Interview with Jim Tonkowich

 

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What is the Church’s Stand on Homosexuality?


“In a fallen or broken world our lives are disordered, our emotional lives are disordered, even our sexuality is disordered. This should not be a big surprise to anyone who understands that this is, in fact, a fallen world.”
James Tonkowich, former Pres. I.R.D.

Peter: Before we get to the questions, could we start out with your background?

Jim: I’m currently President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Prior to this I was managing editor at BreakPoint for Chuck Colson; 520 words every day without fail. I worked with some great writers. Chuck has three staff writers who are just terrific. Also, that included the website, Breakpoint.org and the BreakPoint Worldview Magazine. I developed the curriculum for the Centurions Program and worked on the worldview curriculum for teenagers called Rewired. We did a great job with that with Teen Mania. Chuck kept me busy.

Helen: What sort of academic credentials do you have?

Jim: I have a BA in philosophy from Bates College in Maine, a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry from Gorton Theological Seminary north of Boston. I am also an ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church in America. I pastored a Church out in Silicon Valley and prior to that I was involved in youth ministry as part of FOCUS, Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools. I ministered in prep schools.

Helen: The purpose of this interview is basically myth-busting. We’d like to get the message out that the Christian Church does not hate homosexuals. There are so many half truths and downright deceits. We’d like to make clear what is Christian and what is not Christian about the Church’s true stand on homosexuality. Just about all of us have friends, acquaintances or people we deal with everyday who we’d like to read this and realize that the Church loves them.

Peter: Let’s start out with the foremost concept that intimidates people from addressing this issue. That is Christ’s admonition, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It would be hard to count the number of times we hear, “oh, that’s so judgmental.” People are afraid to condemn a behavior that they feel is immoral because they think they are breaking a commandment. Help us to understand this concept better, please.

Jim: Sure, I’ll come at it in two different ways. One is the natural law or common sense approach and the other is the Biblical approach. The common sense approach is that we shouldn’t judge other people. No one – but no one – believes that is true. When I was at college, I had one particular philosophy professor who was Jewish. Some sophomore (whence we get the word ‘sophomoric’) would come in with a new concept for how morality ought to work. Our professor would look at this ‘new’ view of morality and would look at the student and say, “Based on what you say, does your scheme let Hitler off the hook and, if so, is that OK with you, because it’s not OK with me.” Now, we all realize the student was just trying out a scheme whereby he could justify taking drugs and premarital sex with his girlfriend, but when the question about Hitler was put to him, he realizes killing millions of people is wrong and that’s judging.

Look at poor Congressman Foley. He got hammered by just about everyone, and rightly so. Aren’t we judging? Even if we’re only judging out of political expediency, we’re nevertheless judging.

Everybody makes judgments. Everyone has some kind of morality. People who have no morality – who think child molestation or cannibalism is OK – well, we put those people away. Those are sociopaths. So no one believes that they should never make judgments.

Now, in regard to the Bible, the same Jesus who said “do not judge” certainly condemned the legalism of the Pharisees, certainly condemned the hypocrisy of the Sadducees. He had plenty to say in judgment of all sorts of things. Also, in fact, he said he would come again “in judgment.” We have, on the one hand, all sorts of things about Grace in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, yet, at the same time, he has all sorts of rules about how Christians are to behave, and what a virtuous, good life looks like.

Helen: Many people will say it’s all right for Jesus to judge, but not for us to judge.

Jim: But we all do judge, we judge constantly.

Peter: Does that mean we’re all sinning whenever we judge? Or is that conclusion just a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when he said “judge not”?

Jim: It’s a misunderstanding. There is a difference in the meaning of the words; let’s take ‘condemning.’ There is a difference between making judgments and condemning people. Let’s look at the guy who shows up in places where the press can get a good picture of him. He’s standing there with a poster that says God hates fags. Well, that’s simply not true. The final judgment is in God’s hands, but we make moral judgments all the time. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is everything right with that.

