Opportunity amid the controversy

With reference to Israel Folau’s social media posts and the ongoing controversy, Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black (Council of Progressive Rabbis) says: “You can’t just quote ancient texts … because religion is the journey of working with those texts from then until today, and into the future.” It’s a very good point.

Religious traditions are interpretative. Scriptural texts play a part, as do debates and commentaries, literary, historical and ideological criticism, and various forms of proclamation or preaching.

The English New Testament Folau uses conflates two Greek words and renders them as “homosexuals”. This is unfounded (there are no references to homosexual orientation in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament). The first Greek word in question means something like “soft” (and shows a patriarchal and misogynistic bias), the second is widely considered a reference to men having sexual relations with boys, hence the Inclusive Bible rendering: “pederasts”.

The text lists a standard set of ancient vices. Then, as now, certain behaviours were thought damnable, and those guilty of certain crimes unlovable, unforgivable. The author of the text (the apostle Paul) goes on to speak in spite of cultural norms about the possibility of transformation by way of grace – for everybody.

There is opportunity amid the controversy. The text insists on justice for victims/survivors of sexual abuse and homophobia. It invites reflection on harsh moral judgements as well as practical concerns regarding rehabilitation for sex offenders (often victims of abuse themselves).

The text encourages work towards restorative justice. These are challenging words, especially for religious institutions that have repeatedly failed to grasp them.

These are the things we could be talking about.

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