Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Abraham and Isaac Matter (A follow up to "Farewell")

Note: This post is a follow up to my post on “Farewelling.” I recommend you read that one first to understand the context of this discussion.

Let’s Talk About Abraham and Isaac

I speak for myself, but I also speak to a degree for others of my generation when I say that the story of Abraham and Isaac - and more specifically its interpretation within the Evangelical camp - troubles us.

There are plenty of stories - particularly in the Old Testament - that are disturbing for a variety of reasons, and one thing that my generation wants and needs is a way of engaging these stories without expecting us to conclude that what we see as immoral and unethical behavior is okay because God commanded it.

To give the most extreme example, there is the strong indication that God commanded genocide of women and children. For atheists like Richard Dawkins (not a fan, for what it’s worth), this was a deal breaker. And they have a point. We in our modern times would consider the slaughter of children to be immoral and unethical. I believe rightly so, and I believe that most of my Evangelical friends would as well. The problem arises when one reads the narratives and tries to explain why something was okay then but not now.

I hope eventually to address how I have approached the issues in a future post, but that is beyond the scope of this already lengthy post.

For the case of Abraham and Isaac, the central questions (as I see them) are as follows:

  1. Does God require Child Sacrifice?
  2. What is the ultimate meaning of the story?

    Abraham and Isaac, Rembrandt (1634)

Contrary to views of a number of the commenters on the Rachel Held Evans thread (see the previous post), I believe that the answer to these questions are VITAL. Not frivolous at all, but crucial to the Christian faith as it stands now. In fact, these questions have been debated for millennia, and I find it disturbing that many Evangelicals consider the issue settled, and that there is only one possible right answer.

That is why I am troubled by those who are quick to dismiss RHE’s questioning and dismiss her from the faith.

I have been ruminating on this for some time, and bring to the discussion my own experiences and that of my family. Let me expand on this.

Does God Require Child Sacrifice?

During the time in which Abraham lived, the answer was unequivocally “YES!!!”

There is some evidence that child sacrifice was an integral part of Ancient Near East religion. Children were property, and were sacrificed to the gods just like livestock and crops. This was necessary to appease the angry gods and also to show gratitude for blessings. (Since first-borns were the usual sacrifice, I would have been toast…)

And this was hardly limited to the time of Abraham. (Best estimates would be at least as early as the era of Hammurabi: 2300-2000 BCE.) Child sacrifice persisted (according to the Bible) well past the era of Moses. In fact, they are are mentioned in the prophets as occurring well over one thousand years later. As far as secular confirmations of this practice, one might cite the Greek myths about the historical Trojan War (roughly 1000 years after Abraham).

The idea of child sacrifice was endemic to the culture. It was (arguably) accepted, expected, and normal.

In fact, while it is not certain, it is entirely plausible that Abraham’s elder sibling was sacrificed. While we today would recoil at the thought, there is no reason to believe that Abraham thought the request to sacrifice his firstborn was anything unusual.


Except that God had promised that Isaac would be the source of Abraham’s descendents.

Just my opinion, but I think this is a key to the story.

But anyway, the big question persists. Did God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? (Or did Abraham misunderstand?) Does God ever ask us to sacrifice our children?

Let me share a story from my parents. I’m not going to get too far into the specifics, because it is their story to tell, but I will give the outline.

Both of my parents were missionary children, born in the 1950s. As was standard protocol for missionaries back then, children were viewed as an impediment to ministry. They (missionary kids of the era) were therefore sent off to boarding school as young children, and essentially abandoned. I would say that many of them suffered at minimum neglect, and in some cases abuse as a result. My own parents expressed a lot of hurt and anger as a result of this, and I believe it colored their view of missions, to say nothing of their relationships with their parents.

I remember talking with my parents about this, and how they had to eventually conclude that their parents were, if not intentionally neglectful, at least wrong about this decision.

I am pretty sure it was my father who told me that he concluded that “God does NOT require child sacrifice.” Certainly, my parents made it their goal to avoid sacrificing us.

But this doesn’t end with the missionary question. Does God require us to sacrifice our children?

If one is a female, this is a particularly pertinent question. Should a parent sacrifice college for a female child? Does God ask that? Does God ask that for male children as well? (Bill Gothard believed the answer was yes…)

Or, at another level, does God require that we force our children to adopt the fashions of the past in clothing and music? Does God require us to use corporal punishment? How do we determine what sacrifices we force our children to make?