Helen: If you were one of those who tell us not to judge, all I would have to do is grab your wallet and I bet you’d judge me very quickly.

Jim: Of course, and rightly so. The question is a spin off of a phrase I believe someone invented in the 60′s that says “you can’t legislate morality.” In fact, the only thing that you can legislate is morality. We drive on the right side of the road. Why? Because we believe it is morally wrong to have chaos on the roads where people might get hurt and killed. We believe that’s morally wrong, therefore we set up traffic laws. Something as trivial as traffic law is legislating morality. We believe randomly killing people is a ‘bad’ thing. We make all sorts of moral judgments in our legal code. The notion that we are creating arbitrary rules just doesn’t hold up.

Peter: You’re talking about the rationalization of people who happen to object to those particular rules; they condemn the rules as just ‘arbitrary.’ That’s easier than actually making a reasoned argument against a particular rule.

Helen: That’s moving us to the next question. God says to love our neighbor – we’re not to hate our neighbor. Shouldn’t God be in charge of condemning or judging, not us? And if so how can we speak out against homosexuality?

Jim: The question is, what does it mean to love your neighbor? Loving my neighbor means and includes looking out for the good of my neighbor. I’m reading Jonathan Edwards’ “Charity and its Fruits.” Edwards points out that love your neighbor is sort of an Old Testament way of looking at things. What Jesus said was, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus raises the stakes even higher. To love your neighbor the way Jesus loved, means not to leave your neighbor in a dangerous or harmful position. So, if my neighbor has a charcoal grill burning in his kitchen, I need to say something. I’d have to say, “this is so dangerous you could burn your house down.” It’s my responsibility to warn my neighbor when he’s in danger. To love means to look after other people.

Helen: Love doesn’t mean you’ll turn a blind eye to any bad behavior that gives someone pleasure even though it might be bad for them, say, staying out all night drinking or doing drugs. Love means what will be good for your soul, not hedonistic pleasures.

Peter: And that love is not always easy. It means looking out for what’s good for my neighbor when what’s easier for me may be to ignore him or even agree with him.

Helen: We don’t have to limit this to homosexual behavior. We can talk about lying or cheating or stealing or homosexual behavior and it’s all bad for us or our neighbor. The Church does not single out homosexuality. There are a vast number of things that are harmful to us – they are called sins.

Jim: Yes, there are two interesting articles that have come out recently. One is in the Spectator written by a homosexual man who is in the theatre. He wrote that he thought these were supposed to be the ‘good times’ for him – this is supposed to be great stuff, but we’re all miserable. The other article was in the New Oxford Review in February, written by a gay man who had been in that lifestyle for 35 years. He was also a Christian. His story was similar in that he said he’s found nothing but misery in that lifestyle. There is a high degree is drinking, drug use, suicide and domestic violence within same sex relationships and that lifestyle; not to mention the health risks run by gay men and lesbians. The data was in a report from Canada. The results were just horrifying. These stories and reports say that this lifestyle is very unhealthy – both emotionally and physically. So, love for one’s neighbor means telling them about this.

Helen: So the Church doesn’t condemn the person, but the behavior. We can always change our behavior, whether we were born a certain way or not. It’s also interesting that you brought up a story about a man who was both gay and Christian. He’s not much different than all of us, since we’re all sinners.

Jim: Absolutely! That’s something that needs to be brought up. I think this is where the Church needs to do a better job. We need to be very clear that sin is sin. We, as human beings, want to see some sins as worse than others.

Helen: Such as the deepening circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno?

Jim: Well, there is something to his understanding that sin is progressive and it grow worse and worse. I think there is something to that. What I was getting at is that there are some people in the Church who want to condemn homosexual behavior but will wink at divorce, for instance. Or, we go ballistic over same-sex marriage but we don’t think of what we’ve allowed marriage to become. We wink at divorce or marriages that don’t reflect God’s plan.

