to that issue as well.
But he also seemed to say that this Rev. Giglio was being targetted for holding a biblical belief. Kind of funny. The anti-slavery work that Rev. Giglio does that caused him to be invited in the first place, is contrary to a plain reading of scripture that repeatedly acknowledges slavery but never comes out against it. Is that anti-biblical?
The issue is the same for homosexuality, women's rights and slavery in the Bible. As with any ancient text, we interpret it as we read. We cannot help ourselves. In my opinion the most relevant line of interpretation regarding homosexuality has to do with relationships. We don't have examples of married life in the Bible that most of us would hold up as the ideals for those we love. Some conservative traditions do believe that women should be subservient to their husbands, potentially enduring abuse as their husbands strive to become Jesus like -- because a marriage symbolizes the "marriage" of Christ and the Church. I don't come from a tradition that believes any of us gets close enough to being like Jesus the Christ to subjugate other human beings.
We have a much more complex understanding of marital relationship today. One that acknowledges that women and men have autonomy in our culture to be educated and have an income. When that happens in a society, women and men tend to make different choices than when both women and men do not have those possibilities. We use language like mutual affection, support, respect, forgiveness and reconciliation, which imply equality, effort and life long commitment modeling Christian and ideally Christ like virtues.
We also acknowledge and honor that a distinctive marker of these relationships is a physical relationship. We honor our bodies as made "in the image of God" and believe that as science discovers more about how our bodies work, we learn anew what it means to honor our bodies. For example, despite what the Bible clearly tells us to do, we do not stone our disobedient children. We have new understandings of development, brains and behavior that inform how we parent effectively.
We use human judgment, hopefully inspired by the Holy Spirit to draw values from the Bible, sometimes very challenging values, particularly as they relate to money, economic justice, the foreigner and needy. All issues the Bible addresses clearly and in stark contradiction to how most of us live.
A simplified reading of the text, a supposed clear reading of the words on the page, is equally infused with values. Many values I would describe as prejudices, but you know what kind of TV I watch.
I think it is a false claim to say that these historic readings are some how more true to the text. When not interpreted by faithful Jews and Christians, The Bible can be read as a bizarre antique chock full of suggestions for practices of questionable hygiene, some great stuff on communally shared property and the smiting of things. Read A.J. Jacobs "Year of Living Biblically" if you want to know more about that.
Because we love the Bible and believe it holds the key to salvation, we read it respectfully and rigorously. I don't think that means we have less integrity than someone like Rev. Giglio. I am thankful that the inauguration committee doesn't think gay and lesbian people and their families should be sidelined at the inauguration in defense of a minister's interpretive choices, especially in this fragile time of emerging hope for so many families.
Follow Rev. Winnie Varghese on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wsvarghese