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Swallowing Camels?

An Anglican priest here, a fellow student, said to me just an hour ago, "The problem with the way the evangelicals handle the homosexuality issue is that many of those who are leading the charge against it are on their third wife--they've managed to comfortably do away with prohibitions on divorce. And they're up to their knees in investments, having conveniently discarded the prohibition on usury. They've swallowed those camels and are now straining out the gnat of homosexuality. They defend their focus on this issue by saying, 'It's not about homosexuality as such, but about Scriptural authority.' But what happened to Scriptural authority on divorce? Or on usury?"

I simply raised my eyebrows and went about my business for the next hour, but it just hit me, hard, like a freight train in my skull.

I don't think homosexuality is a mere gnat, and as for divorce, I would say it is different because there seems to be some Scriptural ambiguity on the question. But what about usury? Here is an issue in which there is no Scriptural ambiguity. Conservative evangelicals, to my knowledge, have not tried to argue that the Scripture actually permits usury. Rather, they have argued that cultural and economic circumstances have changed, so that the Scriptural ban on usury no longer applies; in our Christian freedom, we can free ourselves from that particular prohibition.

But that's exactly what the liberals are claiming about homosexuality! On what basis can we cry "foul" over the camel they're swallowing, when we long ago swallowed our own? If this isn't hypocrisy, what is? This isn't intended as any defense of homosexuality, but it does seem to render indefensible our attitude of refusing to associate with homosexual-tolerating churches, while happily embracing churches that have compromised entirely on the economics of Scripture.


There actually is interaction on usury that goes beyond simply "Well, it's different now". The typical claim is that the OT law restricted usury when it came to the poor and needy; loans to them were to be out of mercy, and so interest was not to be exacted. I think Calvin himself had three categories: gifts to the destitute, interest-free loans to the poor(-ish? can't remember specifically on this one), and usury for normal business.

I do think the comment has weight in some things. Yes, evangelicals struggle with divorce, adultery, etc. and are simultaneously terrified of homosexuality. And democrats. But, as you pointed out, homosexuality is most definitely not a gnat, and usury is much more complicated than they're claiming.

Now, I suppose you could claim that the pro-homosexual side does make somewhat similar-sounding arguments about OT prohibitions against homosexual, but I think that would be a gigantic stretch.

October 2, 2009 at 4:14 PM  

By the way, let me know if you want the Calvin references on usury; I should be able to dig them up.

October 2, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

Donald, I'd like any references on usury. As for divorce, there is no ambiguity (in light of the NT) on the issue of can you divorce anytime you feel like it. It is either forbidden or more likely very tightly regulated on the issue of adultery alone.
What significant Christian leader is on his third wife though? That seems like a contrived objection

October 5, 2009 at 1:22 AM  

Yes, I grant your point that it's not quite that simple with usury. But the homosexuality defendants would say that it's not quite that simple with homosexuality.
I'm aware of Calvin's distinction, and you're right, it's not simply a matter of throwing Scripture out the window. It's a matter of saying this: "Scripture appears to clearly forbid usury, and the Church has always taken this to be a categorical prohibition. However, in light of the way I see economic circumstances now, Scripture must not mean a categorical must mean something else. Ah, here's an interpretive scheme whereby we can harmonize the practice of usury with Scripture."

And Dad, I don't know how accurate the complaint about divorce doubt it's overstated, but I think it is true that many evangelical leaders are rather compromised on issues of marital fidelity.

Here's my main point, though--two ways in which my friend's observation struck me:
1) There are people to whom the evangelical compromise on certain issues of morality, particularly economic ones, appears as blindingly obvious as their compromises on homosexuality appear to us. Or another way of putting it--many of our own serious moral failings seem just as fuzzy to us as the homosexuality issue seems fuzzy to liberals. Now, while this observation is not intended to justify relativism, it does help me all of a sudden to be much more understanding of the other side. I can make more sense of the blindness of some churches on the homosexuality issue, something that previously seemed bizarre to me.

2) If I agree with the complaint that evangelical churches are grievously compromised on issues of economic morality (as I do in fact), then perhaps I am being inconsistent. On that sin, I'm willing to be forgiving, willing to say, "Well, they're just ignorant," willing to maintain fellowship with and keep worshipping with churches that are guilty of serious economic sins. I'm much less willing to forgive, fellowship with, or worship with churches that are compromised on the homosexuality issue. And I have to ask myself, is there a good reason for this difference of standard. There may well be, and I welcome your answer, Donny.

October 7, 2009 at 10:10 PM  

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