Just This One Thing

Let’s start by underscoring something: the paradigmatic transgression of the Law of the God of Israel is idolatry. It’s no coincidence that Judaic moral reflection pays relatively little attention to Adam and Eve, and much more to the sin of the Golden Calf and the apostasy of Baal Peor. In the legal portions of the Torah, God sets out numerous specific commands, ordinances, and statutes; but over and over again God cautions the people against idolatry. Not only is idolatry a sin itself, but it entangles the idolater in various other sorts of misbehaviour. Idolatry is both an arch-sin, and a cause of further specific sins. So God warns the people against it, commands them not to do it, explains that they’ll slide into all sorts of wickedness if they relax their exclusion of idolatry the tiniest bit, and generally does everything divinely possible to fend off the perils of idol-worship.
 
It’s very, very, very bad.
 
This morning in church we read the marvellous story about Naaman, the general in the army of Aram, who suffered from leprosy until Elisha sent him to wash in the Jordan. A great many sermons will have touched on the hospitality of Elisha, in curing a foreigner (and the leader of their army at that), and on Naaman’s scorn for the Jordan, about Naaman’s conersion to worship of the God of Israel, or on the ways that leprosy prefigures X or Y or Z (I’m usually very dubious about “yesterday’s leprosy is like today’s [name an affliction]” sermons; they usually seem imprecisely attuned to leprosy in antiquity, and they have been known to give pain to contemporaries with the affliction-du-jour. But I digress). Kelvin preached a fine sermon this morning about rivers and baptism and otters. But what struck me this morning while I heard the lessons was the extraordinary gesture at the end of this part of the story. Naaman asked Elisha, “But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.” And Elisha said, “Go in peace.”
 
Naaman asks Elisha for a free pass for condoning and participating in idolatrous worship. Now, Naaman makes it clear his heart wouldn’t be in it; he imports two muleloads of the soil of Israel so that he can pray to Israel’s God on, as it were, a plot of Israel’s land in absentia. One might think that if there’s anyone, anywhere, who had to be guarded against involvement with idolatry, it would be the recent convert Naaman (“how soon these newbies forget their obligations!”) — but Elisha seems to say, “That’s all right. Go ahead.” Go ahead and do the single most offensive thing possible in the eyes of God. No biggie.
 
I suspect that part of the reason I was moved almost to tears this morning was that it has been reported in the press that Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Alban’s, will be short-listed to become the new Bishop of Southwark. This would be a pretty dull bit of news relative to a well-known, intelligent, pastorally-acute, effective clergyman, were it not for the fact that the Rev. Dr. John is gay and in a committed civil partnership. (There’s a lot more as well, including an agonising drama over Dr. John’s previous nomination to be Bishop of Reading, which nomination his close friend the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently required him to refuse; and there’s the additional six years of sturm und drang in the battered Anglican Communion. And the recent consecration of the Rt Rev Mary Glasspool as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles. Et cetera.)
 
Some proponents of Dr. John’s consecration will point out that his relationship is strictly celibate; hence, although he loves another man, their love is no more transgressive than Diego Maradona’s affection for whichever of his players he’s closest to at the moment — or David’s legendary love for Jonathan. I have heard tell that some people disbelieve him, though that smacks of the worst sort of bigotry; gay folks can be celibate just as much as anybody else, and Christianity has known and approved (cautiously) celibate heterosexual marriages. Some have alleged his past sexual activity permanently disqualifies him from church office. In all of this, I feel acute pain for his enduring the grim experience of dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people making loud pronouncements about the extent and moral ramifications of his sex life.
 
I bring this all up this morning because I have heard no allegation against Dr. John’s serving as a bishop except those related to his sexuality. In every other respect, everybody who has mentioned him has cited no defect to his qualifications for this ministry. Many of us discern no impediment at all to lesbian and gay clergy serving as bishops, so that’s no problem for us. And among those who do object on the grounds of commandments against sexual activity, Dr. John’s public avowal of celibacy (much more about his sex life than I want to know) should settle the matter; the relevant prohibitions forbid sexual activity, not affection. Yet even if simply loving someone of the same sex spiritually as opposed to physically were forbidden, which it is not and which possibility I advance despite my unyielding confidence that it cannot intelligibly be, even so — cannot Dr. John be shown as much grace by his opponents as Elisha showed Naaman?
 

