Poor pastor Bob Botsford. His god is dead.
I had never heard of pastor Bob until I accidently tuned in to Larry King Live on Friday to find him talking with Bob and a very calm, cool, and collected Jennifer Knapp. Knapp, once an award-winning Christian music sensation has recently grabbed headlines for coming out as a lesbian. Of course, being a lesbian doesn’t really jibe with the whole Christian music scene—but Knapp is back with a new album, and a new commitment to live openly and honestly.
Unfortunately for her, she was mismatched on King’s show with Pastor Bob, and inexplicably with Ted Haggard—the heterosexual with “homosexual attachments” (wonder which drawer he keeps those in!)—for a conversation on whether or not she could really be both gay and Christian.
King, to his credit, pressed pastor Bob on questions over whether or not being gay is a choice (pastor Bob said he chose to be straight because he fell in love with a girl, so Knapp must have chosen since she fell in love with a girl, too), and whether or not it can be considered a sin.
Botsford, who is the senior pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego, unfortunately paints himself into quite a corner when King quizzed him over things considered sinful in the Bible that we all do these days:
KING: You paint the picture. Your—in the Old Testament—I’m not a Biblical scholar—you can’t eat shellfish. Do you eat shellfish?
KING: You’re a sinner.
BOTSFORD: No I’m not. There are some things, Larry, that are very important to keep in context here. Although there are verses in the Book of Leviticus that say don’t eat shellfish, don’t wear clothes that have different materials on it, things that Jennifer has mentioned in the article that she has given in the news coming out—you know what, God changed his mind on shellfish.
KING: When did he do that?
BOTSFORD: There is a wonderful passage —
KNAPP: God changed his mind on mankind. And he gave his savior for one and for all.
BOTSFORD: He changed his mind, if I can finish, in Acts Chapter 10, to answer your question, Larry, on shellfish. And Cornelius has this amazing enlightenment, as Peter has this vision of the lord saying eat whatever you want.
KING: Peter may have been hungry. No pun intended.
BOTSFORD: There is this grace that comes upon all of us no longer to live by the law of the Old Testament. But when you get to the issue of homosexuality, he doesn’t change his mind on that. It flows over into the New Testament as powerfully as it was in the Old Testament.
KING: Peter gets a vision about shellfish. What if Ted gets a vision about homosexuality that says, since it’s not a choice, and as long as a person is observant and good, it is no longer a sin. You will not believe Ted?
BOTSFORD: God didn’t use Ted to write the scriptures. And the scriptures that have been written are the scriptures that I go by.
KING: Nothing is being written today?
BOTSFORD: Absolutely not.
As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I believe that God is still speaking—that means that God does speak outside of the written text and that God is capable of doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) because God is still alive and moving in the world—and yes, God can even change his (or her) mind from time to time. However, if we follow pastor Bob’s logic that the only time God changes his mind is when something from the Old Testament is overturned or not mentioned in the New Testament, we come into some sticky territory.
Let’s take slavery as one example. In the Old Testament, there are plenty of rules for slaves and slavery is obviously acceptable to God. Flip over into the New Testament and you’ll find slavery reaffirmed. God has not changed his mind on slavery. Colossians 4:1, for example, admonishes masters to treat slaves justly—but never to free them. Similarly, Titus 2:9 commands slaves to be submissive to their masters and to satisfy them and not steal from them—again, there’s no mention that the slave should be given freedom. So, by pastor Bob’s logic, God never changed his mind on slavery, so freeing slaves was sinful and against God’s command.
Take the issue of women. In the Old Testament, women are no more than property, passed down like inheritance from father to son. They are not permitted in leadership roles, they cannot initiate divorce, and they cannot take multiple spouses like men can. This status, too, is affirmed in the New Testament. Women cannot be leaders and must learn in silence and submission; and they can never “teach or have authority over men” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Women are to be submissive to their husbands and keep silent in the church. God has not changed his (decidedly his) mind on this issue. So, granting women equal rights, granting them ordination or positions of authority over men is sinful and against God’s command.
Those are just two examples of how we, as a society, have gone against God’s written word, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. If pastor Bob truly believes that the scriptures have been closed and God has said all God is going to say on every single matter of history, then his god is as dead as the pages in his Bible. What pastor Bob clearly worships is the Bible, and it turns his love for Knapp (which he proclaims over and over again) into nothing but a clanging cymbal.
For all those who wish to claim that God reaffirmed the “sin” of homosexuality because it’s condemned in both Testaments have some explaining to do on why they’re not out there agitating to own slaves and to return women to status of property as well. The “God reaffirmed it” argument doesn’t hold water and is merely an intellectual sounding argument for continuing to hold onto bigotry. Botsford isn’t done in his mangling of the Bible, however. In the final defense of his dead and speechless god comes this:
BOTSFORD: In fact, in the Book of Revelation, we’re told that there is a blessing upon those that keep what is written in this book, and a curse upon anyone who would add to it or take away from it.
Pastor Bob, let me give you a quick history lesson. The book of Revelation is just that—a book. When it was written it was not part of a larger canon known as “The Bible.” It was a book, on its own, without other books around it. When it says to not add or take away any words from “this book” it only means don’t add or subtract from the book of Revelation—not from some book called “The Bible” that did not exist at the time of the writing of Revelation. Context, pastor Bob, context. Revelation is talking about Revelation—not a book that didn’t exist when the writer wrote it.
Bless Jennifer Knapp, who held her own in this whole ridiculous discussion. I find it loathsome that King and his producers would even think it’s fair to her to bring someone like Botsford, let alone Haggard, on to “balance” the conversation with her. There is no “balance” to this conversation. Botsford wants to make this a conversation about abstract morality, where it’s easy to condemn gays and lesbians as people just “choosing” to live a “lifestyle” that they can change like underwear.
What King and everyone else in the media fails to understand is that this is not a “two-side” issue. This is an issue about human beings and how we treat them. Putting Knapp in this situation isn’t just bad journalism, it’s immoral—it’s sinful. She should not have to face down bigots like Botsford anymore than Rep. John Lewis should have to debate a member of the Ku Klux Klan every time he goes on television. There is no “other side” argument to homosexuality, there is simply homophobia that needs to be dispelled and anti-gay people who need to be educated.
The biggest surprise of the interview for me, though, came when I found myself agreeing with Ted Haggard:
I believe Jesus was very clear and the scriptures were very clear when they say the command is to love. The command that covers them all, predominant, “love the lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And so—so, love is the predominant thing. God is love. The scripture says Jesus displays how to do this. Jesus warns religious leaders, strongly, that we must not use the scriptures to point our fingers at other people without letting the fingers point at us as well.
Amen, Ted … amen.