I was watching the movie Prayers for Bobby yesterday. It’s about a Christian fundamentalist mom, Mary Griffith (played by Sigourney Weaver), whose son was gay and committed suicide.
After her son’s death, Mary visits the local Metropolitan Community Church, which reaches out to gays and their families, because she learns that her son attended there. At the MCC, she meets the church’s pastor, Rev. Whitsell (played by Dan Butler, who also played “Bulldog” on Frasier), and she barrages him with Bible verses and accuses him of confusing people by saying that homosexuality is not a sin. When Mary points out that Leviticus 20:13 says that men who lie with men shall be put to death, Rev. Whitsell retorts that the Torah also mandates the death penalty for adulterers and disobedient children, yet we don’t take that literally. Although Mary is not yet a convert to Rev. Whitsell’s position, that particular argument gets to her.
The scenes in which Mary interacts with Rev. Whitsell were my favorite part of the movie, even though I wish that they had been longer and more in-depth. Rev. Whitsell was compassionate towards Mary, yet he was also clear that he would not be bullied. Rev. Whitsell also had interesting things to say about religion, even though I can understand why many may not find what he said to be adequate.
What I want to address in this post, though, is Rev. Whitsell’s argument that we don’t take the Bible passages about executing adulterers or stoning disobedient children literally. I wonder what exactly he—-or others who say this—-mean by “literally.” I myself interpret those passages literally in the sense that I believe that they are about executing adulterers and disobedient children. I take those passages at face value, and I do not see them as symbolic or figurative.
My hunch is that what Rev. Whitsell meant is that most Christians don’t apply those passages literally, or they don’t believe in applying them literally. Some Christians do, but they believe that these laws can only be enforced under a theocracy, not by private individuals. Many Christians, however, would say that those passages only applied under the Old Covenant and are not applicable anymore. They may interpret the commands literally, but they don’t apply them according to what the text literally says, and they are cool with that.
Personally, I find these sorts of discussions interesting, but they seem to me to lead to dead-ends (at least from my perspective as a Christian). Okay, so both sides (in this case, conservative and liberal Christians) pick and choose from the Bible. Can the Bible now be authoritative for people? If so, how?