Carol Platt Liebau: The Law and the Church

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Law and the Church

Here is an article from a small California newspaper that actually explains the reasons for the threatened schism in the Episcopal Church better than many more "thoughtful" pieces in bigger publications.

On the one hand:

“We believe gay clergy is spoken against in the Holy Scripture,” said Father Stan Collins of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Tracy. Liberal Episcopal churches, he said, “say that scripture must be interpreted to meet the age.”

And that’s a philosophy Episcopal conservatives insist is not biblical, Collins said.

On the other hand:

[Sean] McConnell [communications officer with the 82-church Diocese of California in San Francisco] said the “spirit” of scripture is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The rest, he said, should be open to interpretation.

So there you have it. At the very base, the debate is whether the Bible means what it says, or whether it's open to interpretation. In a sense, this discussion isn't so unlike the different approaches to constitutional interpretation: The "plain meaning" school of conservatives vs. the "living constitution" of the liberals.

The problem, of course, with Mr. McConnell's approach is this: He's decided what the "spirit" of scripture is -- namely, to "love God and love your neighbor as yourself" (both, of course, central Christian teachings). But what makes only that precept exempt from the "openness to interperetation" that he invokes for understanding the rest of the Biblical mandates?

The conservatives seem to believe in the concept of an eternal and unchanging truth that's set down in the Bible. The liberals seem to want to reinterpret the Bible's plain meaning selectively, in order to make it consistent with their own notions of right and wrong, and in doing so, effectively negate the concept of a truth that doesn't change with the times (except, of course, for the one, infinitely flexible precept mentioned above).

That's convenient, but is it legitimate?


Blogger amber said...

I agree that we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our spirit. Where I disagree with the liberal Episcopal view is what it means to love God. I believe when you love someone you obey their boundries and their rules. For example, I will not joke about my husband. I know that would offend him. I do not drink alcahol in front of alcaholics, I do not wear revealing clothing out of respect for my husband and other wives. God wrote more than once in the Bible that homosexuality is detestable. So, how can we love him and not attempt to obey him? We can not. You can not say you love someone and then say at the same time that my love for you is based on my own rules and you need to accept that because it is 2006. I am not saying that we are bound by the law, what I am saying is that loving God means trying to be who he wants us to be. We will never be perfect and God knows that, that is where his love for us comes in, accepting us. However, we need to try to respect and honor God in every aspect of our lives.

9:01 AM  
Blogger suek said...

Well said, Amber.

The problem comes in two ways, it seems to me. First, it seems that since God has given certain rules we are to follow along with the command to love Him above all others, the second commandment - to love others as ourselves - is either equal to or lesser than the first. If you love Him above all else, then the second has to be subject to the first.
Secondly, if loving someone as you love yourself means not condemning them for the wrong they do, then that means that you allow yourself to do wrong without condemnation. (I realize that "condemn" is too strong a word, but "blame" doesn't fit. I mean "condemn" in the sense of clearly stating that a particular action is sinful.) Logically, that inevitably leads to a state of mind where anything I do is OK - or sinlessness, which is exactly where liberals want to go. Personal responsibility in morality means accepting certain actions as wrong, and accepting that we ourselves _can_ do wrong. Lots of people don't want to accept that little fact, and deriving from that are setting themselves up as their own personal God who determines what is right and wrong.

9:59 AM  
Blogger wrabkin said...

I'm a little lost here. I'm not a religious scholar, but from my faint knowledge of history, I see that eternal and unchanging truth of the Bible has changed greatly over the years. After all, this eternal and unchanging truth once led the leaders of the Catholic faith to torture and murder all Jews and other non-believers. We may now despise the Inquisition -- at least, I hope we all do -- but we can't deny that this was the product of conservative priests reading the eternal and unchanging truth of the Bible and acting on it. I seem to recall as well that divorce was strictly forbidden by the eternal and unchanging truth of the Bible, and that a woman's adultery should be punishable by death. I suspect if you went back and read Southern preachers from the first half of the 19th Century, you'd discover that slavery was also part of the eternal and unchanging truth of the Bible.

