Amy-Jill Levine has a post up over on Huffington Post on “The Bible and Sexuality” wherein she offers some general guidelines on how to read the Bible “in a manner that is grounded and thoughtful rather than uninformed or soporific?” Her five guidelines are worth reading and certainly work to move people toward conversation and away from demonization. Her fourth point, though, is one that I think is particularly problematic for some:
Fourth, we do well to recognize that biblical standards are not always our standards, and nor should they be. The Bible makes adultery a capital crime; if that legislation were put into practice, we’d knock out a third of our population. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines; we become apoplectic over bigamy.
Now, even though I say this is problematic for some, I actually think that everyone who reads the Bible as a book for any sort of guidance understands and implements this guideline. For the ones who argue most vehemently with me that women should not be pastors because “the Bible says so” are not arguing for slavery, polygamy, and genocide because “the Bible says so,” even though the Bible unquestionably supports them.
The problematic aspect, though, is getting us all to realize that this is a guideline we already think is important and already employ in our reading. Further, as AJ Levine points out, not only are all biblical standards not our own, not all of them should be. Our shared humanity, our morality, and our relationships (with people and with the divine) should cause us to accept some biblical standards (loving our enemies, giving to the poor, honoring our parents) and reject others (genocide, slavery, mistreatment of women, some views on sexuality).
Most likely, we will not all agree on the specific standards that should be accepted or rejected, but hopefully this guideline, along with the other four Levine lays out, can help us have meaningful conversation.