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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Just the other day, within a matter of a few minutes, I happened to be at two different stop lights behind two different cars which cited the one same Psalm for two very different reasons.

One had "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" amidst the instantly recognizable Rainbow Flag of the LGBT community.

The other had "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" next to an image of a fetus, around which were the words: Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.

I had to pull over to the side of the road for a few minutes, just to take it all in.

How can a psalm be both anti-abortion and pro-LGBT at the same time?  I mean, you would be hard pressed to find someone in the anti-abortion group who would embrace any one of the categories of people represented in the "alphabet soup" of God's Rainbow Tribe. Likewise, while there are assuredly LGBT people who are opposed to abortion, the preponderance of LGBT people support reproductive justice for women.

So, how is it that two very different groups can claim the same piece of scripture to support their very different positions?

One answer lies in an understanding of something called "proof texting" - which, by the way, is not something one does on one's smart phone.

Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a verse or very short passage of biblical text to prove or justify a theological or doctrinal position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing.

There are dangers to proof texting. I'll never forget the time I was counseling a RC priest who had been charged with pedophilia. He simply didn't understand why what he did was wrong. 

He took out a picture of Jesus, which he kept in his bible. It depicted Jesus sitting on a rock, a lamb around his neck, a gaggle of children at his feet. On the bottom of the picture was this citation from scripture which he understood as scriptural warrant to what he did not yet understand as his illness. It was from Matthew 19:14: "Jesus said, ''Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"

Elizabeth Tokar retells a story every seminarian has heard about the dangers of proof texting in her book, "Humorous Anecdotes Collected from a Methodist Minister": 
"A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, "Then Judas went away and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5b) Closing his eyes again, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" (Luke 10:37b)
I've seen the same thing done with the scriptural passage: "All love is of God" (1John 4:7).  In the early days of the movement for Liturgical Rites of Blessings of the Covenant of Same Gender Couples, it was a constant refrain. That was met with the expected rant from the Right about how LGBT "love" was evidence of the "corruption" of The Fall.

And, we were off. Scriptural gymnastics, I call it. I don't advise it. You can hurt yourself - and others - in the process. I won't even get into the violence it does to Scripture.

Even St. Augustine thought the practice of proof texting was a sin. Then again, St. Augustine saw sin lurking under every fig leaf. 

There are all sorts of variations on these examples of proof texting, but you get the point. 

Scripture has been used to argue for and against all sorts of social issues, from slavery to the subjugation of women, to corporal punishment for children, to....well, name an issue, any issue, and you can make an argument for or against it, using Scripture to support your position.

Truth be told, I am decidedly for reproductive justice and comfortable with my sexual orientation because of Psalm 139. Maybe that's because I'm also decidedly Anglican.

I don't know if I can explain, as a member of the Queer Community, the comfort I draw from these words, when you are told that you are an abomination in the sight of the Lord:
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.
To know that nothing about me is hidden from God - not even my sexual orientation - as I was being "knit in my mother's womb" is a source of solace and comfort and peace that surpasses all human understanding, and allows me to continue to delight in the great variety and goodness of God's creative expression as it is exhibited in my very being.

At the same time, I can embrace and draw comfort from these words in my work in reproductive justice. These words tell me that the life of the woman who is considering abortion is also valuable to God. The words . . . . .
"How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity," 
. . . . . remind me that I am not in control of anything in this life - not even another person's decision to do what she deems best for herself.  God is. Whatever she decides about this pregnancy is between her and the God of her understanding.

It is not my decision to make. It is not my place to judge or condemn. I can only affirm for her what she may have once known but may now have doubts: She is a child of God and precious in God's sight. Along with the divine gift of sexuality, she is also given the divine gift of intelligence.

God has also bestowed us with the gift of free will and, if we mess up and make the wrong choice - even if people judge and revile us -  God is the source of boundless forgiveness and mercy.

It's called grace.

So, yes, it's all there in Psalm 139. It's not a polemic statement. It's a statement of fact. It's not doctrine. It comes from scripture, which is not a rule book. It's a guide book.

It's a statement of the irrefutable fact that, at the center of life, there is a mystery greater than our wildest imaginings.

And, the name of that mystery is Love.

We are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. The world would be a much better place if we treated each other as if we actually believed that were true. 


Jane Ellen+ said...

