A Modest Response
to Matt Walsh's Attack on Jen Hatmaker; or When Christians Attack!
|In this corner....Matt Walsh|
This is a warning/disclaimer that this blogpost is going to be long as I'm essentially going to be copying nearly the entire column because almost every line is deserving of a response.
|Annnnd in this corner....Jen Hatmaker|
Matt's reponse to the Jen Hatmaker interview will be in red and my responses to his will be in black.
Right off the bat, I need to take issue with his own headline:
Dear Christians, it doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what the Bible says. Actually, Matt, from an intellectually honest standpoint as a Christian it matters a great deal how you feel and while it does "matter what the Bible says," getting any two people to actually agree on what the Bible "says" is near impossible. The evidence is the literally thousands of split-off denominations, dead denominations and sects, hundreds (if not thousands) of translations and variations of the text, the hundreds of thousands of people put to death over it, and the fact that the Bible itself actually "says" nothing. It is a collection of disparate works, none of which were written with the expectation or knowledge that at some point after the author's death someone else would come along and collect them into a singular book collection and then attempt to pretend and convince everyone else that they are somehow magically a single work of mystical writing. When someone like you says the "Bible says," what you actually mean is that "this is what I think the Bible means when it says such and such." And then you go beyond that and expect your interpretation of what it means to be a universal absolute that applies to everyone else. Which is fine for you but not so much for everyone else.
Jen Hatmaker is a prominent Christian author and speaker. My wife tells me she had a show on HGTV for a while. These days, she’s apparently moved away from renovating homes to renovating Scripture.
I accept that you may not have been aware of who Jen is. I was not aware of her until I was shown her interview by someone else. Although, I suspect that you are feigning unawareness for the sake of a lousy attempt at diminishing her influence right off the bat. Your attempt at being clever with the "moved away from renovating homes to renovating Scripture" would only be clever if there were anything in that interview that came even CLOSE to "renovating Scripture." All she did was answer questions honestly from her own flawed and human perspective. Which, in my view of God, is actually a lot more close to the Divine truth than regurgitating dogma and doctrine from others as if it is how I actually feel. She answered how she feels about things but NOT as any kind of statement about scripture or the church. She makes it very clear that this is how she sees it. Just because her worldview doesn't line up with mine or your worldview precisely is irrelevant. Whether it lines up with scripture has all to do with what her beliefs are about the authority of the Bible and how her own relationship to God is defined by it, not Matt Walsh's.
I just reread the interview with Jen. She never once quotes a Bible verse or twists a verse out of context. So how exactly is she "renovating Scripture?" You do realize that Christians can have opinions apart from the 27 letters and other writings collectively known as the current Protestant New Testament? If you do not realize this, then I would suggest you are either brainwashed or brain dead.
That’s a problem, because unlike an old ranch-style house with ugly carpets and 1970’s wallpaper, God’s Holy Word doesn’t need any updates. It’s eternal, unchanging, and always right, no matter how we happen to feel about it.
Ad hominem dig at Jen for being a home renovator followed by a declaration of your view on the Bible and your declarative statement that it is "always right, no matter how we happen to feel about it." So, who decides which interpretation is "right"? And what do we do with portions of the Bible that even the most conservative of scholars admit were not even written by the author who the church has given credit to? How does this sustain the idea that it is "eternal, unchanging, and always right?" I believe that claiming authorship of something, or assigning authorship of something after the fact, to someone who the church authorities knew quite well could not have been the author is what I would consider duplicitous at best and outright deception at worst. Either way, couple that with the fact that we have found enough early scraps and completed texts to have a pretty good handle on what sorts of insertions, deletions, and wholesale additions have happened to these writings over the centuries leading up to the printing press (which made the book into a widely distributed and accessible volume), the concept of "unchanging" requires checking one's brain at the door. And as for the title of "God's Holy Word," none of the works in the collection itself has ever made that claim -- at least for the whole because none of the works were ever written with the knowledge that it would be collected with other works later. Within what we call the Protestant New Testament the scriptures referenced by the writers are references to the Jewish scriptures at that time, which included most of what we call the Old Testament but also other known and lost writings. And mystically, Jesus himself is the only thing actually referred to within the New Testament as the "Word" -- which is something to really take some time to ruminate about, Matt. Meditate on this: Jesus is the Word. Not the Bible. Elevating the Bible to the level of God's Word is a way for the Church to effectively deify it so as to make it above criticism and assume a role as final authority on how to interpret and apply it.