This is why it bothers me that RHE’s questions were just dismissed as heresy. They are important to me and my generation. (more on this later)

Does God ever require child sacrifice? If He did in the past, does He now?

What is the Meaning of This Story?

I’ve mentioned that music has been an integral part of my life experience, and this story is no exception. During my sojourn at Osborne Neighborhood Church, I used to play violin (with a dear older lady) for their choir musicals for Christmas and Easter. I particularly remember that we did Ray Boltz’ Easter musical, Watch The Lamb a few times. Sure, there is a bit of an '80s pop vibe to it, but it was poignant to me at the time, and I still feel an emotional connection to the music. (I might even admit that some of my improvisational technique - particularly my love of the 2nd in harmony and that pulsing quarter note pulse from the piano - comes from my formative years playing this stuff.)

When I was writing this post, my mind was drawn to this memory, and some lines from the lyrics.

In general, Christian thought has focused on the ultimate meaning of the story. In essence, it is a foreshadowing, a premonition, of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. Many - perhaps most - of us have understood it this way. The ultimate meaning of the story is that God would someday sacrifice his son/himself on our behalf. Thus, the meaning wasn’t really one we were to take practical application from, but more inspiration and gratitude.

Here is the song that is the arrival point, the pinnacle of the musical, when everything is tied together.

The meaning of the story of Abraham and Isaac doesn’t become clear until the true Lamb is seen. The story isn’t really about what Abraham does but what God does later.

The problem came when the story was viewed as both literal and as instructive. Not a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate love, but as a reminder of what WE are expected to do.

What SHOULD one do if God asked one to do something that seemed immoral and unethical?

I really, truly, wish that this was a purely academic question, but it isn’t. A major thrust of modern Evangelical Christianity has in fact been that one must follow God’s commands (as we understand them - or as the best minds of our denomination tell us they are to be) even if we believe that they are immoral, unethical, and harmful to others. In other words, we are to disregard our brains and our conscience, because they are fallible, and instead follow the bible (as interpreted by, um, certain people). Period. No questions.

And thus, the meaning of the story of Abraham and Isaac is that one must OBEY even though obedience violates both intelligence and conscience.

I didn’t mention Watch The Lamb just because. In the musical, there is a “flashback” to Abraham and Isaac, and the Abraham character sings a song to Isaac called “God Will Provide The Lamb.” I can’t find a link, or I would place it here. It has been 25 years since I played this. I still remember the lyrics in great detail.

“God will provide the lamb. It’s time to obey, though we don’t understand. God will provide the lamb.”

At the time, this didn’t have quite the meaning to me that it does now.

This was before our Gothard years, before I fully realized that so many things would be considered to be a matter of “obedience.”

But when we started discussing Abraham and Isaac, it came back to me.

And I realized that for many Evangelicals, the moral of the story was not that God chose, for reasons obscure to us, to paint a foreshadowing picture of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Rather, the moral of the story was that:

All of us NEED to be willing to do what we believe God commands even if it hurts, kills, or destroys others.

We must be willing to sacrifice our children, if necessary, because God commands it.

We need to OBEY, even when we don’t understand, and even when our brains and our consciences cry out with violence against it.

In the course of the discussion (which I detailed a bit more in the first post), a number of more “traditional” viewpoints from other bloggers were posted in the thread.

Even the more “balanced” ones, however, without fail, drew the lesson of “obedience” from the text. Every single one.

I believe this is a wrong and harmful interpretation.

And I believe this is what RHE was reacting against. Because it is what I and many of my generation are reacting against.

If you want to look at the passage in Hebrews 11 that commends Abraham for his faith, then look at what actually is said, not what we have been told it says. 

Abraham isn’t commended for his obedience. He is commended for his faith. Specifically, his faith in God’s promises. His faith was credited to him as righteousness. Not his obedience - that, is, his “righteousness” - doing the right thing, but his faith.

The point (in my admittedly fallible view) is that Abraham believed that God would accomplish his promise through Isaac. He trusted in God’s ultimate reliability and trustworthiness. The promise would hold, even if the dead had to be raised. “Abraham had faith and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

We are so quick to forget this, and focus on being so damn right. Abraham may very well have mistaken God’s voice, or he may have done the wrong thing (as he did elsewhere), but he was considered righteous because of his faith that ultimately God would do what he promised.