God created a three-legged stool; marriage between a man and a woman, sex and children. As long as those three things are kept together, things are great. It seems to me the way we got here is that increasingly, the legs are disconnected from one another. We have sex without marriage, sex without children, we have children without sex… there is technology for all this. Christians swallowed in-vitro fertilization hook, line and sinker without giving it proper reflection. We use the term “reproductive technology” which we shouldn’t. Instead, we should talk about “procreation.” We separate child-rearing from marriage and we separate marriage from having children. I recently attended a wedding conducted by people I know and respect and, throughout the whole ceremony, there was no mention of children. I find that very disturbing. When I do a wedding ceremony I always mention children and tell the couple that we expect that they will be having children. I pray for their children during the ceremony. Sometimes that raises eyebrows in the crowd.

Peter: You raised the subject of what we have allowed marriage to become and I’m wondering, why do homosexuals want it?

Jim: Well, we have marriage over there, children over here, sex further over there; so it’s a mix-and-match that makes up marriage, and who’s to say it’s only couples then? What some people, like Andrew Sullivan, want to say is that homosexuals just want ‘couples’ marriage. But, once you go that far, who is to say where else it could go? We’re talking about polygamy, or why should incest be forbidden? If marriage is anything you want it to be, then anything goes.

Helen: Once we change the definition of marriage, of Christianity, of any word, anything goes. There are no definitions anymore. C. S. Lewis has a wonderful story on this in the beginning of his book, “Mere Christianity,” where he talks about how the definition of a gentlemen has changed. Whereas, in the past it meant certain objective criteria by which to decide whether someone were, in fact, a gentlemen, now it merely means that you have a favorable opinion of a fellow. So, when we change the definition of marriage, we can change the definition of sin.

Peter: Well, we’re all sinners and, at least in that, we can establish solidarity with homosexuals. We can say to them, you’re getting wet from one side and we’re getting wet from another; we each sin in our own way, but we’re all the same in that we all sin. And we’re all the same in that we’re all to try to sail as close as we can to the wind and stick to the straight and narrow, to turn away from our sins. We all have challenges or crosses to bear. That happens to be yours. I have my own, but we’re all struggling.

Jim: There needs to be an understanding of the doctrine of sin. Part of a recent church service was to recite a part of the Heidelberg Catechism, that talks about our sin and makes it pretty clear that we are without hope without Christ. “We are caught in our sins; there is no good thing in us.” The pastor said something about believing that and the woman sitting next to me said quietly, “I don’t believe that.” I think she speaks for a lot of people. I think of the old gospel chorus, “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me.” There is a verse there, “I took Jesus for my savior, you take him too.” I get the feeling alot of people think, “I took Jesus for my savior, what’s the matter with you?” Not understanding that you took Jesus as your savior because of grace, and not because you were such a good person to start out with. Not because you’re so smart but because God is so good. As the Church, we need to keep that in mind. We need to understand that everyone is saved by grace, which means we should have compassion for those around us.

Helen: Speaking of the woman who said she didn’t believe there is nothing good in us; there is a new idea out there that we are perfect. There is even a bumper sticker “God doesn’t make junk.” That implies we’re perfect in every way and just have to find the way back to that perfection. We’ve heard some homosexuals on TV say that God made me this way, therefore whatever I’m doing must be OK.

Jim: That’s based on the “gay gene” project. That’s a modernist project but it’s dubious science.

Helen: But when we hear that someone is born with a burden – I may have been born with deformed legs – that’s my cross to bear and to learn to overcome it whatever way I can.

Jim: Yes, we’re born in a world of sin and we all have certain proclivities. In a fallen or broken world our lives are disordered, our emotional lives are disordered, even our sexuality is disordered. This should not be a big surprise to anyone who understands that this is, in fact, a fallen world.