Christians like Jen Hatmaker would do well to remember this. Especially if they’ve been given, or have claimed for themselves, a position of leadership in the faith. It’s a grave responsibility to be a Christian with an audience. As someone with an audience of my own, I know this well. If we contradict Christian teaching, if we misrepresent Christ’s commandments, if we lead people away from the truth and into the darkness, we have not only put their souls in jeopardy but our own. Christ says it would be better for us to drown in the sea with a stone tied around our necks than to cause someone else to stumble into sin. I believe He meant that quite literally.
And herein lies the major stumbling block to your understanding, Matt. The word "literally." You need to climb out of that dank, dark cave of literal thinking and remember that we are talking about mystical writings, by their very nature. The writings that make up the Bible are what we call "inspired" which does not mean they are infallible or the literal "word of God." It means to "arouse, animate, or imbue with the spirit of a supernatural or divine influence." Being inspired by God does not make you God nor does it make your writing infallible or the actual literal word of God. If God has the power to control our writing in such a way, I am also positive that he would have the power to make sure that all translations are perfectly accurate, that there are no typos or mistakes, and most of all that there are no misunderstandings or differences of opinion on what the words mean or how to apply them.
Jesus is metaphorically the "word of God." This need to construct a literal "word of God" says more about our own carnal inability to comprehend the Divine and the metaphysical world than it does about God or how to live a right and good life.
When asked about gay “marriage,” Hatmaker declared that homosexuals have the “right” to marry members of the same sex. She said our churches should offer support and instruction to those in gay “marriages.” In other words, she believes that churches should not only accept the abomination of gay “marriage,” but actively facilitate it. When asked if she would attend a gay “wedding,” she said she’d be there with “gladness,” ready to pop the champagne and celebrate their sin with them. She said that if her own child turned out to be gay, she would want him to enter a “faithful, committed marriage” with another man. And, in final act of heresy, she announced that gay sexual relationships are “holy.”
This is the Gospel according to Jen Hatmaker. Many supposed Christians in our culture have a similar Gospel. But it may be useful to pause here and reflect on what the Actual Gospel has to say on the subject. Indeed, we either believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God or we don’t. If we don’t, then we shouldn’t be writing books and giving interviews and going on TV and speaking in front of crowds while waving the “Christian” banner. We should renounce the faith, declare ourselves agnostic or atheist or whatever, and then we’ll be free to promote moral relativism and hedonism all we want. We’ll still be wrong, but at least we’ll no longer be heretics. But if we do actually accept the Bible as the unalterable and eternal truth, then we must make sure that we aren’t publicly contradicting it.
As is so often the case, Matt, you immediately zero in on the "gay" comments and blow them way out of proportion, which indicates profound homophobic tendencies within you. But I am particularly disturbed by the dismissive manner in which you call anyone who might not share your viewpoint as "supposed Christians." Why are you so tight-assed that the mere concept that someone may believe in the very same Gospel you do but not interpret it exactly the same way as you must be a fake or a poser? Why are you so threatened by a different point of view? As a mature adult you should be able to recognize that even within the umbrella of Christianity there are a myriad of varying beliefs. Or maybe you've never really done any historical or archaeological reading or studying about the early years of Christianity and especially about how the gospels and the other writings of the New Testament came to be collected in the first place. I recommend you read a couple of books by Bart Ehrman. He's a great place to start on this. Maybe expanding your severely limited view of the Bible itself and the higher principles of love as espoused by Jesus of Nazareth would lead you to embrace this larger community of believers who love God and love their neighbors to the degree they love themselves, which I think is a rule of thumb you might be familiar with.
Remember, she's not "publicly contradicting" the "unalterable and eternal truth" of the Bible in this interview. She is giving her personal beliefs on current social topics. Now, implicit in this, as she is a Christian, is that Jen obviously does not find her beliefs to be "contradicting" the "eternal truth." She must somehow find them compatible. Why do you think she would find them compatible when you do not? She finds them compatible, I believe, because the views she espouses in the interview are consistent with Jesus's teachings about love and acceptance as he demonstrated through both his words and his deeds. I fully believe that the Jesus that I read in scripture would say almost identically what Jen said, only he would have the Divine imprimatur on his words that would give them authority. But, as far as I know, nobody actually asked Jesus to give an opinion on what we call "Same-Sex Marriage" because this was not a topic du jour in those days. So, all we can do is take the higher principles of love and respect and apply them. And having a different approach or an expanded understanding of the Bible does not mean she is contradicting anything, and especially not contradicting God.