In this way, I believe that the “farewelling” misses the point. God does not depend on “perfect” doctrine about hell and creation and even sexuality to advance His kingdom. God does not count on our perfect, unquestioning obedience. We are not so much called to excommunicate from the faith, but to work out our faith in love toward others. Our focus shouldn’t be to kick out those who don’t have the same views, but to look to the fruit. If the fruit is a disregard for the oppressed, then we have a problem. And if our fruit is rotten, how do we know that we are actually following God?

I Don’t Trust My Parents’ Generation To Identify the Voice of God

This is a hard thing to say to my parents’ generation - and to a degree my own parents, and I know I will step on toes with this.

I do NOT trust you to correctly identify the voice of God.

And I do not think I am alone. The generation gap I have observed regarding the RHE issue and others is NOT a coincidence. We do NOT trust you. At all.

This is not to say that I feel we are better or that we are right. Instead, it is a belief that ALL of us need to show some humility. We don’t understand fully. On many issues. And dogmatic assertion that we are right - particularly where it concerns other people - isn’t helping at all.

If anything, my generation feels that - in a pinch - you would gladly sacrifice us to your god. Because you have, and continue to do so.

Want some proof?

Well, let’s go back to John MacArthur, who recently came out with a video wherein he advised parents of homosexual children to cut them off completely as if they were dead. This sure sounds to me as if this was a form of sacrifice. Since society doesn’t allow for the slaughter of gays, at least let’s act as if they were dead. (And, not coincidentally, gay children of religious and rejecting parents are substantially more likely to commit suicide. And those who are subjected to “repairative” counseling are even more likely to die by their own hands.)

Do I believe most parents will do this? No. In fact, even some of my friends who were into Gothardism have “failed” to cut off their gay children.

But this is sure as hell (according to Piper and MacArthur) the teaching.

Gothard had his own version of this that probably most of us who survived can recall - with a little residual terror, perhaps. Gothard taught that even adult children were bound to obey their parents in all things. The discussion of the principle of “authority” is beyond the scope of this post, but I can tell you that there were speakers at the conferences who spoke of the need for adult children to obey.

If they didn’t? Well, Gothard had a solution. Parents were to “turn their children over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh” until they either came around, or, well, something. Presumably bad things. They would die, or get horrible diseases or bad accidents and so on.

As I said, I suspect many of us felt the fear at the time, and maybe still do occasionally.

But what about the lesser sacrifices? Probably most Evangelical parents have been taught that corporal punishment is God’s will, and that failure to spank would be disobedience to God. (Not trying to make an argument one way or the other regarding corporal punishment, but just that the teaching is what it is - that one must spank or be disobedient to God.) Is failure to spank a sin? Really?

Gothard isn’t alone in his teachings on authority. A quick perusal of the popular trends within the Evangelical world reveal that the past 30+ years have been a never ending stream of parenting books teaching that the number one priority in child rearing is to teach them instant, unquestioning obedience.

Here are some names that come to mind: Gary Ezzo (Raising Kids God’s Way - isn’t the whole title the pinnacle of arrogance?), Michael and Debbie Pearl (To Train A Child. Some children have died as a result of their methods.) Even more mainstream authors like James Dobson of Focus on the Family got into the act with Dare to Discipline. The methods may differ, but the goal is the same: unquestioning obedience to parents leading to unquestioning obedience to God. (And by corollary, to a certain interpretation of God’s will.)

One could also fill in a number of secondary issues here where parents have in practice sacrificed for their god.

All of us who have been forced to sacrifice “small” things such as our musical preferences, halloween celebrations, pork and shellfish, and so many others, because some “prophet” decided they were “evil.”

I hope to address this in a future post, but most of us who have survived the Patriarchy culture can point to some area in which our parents have sacrificed their relationship with us on the altar of “God told me to.”

There is some issue that has caused a serious rift in the relationship that can be directly traced back to an interpretation of scripture or the teaching of some teacher. A child’s disagreement with that teaching has led to a breakdown of the relationship, because the parent believed that “God’s command” required them to sacrifice the relationship for the command.

So no, we don’t trust you to correctly understand the voice of God. You too were willing to sacrifice some part of us to your god. And the voice of your god more often than not sounded like the voice of your own fears and insecurities. I'm not saying you have bad intentions; quite the contrary. The problem is that this view of "obedience" has so poisoned our judgment that we no longer have the discernment to reject false teachers who call for human sacrifice. There will never be an end to the procession of Gothards until we learn to reject the teaching of unquestioning obedience.