14 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I don’t know very much about Dr. Jeffery John (I will read the link at a later date when I have more time), but I just want to say: Agreed. Thank you AKMA for bringing to light a perspective on the issues that many people claim to have against Dr. John and different sexualities in general.

    Last Sunday I went with my church down the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago to spread Christian LOVE (to be completely different from the hate-monger protests that set up shop and posted taken-out-of-context Biblical passages to argue their point), and to encourage those of other sexualities to come visit the church and be welcomed by God. Above all, I agree that it is most important to share God’s love with all people (for God Himself made us all), for it is the second half of the greatest commandments that Jesus taught us.

    Thank you again, and I await more of your weblog posts. Here in the US we’re celebrating the nation’s birthday, but today I am going to celebrate being a member of God’s nation as well.

    In Christ,

  2. Could the story of Adam and Eve not also be about idolitary?

    “…and you will be like God.”

    Otherwise I wholeheartedly agree.

    Dziedu

  3. I have no problem with Jeffery John being short-listed. If it is determined that he is the best man (unfortunately no women allowed into the Episcopate in the CofE presently) so be it. I believe Southwark will welcome him, especially as he was a Canon there at the time of his previous nomination to the Episcopate.

    The difficulty I have is that the short-list for recommendation to the Queen via the Prime Minister has yet to be drawn up. The Telegraph is reporting the apparent deliberations of a confidential meeting. This leak is not good for the selection process, and should not have taken place.

    If Jeffery John is short-listed, on faction will claim foul – if he is not another faction will do likewise. Either way when the chosen person is consecrated at Southwark Cathedral later in the year I guess there will be a demonstration of some description.

    There is also the issue of divorcees and those married to divorcees not being eligible for the Episcopate in the CofE. However I think this is being considered at a forthcoming Synod. If I have got this right, it would prevent Jeffery John from being short-listed.

    It is a greatly different selection process that recently took place in the Scottish Episcopal Church to fill the vacant see of Glasgow and Galloway, when the press seemed focused on the possibility of a female bishop resulting from the election. Incidentally how would ++Rowan handled a UK based bishop in an English church after the way he dealt with ++Katharine’s recent visit to Southwark Cathedral.

  4. Nathan, good to hear from you. I feel for Archbishop Williams, who can do no right in the eyes of so many of the people he longs to hold together in even a tenuous, fraying, distant, chilly relationship. I don’t understand his conduct the first time ’round with Dr. John, but then he’s never talked to me about it, and I don’t usually expect the newspapers to unveil the subtleties and conflicts in human hearts (still less, the polemical blogs).

    Dziedu, I think there’s an effectual difference between “could be seen as” and “we have strong reasons to treat as.” Adam and Eve, in eating what was forbidden, were culpable of a lot of different things, but at no point do they seem to have worshipped anything other than God, hypothesised the existence of any deity other than God, nor certainly served any entity other than God. So although I think I see the point you’re proposing, I’m more inclined to get a sense from the golden chain of interpreters over the ages and say that by and large, when we think of Israel’s concern about idolatry, Adam was not at the forefront of their thinking. We don’t even see Adam making a guest appearance in the Bible till the deuterocanonical books.

    But that’s mostly just a side point, since (after all) you’re kind enough to receive my broader point about Elisha and God making room for Naaman’s continuing implication in idolatry. If as much energy were devoted to building up and sustaining the kinds of deep, enduring relationships that unquestionably bespeak in human life an understanding of God’s faithfulness and self-giving love, we’d be in a much stronger position to think through how the church humbly and responsibly responds when those relationships are brought forward by couples of the same sex. (And the position I’ve been arguing all along is that homo- and hetero- are not the distinguishing characteristics of commendable Christian relationships.)

    Stewart, I hadn’t been thinking, when I wrote the post, about the breach of confidentiality, but that is a horrible thing to have done (and all the worse since one can imagine a scenario in which no decision had been made at all, and some scurrilous scoundrel bruited about Dr. John’s name so as to set up just the impossible dilemma you describe ensuing). I hadn’t know that divorce — about which both Jesus and Paul had very direct and theologically-rich things to say — was in the picture at all. That would be yet another straw for the beleaguered camel.

    I fear that, for the time being, all our episcopal selection processes will stand under a very dark, heavy cloud of dissatisfaction and pain. Though (as far as I know) Dr. Peden would have made a fine bishop, I am particularly thankful that Glasgow could call a leader whom it knew well and trusted firmly in Bp. Gregor. The next few go-rounds may be more fraught.

