The lost art of humility: homosexuality and usury

Most of the hullaballoo surrounding Knapp-gate seems to have blown over for the time being, but its implications and the probability of similar future incidents continue to grow.

Undeniably, a crucial aspect of Christians’ discomfort with Jennifer Knapp’s stance is that she is “unrepentant” as a lesbian. That charge only works from outside, however, in that from her standpoint, homosexuality is not sin at all. This is considered to make her situation even worse — she’s living in denial! Surely she’s being selective in her use of Scripture, twisting it to make it mean what she thinks it should based upon her experience!

But is interpreting Scripture based upon prevailing sensibilities so unparalleled among her critics? Take, for example, the clear teaching in both the Old and the New Testaments, coming from the mouth of Jesus in fact, that charging interest on loans (called usury in Bible-ese) to fellow believers is a reprehensible, inexcusable practice. Lending money was considered a form of charity and as such undeniably played into Jesus’ fury at the “moneychangers” in the temple and in the social situation of the earliest believers in Acts who shared all possessions.

As I recall, the late Christian financial advisor Larry Burkett advised his evangelical audience not to charge interest among believers based upon this firmly biblical teaching. I can’t say that I’m surprised that Burkett’s once widely-broadcast counsel on this matter has not had much longevity; lending money is bifurcated, conveniently enough, into instances of necessity/charity vs. voluntary business transaction (as with banks), and usury now is taken to mean not “interest” but “excessive interest”.

I’m not saying that these categorizations and redefinitions are illegitimate; among other uses, charging interest actually makes a good deal of sense as a mechanism to allocate scarce capital. What I am saying is that the moment evangelicals (usually unconsciously) fly right past the clear teaching of the text to justify something they feel is common sense, right, and fair, they are in the same territory as those who creatively reinterpret/ignore Scripture for things which evangelicals steadfastly oppose, such as women in leadership or homosexuality. I, too, have found just about every justification for homosexuality based upon reinterpretation of Scripture to lack credibility. Yet evangelicals should not too quickly affirm their knee-jerk impression that those believers who “ignore” or reinterpret Scriptural condemnations of causes such as homosexuality or women in leadership are such unnatural aberrations, or rather, they should not harbor the illusion that they themselves, despite their own unavoidable interpretive incompetence, are somehow exempt from unnatural or aberrant beliefs about Scripture.

What evangelicalism needs most is a swift kick in the pride. Evangelicals must learn to recognize that even their beliefs are conditioned by things other than the text — are sometimes even directly at odds with the text; to acknowledge that no human may legitimately claim or imply the unimpeachability of his opinion merely by adorning it with the words, “The Bible says…” in place of the more accurate statement, “I interpret certain passages of Scripture to mean…”; to grant that even knowing what the Bible says is no guarantor that one knows the meaning or value of what it says. Humility needs to come home to the Church, that institution built in honor of, but too rarely in imitation of, our exemplar who “…humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” (Php 2.8). Humility, in doctrine as much as anywhere, should be the very hallmark of our faith. Newsflash, American Christians: it’s not.

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