The Bible is a big book with a lot of authors and a lot of contradictory passages. I'm always amused by the way people pull out the sections that support their beliefs, and declare THOSE to be the eternal and unchanging truths. Everything else, not so much.

Which, oddly enough, is not unlike the so-called conservatives on the Supreme Court, who feel free to make up any law they like, then claim they're channeling the "original intent" of the founders.

11:04 AM  
Blogger amber said...

There is no spot in the Bible that told people to go kill non Christians. I know people like to point to that, but that was another instance where people decided to lean on their own understanding and not on God. One of the biggest problems in those times was that the Catholic Church would not allow people to read the Bible, they were the only ones who were to read it and them impart their rules and thought on others. Also, like in Islam, the services were in another language that most people did not understand, so when the priest said that God told them to irradicate non believers, they trusted the priest.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

I wonder, if someone has the time and inclination, whether they could post those passages that states homosexuality is detestable. Also stating whether this is from the Koran, the Old Testment or New.

11:24 AM  
Blogger ELC said...

One of the biggest problems in those times was that the Catholic Church would not allow people to read the Bible, they were the only ones who were to read it and them impart their rules and thought on others.

That is untrue. Perhaps you could read some history that wasn't written by Protestants or others unsympathetic towards the Catholic Church?

Your remark is also somewhat anachronistic. I am a Catholic, I read the Bible every day, and I believe what Catholics believed "in those times". Also, I used to read the Bible every day when I was a Methodist, which is why I became a Catholic.

Wrabkin's remarks, though tendentious and in some respects erroneous, do indicate why a divinely established authority is necessary, ultimately, for the proper interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. The original post indicates that such authority is absent among Anglicans/Episcopalians.

11:56 AM  
Blogger wrabkin said...

ELC --

No disrespect to your religion, but people were put to death by the Catholic church for translating the Bible into English. In the 14th Century, Catholics were threatened with death for even posessing an English Bible, and John Hus was burned at the stake with English-language Bibles used for kindling.

12:40 PM  
Blogger suek said...

Someone asked this on Google answers. Link below.
Other than Sodom and Ghomorrah, I'm not that aware of any, but then I'm a born and raised RC, and we all know that RCs don't read the bible as avidly as other Christian groups. On the other hand, I went to Latin Masses. Missals were English on one side, and Latin on the other, so "not understanding" the Latin was no excuse. I also appreciated the fact that Masses were the same in Germany as in the USA.
In high school, I took 3 years of Latin as well. It was expected that we would _all_ take a minimum of 2 years. Those were the old know...for those of us close to 80...!

1:32 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

You see, I really wonder if there are any passages were the Bible says homosexuality is detestable. In Sodom and Ghomorrah's time they had public bath houses where young males slave performed sexual acts with clients. That obviously isn't consentual sex between adults in private. Iknow something was said about not having sex with your neighbors ox. And if you forced yourself on neighbors daughter she had to marry you. And if she resisted she should be stoned to death.

I'm just wondering where everyone finds the authority in the Bible on this?

3:06 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Suek's post is right on.

Verses condemning homosexuality in the Bible:

Genesis 19:5
Leviticus 18:22
Deuteronomy 23:17
Isaiah 3:9
Romans 1:27
1 Corinthians 6:9
1 Timothy 1:10
Jude 1:7

Genesis through Isaiah -- Old Testament

Romans though Jude -- New Testament

Wrabkin is right in that the Bible is often interpreted differently by different readers and different religions do seem to pick and choose the passages that they like best. It is also, however, important to distinguish between doctrine and policy. Doctrine is unchangeable, policy is not.

ELC is also right that a divinely established authority is necessary, but I don't think the Catholic Church can legitimately claim to be that authority. The Bible does talk about how there would be a great apostasy -- a falling away -- when the true gospel would not be on the earth and that a restoration of truth would be necessary.