So, for the benefit of those Christians who think Scripture was silent on the issues of marriage and sexuality, here are a few relevant passages:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” – Romans 1:26
“Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” – 1 Timothy 1:8
“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” – Jude 7
I think Justin Lee, author of the book TORN, addresses all of these much better than I could but the bottom line is that those verses are not quite so clear as they may seem once a fuller understanding of each verse is brought to light. And for those who are not up for reading an entire book on the subject, the always-excellent Rachel Held Evans published a series of blogs discussing Lee's book. The one pertinent to this chunk of Bible-verse-bludgeoning would be this blog from 2013: Torn, Chapters 12-13: Back to the Bible.
Hatmaker called gay relationships “holy,” which means divine, while the Apostle Paul called them degrading and unnatural, and promised that anyone who practices homosexuality and does not repent will be barred from the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we are left to ponder who is a greater authority here: The Apostle Paul or the lady from HGTV.
Again, Matt, you need to go reread Romans 1:18-32 in its full context. I'll wait here while you do that. Here's the link.
You done? Okay, now that you've read it you will surely notice that it is not a selection focused on same-sex marriage. This is a section in which Paul (or whoever may have actually written this part) lists off the sorts of people who are going to be inhabiting Hell and it consists of gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful people, as well as lust-filled hedonists (gay and straight). If all you see in this is a statement about gay people then you are once again missing the higher point. The higher point is selfishness. It is about people abandoning their innate love and respect for others and sociopathically indulging themselves in whatever way they want to, including abandoning their "natural" desires for those that are "unnatural." Technically, the same syllogism would work for someone who was gay but got inflamed with "unnatural" lust for someone of the opposite sex. In other words, using these verses to somehow extrapolate as a directive by Paul (who was not married) concerning marriage is absurd and makes the scripture speak to something that it is not addressing at all.
And, by the way, I would sure like to see how you take that scripture-stretching muscle of your's and somehow ignore away the fact that "disobedient children" are also in that list of people burning in your literal Hell. How many blogs have you written condemning those Christians who raise children who are disobedient?
Now, you may struggle with the Biblical teaching on homosexuality, just as you may struggle with any other teaching. You may not understand it. You may find it harsh and difficult and emotionally distressing. But before we even get into explaining why the Bible says what it says, all we really need to establish is that it does say it. Period. We are commanded by God to accept this teaching or risk losing our souls. It’s not an option. We are not required to follow Christ only in the areas where we can find mutual agreement with Him. Our consent and agreement does not matter. At all. Not one tiny bit. We are called to follow regardless. That’s what it means to love God.
I think the only one struggling here is you, Matt. You are struggling to make scripture mean what you want it to mean because your eisegetical bias makes you literally incapable of reading the Bible outside of the prism of your own dysfunctional fears and prejudices. Following God does not mean checking our individualism at the door. That is not what it means to love God. To love God means to be who you are -- who God created you to be -- and to be a light to the world by loving others as he has loved us.
If Mrs. Hatmaker finds herself grappling with doubt and uncertainty about this teaching or any other, she should pray about it, consult her pastor, read Scripture, read Christian apologetics on the topic, pray some more and then pray again. She should do all of this in private, speaking only with close Christian friends and mentors who may be able to help her sort through it. But what she should not do — what she absolutely cannot do — is stand in front of the world and declare these teachings moot just because she finds them distasteful. How she feels about them personally is of no consequence. She is not God. Her thoughts and feelings don’t become reality just because they entered into her head.Just because someone holds a different Biblical perspective than you, Matt, does not mean that person is "grappling with doubt and uncertainty." Sometimes I feel like people who arrogantly present their own personal view of Biblical interpretation as the "right" one are the people are grappling with their faith and certainty. It's often a truism that those who yell the loudest about what's "right" tend to privately be the ones who are struggling the most because the cognitive dissonance between what they think they are supposed to believe is not compatible with what they know.
And no, I do not agree with your advice that she deal with this privately. I think it is perfectly right and reasonable for believers to process through our growth and understanding publicly. God may not change, but we do. And our understanding of what God wants can and should change. I personally don't find the Bible passages distasteful on these topics. I do, however, find your judgmental interpretation of them to be. You are not God either. Your beliefs and feelings are just as valid and potentially flawed as Jen's. In other words, if you want people to respect your feelings on these matters then you should extend the same respect to others. Her thoughts and feelings don't become reality just because they enter her head and neither do your's just because you wrote them down in a snide column attacking a fellow sister in Christ.