And this is one reason why we react so strongly to your dismissal of RHE and her concerns about the Abraham and Isaac story.

When you talk about the story, and how it means obedience, we see you standing there with a knife. And we are on the altar. Or, more to the point now, we see our children there on the altar. 

How We Interpret Scripture Matters

I have wrestled with this for quite a few years, and I cannot say I have truly resolved the issue, but I strongly feel we Evangelicals have not learned the lessons of our past, and thus cannot really speak morally about this.

In the past, we have interpreted scripture to permit slavery, oppression of women, witch trials, and more. A “serious” view of scripture has NOT prevented injustice and error. Period. And we need to stop lying to ourselves and pretend that it has.

The false teachings of Gothard, Phillips, and others didn’t happen because they didn’t take scripture “seriously.” They didn’t error because they failed to acknowledge the “inspiration, inerrancy, and authority” of the scripture. Quite the contrary.

A literalist interpretation of scripture has led to much injustice and oppression. Perhaps that is why Christ himself castigated the religious leaders of his day for focusing on the detail of the law while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and mercy.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our decision to “farewell” others shouldn’t be based primarily on adherence to a detailed theological belief, but on our heart toward others.

A Few Alternative Views on the Meaning of the Abraham and Isaac Story

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio (1603)
I like that Caravaggio doesn't shy away from Isaac's anguish.

It is problematic trying to come up with the one, definitive, meaning of any story, whether in the Old Testament or otherwise. There are a few options.

  1. What does the story mean in retrospect?

I already mentioned this one. From the New Testament perspective, Abraham and Isaac were forshadowings of Christ and the ultimate sacrifice. This one is pretty uncontroversial, and if it were the only interpretation advanced, most of us - including RHE - probably would not object.

2. What did the story mean back when it was written down?

This is a bit more difficult. Any follower of the US Supreme Court is familiar with “originalism,” which is the theory of interpreting the Constitution that seeks to find what the words meant to those who wrote them. Whatever your views on Originalism, one must at least admit that this is hardly an easy task, and ever worse is trying to apply that meaning to situations that would never have been imagined by the writers.

So what DID this story mean in the context of the Ancient Near East? There are a few theories, of course. One is that the “obedience” message is the prime one. Quite apart from the moral issues, though, I think this runs into the problem that Abraham and others in the Old Testament questioned and argued with God all the time. If anything, God seemed to welcome the debate, and sometimes “changed His mind,” however you might interpret that. So, at most, unquestioning obedience isn’t clearly taught if you look at the overall picture.

Another intriguing option is one that I ran across while researching this. Some believe that one key message of the story at the time it was written was that God was abolishing child sacrifice.  By providing a lamb, God was moving his people away from the common practice toward animal sacrifice, which would in turn be abolished with the New Covenant.

In some ways, this idea is very satisfying. The culture accepted child sacrifice (and would for a couple thousand more years), but God gently pushed Abraham in the right direction.

3. What has the story meant to others later on?

I noted the author of Hebrews, who took a different message. The so-called Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 is all about people who believed. They sometimes overcame great odds and won victories. Sometimes they were killed for their faith. The point is, though, that they believed. And that they believed that God would ultimately bring his purposes to pass. The child of promise. The greater resurrection.

The Most Provably False Interpretation

I already argued that I think that taking a lesson of blind obedience from this story leads to evil. I think a second factor comes into play that makes this wrong lesson unbelievably cruel.

In the story, as everyone knows, Isaac isn’t actually sacrificed. God provides a substitute at the last minute, and Isaac lives.

This makes sense if you take the “foreshadowing” interpretation, or the “God abolished child sacrifice” interpretation. But it doesn’t really work for the “blind obedience” interpretation.

Here’s why:

That interpretation believes and expects that God will provide a substitute at the last minute if we would just obey.

This is provably false.

Let me mention another story later in the Bible, that is set about 800 years after Abraham. A dude named Jephthah won a victory and promised to sacrifice the first thing that greeted him when he came home. That “thing” turned out to be his young daughter. (I discussed this - and the way that Isaac and the unnamed daughter were believed to be chattel - in this post.

So Jephthah, believing that God commanded him to sacrifice his daughter prepared to do so, and then was saved at the last minute.

Oh. Wait. That didn’t happen.

No, Jephthah’s daughter was slaughtered. She died. She was murdered. And God never provided a substitute.