That restoration began in the spring of 1820 in New York State would God and Jesus Christ appeared to a teenage boy named Joseph Smith. We thankfully have a living prophet on earth who speaks for God and helps us to understand the meaning of the scriptures. We also have the help of the Holy Ghost in understanding and interpreting holy writ.

The prophets have confirmed what is written in both the Old and the New Testament -- homosexuality is a sin. We are commanded to love all men, but we are not commanded to love all that they do.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Polygyny is one man married to several women.
Polyandry is one woman married to several men.
Polygamy refers to either arrangement. The Utah Mormon church practiced polygyny.

Several of today's Mormon faiths practice both polygyny and polyandry, which is consistent with the practices of Joseph Smith the faith's founder.
Plural marriage is a a synonym for any of the above and is often used as a euphanism in place of polygamy.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Amber is a mixed bag of tricks. In another thread she was advocating assassinating Kim II.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

DH -- The name of the church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Polygamy is not allowed in our church at this time nor has it been since the late 1800's. Those found to be practicing polygamy are excommunicated. The nickname "Mormon" does specifically refer to our church or its members. Therefore, referring to those religions which engage in the practice of polygamy as "Mormon sects" or "Mormon fundamentalists" is erroneous. Our church has NO sects and NO fundamentalists. We are one faith.

Polygamy was practiced in the Old Testament -- look at Abraham and Jacob. This was allowed by God at times and at other times it was not. When God allowed it, it was practiced according to the rules He set forth. It was the same under Joseph Smith and other early leaders of the modern Church. Men could not just go around marrying as many women as they wanted and only 10% of the church was ever involved in the practice. It is not practiced now because God has forbidden it at this time.

Polygamy, therefore, is not a fundamental doctrine of our church, but is rather a practical policy put into place when God so commands.

This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, but people do love to bring up polygamy whenever the LDS church is mentioned.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

DH -- Also, the LDS Church never practiced polyandry. You are wrong about that.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...


Try reading this:

5:38 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

DH -- I skimmed that article. If that is accurate, then I guess I was wrong. But it looks like those were sealings (temple marriages) and they never lived as husband and wife, which is not what I would have thought you meant when you said that members of the church practiced polyandry.

But it really doesn't change anything about this topic -- which was the authority of the Bible, specifically where it concerns homosexuality. I listed Biblical references for you, so now you might want to admit that your assumption that the Bible does not specifically condemn homosexuality is wrong.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

I'm just asking because I not familiar with this and have not had serious study. I'm curious where such rigid thinking evolves from.

I have studied the classical greek language and therefore understand the difficulties in translation. Not only do words have mutiple meaning, their meaning changes significantly over time.

Here is a site that tries to be objective.

One of the problems we have with the Taliban is that they have little education and their main sorce of teaching comes from the Koran.

6:11 PM  
Blogger amber said...

ELC, first I want to say I do not think ill of the Catholic Church, I admire their firm stance on Biblical principals that other faiths have so easily cast asside. I went back to my research about the church and in AD 1229 the Catholic Church made the Bible forbidden for laypeople. I do not know how long that law lasted, but it was a part of the Catholic church's history.

7:41 PM  
Blogger suek said...

>> I'm curious where such rigid thinking evolves from.>>

You in "right" and "wrong"?

As in the 10 Commandments?

As in yes/no? black/white? line in the sand?

Is that what you mean by "rigid thinking"?

7:43 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

As in, women being placed somewhere between slaves and livestock. And slavery was perfectly fine. How about stoning. There is so much in the Bible that is completely discarded, so apparently people are picking and chosing what they want to believe.

What did Jesus say, in his own words, about homosexuality. Anything at all?

8:11 PM  
Blogger amber said...

Ah crud, I read DH's post, now I need to respond. What did Jesus Say? HE said each and every one of those Biblical passages because he is the word. I do not have my Bible next to me, but this is how I deduce that: From the 1st chapter of John (again, I do not have my Bible next to me, so this is from memory and you might want to look it up to have the perfect wording): In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God....the word became flesh...

Jesus was and is the word, he was there from the beginning, even durring the Old Testement.

