American Bible Society

New American Bible Society policy defends (a) ancient orthodoxy, (b) evangelicalism or (c) both?

New American Bible Society policy defends (a) ancient orthodoxy, (b) evangelicalism or (c) both?

Let's start with a few old questions about Christian doctrine and church history.

First, what does does the Roman Catholic Church -- at the level of its Catechism -- teach about the definition of marriage and the moral status of sex outside of marriage?

Second question: What doctrines do Eastern Orthodox churches around the world affirm on these same topics, which have implications for issues such as cohabitation before marriage and premarital sex?

Third question: What do the vast majority of Anglican churches around the world teach on these same issues? Ditto for United Methodists?

Come to think of it, what does the ancient Christian document known as the Didache have to say on issues linked to marriage and sex?

I could go on. However, let's jump to a current news story that is linked to these issues. In particular, I would like to call attention to the Religion News Service report that was posted with this headline: "Employees quit American Bible Society over sex and marriage rules." The overture is quite strong:

(RNS) -- One of the oldest nonprofit organizations dedicated to distributing Bibles around the world will soon require all employees to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and heed a conservative code of sexual ethics.

Employees are resigning in protest of the new policy, which will effectively prohibit sexually active LGBT people and couples in cohabitating relationships from working for the American Bible Society. But the organization stands by it as a measure intended to bring “unity and clarity.”

The key word in that lede is "orthodox," with a small "o." It would have been possible, I guess, to have used phrases such as "ancient Christian beliefs" or even "traditional Christian beliefs." Both would have been accurate in terms of history. In this context, the use of "conservative" is fine, since there are "liberal" churches that have modernized their doctrines on these subjects.

However, strange things start happening soon after that strong, factual opening, Note, for example, the end of this paragraph:

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Seriously: Is the Bible so 'dangerous' it should be banned? What about burned?

Seriously: Is the Bible so 'dangerous' it should be banned? What about burned?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

The Bible is the most-purchased and least-read book of any. What can we do to discourage the reading of this dangerous book? The medieval church kept it wisely in Latin. The damned Protestant Reformers wanted everyone to read it and look what evil that has accomplished!

Shall we burn it? Shall we prevent it being sold? I am serious.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Religion Guy would have ignored this one except for the last three words above that require us to take this seriously. Norman’s prior postings to “Religion Q and A” indicate he’s quite knowledgeable about intellectuals’ attacks against biblical Jewish and Christian tradition. With a tiny faction such thinking turns to hatred or intolerance toward Scripture (at a time when devotion to Islam’s Quran expands in secularized western natiuons).

If Norman is “serious” the answer here is easy. No, “we” won’t be doing any such thing, even if “we” are not Bible fans, certainly in the U.S. given the Constitution’s freedoms of publishing and speech. (However, upholding, defining, and applying the freedom of religion guarantee is hotly contested.) The right to publish and read the Bible in common languages was a hard-fought freedom centuries ago. Access fostered widespread literacy and is normally regarded as a boon to civilization.

The theme is timely in this 200th anniversary year of the American Bible Society, which has distributed 6 billion copies, and next year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, both the Reformers and the society “wanted everyone to read it.”

Reverence or at least respect toward the Bible remains strong.

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Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Let us now praise the fact that The New York Times offered a story about the departure of the American Bible Society from the Big Apple, even if that story was labeled as a "Building Blocks" feature that focused on the architecture of the building at 1865 Broadway, rather than covering some of the cultural implications of this symbolic evangelical group's flight to a less demanding location.

As the old saying goes: New York, New York. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Well, what about the opposite?

There are moments when this piece hints at the larger dramas behind the architectural lede. Still, let's let the Times team start where it wanted to start:

“Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
Angels have never been especially conspicuous around Columbus Circle in Manhattan. But it is hard to look at 1865 Broadway, the former headquarters of theAmerican Bible Society, and not think for a moment about the ladder of Jacob’s dream, as described in Genesis 28:12.
If the bold, Brutalist rungs of the main facade do not persuade you of a biblical provenance, you are also free to read symbolism into the 12 deep recesses at each floor. Might they represent the 12 tribes of Israel? Or the Twelve Apostles?

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