This is a profoundly disturbing story, particularly in light of the “sacrifice” of Isaac. Does it mean that girls aren’t valuable? That only the children of “promise” are exempt from being murdered in the name of God?

Or did Jephthah maybe not hear the voice of God correctly?

And see, this is the problem in how we interpret these stories now. If the lesson is “unquestioning obedience” and the expectation is that God will provide a substitute at the last minute, then why hasn’t he?

Those children beaten to death by those following the teachings of the Pearls are still dead. Those daughters denied an education haven’t magically traveled back in time to get it. Those gay children who committed suicide are still dead. And countless relationships will never really be restored (at least until eternity) because they were sacrificed on the altar of “God commanded.”

And no matter how hard you believe, there will be no miracle.

I believe it is because of this fundamental misunderstanding of this story. (And the way that it has been manipulated by leaders eager for unquestioning obedience to themselves.)

The message isn’t “It’s time to obey, though we don’t understand.”

Maybe the message is “Put down your knife. Do not sacrifice a child.”


Addition 6-9-15: If you haven't seen it, you might watch this Game of Thrones scene.
Not for the faint of heart. But this is what we are talking about.  

Why I am optimistic for the future of the world, but pessimistic about the future of Evangelicalism:

Fortunately, I think many have come to the same conclusion and have decided to “put down their knives.” The same tendencies that have caused great pearl clutching among the older generations about how the “young people” are I think will ultimately be for the good. (Although it may cost the Evangelical church a generation or two of tithing members.)

Despite what John MacArthur teaches, I believe that many parents (as I noted, even older ones steeped in Gothardism) have decided to put down the knife when it comes to gay and lesbian children. Despite what Piper teaches, many have decided to put down the knife and stand with victims of domestic violence and help them leave and seek justice. (DV rates have gone down substantially in the last 60 years - and even more in the last 20.)

In my most optimistic moods, I hope that the cynicism of those of my generation and later will result in a reduction of predatory teachers selling poison in the name of Christ. The only thing that will prevent there from being another Gothard, another Doug Phillips, another Rushdoony, and more of their ilk is a generation that is willing to call bullshit on anyone who teaches that God requires one to ignore one’s brain, sear one’s conscience, and sacrifice others on the altar of “godliness.” Because until that happens, there will be no end to these predators. Because the “voice of God” so easily becomes synonymous with our fears and cultural insecurities. The sweet voice of those who promise that everything will work out fine if we just obey, and if we just do things this way, even though that nagging voice in the back of our heads and hearts says, “this is illogical and may hurt people.”

At some point, we need to stand up and say, “God does not require Child Sacrifice!”

I think that the younger generations get this. But because they do not hold the power in the Church, they are leaving. As a result, the voices that remain in Evangelicalism seem to be becoming ever more fundamentalist, quick and eager to purge the “impure” from the club. The more moderate voices are either shamed into silence, or forced out. This isn’t the case in all churches, obviously. I am blessed to be a part of one that is a haven of grace right now, but the overall trend is not encouraging.

Darn, I wish I could find this cartoon:

Sometime, during my formative years, a cartoon ran in the local paper (probably The Daily News (Los Angeles)). Sadly, I cannot find it. I think it was essentially a wannabe Far Side clone, but clearly not the real thing.

Anyway, a Neanderthal shaman is standing in front of the crowd, and says something like, “The gods are angry, and can only be satisfied by the sacrifice of someone other than me.”

Truer words were never spoken about the heart of religion. In fact, I think this is one of the things that bothered Christ so much about the religion of His day: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” (Matthew 23:4 NASB)

This isn’t to say that those placing burdens on others don’t also place them on themselves. As one of George Bernard Shaw’s characters in Man and Superman puts it, “It is the self-sacrificing [people] that sacrifice others most recklessly.”

It may not have been the belief in ancient times, but in our modern times (for better or worse), we believe that some sacrifices must be made by the one sacrificed.


If there is any doubt about the difference between the “unquestioning obedience” paradigm and that of the teachings of Christ, I want to mention that He said that anyone that caused a little child to stumble would be better off if he had a millstone tied around his neck and he were cast into the sea.

If we truly believe this, then I think we have to at least question Abraham’s decision. I don’t think RHE is off base in this. Perhaps our first question when it comes to how we deal with our children shouldn’t be, “Am I obeying [my favorite preacher’s interpretation of] God’s commands?” but, “will this cause my child to stumble?” 

