Nicholas Kristof, a columnist at The New York Times, has made theology an occasional specialty of late. Last July, in Jesus And Jihad, Kristof used the recently released 12th book of the Left Behind series to explain how evangelicals and Muslim terrorists are essentially the same.
"If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of "Glorious Appearing" and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit."
I often write about religion precisely because faith has a vast impact on society. Since I've praised the work that evangelicals do in the third world (Christian aid groups are being particularly helpful in Sudan, at a time when most of the world has done nothing about the genocide there), I also feel a responsibility to protest intolerance at home.
Earlier, Weblog has praised, critiqued, applauded, and criticized Kristof for his columns on evangelicals and evangelical thought. Why do we care? Because it's The New York Times. But also because Kristof seems like a nice guy trying to reach out to evangelicals, who have a lot of influence in American society and ought to be understood.
However, in his recent columns Kristof seems less to be trying to understand evangelicals as they are than about trying to set them straight. Last year, Kristof complained that more people believe in the Virgin Birth than in evolution, and said he was troubled by "the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic."
On Saturday, Kristof wrote, "So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with each other, did he goof?" He says he's been researching how the Bible regards homosexuality (though he seems to have skipped over the Fall) because "that is the ground on which political battles are often decided in America."
Here, at the beginning of the article, Kristof shows he doesn't really want to understand these wacky conservative Christians. He gives an example of the religious ground on which political battles are fought. "When a Texas governor, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, barred the teaching of foreign languages about 80 years ago, saying, 'If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us.'"
That's not exactly the kind of politically engaged religion that today's evangelicals identify with. In fact, it seems that Kristof isn't trying to understand conservative Christians so much as make his liberal-leaning readers feel smug, knowing that evangelicals are backward, anti-intellectual, and would ruin the country if allowed in power.
"The story of Sodom is treated by both modern scholars and by ancient Ezekiel as about hospitality, rather than homosexuality," Kristof writes. "In Sodom, Lot puts up two male strangers for the night. When a lustful mob demands they be handed over, Lot offers his two virgin daughters instead. After some further unpleasantness, God destroys Sodom."
Kristof goes on to say, "The most obvious lesson from Sodom is that when you're attacked by an angry mob, the holy thing to do is to offer up your virgin daughters.
"While homosexuality never made the Top 10 lists of commandments, a plain reading of the Book of Leviticus is that male anal sex is every bit as bad as other practices that the text condemns, like wearing a polyester-and-cotton shirt."
Kristof can't separate Old Testament Jewish law from New Testament morality.
Jonathan and David may have had sexual relations, Kristof says. "Theologians point out that that the Bible is big enough to encompass gay relationships and toleranceas well as episodic condemnations of gays."
Kristof then says Jesus never condemned homosexuality. Paul did, he writes, but maybe only gay sex and not lesbian sex. "In any case, do we really want to make Paul our lawgiver? Will we enforce Paul's instruction that women veil themselves and keep their hair long?"
Because the Bible is so ambiguous, we should just allow gays to marry, he says. "Or there's another solution. Paul disapproves of marriage except for the sex-obsessed, saying that it is best 'to remain unmarried as I am.' So if we're going to cherry-pick biblical phrases and ignore the central message of love, then perhaps we should just ban marriage altogether?"
Kristof is the one cherry-picking biblical phrases. His column reads as if his researching the Bible's take on homosexuality amounted to reading liberal theologians, who would agree with his own views, and reading the passages they referred to. It shows the potential danger of jumping into the Bible outside any tradition of interpretation.
Weblog agrees that the Bible's central message is love, but God's love doesn't allow people to do whatever makes them feel good. Because of his love, God disciplines and punishes.
Kristof's forays into the Bible do little to deepen anyone's understanding of the Bible's take on homosexuality or conservative Christian concerns over same-sex marriage. Kristof cites no theologically conservative scholars. Not only are evangelicals anti-intellectuals who think Jesus spoke English, they don't even know what their own Bible says, according to Kristof. Or, they only chose texts to justify homophobia while wearing polyester-and-cotton t-shirts. Hypocrites.
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