I’ve written before about how some parts of the Bible are more important than others; about how Christians relegate some of it – ironically much of what Jesus is purported to have said – while elevating other bits. These latter aspects trump the former, so that if there’s ever any dispute about how Christians should behave in a given context, they’ll happily cite the elevated parts while overlooking those that are less to their liking. This happened recently in the Kim Davis case,* which I talked about last time. In that context, the verses from Romans I quoted, in which Paul instructs believers to obey civil authorities, are explained away and dismissed in favour of other passages. Here are commenters doing just that on the crackpot Christian site, World Net Daily:
Have you not read Acts 4:19 and 5:29? There is a time when God’s authority trumps human authority. In this case, Kim Davis stood up for God’s authority. God’s word calls homosexuality an abomination. Ephesians 5:11 teaches that Christians must have nothing to do with the works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Sometimes…when you give to God…what is God’s…you will have to disobey the civil authorities that are over you. Kind of like Paul…refused to stop preaching and jailed…God took care of him, though, I do believe. Although never truly jailed, except at the end…didn’t Jesus disobey the “law”, Mosaic Law, when He preached?
It’s not as if Paul was writing about ‘authorities’ that conducted themselves in considered or considerate ways; this was the Romans, after all. They would eventually execute Paul – so much for God taking care of him! – just as they had Jesus himself. Nonetheless, Paul tells the brethren they must honour Roman authorities. But somehow, if Christians today are to be believed, he just didn’t understand what it’s like to obey civil (in both senses of the word) secular authorities in the 21st century. They consider his teaching in the early part of Romans 13 to be invalid, no longer applicable, irrelevant to the very situation it was designed to address. Other passages from the Bible are far more important and therefore trounce it easily.
But who decides this? Who decides, in what these same Christians deem to be the literal Word of God, which words are less literal than others; less applicable; less relevant? And, consequently, which are more important, more applicable, more ‘of God’?
The evidence would suggest it’s the individual Christian who does, led, no doubt, by the Holy Spirit, who inexplicably leads different believers to different conclusions about the same source material. There’s no ‘free-will’ involved in this process, however; individual interpretations of scripture are informed by the consensus of the church or the movement with which individual Christians align themselves. But who in these institutions determines the order of priority for the Bible’s many confused and often contradictory injunctions?
Determining what is important in the Bible, and what isn’t, is the result of a consensus of prejudices and biases. It’s easy to find ‘teaching’ in the Bible that supports one’s own views and opinions and equally easy to find that which doesn’t and is incompatible with the position one already holds. To reconcile the two, and to deal with the discomfort of any cognitive dissonance, Christians demote any teaching that doesn’t correspond with their pre-existent world-view – sorry, Paul, but this includes your silly suggestion that we should obey the authorities – while promoting those ideas that conform to and confirm that outlook (so hurray for those verses that say gay people are abominations and have no place in the Kingdom of God!) The very words of God are ranked according to the whims and prejudices of those reading them.
Again, I’ve written before about Christian priorities, about how those parts of the Bible they find unpalatable and challenging – such as those that say they should give away all they have and love their enemies – are explained away or ignored. But as for those passages that tell Christians how superior they are while excoriating others as ‘works of darkness’ – well, now you’re talking!
*While Davis claims all her husband swapping took place before she met Jesus, she was a member of the Baptist church while she was busy trying them all on for size. At least three of her wedding ceremonies were conducted by Baptist ministers. All that happened in 2011 was that she joined the more extreme pentecostal movement, which empowered her to ignore the log in her eye and concentrate on the speck in others’.