  5. There is this extraordinary set of themes in the Elijah/Elisha narratives which appertains to what to do with the non-Israelite world. Any normal reading of the narrative (by which I mean any reading of it as intelligent literature which it most certainly is) sees Elijah in difficulties ones he has slaughtered the prophets of Baal – yes, I know the reaction is to disbelieve this, but go actually read it like you would Middlemarch. Oh, I might blog about this this evening. Then you have the story of Elisha hoodwinking his opponents and refusing to slaughter them. Then you have this.

  6. Question from someone mostly unfamiliar with the interior of Anglican policies:

    “I bring this all up this morning because I have heard no allegation against Dr. John’s serving as a bishop except those related to his sexuality. In every other respect, everybody who has mentioned him has cited no defect to his qualifications for this ministry.”

    Is it common for a variety of vices/disqualifications/weaknesses to be mentioned at these sorts of meetings, or is it like certain sorts of corporate cultures where no one is willing to state a negative about someone else for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

    FWIW I love the Naaman story as well and heard a wonderful sermon on it recently. The story has a nice contrast at the end between Naaman’s faltering, tainted (but praiseworthy) faith, and Gehazi’s fall to greed and then judgment.

  7. Paul, with the polarised and almost vituperatively charged atmosphere around the Anglican Communion these days, I’d be surprised if we didn’t know if he put the wrong kind of plastic into the recycling. There are some people involved who would bring up any faintly plausible rationale for keeping him out of the episcopate (just as there are some who would support him for the episcopate even if he were heterodox on every major point of the creeds, with a consistent history of financial malfeasance and a string of assault convictions). One point that John’s opponents cite is his lack of repentance for prior extramarital sexual activity.
     
    That being said — Simon Sarmiento linked to a column by John Richardson which displays much greater subtlety than simple naysaying. Fr. Richardson’s case against the consecration of Dr. John rests on the incompatibility of Dr. John’s teaching with regard to human sexuality with the church’s consistent stand against same-sex intimacy. (I have to thank Fr. Richardson for the reference to Dr. John’s writing on such relationships, which seems to run along lines similar to those I’ve espoused. So far as I can tell, my own such teaching does not afoul of Fr. Richardson’s criticism of Dr. John, but I trust that he would either spot similar weaknesses that have escaped me, or would perceive other flaws in the way I constructed my argument. Fair play, and we would have a genuine disagreement.) Fr. Richardson concludes his column by noting that there is not a principled basis for excluding Dr. John on grounds of being homosexual, nor does he question the probity of Dr. John’s affirmation of celibacy. “In fact, the only grounds I can see for objecting to Dr John’s appointment in principle lies in his teaching about human sexuality… However, if that is the basis on which an objection is to be made, it must be realized that the same would apply — as I have pointed out already — to a number of other existing Anglican bishops,” and Fr. Richardson asks why Dr. John should be singled out for refusal on this basis.
     
    So once again, the case against consecrating Dr. John (should he in fact be nominated) seems not to involve unfitness on any count unrelated to sexuality. The most precise case I’ve seen has to do not with his being gay, but with his having advanced (what Fr. Richardson deems) an unpersuasive case in favour of incorporating same-sex couples in the nuptial ministry of the church. That may be a dire transgression, but to me it seems pallid compared to the anti-doctrinal excesses the Church of England has borne with from occasional straight bishops in its past.
     
    From what I know of Dr. John, he is better at constructing a theological argument, more widely read in theology, more vigorously committed to the church’s traditions, and more articulate about all of these than the majority of bishops I know. It’s tough to proclaim the truth if you can’t find it with two hands; it’s hard to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church if you’re busily disregarding it. Since I take these qualities to be essential to the exercise of episcopal ministry, and since Dr. John exhibits them in all respects — save [according to some] just one thing — I have the sense that he would make a splendid bishop.
     

  8. I do not see the idolatry here. Naaman knew he was going back into a culture that did not worship Yahweh, and he wanted to make provisions for that. I have no doubt that when he had to go into the house of Rimmon because his position demanded it, that he worshiped the God who healed him while there, and also in private on the soil he brought back.