How Evil Happens:

I might expand this thought to a full post some day. My observation is that there are two basic scenarios in which religion is used to evil purposes.

First is when an unscrupulous person or persons cynically use religion to accomplish their own ends. These are the sociopaths, and many empire-building preachers fall in this category. I think of Constantine, and “By this cross, conquer.” These men (and occasionally women) have seen religion as a means of power and dominance. They gain power through the weakness and ignorance (and poor judgment) of good hearted believers led astray.

The second is - in my opinion - worse. It occurs when a person in good faith and with a pure heart believes that God is calling him to do great evil in His name. That is when one crosses the line from selfishness and greed into jihad.

Once you are willing to do anything that you believe God asks you to do, regardless of brain or conscience, there are no longer any limits. At that point, you spill your children’s blood in order to send others to hell and bring the Kingdom to earth.

Note on Watch The Lamb:

One of the things I don’t want to do is give a negative impression of Watch The Lamb. With the caveat of the one song - which may well have mirrored Abraham’s thoughts, as far as that goes - I found it a beautiful telling of the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, playing that clip brought me back to those days in 9th grade, when so much of what I love about my faith became real to me. I can still see the notes on the page, the actors and singers on the stage, and feel everything so deeply.

At the time, Watch the Lamb was a strongly emotional experience, equal to anything I have experienced playing classical music. Okay, maybe except for “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” or “Worthy Is The Lamb” from Messiah. I still tear up for those every time. But I would still list Watch The Lamb as one of my top 10 peaks in my spiritual journey.

And still, the Greatest Story Ever Told is still that. And Ray Boltz told it well.

Oh, Ray Boltz. Hmm, that’s a hard nut to crack in retrospect, isn’t it? Boltz came out of the closet a few years ago, after faking it for 40+ years. Does that negate all the people he touched with his music all those years?

Some links for thought:

I eventually want to write about Theonomy and its damaging impact on the way we approach the Bible, but that is at least a series, not just one post, or a footnote to a post. Rachel Held Evans shares one epiphany with me, however. In Mark Twain’s outstanding book, Huckleberry Finn, which my mother read to us at a young age, has a scene in which the young Huck has the opportunity to turn in Jim, a runaway slave (and Huck’s friend). He agonizes over what to do, as he believes that the “godly” thing would be to turn him in. (This was, in fact, the position of most Southerners, and many Northerners.)

Huck concludes that he cannot violate his own conscience that way, and says to himself, “All right then, I’ll go to hell!”

And I have found that that is where I am at. If my “faith” means violating my own conscience, I’ll take my chances, thank you. If I must do evil because God commands it, then why would I want to serve Him? It is only in the belief that God does not command evil (such as child sacrifice) that one can serve such a god.

The problem, naturally, is how one distinguishes what God desires.

RHE has an amazing post, once again on the Civil War (which I firmly believe continues to haunt American Christianity - and which partially explains our continued poor decisions on moral and ethical matters.)

Her point is that it is pointless to simply conclude that the South was wrong (a concession some don’t make, by the way). We have to have empathy for the oppressors and understand that they weren’t monsters. They may have made horrific mistakes, but they made them largely in good faith.

The implication is profoundly uncomfortable, though. If good people trying their best to serve God could become the instruments of evil, so can we. If we persist in our arrogance that we know the mind of God, we too can be the hands and feet of rank evil to others.

Lest one think that I was exaggerating in my previous post in saying that this is mostly about how we respond to gay and lesbian children, let me offer another RHE post, which reflects the conversations I have heard and participated in over the last 25 years of my life. The story of Abraham and Isaac is usually offered as “proof” that one must sacrifice one’s children if they “come out.”
But it isn't just about this issue. The problem, as I stated above, is that any deviation from an increasingly rigid and detailed cultural view of the faith is seen as a reason to punish and control.
Just an interesting thought:

Just an interesting thought:

We become like the god we serve. 

(The old, “if horses had gods, they would look like horses,” or the line from Star Trek I: “we create God in our own image.”) If we believe our God is angry and obsessed with sexuality, that is how we will be.


  1. Whoa whoa - so much good here! “...most of us who have survived the Patriarchy culture can point to some area in which our parents have sacrificed their relationship with us on the altar of ‘God told me to.’” Close to home!

