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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in homosexuality (2)

Thursday
Sep302010

The Bible and Christian Ethics - lectures at the University of Stellenbosch

This week I had the privelage of teaching at the University of Stellenbosch on two days.  The topic of the lectures was Scripture and Ethics.

The Bible is a critical source that informs our moral and ethical decision making processes, and helps us to justify why we have taken a particular course of action.  My lectures were based on two chapters that I have written.

Reading the same Bible and reaching different ethical conclusions:  The Bible and Christian ethics" by Forster, D (2009:131-156) in What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa. Kretzschmar, L; Bentley, W; van Niekerk, A (eds). Kempton Park, AcadSA Publishers.

And,

"Why you can't simply trust everything you read" by Forster, D (2008:25-46) in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, D; Bentley, W (eds). Cape Town.  Methodist Publishing House.

When we need the Bible most... Complex ethical dilemmas and Christian scripture

Sadly, the Bible is often abused in moral and ethical decision-making processes.  I often hear people quoting a single verse to justify a stance on something (whether it be politics, sexual choices, wealth etc.)  An overly simplistic approach to ethics and an ignorant application of the scriptures can be extremely hurtful and damaging in complex ethical decisions.

In this set of lectures we began by examining the complexity of ethical decision-making.  We used a story that a student shared with me when I was still a lecturer in Ethics and Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) some years ago:

Moral problems tend to have straigthfoward answers (right or wrong), whereas ethical dilemmas seem to have a mix of both good and bad.  No matter what choice you make it will not be entirely good or entirely bad.  The complexity is to work out what decision is best under the circumstances.  This process of deciding is often complicated when one asks the question 'What would God want me to do in this situation?', or 'What does the Bible say I can and cannot do in this situation?'

The example used in class came from a student that I taught at UNISA.

Example:  Is it ever right for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother?  What does the Bible say?  The answer is, no, it is not acceptable for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother.  The Bible will not allow that.  This is a clear moral problem.  It is easy to resolve since the choices are either right or wrong, good or bad.

However, in this instances the young man was at home with his mother.  A gang of thugs burst into their home, stole various items and then held a gun to the young man’s mother’s head.  The told him that if he did not have sex with his mother they would kill her.  What should he do?  Does the Bible make some allowance for him to break a law on sexual purity because the value of his mother’s life is more important in Biblical terms?

This last point is an ethical dilemma.  There is a conflict of values – the value of sexual purity in conflict with the value for life.  Which is more important in Christian ethics?  How does one use the Bible to inform such an ethical decision making process and choice?

Well, here are the slides from the lectures.  You can download the original Microsoft Powerpoint slides from this link (5MB).  These slides have notes and references in them. 

However, if you simply want to click through the slides then please use the slideshare window below.

In order to illustrate the complexity of using the Bible in Christian ethics we used a very contentious subject, the Christian (Biblical) perspective on persons with a same sex orientation, and in particular persons in an active homosexual relationship, to consider an approach to ethical decision-making.

I would highly recomend that you read the chapters referenced above.  They give a detailed technical outline of both the content of the lecture, but also the Analyse, Ask, Evaluate and Act model that is presented here.

Sunday
May272007

Let's talk! Homosexuality and the Bible.

This evening I met with some of the senior members of our congregation to give an account of my stance on the same sex issue.

They were wonderfully gracious, incredibly understanding, and treated the subject, and me, with earnest and sincere integrity, seeking to understand, yet at the same time having the freedom to disagree when feeling inclined to do so. Thank you for your grace and understanding. Whilst we are not all on the same page with regards to an appropriate Christian response to persons of a same sex orientation, we are on the same page with regards to our love for Christ, our desire to see the Church remain one and undivided, and the fact that Christian scripture is authoritative and is the primary source of God's revelation.

Of course, each one of us approaches that same sacred text from very different perspectives, with a different life's history, differing experiences of the same God, and so also with different 'interpretive lenses' that shape what we read, and how we read and apply the text in our lives. This is often the source of misunderstanding. So let me say a few things about the lenses that inform my approach to God's Word.

I for one accept that all of scripture is God breathed (or God inspired), as the Word of God, however, I know that I have come to understand certain texts as being fundamentally culturally and contextually bound and so such texts are in need of some interpretation (for example those texts that suggest that women should not speak in Church, or that Christians may own slaves and still honour God in doing so, or some of the Old Testament dietary laws relating to pork etc.). I accept, without too much effort, that these elements of the Bible need to be understood as addressing particular cultural and social issues (for example dietary laws helped to keep people healthy - however, pork is no longer dangerous to eat (except of course of your cholesterol is as high as mine is!), injunctions about what is socially acceptable for women to do in the ancient near-east were about maintaining order in worship in a culture that frowned upon women taking a lead when men where present - most of us would certainly agree that society has changed significantly and that very few persons would find a woman in leadership offensive to their faith. And what about ethical statements made to Christian slave owners? These statements were clearly made in a context where ownership of slaves went unquestioned, so the issue is about being humane to those in one's service, not about ownership of others persons.

There are other even clearer examples of Biblical injunctions that many of us would not hesitate to 'interpret' through our 'modern lenses' as being so context bound that God would certainly not expect that we apply them unquestioningly. Let me list a few examples of texts in the Bible that I choose some interpretive license with - for example the expectation that I am entitled to sell my lazy daughter into slavery [Ex 21:9] (after all at what age does she become productive? How should I measure her productivity in this day and age? Would I not be transgressing Paul's injunction in Romans 13 to obey government laws by putting a child to work in this day and age? If so, which law do I obey, Exodus or Romans?), or what about my neighbour who works on the Sabbath, she is a nurse, Ex 35:20 says that she should be put to death for doing so. Does God really still expect me to do this? If so, what would you suggest is the best possible way to do it? Or what about the fact that the senior pastor of my Church should not be allowed to go near the altar, or even enter the temple, since he does not have perfect 20/20 vision (he wears glasses as proof of that fact) which is clearly prohibited by Lev 21:20.... and the list goes on. These examples, however, help to make my point. I hope that you will agree that we all choose some measure of interpretation when it comes to the Bible. Consistency in interpretation would thus seem to be the only integral approach in such a reality.

Now please hear me, that this does not mean that we must throw such texts out of the Canon of scripture, or that the Bible does not still maintain its authority! No, rather it means that we MUST always approach the text with a great deal of humility, sensitivity, and rigor, being constantly dependent upon the God who breathes authority into the text, and Christ who is the true Word, to help us understand God's will and desire through the texts that we read.

Please could I encourage those who wish to understand why I hold the views that I do, particularly in relation to sacred Scripture, to read the article below? It is not very long, but it will help you to understand the 'lens' that shapes my reading of the 5 texts that are usually associated with homosexuality and the Bible.

I am not asking that you change your mind, but simply that you understand that my position is based upon a deep conviction that has been shaped by much searching, committed prayer, and what I believe to be a far more responsible approach to scripture - letting the text tell me things, rather than trying to tell scripture what I want it to say to support my individual, or society's, prejudice.

Of course there are many other things, and people, who have helped me to understand that God loves gay people. However, that is the content of another post.

Here's the article: Walter Wink homosexuality and the Bible.rtf. It is in Rich Text Font (RTF) format. You should be able to open it in MS Word.

Once you've read it, let's talk! My great desire is to be obedient to God, and to be effectively used by God, to share grace and love in God's world. Please feel free to post comments. I promise to hear you with the same integrity and respect that I ask from you. However, please do read the article before posting.

Together with you in Christ,

Dion

PS. Please excuse the poor formatting in the Walter Wink article. I scanned it from a paper copy I got some years ago.