Helen: There is an idea that it’s a perfect world and that we just have to find that perfection.

Jim: Yes, there is a sort of utopianism that drives that idea.

Peter: Even environmentalism reflects that attitude. Everything is perfect, if only we humans just didn’t mess it up. Perfect harmony and perfect balance is the mantra.

Jim: Yes. Doesn’t that mean subsistence farming and dying at age 35?

Helen: So basically do you think it’s different world views? One is that, “this is how God made me so I’m OK doing what I feel like doing” and the other is the “fallen world” where we must choose to do right and choose not to be tempted by our sinful desires.

Jim: Yes, and even in the harmonious world view they pick and choose. There is some evidence that alcoholism and depression may have some genetic component. However, we don’t celebrate the fact that Uncle Harry is a drunk.

We don’t say, “God made him that way, Hallelujah!” We just don’t do that, we draw distinctions.

Helen: Let’s move on to the idea that “the highest virtue is love, so what does it matter the way it’s shown?”

Jim: It’s interesting… I’ve been reading Jonathan Edwards and I’ve been reading Dante. I think they would have liked each other. Dante’s “Purgatory” is all about dis-ordered love. From the Protestant point of view, it’s the story of sanctification. Pride is disordered love. It’s love that’s not directed toward God and neighbor. It’s self-focused love that is not right, that’s disordered. Yes, it’s love, but it’s not loving the right things. Similarly, Edwards recounts in the “Treatise on Religious Affections” that you might enjoy singing hymns to worship God, but that doesn’t make you a Christian. You may read the Bible and love to read the Bible, but that doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. He goes through one after the other and by the time you get to the middle of this book, you say to yourself, “are there any Christians?” Or can we know that we are Christians? Then in the last half of the book he says that true religion has to do with our affections; in particular with what we love. So love is not the highest virtue.

You can love NASCAR. That’s nice, but it’s not the highest virtue, and it’s not the road to salvation. It may not even be the road to temporal happiness. You can love cats and we’ve all seen news reports of houses where there are 200 sickly cats in a two-bedroom house. You can even love your children in a way that is destructive to them. To simply say that, “Love is the highest virtue” is, well… it’s not! Love has to have an object and what that object is makes all the difference.

Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself.” He said “love God with all your heart, soul and strength.”

Peter: That was the greatest commandment. He’s saying, here’s love, which is the greatest thing we have and so we have to direct it to the greatest thing that is, which is God. Once you’ve got that connection established and you can see some light, then you’re ready to love your neighbor.

Jim: St. Paul wrote to Timothy and said that love of money is the root of all evil. It causes all sorts of evil. So, our sin problem, in the final analysis, is not lying or cheating or stealing or homo-erotic behavior – our sin problem is that our love is disordered. Growing in sanctification is God re-ordering what we love. That can happen for everyone. I mentioned the article in the New Oxford Review. At the end of that article, the fellow points out that God never condemns men loving men. That’s ridiculous. The problem is the homo-eroticism that goes along with it. He points out, as a traditional Catholic, that he has a very, very close friend who is a male, but they keep their trousers on. They have a tremendous friendship and that’s the way it’s really meant to be.

Peter: I can paraphrase Michael Novak on that. He says God created us to be his friends, He didn’t create us to build big buildings or make lots of money but He created us to love Him and to love one another in the same way. And that friendship is another name for love, and the animating factor for all of creation.

Helen: When we began this project, we got some letters telling us that to define Christianity is divisive. Why can’t we show the world that Christianity can accept all? What do you think about defining Christianity?

Jim: Defining anything is divisive. We’re constantly in the process of making definitions and it’s a divisive action. It’s not a wrong thing to do, we do it all the time. One way or another you are going to define Christianity. What I think those people are really saying is, “accept my definition of Christianity.” They’re not saying you shouldn’t make definitions; they are just saying make them to agree with what they want. That’s dirty pool.