    Crazily enough, the story Jephthah was always interpreted for me that he didn't *really* kill his daughter, it just meant she would remain a virgin and devoted to God for life (like an OT nun). While a comforting thought, there is NOTHING in scripture or history to suggest it's true. But if you've bought into "blindly obey and God will provide," then I guess you have to adjust even your "literalist" interpretation to fabricate some happy endings.

    1. That's a pretty blatant fabrication, isn't it?

      As I pointed out in another post (on women in the OT), the story makes perfect sense - in a horrifying way - if you realize that females were considered to be property in that culture. He was expecting an animal, but it turned out to be a more beloved object of chattel. He would not, I suspect, have sacrificed his uncle Fred, had he been the first to meet him...

    2. The interpretation Samara mentions - about Jephthah's daughter being dedicated to ministry, and not actually sacrificed, comes from Jewish tradition. I don't know how long it's been around (my husband is the Mishnah reader, not me), but I do believe it's not a particularly recent interpretation. And it certainly wasn't made up by Evangelicals as a context-less "happy ending". I think it is inferred from the fact she spent three months in the wilderness mourning her virginity, and not, say, her life. Maybe something in the original Hebrew...hah. Certainly there's room for varying interpretations, but the Jews at least consider her being consecrated to God as a viable possibility.

      The other issue brought up in Jewish commentaries is that Jephthah could have had his vow annulled - there is a procedure for doing this in Judaism, as making rash vows is part of the human condition, particularly when in a tight or emotionally-charged place. So why didn't he? He didn't *have* to sacrifice his daughter, and it's odd that he would have, or that it would even have been permitted, given that it is explicitly forbidden in the Torah. And given that Jewish women do have veto power over betrothals, it also strikes me as odd that she would have had no say in this...idk. At this point I'm just thinking out loud. So I personally suspect that somehow, she was "sacrificed" to service to God, and decided that she would allow her father to honor his vow so long as she could have some time to acclimate herself to the idea first.

    3. Welcome to the discussion. I find the Jewish interpretive tradition to be fascinating, and the various views of both the Jephthah and Abraham tales are food for thought. I think that we would even understand Christ's teachings better if we understood that he taught in the Jewish tradition as well, which is why he had a creative use of the Torah in his ministry.

      Thanks for contributing your insights.

  2. "Because it is what me and many of my generation are reacting against."

    Shouldn't it be "...what I and many of my generation are reacting against"?

    "Gary Ezzo (Raising Kids God’s Way - isn’t the whole title the pinnacle of arrogance?), Michael and Debbie Pearl (To Train A Child. Some children have died as a result of their methods.)"

    Ezzo's book is Growing Kids God's Way. I think I watched a bit of a video which talked about putting the child on a routine. The child (infant) is to adapt to the family's schedule and never the other way around.

    Michael and Debi (not Debbie) Pearl's book is To Train Up a Child. I have a copy of this book and two other Pearl books. Some slightly older parents at the church we used to attend recommended it and our church put in a bulk order.

    The parents who recommended the Pearls' book were also the ones who brought the Ezzo video over to our place and watched it with us. They were also followers of Jonathan Lindvall. Another family were fans of Gothard. I THINK both the families I mentioned have eased up a bit. So when I read your posts about the Patriarchy movement, some things resonate with me.

    Thanks for an awesome post!

    1. Good grammar catch. You are correct, and I have corrected it.

      Good summary of Ezzo. I remember a discussion of Ezzo when my aunt and uncle left a chuch when the "Ezzoites" took over. They (and my parents) couldn't fathom letting an infant cry rather than breaking the all-important schedule. And I agree. While there are occasional times when all of us have to wait a bit, most of the time, a baby can be snuggled. As a child grows, schedules become more feasible and beneficial. Somehow, despite being a well-loved and well-snuggled baby, I developed self discipline and focus.

  3. I wonder what James 2:21-23 brings to bear on understanding of this passage (21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. --NASB) While I have come to appreciate that the main lesson ought not to be "obedience come what may", for which I am thankful, but this passage seems to stress the obedience part...

    1. What I find fascinating about the James passage is its context. James has just talked about showing favoritism in the church by kissing up to rich people, notes that it is the poor who will inherit the Kingdom, not the wealthy, and then says this:

      'If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.'

      It is after this that Abraham comes into it. Perhaps the point isn't "obey no matter what, even if it harms others," but "do unto the least of these - no matter what."

      Just a thought...

    2. Thanks! Appreciate the feedback. (How it fits in justification is another matter, considering the number of years between Gen. 15:6 and Gen. 22...