NPR Gives a Free Pass to Biblical Literalists

Dear NPR,

As an early riser I am a fairly faithful Morning Edition listener. I am also an ordained minister who has been engaged in one way or another with the great “Bible & homosexuality” controversy for far longer than I care to remember.

This morning I heard the tease for Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s story and thought, “Aha.. .this should be good: people who read the Bible come to different verdicts on homosexuality. It’s time that non-specialists, people who just assume the Bible is all on one side, knew about this.”

When the piece came up, I was also pleased to hear that Ms. Hagerty had interviewed two clergy leaders I know and respect—Rev. Susan Russell and Rev. Graylan Hagler—along with two conservative clergypeople whom I do not know.

As the five-minute piece wound down, I was about to conclude, “OK, good job,” when Hagerty ended it with this zinger:

Of course, conservatives say that the best blueprint for God’s kingdom on Earth does not spring from what you read between the lines of the Bible, but what you read in black and white.

At this I spilled my coffee on a perfectly good shirt.

Rev. Hagler had just pointed to a famous passage in Galatians 3 which points to the inclusive reign of God. Earlier in the piece, Rev. Russell had cited the Great Commandment while mentioning that Jesus had nothing at all to say about what we today call homosexuality. This material is there in black and white: it’s not “between the lines.”

Perhaps Ms. Hagerty accepts at face value the wildly inaccurate statement made to her by conservative pastor Rev. Tony Evans that the Bible is “clear… that sexual relationships are to be between men and women in the context of marriage.” Perhaps Ms. Hagerty, like Rev. Evans, is not aware that the Bible includes references to marriage between a man and his wives AND his concubines, between a man and a woman plus other women, between a man and his brother’s widow, between a man-as-rapist and his victim, and between male soldiers and their female prisoners of war.

While it is true that advocates for equality and inclusion can never persuade biblical literalists that the clear direction of biblical testimony points toward inclusion (let alone shake their hilarious conviction that the Bible’s only model for marriage is one man + one woman), it is equally true that people on the side of inclusion have not ceded and will never cede the Bible to those who devoutly want God’s Word and God’s will to align with their own prejudice.

NPR should be embarrassed to broadcast an ostensibly analytic piece that concludes by giving a free pass to the literalists and by reinforcing the notion that those of us who read the Bible for its core message are really not reading it at all.

Eagerly awaiting the next pledge drive,

(Rev.) Peter Laarman
Los Angeles

peterlaarman@gmail.com'

Peter Laarman is a United Church of Christ minister and activist who recently retired as executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting in Los Angeles. He remains involved in numerous justice struggles, in particular a campaign known as Justice Not Jails that calls upon faith communities to critique and combat the system of racialized mass incarceration often referred to as The New Jim Crow.