Peter: That’s an attempt to appropriate the meaning of words.

Helen: Divisiveness has become a bad word, it’s right up there next to racist. Along that line of definitions, we saw an example of how using our own definitions is in the air anymore. We were flipping through a rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and Raymond was musing that he’s not a bad guy, he doesn’t go to Church and maybe he’s not perfect, but on the other hand he hasn’t killed anyone lately. He’s basically a nice guy, isn’t that enough to be Christian? It seems like a mild example, but he’s defined his Christianity; and if we accept that, who’s to say how far the definition can change? Are we indeed free to define Christianity to fit our own conscience or convenience?

Jim: I certainly don’t believe that. God’s truth does not change with the times.

Helen: But isn’t Christianity forgiving and compassionate? Shouldn’t we just accept someone who says they’re not ready for the whole thing yet?

Jim: I think we should accept those people. Should we make them members of our Church? No. The words have gotten very flaky and mushy. Tolerance and acceptance are perfect examples. Tolerance means that while I think your ideas are completely flaky, I’ll still be your friend. We can talk together, go jogging or play tennis together. I’ll let you have your ideas and you’ll let me have my ideas and we’ll tolerate each other. That’s what the word means. Increasingly, the word has come to mean that whatever you say or think is just fine with me. That’s not tolerance; that’s capitulation. That’s not tolerance; that’s an Orwellian strategy on how to use language.

I have friends who are homosexuals – I go out with them, but I still think their behavior is wrong. They think my assessment of their behavior is wrong. That’s tolerating each other.

Peter: It’s like agreeing to disagree, rather than pretending to agree with each other.

Jim: Or insisting that we not disagree.

Helen: My hairdresser is gay and he was always talking about his ‘mean’ family. He said he wanted them to accept him. I suggested that they did accept him, but just didn’t agree with him. He went on about how they dislike, not only his gay lifestyle, but how he spends his money and a number of other things. I finally asked what acceptance would look like and he said, they would always agree with him and be happy with whatever he did. As long as he’s happy, they should be happy for him too, no matter what he did. However, I pointed out, he couldn’t do the same for them and accept them and their ideas as they were. He was looking for a world that doesn’t exist.

Jim: As you pointed out, nobody really believes that everyone will agree with them all the time. Someone said “your freedom ends where my nose begins.” The problem is, if you come from that kind of position where everything I do is fine and everybody is fine with everything I do, there is no reason, in principle, for you to say your freedom ends where my nose begins. Maybe sentimental, but there is no principled reason. If I punch you in the nose, tolerance and acceptance means you think it’s just great. But it isn’t just great – it’s terrible and I have wronged you.

It is difficult arguing with words that may not be useful in a post modern era, because words mean anything I want them to mean.

Helen: That brings us to the “living Bible.” Shouldn’t its interpretation change with the times?

Jim: It seems we have a living Bible, like a ‘living’ Constitution. I must relate a post-modern story. When we were living in the Bay area, there was an article in the San Jose paper about a woman who was a lesbian, a major leader in feminist and gay rights movements, and she had a live-in boyfriend. People said to her doesn’t that make you bi-sexual? “Absolutely not!” She said she was a lesbian with a male boyfriend. So even the word lesbian doesn’t mean anything we can understand anymore. It means whatever she wants it to mean and tolerance means we have to say that’s fine. That makes the tower of Babel look mild.

Peter: I feel we’re skating pretty close to the edge of a conversational cliff here and if we keep moving in that direction the sounds coming out of our mouths will just become nonsense. With that in mind, I feel myself looking around for something solid to hang onto. I’m glad I found religion to the extent that I have. Whatever people say to justify their self indulgences is meaningful in that specific, narrow context, but in comparison to the capital-T truth – which is true whether anyone knows it or not – then that stuff doesn’t matter. It’s how close we can come the real Truth that will save us. I don’t mean to imply that we, ourselves, can attain that Truth, but I mean to say that we can orient ourselves toward that Truth. We can love it.

