Cherry Picking: The Fallacy of an Inconsistent Hermeneutic

Man tattoos Lev. 18:22 to his arm.

Man tattoos Lev. 18:22 to his arm.

A 2009 story ran in the Advocate (later picked up by other outlets) of a man named Marcel Gelmi who SO homophobic, and SO ready to use a passage from the Bible to defend his hatred of homosexuality, that heĀ (I kid you not) TATTOOED LEVITICUS 18:22 ON HIS ARM in a highly visible area to remind all who look his direction that:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22

Furthermore, Gelmi is a friend of a suspect in a brutal hate crime in Queens, N.Y. He insists that the assault was, in fact, not a hate crime, but that the openly gay victim deserved what he calls a “beat down” explaining:

“I mean, I don’t want no man blowing me a kiss either. I mean, things happen,” he said. “I’ve been beat up like that too, but you don’t see me on the news and my family crying and this and that. Wounds heal.”

So, he tattooed the NRSV text of Lev. 18:22 on his arm, thereby justifying his stance on homosexuality.

However, this act of TATTOOING a particular verse to one’s arm (or on one’s mind and constantly repeating it like a mantra in debates) demonstrates perfectly one of the problems I have with the opponents of same-sex marriage (beyond the fundamentalist/literal reading of Iron Age social religious regulations and insisting that they become the modern law of a secular government supposedly separate from the rules of any specific religion like the Christian equivalent of Islamic Sharia law).

The problem is with “cherry picking,” or more specifically, the inconsistent use of a biblical hermeneutic (way of reading the Bible) to promote one particular verse in the Bible over, and at times, to the complete neglect, of another verse. (Of course, you can do this if you concede that the Bible contains numerous errors, is not infallible, and was written by a number of different people over a great period of time and was later edited and redacted by a host of anonymous others, and therefore some verses are more applicable and relevant than others. BUT since there is a very high correlation between people arguing against same-sex marriage and a belief in biblical inerrancy, that the Bible is the inspired and infallible “Word of God,” and that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16) and therefore every command is apodictic and applicable for all time, I’m guessing many will succumb to the temptation of cherry picking.)

One argument I make consistently to those who would seek to use the Bible to suppress the civil rights of modern Americans is, “Choose a hermeneutic and stick to it. However you choose to read the Bible and interpret this verse, use that same interpretative hermeneutic to interpret all of its verses.” Put simply, you can’t read one verse in the Bible and say, “This is binding for all time,” and then read the very next verse in the same chapter of the same book and declare, “Well, that was just part of that particular cultural context. We don’t need to obey that command today.”

Choose a hermeneutic and stick to it.

(Again, we’re not talking about mixing genres here, where one verse is obviously poetry and the other verse is a list of apodictic legal commands. I’m speaking of two verses in the same literary genre and context.)

For instance, if you’re going to argue that “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18) is still binding, as it is a command from the inspired apostle pseudo-Paul, then you probably should be prepared to defend the command that appears only a few verses later that says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.” (Col 3:22) That is, it’s very difficult to argue that one verse is still binding and the other is not, and still maintain any semblance of credibility.

If you use one hermeneutic (e.g., “This is absolutely binding apodictic law for all time because that is the way God made it”) to interpret one verse, and use a completely different hermeneutic to interpret the very next verse (e.g., “Well, this is obviously terrible and was simply a part of the ancient context and therefore we don’t need to follow the teachings of this verse”), then you betray the glaring inconsistency of the way in which you read the Bible. You pick and choose (cherry pick) the verses you feel should still be binding upon modern civil society, while dismissing the verses you don’t agree with as dated and oppressive.

The point is that the Bible didn’t stop saying “Slaves, obey your masters” during the Civil War. It’s always been there. We simply learned to “read around” that verse. Most have learned and agreed to read the verse calling slaves to obey their masters as a product of an oppressive cultural context that endorsed slavery. But, here’s the good news: we changed! While the Bible still says “Slaves, obey your masters,” we took it upon ourselves to agree that slavery is evil (despite the fact that God himself gives instructions on how to make a slave in Exod. 21:2 and Exod 21:7) and to fundamentally ignore the verses that dictate how we should make slaves and that slaves should continue to obey their masters. We moved away from a literalist “God said it, that settles it” mentality and moved toward a progressive reading of the text that concedes that portions of the Bible may have captured some less than ideal elements of the ancient world, such as slavery or the victimless act of two consensual adults loving one another.

Because if you’re going to claim that there should be a law against same-sex marriage because God explicitly prohibited it a couple of thousand years ago, then it’s probably not a good idea to TATTOO a prohibition onto your arm that is only a few verses before this one:

You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:28)

I know of no New Testament command countermanding or otherwise “trumping” this law against tattoos. And yet, this particular tattooed “cherry picker” violates one outright command so that he can advertise his endorsement of another.

This individual is SO consumed with hate for homosexuals, that he violates the latter command against tattoos to express his disgust of the violation of the former.

Sheer and utter hypocrisy.

But that’s what we’ve come to expect from many who want to use the Bible to legislate against the single issue of same-sex marriage, while they completely ignore commands against other equally “abominable” practices, and do not seek to legislate against them.

And THAT is cherry picking and the fallacy of an inconsistent hermeneutic.

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