    It’s a story that shows us all how to remain faithful to the LORD–to sing his song in a foreign land–even when surrounded by idolatry, not get advance forgiveness for our own future idolatry.

    You clearly read/hear this story of faith, not idolatry, through a lens about a particular issue. Perhaps certain political issues have become idols for you? Perhaps experience trumps all other sources of authority?

    The true hero of the story is the unnamed servant girl. What made commander Naaman, a great man and mighty warrior in high favor with his king, humble himself in front of his servants and do the seemingly foolish bidding of a foreigner? It could only have been hope. There’s no way a man like Naaman does something that could easily damage his reputation and make of him a laughing stock unless he had hope that what he was doing would cure him.

    But what made Naaman want to seek out Elisha? It was the witness of an unnamed young girl who had been made a captive by the Arameans. What made her even tell her captives about Elisha? What did she owe to those who had basically kidnapped her? She had to have had hope that by loving her captors she was loving her neighbor as herself, a Jewish duty long before it was a Christian one. An even more interesting question is: What made Naaman listen to a captive, especially a girl?

    I can’t help but believe that that young girl’s life must have been a witness to a Truth far greater than herself. Her very life must have proclaimed her hope in God for a great general to listen. What’s interesting is to compare her faith to that of the king of Israel. When he read the letter from the Aramean king, he panicked. He assumed the Aramean king was trying to pick a fight. He had no hope that God could heal Naaman.

    The purpose of this encounter between the great man and the man of a God wasn’t just to humble Naaman or even to heal him. Elisha tells the hopeless king: “Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” The result? “Then [Naaman] returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

    The king of Israel was scared of the king of Aram. He was scared of Naaman. He distrusted their intentions. At that moment he felt he and his people were in a crisis. And they were; they were at war. There’s much more to this story of Israel and Aram. In the next chapter, the king of Israel even declares to Elisha: “Why should I hope in the Lord any longer?”

    Yet, in the midst of this war, when the king is without hope, the unnamed, captive girl—in an act some would call treason— loved her enemies and proclaimed freely her hope in God to her mistress, who told her husband, who sought out the man of God and was healed. He then declared to all “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

    Pay attention to that statement. It’s a clear indication that Naaman, at that moment, did not have an idolaterous bone in his body and understood full well that we shall “have no other gods” before God. How can you possible interpret that story as one about Naaman’s idolotry rather than his faith and hope.

    Oh, I forgot…you have a political ax to grind.

  9. Bo,
     
    Thank you for taking the time to write so expansive a response. On one hand, I owe you the courtesy to answer carefully, and I don’t want to seem to dismiss your thoughts out of hand. On the other, though, since you have already dismissed everything I said as motivated by my political agenda, I fear it would be a waste of my energy, and would waste your time in reading it (if in fact you even bother to look back here).
     
    If I may make one, possibly politically-biased point relative to Naaman — a point you may appreciate, since you are very astute relative to the Bible and are disinclined to simply to ignore plain instruction from it — the commandment relative to idols says “You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Ex 23:5, Deut 5:9; par. Ex 23:24), a fairly explicit instruction that differentiates reverencing the idol from worshipping and specifically forbids bowing down. Naaman, in turn, asks to be excused from the prohibition against bowing down to Rimmon, and Elijah (apparently) grants it.
     
    Now, it may be my agenda (I do not assent to the premise that “political” and “theological” agendas can be extricated from one another, so I’m leaving out “political” this time) that motivates me to notice that Naaman will be doing exactly what God forbids, and your interpretation — do you have an agenda? I don’t want to say that you think your interpretation is “untainted,” because that might suggest that I’m being snarky and disrespectful, but you accuse me of being motivated by an agenda and don’t say anything about your motivations, so I’m not sure where you stand — your interpretation may explain something about Naaman that the literal words of the Bible do not precisely say. But I am not in a position to judge your agenda or agenda-lessness, and you already have made a window into my soul to judge me, so we are not on even ground. I decline to yield, and you already know that I’m wrong and that what I think doesn’t matter.
     
    I regret that our conversation moved so quickly from “reading the Bible together” to “irreconcilable differences”; one reason I try to keep so close to what the Bible says is that there’s a greater prospect for even marginal agreement if we do that, and much greater likelihood of disagreement if instead of reading the Bible we try to remove the foreign bodies from one another’s eyes. I do look forward to our disagreement being healed, if only eschatologically, and I wish you grace and peace in the name of our Lord.