As far as the assination of Kim, I never said I am "for" it. I am not in a position to decide. I am just not against it if the leaders of this world feel it is neccesary for our safety. I said that because I prefer not to kill innocent people who just happen to be in his home because people would feel more comfortable with shooting a bomb over there than just taking out their specific intended target. Again, it is not up to me, and since I do not ever forsee running for public office, it never will be up to me.

I accidentally read your post, that is why I answered. I will look for your comment, but if it is rude and derogatory again I will be more careful and not respond again. That is not a threat, it is just a statement why you might fish for a response but not get one.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...


Do you support slavery. It certainly isn't frowned upon in the Bible.

I'm only asking why you or the church pick and choose what passages you want to believe.

I pointed out your statement about assassination because it sure is a major sin if one believes the ten commandments. It is not that I'm trying to give you a hard time.

People have a right to their religious beliefs. I'm really just trying to understand.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Jack said...


The biblical mandate is that no believer should be a slave, which is a symbol of as well as a punishment for sin. The predominant image that God presents of himself to the Israelites is a redeemer from the bondage of Egypt. There were only 3 ways that someone could become a slave under the Torah: as a punishment for theft, in order to pay off a debt or as a prisoner of war. The first two are somewhat equivalent since a thief was required to pay back what he stole and could only be sold into slavery if he did not have the money. The third form of slavery only applied to the time when the Church was equivalent to the state, which has been abolished in the New Testament era. Kidnapping someone in order to sell them into slavery (the predominant method in the African slavery with which we are most concerned in this country) was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 24:7).

The problems of interpretation in the Bible are not so difficult to those familar with the text. The reason so many people have such trouble is usually because they are ignorant of what is actually written or because they don't want their ideology screwed up by the facts.

In regard to Carol's original post, I have to demur from her characterization that "At the very base, the debate is whether the Bible means what it says, or whether it's open to interpretation." Both sides acknowledge that the Bible is open to interpretation. The debate is over competing standards of interpretation. The orthodox claim that sexual immorality (which, as biblically defined, includes homosexuality but also adultery, incest, bestiality and several other categories) is bad for both the sinner and the society he lives in. It is thus consistent with love of our neighbor to tell them they ought to stop, in precisely the same way that you would tell an alcoholic he ought to stop drinking. The revisionists believe that internal desires and feelings are more reliable than ancient documents as a source of knowledge about God, so they do not attach the same enduring importance to the scriptures.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...


Feel free not to respond. Peoples' religious beliefs our theirs and don't have to be shared.

I am not addressing this to you. I do wonder why christians seem very supportive of war. Is it that Bush is perceived as a religious leader? Best educated estimate was that there were 5,000 terrorist in the world before Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 to 200,000 people have been killed.

I know the Pope was against the Iraq war because he was afraid it could turn into a religious war. And now he is calling for the US to stop. So why aren't the Christians on this site paying attention to what he is saying? And why would anyone, condone torture of humans or even animals?

I also know a family who lived and worked in Afghanistan for over 50 years, doing missionary work, teaching and even being ambassadors. The 2nd generation is still working there. They tell me, we are not being told the truth about the country and the people. The Taliban were really just very backward with almost no education. They are like we were in the middle ages. So they need a great deal of help and education, not to be killed. They are religious and learn the Koran. The Koran doesn't speak of modern world concepts, democracy, etc.

So to a large extent, we kill them for religious beliefs that we once held many centuries ago.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...


Ok, thanks. I'm the ignorant for now. I mean that sincerely. Although I had a few courses on religion in college, that is my limited exposure.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

So if there are passages that clearly say war is wrong. How can christians support war?

In the beginning of the Declaration, Friends noted that "wars and fightings proceed from the lusts of men" (James 4:1-3). In this context, lusts refers not particularly to sexual desires, but more broadly to covetousness and greed. The Christian is released from serving these base desires, drawn rather to serve Jesus Christ which brings a very different spirit to one's life.

