The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 5, 1997 · Page 48
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 48

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 5, 1997
Page 48
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RELIGION The debate over what the Bible says How do centuries-old scriptures answer today's tough questions? Two prominent pastors give sharply differing views. BYREEDKARAIM N ONE OF the most religious nations in the Western world, the Bible speaks to multitudes. Bible reading is on the upswing, says a new Gallup study; nearly half of Americans read it every week. But just what the scriptures say remains a matter of eternal debate. "People have always found passages in the Bible to justify what they believe," says Jim Hill, an author of The Bible Tells Me So: Uses and Abuses of Holy Scripture. African Americans endured Bible verses being used to justify slavery and, later, segregation. Women found themselves struggling with admonitions to keep silent. Gays heard their sexual preference castigated. All have had occasion to wonder if, indeed, the Bible belongs to them. In "family values" debates that have flared since the 1980s, the Bible has been cited most successfully by political and religious conservatives. Now, those who would mount a theological counteroffensive may have found an apostle: the Rev. Peter Gomes, a Republican, gay Harvard Divinity professor. With the publication late last year of The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart, Gomes aims to reinterpret scripture for "those who saw themselves as strangers and outcasts to the Bible — the marginalized and the excluded." While Gomes has given the left new ammunition on many of today's hot- button issues, religious conservatives largely have ignored him. Former Christian Coalition president Ralph Reed and the Revs. Pat Robertson and Robert Schuller refused to be interviewed for this story. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, however, gives Gomes credit — to a point. "He comes across as a good man, and I think Dr. Gomes is saying a good thing: Read the Bible with your mind and your heart," Falwell says. "I hope he gets a lot of people reading the Bible. If they read it carefully and long enough, they'll come to the con- elusion that Dr. Gomes is wrong." In a sense, Gomes and Falwell share a goal: to return the Bible to its accustomed place at the center of American culture. Since the first colonists arrived thanking God, the Good Book has been a central text in America's struggle to define itself. Through generations of passionate, politicized debate over God's word, author Hill says, "you even have pep- pie using the same verses, just a different spin." Gomes calls the Bible "a book built to be misinterpreted." Says Falwell: "The scripture is dear." Their differing I views are mirrored in society at large. A National Opinion Research Center study says half of Americans believe the Bible is the "inspired" word of God and not everything in it should be taken word for word, but nearly a third believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally. What follows: five contentious issues, with chapter-and-verse interpretations from Falwell and Gomes. ABORTION "Thou shalt not Ml." What can be more clear-cut than the Sixth Commandment? ask antiabortion advocates. But Gomes says Exodus 20:13 in the original Hebrew is more correctly translated as "Thou shall do no murder" and is a more limited proscription. Falwell does not dispute the translation, but says the scripture gives no definition of murder: "It does not define at what age a person achieves Continued on next pup 3 § U9A WEEKEND • Oct. J-S,1987

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