  10. Mr Adam,

    Perhaps I shouldn’t reply and then you could be confirmed in your assumptions about me, or you could deal with the concrete person before you and not the abstraction “blog commenter.” It’s hardly fair to expect me to create 2500 posts and write dozens of article and books so that you can get the same sense of my “agenda”–which you assume I must have because it’s axiomatic for you that we all do–as I can get of yours.

    Now you seem to want to get into a bunch of meta-issues, like dogs sniffing one another, and play rhetorical games like “I regret that our conversation moved so quickly from ‘reading the Bible together’ to ‘irreconcilable differences.'”

    So, your noble purpose was to “read the Bible” with me, and I, sadly, ignobly took it quickly to the point of “irreconcilable differences”, though you admit you don’t even know where we differ. I must, then, humbly beg your forgiveness. I didn’t know I was capable of all that with a single line about ax grinding. It would have helped, and I confess the deficiency is all mine, had I known from the start you wanted to read the Bible with me and not express your joyful tears about Dr. John.

    I did not “dismiss” everything you said. I disagreed with your analysis of Naaman and could think of no other explanation as to your reading such a richly textured and multi-layered story of God’s redemptive work through the faithfulness of his servants and the faithful response of Naaman, while pointing us forward to the waters of our own baptism, as one of grace in the face of idolatry except that you read it through filtered light. When you heard the story again it resonated with something already deeply on your mind.

    Your argue: “the commandment relative to idols says “You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Ex 23:5, Deut 5:9; par. Ex 23:24), a fairly explicit instruction that differentiates reverencing the idol from worshipping and specifically forbids bowing down.” I am going to assume here that you typo-ed Ex 23:5, since you were already thinking ahead to Ex 23:24 and you meant to type Ex 20:5, but Ex 20:5 is not the first commandment relative to idols. That is the first, “You shall have no other gods besides me.” The first two go together, and could be rephrased this way: “Because you shall have no other gods but me, you shall not make for yourself any graven images or bow down to them or worship them.”

    There is no indication in the text that Naaman was going to bow before an actual physical idol or worship either an idol or Rimmon–the command in Ex 23:24 being not to bow to their gods, not their idols. Naaman said bow “in the house of” not bow to, suggesting he understood the difference between “bow down” as a spiritual act and a physical one, especially in light of his declaration that “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

    You can not just write that statement off and act like he didn’t say it when discussing idolatry. In fact, it shows that just because Naaman might bow in the house of Rimmon he wasn’t going to bow down and worship any God but God.

    Which leads to another point. Naaman was not a member of God’s covenanted people. God’s Law was given to the people of Israel, and there’s no indication Naaman knew of the commands you cite or that God ever intended that other peoples of that time live by them. Not that God’s Law shouldn’t be followed, but he set the people of Israel apart, made them distinct, and entered into a covenant with them. Because Daniel faithfully followed them in a foreign land, does that me Naaman must in his own, even if he doesn’t know them?

    Reading this story in the light of the New Testament there are several parallels that can illuminate it. One is the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. The Canaanite gods could do nothing for Naaman, or this woman’s daughter. It was their faith that prompted God to give crumbs to the dogs.

    Another is the story of the Samaritan women at the well. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

    Naaman was the “kind of worshiper the Father seeks.” His worship, even when bowing in the house of Rimmon, could be true worship in Spirit because of that faith.

    You seem to read this story as one, not of God pointing forward to a new covenant with all people, giving the Arameans “patches of God-light” and us a story of faith, but of Naaman getting advance dispensation for the sin of idolatry (defined very narrowly by the physical act of bowing down) and Elisha granting it; therefore, we should grant it to others. It’s terribly muddled, and you undermine your own convictions.

    Even if I grant you your analysis and conclusions you are left arguing that the physical acts of same-sex love are sin, like idolatry (defined as the physical act of bowing), that need forgiveness. If Elisha could forgive Naaman this most grievous of sins, shouldn’t we…

    You also do this when you argue that “among those who do object on the grounds of commandments against sexual activity, Dr. John’s public avowal of celibacy (much more about his sex life than I want to know) should settle the matter.”

    I do not believe Dr. John is lying. That leaves two other possibilities. He either agrees with “commandments against sexual activity,” or, the more cynical view, he does not agree that he should have to be celibate but remains so anyway so that he can continue his work.