I suppose I fall into the camp of one you would be "hard-pressed to find," as I consider myself mostly pro-life as well as comfortable with people of various orientations (although I admit I still struggle with trying to understand the "T" part of the alphabet soup; but that's a topic for another post).

I do not believe this is a contradiction. Scripture-- not only Psalm 39, but so many other places as well-- has as a theme the value of human life, in all our messy variety, as created and beloved by God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jane Ellen+ - If "mostly pro-life" means that you accept abortion in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother, I think you are pro-life enough to accept LGBT people. In my experience, people who are absolutely, positively, no exceptions whatsoever anti-abortion are also really, really, really rejecting of homosexuality. It's that "seamless garment" thing. Except, of course, when it comes to the death penalty.

I know there are those of you out there in "anti-abortion" groups, but I can attest that you are few and far between.

I'm delighted you're here and that we agree that the over arching theme of all of scripture is God's love for all of creation.

Genette said...

Proof and tests and trials of faith - all exercises in futility, it seems, all so very human in the consistency of error, even when we understand what's going on, even when we've read the whole text. A question for all those justifying their behaviors and beliefs by that proof texting: how can you be sure that you're not failing the BIG test when you exclude people from the community because of their differences, since God created us all, with differences, isn't the great test of obedience to God our active acceptance of all the variety of God's creation? Do those of you who believe in tests and qualifications and separating the wheat from the chaff actually think you're qualified to decide that some of God's creatures aren't quite good enough? Seems like a giant whopping sin of arrogance, and since you're also the crowd fixated on punishment for your failures to follow texts exactly, seems like you've condemned yourselves to a nasty eternity for assuming a right to persecute others - any others ... any who are, by definition, the neighbors the text charges each of us not just to tolerate, but to love. So, to all of those who play at being God, a prayer: please stop, for the health of your own souls, for the peace of all. Amen.

Unknown said...

Once again a beautiful, thought provoking piece. I'm not sure I have ever heard "God's Rainbow Tribe" before but I love it and am proud to be fearfully and wonderfully made to be a part of it!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Genette - Amen. Thank you

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susan - you are one of the bright colors of God's Rainbow Tribe. I'm so glad I got to know you and work with your. I trust our paths will cross again.

Jane Ellen+ said...

Oh, I am wholly opposed to the death penalty-- much easier for me to be unequivocal about that.

Under which circumstances I "accept" abortion (a better word than "approve," thank you for that) is harder to define. Situations where a woman has had control stolen from her, as in rape or incest, certainly. Serious health risks, of course. Beyond that, the lines get harder for me to draw. A while back I put a lengthier post on the subject on my blog, here; maybe that will explain better than I can without taking up too much room in your comments.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jane Ellen+ I think your blog expresses what many of us have experienced and feel. It's a very mixed emotional bag and very much depends on the situation. Even so, my point is that it is not my place to either decided for someone else or judge and condemn someone else's decision.

I want to keep abortion safe, legal and rare. Let's work on education - including abstinence and contraception. Let's work on the issues that surround abortion: poverty, education, sexism, lack of access to quality, affordable health care, intimate partner violence, etc. (see also: situations where a woman has her control taken from her).

It's not an easy or comfortable course of action. It's not black and white because people's lives are not black and white - nor are they always easy or comfortable.

I think we're saying pretty much the same thing. People who don't won't even talk to people like me.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

What I love about God's Rainbow Tribe is there are more shades and pastels than there are letters of the alphabet! You just can't put "rainbow" in a box.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Kirke. Amen.

Jim said...

A friend calls proof texting, "have I got a verse for you theology." I think it is an apt description. If what I want to do or do not want someone else to do is controversial, I dig for a verse. The one certainty is that somewhere a verse can be found.

It is a sad misuse of the gift of the ancestors in faith that we use it to beat each other up. Instead we should I think, ask ourselves what the whole of Scripture tells us.

Your post is beautiful, thank you for it.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so much, Jim. The thing about proof-texting is that, sometimes, when someone drops a "verse bomb", it feels like too much energy to say, "Yes, but, that scripture was taken from x in a time of y and the speaker was trying to say z." And yet, there are times and situations where there ARE parallels in terms of context and content of scripture when I hesitate to cite scripture and verse b/c it takes too much time to 'splain why I'm using it.

If you respect scripture you only use it after you have studied it and understand it and apply it to the broadest of situations.