>Soul-force Part I: The Rhetoric

Posted: 17/10/2008 in homosexuality, mel white, prop 8, rhetoric, soul force, the bible

>As promised, I have will now be dealing Soul Force’s article on Christianity and Homosexuality. Dr. Mel White is no fool, and I respect him and think what he is doing important, as I implied previously. I hope to be as fair as possible to him in these next few blogs, but let the reader be the judge. In this blog, I will deal with his first three premises.

White’s first premise is very well put: “As you know, Biblical ignorance is an epidemic in the United States.” He goes on to say that his relates to homosexuality in particular. On this, I am in complete agreement. Biblical ignorance is an epidemic in American Christianity. This ignorance does show its head quite well in the homosexuality debate.

I offer your average Christian retail store as evidence. Like any businesses, a Christian bookstore sells what the public is buying. The books that sell the most are something like a “Christian Self-help” or devotional books for prayer life. You may also find books that target people by their strata in life: college student, parent, teacher, man/woman, businesses professional etc. However, commentaries, hermeneutics books, etc are almost always in a small section in the back –if indeed at all. Bottom line, if you look at the simple volume of what a Christian book store presents, it’s evident that most Christians are more likely to buy “Power of a praying wife/husband/child etc” than they are “Social World of Ancient Israel.”

No one is saying the former “popular literature” is wrong. No one is saying that all Christians need to become great exegetes. What I am saying is that I am doubtful whether most Christians are even aware of the complexities of interpretation. Thus they are not in a position to discern what is written in the more popular books. Much more could be said on this point alone. For purposes of this blog, it is enough for me to reiterate that I think that Mel White is correct in this assessment.

White’s second premise is “Historically, people’s misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of suffering, bloodshed, and death.” He then goes on to cite the various tragic examples from church history. He believes that the tragic hate-crimes against homosexuals are also an extension of this same trend.
This is a highly emotional appeal that must be dealt with carefully. Clearly, I am not in doubt that these things have happened, nor do I think that they good. Hate crimes against homosexuals are not right, on any grounds. They are not justified, no matter what scripture says or does not say about sexuality. This goes the same for racism and such. These emotive appeals give the hetero-sexual Christian community insight into how the homosexual community sees the issue.

The problem is this: it takes a lot more than an interpretation of scripture (right or wrong) for someone to commit acts of hatred or even to endorse them. Does White really believe that anytime someone disagrees with homosexuality that he also wants to go out and shoot homosexuals? No, in fact he says so. Therefore, I think this premise is mostly a rhetorical fear appeal that adds little to the real weight of his argument. Truthful though it may be, it serves only to grab the reader’s attention through sympathy.

Finally, there is White’s third premise: that we must be open to new interpretations of scripture. To this premise, I think all Christians can give a qualified yes. More importantly, we should be humble enough to be corrected. The conservative wing should be careful about their own viewpoints, bias, and prejudices and not simply recourse to “the Bible clearly says…” But this should go both ways, correct? The “liberal wing” should also be aware of their own viewpoints, bias, and prejudices. Appealing to the Holy Spirit “leading us to all truth” will not erase these things, and neither will the few fear appeals that White sprinkles in here, as he did with the previous premise.

I think White’s first few premises were more rhetorical than logical. The purpose of these things is to get the reader’s attention and subtly move the reader towards agreement with soul-force. He does this largely through appeals to fear and sympathy. While I do not think these things are wrong, I think it is very important to point them out. While we certainly should all recoil in aversion to the hate crimes other things, we should not automatically recoil in aversion to the conservative position. Sympathy and understanding are important, but they are not the sole arbiters.

Of course, I think the author knows this. His further points show this. They are specific views about scripture and about science. I will deal with both, but I will deal more strongly with the latter.

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