    Either case I would image he would not be an appealing advocate for the same-sex cause. Those who disagree should grant him grace for what exactly? Not living according to his true convictions or living according to the belief that same-sex sexual behavior is actually sin?

    I didn’t want to discuss this issue, though. I only did because it was muddled reasoning like this that convinced me that the story of Naaman’s faith recast as one of idolatry was not an act of “faithful interpretation” but rather one of reading this story through a particular lens.

    I see no way this is a story of idolatry unless it’s in the service of something else, and you didn’t even seem to think through what that something else was very carefully.

  11. Bo,

    If I failed in my effort to not ascribe motive or bias to you, I apologise. Please understand that I was trying, and mark it up to the complexity of working in a hotly-contested discussion rather than to carelessness or hostile intent.
     
    So, first, I don’t know what assumptions about you I was making (or am making now). I’ll apologise again, since it seems possible that my conscience is impaired at this point, and it seems wisest under such circumstances to aim at humility rather than self-exculpation. I tried to address you as someone who reads the Bible carefully and cares a great deal about its correct interpretation, even stating that explicitly at one point — but perhaps unconscious impulses betrayed me elsewhere. I didn’t, and don’t expect you to produce a copious amount of public writing. Far from it — I felt tired just reading about how much you find that I’ve written.
     
    You say that it’s axiomatic for me that we all have agendas; I reply that I explicitly asked you whether you prefer that I ascribe you an untainted reading, or whether you had an agenda. If you don’t have an agenda, you might simply have answered that that was the case. You submit that I’m playing “rhetorical games”; does that differ from “writing carefully and trying to be thoughtful”? ’Cos that was what I was aiming at.
     
    Please observe that I did not ascribe value to either my preference for working close to the biblical text, nor to the impasse to which we seemed to have come. That was your rhetoric, not mine. And I’ll apologise (yet again) for interpreting your ascribing my interpretation to a “political agenda” as “dismissal”; I took your closing remark as dismissing my argument as politically motivated, but instead you “could think of no other explanation as to your reading such a richly textured and multi-layered story of God’s redemptive work through the faithfulness of his servants and the faithful response of Naaman, while pointing us forward to the waters of our own baptism, as one of grace in the face of idolatry except that you read it through filtered light.” I can think of lots of reasons for people to disagree about interpretation — indeed, making room for mutually-respectful disagreement has been one of the focal points of my academic work — but I can’t argue about what you could or couldn’t see.
     
    Thank you for returning to the biblical text in your further remarks (and for noting and charitably correcting my typo). You say, ‘The first two go together, and could be rephrased this way: “Because you shall have no other gods but me, you shall not make for yourself any graven images or bow down to them or worship them.” ’ I would not be inclined to weave them together with a “because” statement; that doesn’t look to me to be the way the Hebrew goes. (Brevard Childs, for instance, treats these as separate commandments in his Exodus commentary.) It looks to me to be a succession of straightforward commands: “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” and so on. Since I don’t see an explicit marker of causal inference here, I hesitate to supply it. I can see a way in which your reading works, I’m not saying it’s out of the question; I just prefer to stick closer to the Hebrew text.
     
    You next note that “There is no indication in the text that Naaman was going to bow before an actual physical idol or worship either an idol or Rimmon — the command in Ex 23:24 being not to bow to their gods, not their idols.” Two-part response: in the first case, you’re 100% right that the text doesn’t say that there was any idol in the House of Rimmon. I’m not aware that there’s evidence of worship of Rimmon without a cultic representation of that deity; it would be very interesting if there were such evidence, since it would mean that the aniconic worship of the God of Israel were less distinctive than it appears to have been. There’s very strong circumstantial evidence, though, in favour of reckoning that the House of Rimmon would have housed. . . Rimmon. OK — I won’t try to compel you to believe that there was an idol there; on your account, this bowing was not directed at Rimmon. I don’t know why else Naaman would have been bowing in the House of Rimmon, but I’ll grant that he had some other motivation, and that his motivation was such that he thought he needed permission from Elisha to bow. Second, I’m not sure about the distinction you propose between an idol and the deity which it would represent; by and large, my recollection of religious representations of deities warrants a strong presumption that the representation and its deity were at least strongly associated. Let’s take as a counterexample a crucifix — no sound theology would say that the figure on the cross is Jesus, but Christians typically treat such figures with some degree of reverence (and qiute appropriately so, I hasten to add — I’m no iconoclast). But in this making a strong distinction between the image and that which it represents, Christians are unusual compared with ancient Near Eastern theology. I find the separation between idol and its deity unconvincing; we disagree on this point. Third, you seem to suggest that in the prohibition of bowing and worshipping, the preposition-pronoun compound refers back to “gods” rather than “idol.” You’re quite right that the plural pronoun doesn’t match the singular “idol” of v 4; scholarship is divided on whether the pronoun refers to the “gods” of v 3, or whether the phrase “idol or any other thing…” evoked a plural object at this point. I’m inclined to suspect the latter — but it’s a controverted point, and you have good support in taking the opposite position.
     
