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Nov 13, 2011

Americhristian Exegesis

Oh, and one more. This was published in The Daily Tar Heel (the student newspaper of UNC Chapel Hill) on 28 January 1994:

To the Editor:

Matt Osman’s Jan. 20 letter (“Columnist Obviously Doesn’t Understand Ways of Baptists”) offers two defenses of Christian intolerance of homosexuality.

Mr. Osman’s first defense is the claim that “this country is founded on Christian principles,” and America’s founding documents are cited as evidence. But Mr. Osman’s memory of those documents seems a bit shaky. The Constitution of the United States contains no reference to God or Christianity. The Declaration of Independence contains a passing reference to God, but nothing distinctively Christian. (This is hardly surprising, since its author, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist, not a Christian.)

Mr. Osman mentions the Pledge of Allegiance. This hardly qualifies as a founding document, since it was written in 1892, and the words “under God” were not added until 1954. In any case, it too contains no reference to Christianity or any distinctively Christian doctrine.

Treaty of Tripoli

A more relevant document is the 1796 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tripoli, drafted under the authority of George Washington, in which the administration of our nation’s first president officially puts itself on the record with the declaration: “The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Osman’s second defense is that Christians are required to be intolerant because the Bible requires it, and such Christians must “believe in the Bible …. The Bible is an all-or-nothing deal.” But Mr.Osman’s memory of the Bible appears to be a bit shaky as well. The Bible is full of injunctions that few Christians take seriously, from the prohibitions on self-defense (Matthew 5: 39-41) and the eating of oysters (Leviticus 11: 9-12), to the insistence that slaves must obey their masters (Colossians 3: 22) and the endorsement of witch-burning (Exodus 22: 18).

Why should the Bible’s crude and ignorant animadversions on homosexuality be treated any differently? In practice, no Christians really treat the Bible as an all-or-nothing deal, or regard themselves as bound to obey all its literal commands down to the last bizarre detail.

More to the point, even if Mr. Osman were correct in claiming that Christianity requires a literal adherence to the Bible in every detail, this would be irrelevant as a defense of Christian intolerance. If Christianity really did require intolerance, then Christianity would be an evil and ungodly religion, and Christianity would be morally obligated to renounce it. Fortunately, Mr. Osman’s assertions are as groundless in theology as they are in American history.

Roderick T. Long 

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