Obedience is not emphasized in churches very often these days, but it should be. Obedience to God means following Him, standing by Him, affirming His teachings at all times, even when we struggle to understand them. We are commanded to submit to God. Submit. That means give in to His Word and His Law, no matter how it makes us feel.Obedience is not emphasized in churches very often these days for a very good reason: obedience robs believers of their identity, of their individual personality, of the ability to think for oneself, and it puts them in a position of subservience to flawed authority claiming a Divine imprimatur. Following God does not mean blind obedience. Even the story of Abraham and his near sacrifice of Isaac is a metaphor for saving faith not a literal teaching on obedience. No, I do not believe the God that Jesus described is the type to demand blind obedience. And because of that, the key is what Paul further explained. We all know what is right. It is written on our hearts. We know it even apart from scripture and we glean it from our conscience, which is where we feel God. As the writer of the first letter to Timothy wrote: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," In other words, it is "inspired" and it is "useful." It does not say it is absolute. It is "useful." And in that, I will agree. I will also remind you that at the time of the writing of the letter to Timothy there was no New Testament scripture, so this was a reference to whatever Old Testament writings and other writings they may have been using as teaching material, including such extra-Biblical sources as The Book of Enoch, which was quoted authoritatively by Jesus himself.
So, why is gay marriage wrong? Well, first of all, because He said so. I know that reason will not be enough to convince unbelievers outside of the church, but for Christians, if we intend to continue being Christian, it is reason enough. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” Proverbs reminds us. If you don’t understand why God condemns the homosexual act, that’s because you lack wisdom and insight. It’s not because God is wrong. Don’t rely on your own understanding. Trust God. That’s the fundamental problem with Christians who try to “update” the sexual morality of the Bible: They don’t trust God. They don’t believe Him. And if they don’t believe Him, it’s hard to see how they could really believe in Him.
A reminder: Jen is not trying to "update" the sexual morality of the Bible. Saying something over and over like that does not make it true. You are extending her comments to mean things that she did not say.
But if we do want to understand why God has declared the homosexual act a sin — even if the why of God doesn’t matter nearly as much as the what — I would recommend that we do three things:
First, read the first chapter of Genesis. God looked at Adam alone on Earth and decided that he needed a partner. It is not good for man to be alone, He said, so he made Eve. This tells us that men and women were, in a very intimate and profound way, made for each other.
According to you. There are plenty of valid interpretations of that text that are not the same and none of those different interpretations mean that you are the only one who is correct. I understand Genesis to be a metaphorical poem of myth. There is a great truth about the relationship of God to humanity but I don't force a literal interpretation onto it any more than I would onto one of William Blake's great didactic mythological poems. I would say the more likely point is not one of sexuality but of the equality and intertwining of the human species as fits more appropriately with Paul's admonition that in Christ there is no slave, nor master, nor female or male, etc.
Second, read the early passages in the Gospels. Christ was born of a woman and raised by His mother and His earthly father. We call Jesus, Mary, and Joseph the “Holy Family,” but you might also call them the “correct” or “true” family. If we want to know what a family is supposed to look like — and if all of the Biblical words and commands and teachings on the subject are somehow not enough — then we need only observe the physical, literal demonstration God provided for us. He said, “Here is a family, THE family. Make your families like this one.” How much clearer could He be?This is a prime example of the worst possible hermeneutical approach to Biblical interpretation. Telling the story (or monomyth) of Jesus's birth has absolutely nothing to do with presenting an image for future generations of what a family is "supposed to look like" unless you mean an adult male making a baby with a 13 year-old virgin out of wedlock and then roaming the countryside looking for a place to stay. <-- See? This is me illustrating bad hermenutics with bad hermeneutics.
Third, read Matthew 19. Jesus, casting away any lingering doubts, describes a lawful marriage in detail: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
According to the Son of God, a marriage occurs when a man is united to his wife and the two become one flesh. There you go. There it is. There’s the truth. What part of “man united to his wife” is difficult to understand?