    You say, ‘Naaman said bow “in the house of” not bow to, suggesting he understood the difference between “bow down” as a spiritual act and a physical one, especially in light of his declaration that “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” ’ I can think of no evidence for separating a “spiritual” meaning of bowing down from a “physical” one; again, he needs to ask Elisha’s permission, which suggests to me that he’s aware that his behaviour would appear to contravene his affirmation of the Lord.
     
    It’s getting late, and I’ve already offered more than an hour of response — I’m going to hurry up, because I have other things to do. I hope that does not offend you. I’ll give very short responses to your major points hereafter, not because the points are self-evident or trivial, but because I just don’t have the time to write out a compendious alternative to each of your points. (I’m a slow writer.)
     
    Regarding Naaman’s knowledge of the Torah. I agree that the text doesn’t give us any sign that he received catechesis, for instance; but his asking permission of Elisha suggests poweruflly to me that he knew there was something questionable about it. And more important, Elisha will have known that the Lord was a jealous God — yet he excused Naaman.
     
    I don’t have any particular disagreement with your reading of the Syro-Phoenician woman story, but I don’t see its relevance (or that of the Samaritan woman of John 4) here.
     
    If Naaman’s worship could be acceptable to God because of his faith (and I’m very cautious about supposing that OT narrative operates on terms made explicit only in the NT), why make the commandment against bowing to idols in the foirst place? Why not just say, as Paul almost said about meat offered to idols, “We all know that idols aren’t anything, so you can bow down to them if you feel like it”? The story seems to require that by bowing to Rimmon, Naaman was doing something that might be interpreted as contrary to his expressed faith in the Lord, and that Elisha excused him from the requirement not to bow.
     
    I read the story as one that involves both a prefiguration of the grace that includes Gentiles in the people of God, and as one in which Naaman gets permission from Elisha to indulge in ambiguous or questionable behaviour. Behaviour, more precisely, that some would consider a betrayal of God (but which Elisha, God, and we the readers now know wasn”t really a betrayal).
     
    I agree that the characterisation of same-sex intimacy as “sin” would be opprobrious to many, as it is to me. My point was, even if someone (not I) thinks of that intimacy as intrinsically sinful, the fact that it’s not going on makes that issue moot. I don’t agree to the characterisation, but I’m aware that some people do, and I offered an argument on those terms.
     
    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Dr. John believes same-sex intimacy — under the same terms as opposite-sex intimacy (he cites permanence, fidelity, and stability as the defining characteristics of such relationships; I’d argue for different terms, but that’s not the immediate point) — should be approved and blessed by the church. Since the church has not granted that premise, he obediently abstains from such activity. That doesn’t sound cynical to me. It sounds like just the sort of behaviour we‘re called to when we dissent from the church’s authoritative teaching.
     
    ‘I only did because it was muddled reasoning like this that convinced me that the story of Naaman’s faith recast as one of idolatry was not an act of “faithful interpretation” but rather one of reading this story through a particular lens.’ (Bonus points for working the title of my book into your point.) Would it be peevish of me to point out that you use terms such as “cynical,” “muddled,” “motivated by a political agenda,” “not thinking carefully,” and I don’t? You and I disagree, and I’ve given a great many reasons and a pile of evidence. I don’t need to insult you — we disagree. I find your arguments unconvincing. I do not short-circuit argument by resorting to belittling characterisations or ascribing your position to outside motivations. I apologise (many times now) for possible errors or inadvertent offence. I persist in a discussion that has thus far cost me a great deal of time and energy.
     
    In closing my earlier I wished you grace and peace in the name of the Lord; I repeat that wish now.

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