The former SLO High School instructor who wrote an opinion piece for the student paper should be chided for submitting an article expressing his religious beliefs in what is likely a totally student-driven endeavor. Students are, after all, a captive audience required to attend school, and he is an authority figure at that institution. How comfortable students might feel challenging his opinion is questionable, and it’s unfair to place minors in a situation where they don’t have the option to walk away as adults would. I say this as a committed evangelical Christian for more than 40 years, having come to my beliefs as an adult in my early 20s.
That being said, professor Michael Latner did an excellent job of setting up strawman arguments, using limited portions of scripture to paint a picture that distorts the motives of Christians and their beliefs. The passages cited by the professor and other critics don’t give an accurate picture of what is being quoted from the New Testament book of Romans, consisting of letters from the apostle Paul to the church in Rome, written around the year 57 AD.
The world of ancient Rome was a culture in which a father could kill his newborn child at whim for any defect or if female, for no reason at all. Infants were routinely set out along roads or in garbage dumps to die of exposure if they were unwanted; if lucky they might be rescued to become a slave. It was also a world of great violence with slaves and captives routinely forced to battle to the death in the arena with captive women especially subjected to the most barbaric practices to satisfy the lust or bloodlust of the mob.
In the ancient world, widespread sexual practices condemned by the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as immoral included child prostitution, human (child) sacrifice to idols, depraved acts with animals, and all forms of sexual promiscuity between married or unmarried couples. People engaging in these practices often contracted communicable diseases that were essentially incurable. The God whom professor Latner describes as “a genocidal maniac,” commanded the ancient Hebrews to remain separate as a people, not to inter-marry or participate in pagan religious rituals in any way with neighboring nations, lest they be tempted, co-opted into abandoning their faith and allegiance to God along with incurring microbial contamination into their families.
The New Testament passages that generated so much local controversy are derived from the first chapter of Romans in which Paul challenges the promiscuous sexual practices common in the Hellenistic world described above, including homosexuality and all its derivatives. The specific passage in which Paul states “those who do such things deserve death” is a referral to more than 20 specific and general acts, lifestyles, habits, and destructive behaviors, including murder, and includes all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage (heterosexuals don’t get a pass for promiscuity) listed in the passages in question. Both Hebrew and Roman laws called for the death penalty for social breaches, such as adultery (both men and women under Hebrew law) or by a wife (Roman law) and modern civilizations still employ the death penalty for murder.
Professor Latner continuously referred to the New Testament in terms of “bigotry,” “hatred,” and “intolerance,” but it principally speaks to the spiritual state of humanity, which is in constant rebellion against the absolute authority of the Creator-God. The passage in question today refers to spiritual death versus temporal, as we don’t live in a theocracy as the Hebrews did 2,000 years ago or a Roman culture that routinely executed people for the slightest offense against the state.
As it is written in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” This refers to the separation of humanity from a totally righteous, just-but-loving God for eternity. The New Testament teaches that reconciliation requires repentance that is followed by mercy for the “sinner,” the price of justice being paid by a “perfect and blameless sacrifice,” that of Christ on the cross who paid the price for all of humanity. That sacrifice is neither owed nor earned but is unmerited grace and mercy to those who ask for it.
That is the essence of the Christian faith as preached and practiced by the Christian evangelical community. It is not a faith of “bigots” or “haters”—terms used to constantly defame believers—but a simple message of redemption from a merciful God. Christians are often clumsy in their effort to share this message, a message they were commanded by Christ to share.
Their motive is to warn humanity of danger and direct them to the “fire exit” lest they face his deserved judgement that will hold all of us accountable for our every thought, motive, word, and deed, according to his standards, not ours.
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Al Fonzi - Atascadero