Friends noted that Jesus said, "He that takes the sword, shall perish with the sword." (Matthew 26:52) The New Testament call is to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

The New Testament call to peace is prefigured by the Old Testament prophets. Zechariah had a vision in which the Lord said, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit" (Zechariah 4:6). Both Isaiah and Micah had a vision of a time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-4).

12:41 AM  
Blogger amber said...

As far as assassination, I do not see that it would be murder. The commandment is thou shalt not murder, but many people change it to thou shalt not kill. What Kim did is an act of war.
The Bible also does not say that war is wrong, there is a time for everything.
No, I do not agree with slavery. Jews were also commanded to free their slaves after 7 years. As stated before, they had committed a sin which landed them in that situation or were prisoners of war. I also do not believe God ever thought polygamy was OK. Not one instance resulted in a good life for anyone involved. God designed one man and one woman to come together. Abraham was admonished for his lack of faith when he took Hagar for his wife. Jacob was torn between the jealosy of his 4 wives. David ended up being torn from his kingdome by his own son, and his daughter was raped by one of his other sons. Not good.
I am talking to my husband now, so that is all I have time for.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

How is it an act of war? The US as well as other nations test fire missiles and other weapons all the time.

7:44 AM  
Blogger amber said...

That missile was aimed at Hawaii.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Oh really? Can you cite your news source? And did these test missles have warheads?

9:59 AM  
Blogger amber said...

I do not think Kim was trying to start war, but that he has it on his mind in the near future. I still do not like his ties with Iran.
As for my source I think yahoo news is sufficient. I know you would not believe it if I used a conservative blog and I may not either, so here it is.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...


We can't read his mind. His intent is likely defensive as Bush was saying they are among the axis of evil. They are very poor with a GDP of only 3% of the US and a population smaller than Iraq, 23 million.

All that are dealing with him, say he is smart and not crazy.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Marshall Art said...

Late to the game, but here goes:


Your desire for understanding is the best post you've submitted. If sincere, and I'm assuming it is, it marks a good beginning and I hope you continue. Unfortunately, to really get down with Biblical support for conservative opinion is difficult for such a forum. It would indeed take a period of Biblical study, and by that I mean also studying about the Bible and the times that produced it. Peripheral study is important for interpretational issues.

But for the points you've submitted, the homosexuality issue is resolved with the many tracts submitted by Jessica. As to war, it is the same as money. Money is not condemned, but the intention behind it's aquisition may be. I believe our part in the current war is not "sinful" because of the intent behind it. A clear danger is seen and war is required to deflect that danger. It's like killing. Killing is not neccessarily bad, but murder is. Murder is killing with bad intentions, killing isn't neccessarily so.

One more thing about the homo issue. There is much that Jesus didn't say about a variety of things. Remember that His original purpose was for the salvation of God's Chosen, the Jews. At that time, there was no debate over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. It was not widely practiced by the nation of Israel if at all. Thus, there was no reason for Jesus to expound upon the issue, other than to say, as He did, to obey God's commands. And of course, since He IS God, He made plain His desires back at Leviticus 18:22.

As to the original post of Carol's, it's the old story of life on our terms or God's.

7:56 PM  
Blogger ELC said...

Amber, with all due respect and in all sincerity, I implore you to quit talking about the Catholic Church when your assertions are inaccurate and, therefore, misleading.

Allow me to suggest again that you start getting your information about the Church from sources that are not, basically, anti-Catholic. If you don't know that's what you're doing... well, that is what you are doing.

7:32 AM  
Blogger amber said...

ELC, You obviously are very defensive about the subject. My history on the ruling of the Catholic church in 12?? AD is accurate. I am sorry if that disturbs you. You are making assumptions that I am anti-Catholic which I am not. My step family is all Catholic. I dated a Catholic from a devout family for 3 years. I do not share the same hatred towards the church that other evangelicals may have. I actually have a great deal of respect for them. The Catholic Church has a very long history and they have still managed to stick by almost all of the principals they were founded on. Sorry if you are offended, that is not my intention.

11:23 AM  

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