Differences without Discernment
On the O'Reilly Factor a couple of weeks ago, Bill O'Reilly was speaking with a woman from some gay rights group (I don't recall which one) about whether a certain sex education curriculum should be permitted in the classrooms. According to the Crosswalk.com newsstory about the case:
The curriculum also ventures into the realm of religion, explaining what Jesus allegedly did and did not say about homosexuality, portraying evangelicals as intolerant and prejudiced, and referring readers to "gay-friendly" religious organizations.
According to the Associated Press story dated May 5, 2005:
For example, the curriculum juxtaposes faiths such as Quakers and Unitarians that support full rights for gays and lesbians with groups such as Baptists, who are painted as "intolerant and Biblically misguided," the judge wrote in his opinion.
"The court is extremely troubled by the willingness of the defendants to venture, or perhaps more correctly, bound, into the crossroads of controversy where religion, morality and homosexuality converge," Williams wrote.
The woman from the gay rights group kept repeating--almost as a mantra--that different religious groups see homosexuality differently. The substance of her argument, it seemed, was that because there were disagreements between various churches over how homosexuality should be treated, there is no way to judge between them and therefore we can get no serious moral guidance from churches.
I find this argument to be seriously flawed, yet it is the common argument used by people who believe that truth (or at least, moral truth) is relative. If one starts with the assumption that there is no true beliefs about morality, then it is easy to point to the sometimes contradictory beliefs of those who profess that they are following the Bible as proof that the Bible provides no value judgment. Of course, it is doubtful that these relativists believe the Bible has any value, but when it can be shown that Christians differ significantly in how they view the Biblical teaching on an issue (even if one side is in a tiny, tiny minority), then that only serves to embolden the belief that there is no absolute right or wrong.
In other words, the person who makes this argument believes that the mere fact that differences of opinion exist is sufficient to show that there is no clear teaching on the issue at hand and we should not look to the Bible for guidance.
What is missing here? The answer is "discernment." Just because there are two possible answers does not mean that each answer should be given equal weight. To accept the viewpoints presented uncritically is akin to asking a group of students to add "2 plus 2", and finding that because 1% of the students think the answer is "5" that "5" is a equally legitimate answer to "4". It simply doesn't follow if you look carefully. While Biblical arguments cannot rise to the certainty of "2+2=4", the same discernment must be applied to the proposed answers to see if they are equally possible. If there is significant support for one viewpoint and marginal support for the other, than such a disparity tells you something about the possible truth of the answers.
This is one of the problems with most of the television programs presented on Jesus. Often, in order to develop controversy, the program invites two viewpoints about the factual claims of the Bible. If we are lucky and the program actually seeks to present a balanced point of view, one will be someone from a mainline or evangelical church which will largely accept the historicity of the Bible. The other viewpoint will be some radical theologian like Bishop John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, or other out-of-the-mainstream theologians from the Jesus Seminar. (Unfortunately, many of these programs will feature in addition to the Jesus Seminar-type scholar, a theologian from a mainline denomination to does not really accept the historicity of the Bible, and that creates a very unfair, lopsided viewpoint about the legitimacy of the Bible and its claims.) Of course, there is no analysis of the viewpoint of the Jesus Seminar-type theologian who is invited onto the program. In fact, the claims are treated as equally legitimate. But such an undiscerning acceptance is not appropriate or even helpful.
In the Christian worldview, there is such a thing as truth, and the truth matters. It is either the case that physically Jesus rose from the dead or he did not. It is either the case that homosexuality is wrong or not. It cannot be both. While it is certainly appropriate and legitimate to listen to other viewpoints and to reevaluate our understanding of the Bible when the evidence and arguments show that it is appropriate to do so, it is certainly not the case that such a willingness to consider new ideas means that we should uncritically accept various points of view as equally valid or proving that there is no single answer.