Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Controversies in the church: The moral authority of the Bible (part 2 of 2)

Due to length and time considerations, this was posted in two parts. Part 1 is available here.


The progressives believe that our moral sense has grown beyond the days of the Bible and is perhaps still growing. The days of slavery and witch hunts are seen as a spiritual dark age in which the teachings of Christ were not given their proper place, and the great command to love your neighbor as yourself was placed lower than some of the lesser commands. Laws were kept that should have been abolished in light of Christ.  Progressives generally believe we are in the same situation today with the question of female leadership; some also believe the same about abortion and the acceptance and inclusion of homosexuality.

Internal diversity: Some Christian groups simply want to distance themselves from the wrongs that have been done by people who carried the name of Christ but did not follow the teachings of Christ. Some are embarrassed by several seemingly barbaric laws in the ancient Torah, and assorted other passages of the Bible that seem less good and less holy – not merely in their human eyes and personal judgment, but especially in light of the teachings of Christ. They are determined to see that such problems do not happen with other issues, and have particular items in mind for today. Some progressives see excluding women from leadership roles as oppression and injustice, and believe that Christ's teachings will lead us to change our practices there just as surely as we did with slavery in centuries past. Some - though not quite as many - would make the same argument about homosexuality.

Strong points: The Bible passages that forbid women in certain roles seem outdated and unjust to many people. Based on this, and the history of slavery, progressives make an appeal for taking a fresh look at all of our morals. The progressives believe that we are called to re-evaluate all teachings in light of the higher standards of Christ's own teachings so that we do not bring Jesus' name into disrepute - as has been done in the past – by people who put other teachings above Christ's.

External criticisms: The pro-family side sees the progressives as systematically attacking their efforts to promote strong and lasting families, sexual responsibility, and sexual integrity. They point out that, while some Christian progressives claim to uphold values of sexual purity, in practice, when it comes to defending these things and teaching them to the next generation, the Christian progressives often stand silently by -- or take sides with the secular anti-religious people -- when the secular progressives mock the pro-family Christians. The "non-judgmental" approach to sexual promiscuity is seen as being little different in practice than endorsing or accepting it. At any rate, the pro-family Christians note a lack of support and common cause as they try to teach moral uprightness to the next generation, and the silence of the progressives leads them to wonder if the progressives still believe in sexual integrity in such a way that they are willing to speak up for it. While a certain number of the pro-family people are supportive of equality for women, they may hesitate to voice their support because the call for the equality for women is typically also bundled with a call to accept abortion for any reason and divorce for any reason, to be relatively accepting of promiscuity, and to normalize homosexual behavior. 

Response to criticism: Some progressives, though certainly not all, see sexual purity as an outdated concept. Many -- possibly most -- progressives see the larger issue as simple injustice.  The focus is eliminating discrimination against women. Almost all progressives would also include allowing women to end a pregnancy. Again, many progressives would include ending discrimination against homosexuals.

The slippery slope: If homosexuality is in bounds, what exactly is out of bounds? In what ways do you see morality applying to sex and sexuality? Do you consider sexual responsibility as a good and necessary part of human society? What does "sexual responsibility" involve? When there are public disagreements on it, do you stand up for sexual responsibility and morality?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: Progressives routinely compare religious conservatives to murderous witch hunters, slave owners, or terrorists who intend mass murder. Others mock them as Puritans or prudes, allowing no place for legitimate sexual morality.

Charitable moments: The progressive side may recognize that the people who hold traditional family values desire happy lives for their children, grandchildren, and future generations: a stable society that endures, lives in prosperity and not poverty, and has lasting families more often than loneliness. They believe that sexual integrity and traditional family are different from slavery because stable families have been a powerful force in human history for building healthier, happier lives.

Fair questions:  When it comes to public-square discussion about morality, does it bother you to see that certain anti-Christian groups consider you as allies? Which moral commands of the Bible do you consider to be timeless and eternal? On what basis do you choose between "keepers" and "tossers"? Is there anything in the Old Testament, or in Paul's writings, that you believe is morally good?

Because there is a collection of issues under the umbrella of "progressive morality", some of the fair questions depend on which particular issue is being discussed. What things are you willing to stand up for as certainly right or wrong when it comes to sexuality? What do you make of the fact that single parent families are more likely to live in poverty, have children drop out of school, use drugs, and commit crimes -- do Christians have a role to play in preventing these through building lasting families? What do you make of the role that sexual promiscuity plays in health problems such as AIDS and cervical cancer, or the role that abortion plays in risk of cancer? What do you make of the fact that homosexual activity has played a significant role in the spread of AIDS and therefore in the disease and deaths of many homosexuals? Do you believe that promiscuous people (maybe particularly the youngest adults) frequently engage in deceit, peer pressure, or emotional blackmail to get sex? If so, does your church body have a clear teaching that would empower a young adult to hold his or her ground and not be taken advantage of? Does your church body have a clear teaching that would give people a sense of direction and purpose in building a lasting and healthy family life? If an individual does not belong to a lasting and healthy family, will that affect the ability to be a healthy, happy, well-adjusted individual? (Again, not all of these questions apply to each progressive; the wide range of the list is related to the wide variety of issues that are considered.)

Related controversies

All of the controversies in the conservative/liberal group tend to revolve around the moral authority of the Bible -- where that authority lies, whether it shows progress over time, and how we understand the source of its authority. Here are some related posts on controversies on the Bible's moral authority.

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