Jim: Part of it is we need to understand, in the Church, that the ways of communication that worked fine in the 60′s through the 90′s just don’t work anymore

.

Peter: Are you talking about the dissolution of the vocabulary?

Jim: Yes, we need to understand better. I remember in the 70′s and 80′s we had all these arguments about the empty tomb and the resurrection. That was the question everyone was asking then, so we amassed all this information to answer it. Now, we need to know what the questions of this generation are, and we need to find ways of answering those questions that they can actually hear.

I think there are places in the Church where that is going on, but it’s a big project and it’s a big study. I notice your Orthodox cross and I’ve said for a long time now that, if the Liturgical Churches can get their ducks in a row, this is their moment. I really believe that. The mega-Church movement is in large measure a baby-boom movement. My son is 22 and he has lots of friends who are traditional Catholics. Someone was telling me he spoke with the fellow who runs l’Abri in Rotterdam, in secular, secular Holland. Francis Schaefer started it in Switzerland and this is one of its branch offices. This fellow who runs l’Abri said kids in Holland are very interested in Christianity, but they don’t want to worship in a refurbished warehouse with a band. They want to go to the Cathedral!

Helen: Some Churches have changed their worship services. If that’s OK, why not change the interpretation of the Bible?

Jim: As long as there is nothing in the change of worship that is contrary to the Bible, then, fine. We believe that, while the Bible was given through human beings, it was a revelation and inspired by God. It is an unchanging revelation. We look at the way Jesus Christ treated the Old Testament and provided for the writing of the New Testament and we accept the Bible for what it is and accept Jesus Christ for what he said.

Helen: Let’s get into the acceptance of the Old and New Testament as different books and how we treat them differently. In fact, one of the arguments we hear about changing the Bible is, “look, no one believes in stoning anymore, but there it is in the Bible. Why should we accept everything else it says if we don’t accept stoning?”

Jim: There is a distinction made between the moral laws in the Old Testament and the ceremonial or civil laws in the Old Testament. We are not God’s nation in the way Israel was and therefore they don’t apply. They applied in a certain place at a certain time. While we can learn from those civil laws, they do not apply today. The ceremonial laws don’t apply because Christ was crucified. They were the stop-gap solution to a problem that no longer existed after the resurrection of Christ. However, we do believe in the moral laws.

Helen: If we take the whole Bible together, there are stonings in the Old Testament, but also a story in the new Testament where Jesus stopped a stoning.

Jim: What he really stopped is hypocrisy. Here’s a woman who committed adultery; how could she have done it alone?

Peter: The distinction we’re drawing is between a crime and its punishment. In the old days, adultery was punished by stoning. We still have the concept that some acts are considered crimes or sins and deserving of punishment. It’s the civil punishment that has changed, not the crime or sin.

Jim: Right, and you can’t read the Old Testament laws the way you read mandatory minimums. The Old Testament is descriptive, not prescriptive. It doesn’t say, if a kid won’t eat his broccoli, you must absolutely positively stone him to death. No, it’s a description, not a mandate.

Helen: Since we’re talking about offenses, a major theme in Christianity is forgiveness. Unfortunately these days, it seems if we merely disagree with someone, we’ve offended them. How do we reconcile the possibility of having to ask for forgiveness with speaking out against immoral behavior?

Jim: Forgiveness takes seriously that we sin against God. The egoism that says everyone is sinning against me, the person who is offended by every little bump in the road, is thinking about himself, not God.

Helen: For instance, Peter is wearing a lapel pin with a cross on it. He’s not deliberately trying to offend anyone, but some people have said they are offended by it. Should he take it off?

Jim: The same person who says a lapel pin with a cross offends him may be dressed in a way I find thoroughly unattractive, but isn’t going to change because I’m offended. It’s all very one-sided and it’s tied to a victim mentality. It just comes down to people getting away with it.

