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Thumping the Bible: O’Reilly, gay marriage, and theology

Fox News television host Bill O'Reilly, center, attends the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Aprill 30, 2011. (Joshua Roberts/BLOOMBERG)

I never thought I would write these words, but I agree with Bill O’Reilly (in part). O’Reilly is vigorously defending his statement that opponents of same-sex marriage needed to do more than “thump the Bible” if they wanted to win the debate.

In that respect, O’Reilly is right.

Now, on the one hand, opponents of full marriage equality for LGBT people will not “win the debate.” In fact, there’s no “debate,” a fact a substantial majority of the country now recognizes.

But on the other hand, O’Reilly has made a good point. If you want to influence public policy from a faith perspective, thumping the Bible does not constitute a religious argument.

It’s not clear to me, however, if O’Reilly is saying the Bible is irrelevant in public policy debate. In my view, the Bible can be quite relevant. But you need to read the Bible in context, and use theology to make a persuasive faith argument.

Theologically speaking, LGBT marriage is moral and just because of our fundamental religious insight that God created all people in God’s image. That conviction is primary, and helps us interpret scripture. This perspective contributes to, though should not completely dominate, public policy debate.

Or, take the “gun control” argument. Same thing. While scripture does not, of course, mention guns, biblical weapons abound. Biblical “gun rights” advocates pull texts out of context and twist their meaning to support their radical gun advocacy.

For example, as John Fugelsang, religious and political commentator has observed, these apologists for guns pull out Luke 22:36, where Jesus tells his apostles, “he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”

Of course, Fugelsang points out, this verse is not about getting swords to defend yourself, but about being criminals to fulfill a prophecy. “Because as soon as Jesus throws down his line about buying a sword, he adds that they only need swords because the prophesy says they’re meant to be criminals: ‘For I say unto you that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, and he was reckoned among the transgressors.’”

Extending Bill O’Reilly’s point, there’s no policy argument to be made by thumping the Bible on Jesus and swords, taking the words of Jesus out of context and twisting them.

The theological argument for gun control is very deeply rooted in scripture. That argument is actually similar to the one on marriage equality. All life is a gift from God. To allow our society to wallow in an epidemic of out-of-control gun violence is an offense to God as our creator.

So, thanks, Bill O’Reilly for pointing out that just thumping the Bible doesn’t make a policy argument.

Now, could I interest you in a little contextual biblical interpretation and a side order of theology?

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.



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