Monday, March 30, 2009

Gene Robinson, Hermeneuticist Extraordinaire

Here is something Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire is reported by the Boston Globe as saying in a talk (hat-tip to Stand Firm):

"There are a couple of great stories about gay people in the Bible. Maybe you didn't know that. One of them is the Exodus story, which is the greatest coming out story in the history of the world. It is, don't laugh. Because we know what it's like to be in slavery. We know what it's like to be in bondage. We know what it's like not to be free. Because we've had the experience of someone coming and talking about a promised land, not just of milk and honey, but of freedom, and God's love and acceptance, and some of us actually believed it and left. We left Egypt to come out."

This is actually quite clever because it takes a familiar story and grafts an unfamiliar element onto it in a plausible manner! The Exodus story as told in the Bible is not about 'gay people' per se, but it is about people in a bad situation transitioning to a better one. The bad situation is 'slavery' and in large part it is about Israel not being allowed to be itself (the more it wants to be itself, the more bondage and pain it finds itself in). For Gene 'gay people' are people who begin life in a form of slavery, not allowed to be themselves, but through 'coming out', like Israel's Exodus (lit. 'being led out'), they reach the promised land of God's love and acceptance.

So here we have a bishop of our church, charged with the task of being a teacher of the faith. Like any good teacher of the faith, he grounds his teaching in the Bible. He is also a brave teacher because the Old Testament is a challenging part of Scripture in which to ground a significant theological claim. There are all sorts of theologians ready to pounce when we use the Old Testament; for example, some are viciously quick to dismiss any use of the Old Testament which wrests a text out of its context, or makes a text relevant to an ancient day also relevant to our modern and very different day.

In fact Gene Robinson is superlatively brave as a teacher of the faith grounded in the Old Testament because he stakes his theological claim on an understanding of the text which is by no means beyond question. His claim, for example, "talking about a promised land, not just of milk and honey, but of freedom, and God's love and acceptance" raises a question or two. In what way does this version of the promised land resemble the promised land into which God led Israel? In that land, freedom was a fruit of obedience to the law; and that law was a gift given by God to Israel because God loved and accepted her. From the statement above Gene Robinson's understanding of the role of God's law is not clear. But what seems reasonably clear is that in Gene Robinson's teaching the law of God is not inhibitory of the process of 'coming out'.

What is not quite so clear is how this premise in Gene's teaching is itself grounded in Scripture - the Scripture, that is, that tends to make more rather than less of the application of the law to the life of the people of God. Thus Gene Robinson exhibits a certain boldness in his teaching based on Scripture. One can admire his flair as a hermeneuticist while reserving judgement on his credentials as an exegete!

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