These three passages are especially important because they tell us something about the nature of things. Marriage has a certain nature. It serves a certain function. It does certain things and exists for certain reasons, and those things and those reasons and those functions are all made clear by God and His prophets and Apostles. If we read the Bible, we come to understand that gay “marriage” is not simply immoral, but intrinsically impossible. It doesn’t just defy God’s commandments, it defies logic. Speaking of gay “marriage” is like speaking of “dry water” or “rectangular triangles.” It’s simply incoherent.
Again, you're making the Bible say what you want it to say rather than taking the clear meaning within a proper context. The context for Jesus's words was that the Pharisees were attempting to "catch" him with a question about the propriety of divorce within that culture. It's not a question inquiring about the state of love between man and woman or man and man or woman and woman. It is a statement about the joining of two souls into a matrimonial state with a divine compact between the two. In first century Palestine, the idea that the Pharisees would be asking about same-sex marriage is absurd. So there is no commentary being made here by Jesus about same-sex love. But there IS a higher principle about two adults making a marital commitment to each other. And this is a principle that can be applied to all marital relationships regardless of sex, gender, or plurality.
This is not an oxymoron or incoherent. It is actually using the same method of interpretation that Jesus regularly used himself when trying to teach the people. He would point out some concrete belief they were accustomed to claiming a scriptural foundation for and when they all agreed he would then confound them by challenging their presuppositions and forcing them to expand their perceptions and try to see the higher principle behind the rule or the law. And he also expressed his frustration that sometimes even the Disciples were not getting it.
Now, there are many aspects of the faith that I find challenging and mysterious. Personally, for me, this isn’t one of them. It all seems quite sensible and utterly consistent with the innate moral intuition that all human beings possess. But even if I couldn’t see the logic in Biblical marriage and even if I couldn’t intuit it based on natural law, it would still be just as true, and I would be called to affirm it and profess it all the same. There are many concepts that my puny little brain can’t seem to wrap itself around, but that’s why I must lean on God’s understanding. Not mine. And certainly not Jen Hatmaker’s.
Good. I'm glad to see you growing her in your point of view to recognize that this is a personal belief on your part and not some incontrovertible Divine truth. You have spent an inordinate amount of typeface explaining to the world why Jen Hatmaker's "feelings" do not matter and yet now you are referencing your own (and humanity's) "innate moral intuition." Intuition sounds remarkably similar to feelings. I would suggest that you lean a little more on God's understanding because your own understanding is remarkably unhinged, even setting aside your own attempt at faux self-deprecation. But let me encourage you with this, if you find something in your faith that is "challenging and mysterious"? Stop looking to apologetics to try and understand it. That's just letting someone else do the thinking for you. I would encourage you to look not for a set of concrete rules to tell you what to think but instead seek to view the Bible from above rather than within. This way you can see the whole picture first perhaps and glean the higher principles for proper context for the individual verses. And then break outside of that comfort-zone box and encounter God in his fullest and infinite potential. This is freeing. And it fits the picture of the God that Jesus shared. A God who is not so petty as to fixate on behavior but rather on growing the heart, like the Grinch, because when the heart grows two-sizes in one day, it's going to hurt but the love that flows after it is worth celebrating. This is the heart of the Christian and it is the heart of one of who loves without condemnation.
So I would ask Mrs. Hatmaker what she believes has happened in the last few years that all of a sudden changes the fundamental nature of marriage? What exactly have we learned, in our modern and enlightened state, that even Jesus Christ did not know? What is the truth that we’ve discovered that debunks the truth given to us by God Almighty? Yes, a lot of us have icky feelings about Biblical sexual morality, but feelings aren’t truth.
Of course I’m being a bit flippant. Nothing has happened or can ever happen to debunk or disprove God’s truth. All that can happen is that we, in our weakness and stupidity, become blinded to it. And if we are blind then we should pray to have our eyes opened. But until that happens, all we can do is follow God’s voice in the darkness, wherever it leads. That, we should always remember, is the very essence of faith.
I would suggest that nothing has changed Jen's view on the fundamental nature of marriage. What has changed, if anything, has been her understanding of how God loves unconditionally. Instead of attacking her, maybe you should examine the principles of unconditional love and think beyond this limited box you've comfortably settled yourself into. Your God-Box appears to be extremely small, in my opinion.
The essence of faith, to me, is the confidence that we know there is something more than what we can see, that we should be a light of love to the world, and that no matter how much I believe something there is always a chance that I could be wrong. And that's okay.
God knows it and he's okay with it too.
Love. Just love.