Helen: It’s more than a one on one problem. We’ve seen public monuments torn down because they offended someone; and it’s not only religious monuments, it’s even the American flag. Yet, we’re asked to tear them down and also ask forgiveness from the Christian perspective.

Jim: It’s because we take these things seriously. If we’re personally offending people we should probably stop it. However, we should remember that in the instances you’re talking about the Gospel is an offense, Jesus is the offense, the message is the offense. You or I are not the offense. I think we should take that seriously. The early Church, certainly in the first number of centuries, is a story of Christians giving offense. So, while I shouldn’t intentionally be offensive, if my faith gives offense, then… too bad. Jesus offended lots of people as well.

Helen: We often hear the phrase, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Doesn’t that just mean, I have my own rules, you can have yours and let’s not bother each other? How does that work in a society where we all have to live together?

Jim: That’s usually taken out of context. One of the enormous problems we have within our culture is that, we’re so individualistic that it is very difficult to develop an understanding of the common good. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one way of getting individuals to begin considering the concept of the common good. We see it in purely individualist terms, and certainly it is a command to individuals, but there is a sense of the common good involved. I don’t think it should be taken out of the common good context because then it just means live and let live.

If I am in the wrong, I think someone should correct me. If I’m doing something dangerous, I hope someone taps me on the shoulder and says “hey, that’s pretty stupid.” If I’m doing something that is damaging to the people around me, I hope there is a way to stop me. Do unto others is not just a commandment to personal morality.

What is good and right for all of us, foundationally, is that we all need to live together.

Peter: It’s earlier than Christ, isn’t it.

Jim: Yes, and it goes beyond Christianity. I believe you can poke around and find the same sort of sentiment in India and China and so forth. Don’t do things to other people that you wouldn’t want them to do to you.

One of the difficulties we have as modern Americans in reading and interpreting the Bible is that we are so individualistic. It’s in the air we breath. One of the things the Gospel does is to start prying that loose, where we must look at some of these things not in a totally individualistic way. There is almost nothing in the Bible that is addressed to individuals. Aside from 2nd and 3rd John, Titus, the two Timothy’s, the epistle to Philemon, that’s it. Those are the books in the New Testament that are addressed to individuals. Even Romans is not addressed to an individual, it’s addressed to the Church. That does not mean I cannot read the Bible and get personal application out of it. However, the application has to be a corporate application. So, for people to go running to the Bible to find individualism, to justify “how dare you judge me,” the it’s-all-about-me attitude… well, it’s just not there in the Bible. But we, as modern Americans, see it there because individuality is so much in the air. No one in the first century would ever have approached it that way. Silent reading was only invented in the 1700′s. The Bible was not just for my private consumption while reading silently in the corner. The Bible was read aloud in Church.

We need to view our lives, we need to view the Church and our understanding of the Bible in a more communal way. God’s work in our lives is always personal but it is never individualistic.

Peter: Despite all the talk about the gay “community,” it still strikes me as pretty individualistic.

Jim: There is so much modern spirituality which is “me, my Bible and Jesus.” It’s not supposed to be that way. That is a modern invention that just isn’t in the Bible. Certainly God speaks to us personally and loves us personally, but it’s not individualistic. From that grows “Christians” without Churches, or the make-it-up-as-I-go-along ‘spirituality.’ From that also grows the “what does this verse mean to you?” approach. It’s not like that, it’s what the verse means, not what it means to you.

Peter: I’m beginning to sense a tension between religion and democracy; speaking of the Institute of which you’re President.

Democracy seems to be a way different beliefs try to live with each other without beating each other up and religion is a way to gather people into one system of belief rather than a negotiated compromise.

Jim: Democracy, at least over the past few hundred years, has turned out to be a very healthy place for religion. Now, whether that will continue to be the case is another question.

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© Copyright Peter and Helen Evans, 2006.

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