President Bartlet’s Theology Challenge – How Will You Respond?
This post is about knowing why we believe what we believe. There’s a great scene in “The Midterms” episode of the TV Series The West Wing – where President Bartlet takes a Christian talk show host to task over her position on homosexuality by throwing some challenging Old Testament dilemmas her way.
According to the President, she’s being quite selective in the things she chooses to believe …
On this occasion this is not (!) a discussion about homosexuality per se (yes I do have firm Biblical views on that, but I hold them in love so please understand that any vitriolic comments will be removed).
What I’m interested in is Bartlet’s method and his approach to interpreting what the Bible means to us today. Because it seems to me, that that’s where much of the disagreement comes in. Not what the author meant back when it was written or whether the Bible’s true, not whether the events actually happened, but how we take something written up to several thousand years ago and apply it to life today.
So … here’s the exchange (both video and text transcript). My question to you is this:
How would you respond to President Bartlet’s apparently flawless reasoning?
We’re all looking forward to reading your comments. Post them below.
If you’re trying to view the YouTube clip on an Apple computer you may be running into a known bug which stops you from hearing the sound. So I’ve included the text transcript of the important bits below:
President Bartlet: Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.
Dr. Jenna Jacobs: I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.
President Bartlet: Yes, it does. Leviticus.
Dr. Jenna Jacobs: 18:22.
President Bartlet: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?
While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police?
Here’s one that’s really important ’cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?
Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side?
Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?
I refer you to James Kirkup’s poem “The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name”
The debate about pig skins was barely moot!
It raised this question:
Why do Jews and Christians violate The Sabbath …
… and …
… why do they not observe The True Sabbath (Saturday)?
I love the show, but it’s tough to take seriously every view of a character who, though he claims so arrogantly to be a Notre Dame educated theologian of sorts and a Nobel Prize winner who, in a single episode in the middle of season one couldn’t either recall, chapter and verse, The Book of Revelation as to the role of The White Horse, which was finally recurred to him from memory, chapter and verse, by Lord Marbury, and only after Bartlet thrice called it The Book of “Revelations” and no character corrected him, though they regularly did so with him on all topics throughout the series!
The point of this piece, is I believe, perfectly clear. That social and religious laws and customs followed by a primitive, tribal people who lived several thousand years ago, have no place in our modern world. That prohibitions- be they related to food, morality, sexuality, Slavery, family relationships-have evolved along with education, hygiene and women’s rights, and to quote ONE passage on homosexuality to justify your prejudice, while ignoring all the others, is small minded, hypocritical, and indefensible.
Pigs: First off, footballs are not made of a pig. So that is stupid. And we don’t even have diatary restrictions or sanitary restrictions like that in the New Covenant, so I don’t get why he brings this up.
Fabrics: The scripture does not say you burn people for wearing two kinds of cloth. I’d like to know where he got that one. Again, we’re not under the Old Covenant.
“Slavery”: That crack about selling your daughter is also rich. Tell me, what’s the difference between that, and a man giving his child up for adoption? Money, that’s it. That’s LITERALLY the only difference. A parent now a days HAS THE RIGHT to hand over their kid to ANOTHER person at any time. So what’s the fking difference? And you could only do this thing with your kid IF YOU WERE POOR. Selling your kid for personal profit was condemned as seen when God said he would destroy people for selling their kids as prostitutes and for a glass of wine. Again, this is the Old Covenant law man, ffs, we’re NOT under the Old Covenant.
Sabbath: If you can’t even do something as simple as relaxing on the sabbath and not working, then you deserve it. I’m sorry, but it’s blatant disobedience to God. If you’re that much of an idiot, it’s your fault. But it doesn’t even matter now, because that was the Old Covenant law that said we must observe the Sabbath.
None of this should even matter: What’s funniest of all is that this guy acts like we are still tied to the Old Covenant. It’s like he’s never read Acts 15 or any of the book of Hebrews or anything where it says time and time and time again that the Old Covenant is GONE and that we’re under the New Covenant. The law was nailed to the cross with Jesus. But just ignore that, oh yeah. Just act like we don’t have this ENTIRE other side to the matter called the New Testament.
But the point the president is trying to make is that the Bible should not dictate our beliefs on homosexuality. The part of the Bible that says “man shall not lie with another man” is in Leviticus, part of
the Old Testament and so the point he is trying to make is still made.
Let’s start off by saying that this television episode brings to light some very interesting topics for debate. Let us also start off by debunking the easiest one of all, that being, modern footballs are made out of either cow leather or rubberized synthetic materials, so the touching of the skin of a pig on Sunday is not a valid argument in this case.
Most of the other points that are brought up in this episode are however worthy of debate, if only because they bring to light the tendency to interpret scripture in a way that suits current opinions.
Nobody can argue that the Bible was used as a justification for slavery until the 1860s. Nobody can argue that the Bible was used as a justification to prevent interracial marriage until the 1960s. The Bible was even used to justify a segregated military until after World War II. Today, people continue to try to use the Bible to justify policies against gays in the military, and of course gay marriage. Today it seems that an increasing number of people, and groups, are trying to espouse a literal interpretation of Scripture. My big problem with that, starts with one question: which version? The Bible has been translated many times throughout history and there are also many versions of the Bible in print today all of which have slightly different translations of the origional text. There are in fact biblical scholars who cannot even agree on the original translation of the word which now stands for virgin in biblical text. I don’t bring that up to start a debate on the virgin birth, but simply to clarify that translations are, by their very nature, troublesome. Therefore, interpreting a translated text, can also be troublesome. Most of us have played the game pass it down the line and so realize that words can be re-interpreted. Anyone today attempting to claim that the literal reading of the Bible is the best way to guide our lives is simply misguided.
Best efforts aside, a literal interpretation of biblical scripture, cannot make the planet only 10,000 years old. It cannot somehow create a world where dinosaurs and men lived side-by-side. It also cannot justify taking my unruly child to the village gates to be stoned to death. So, if one or two precepts of biblical scripture are subject to re-interpretation, aren’t all of them? and, who decides which ones can be reinterpreted?
There is good news however, Jesus gave us one rule which overrides them all: Judge not lest ye be judged. This one rule puts everyone in jeopardy for trying to interpret, or translate, and certainly legislate, based on biblical scripture. It demands that we allow others to have the freedom of choice that governs us all. So let us not be judges, but live our own best lives, and allow God to judge individuals appropriately.
the Holy Bible has rules to keep us safe and so we know we are loved by the boundries layed out , as a child lovingly dissaplend, feels loved and secure.
God made us He knows mentally whats good for our mind to be healthy
Thank you to all for your well thought out, considered responses. The rest of us really appreciate your input. Rather than reply to each comment individually I’ve put up a new post with my response to President Bartlet’s line of reasoning. It sets out why I believe from the Bible.
Have a read – agree, disagree, comment, complain … whatever. All I ask is that you do it in love.
Thank you again so much to all who have commented on this post
It is true that man / religion has chosen to interpret the bible to suit their own circumstances. Some laws have been eliminated while other remain. This is wrong and it opens the door to arguments like this one. The only biblical law that should be eliminated are the ones the bible text eliminates!
So regarding homosexuality, Is it a sin, yes (but who does not sin?), and not only a sin but it is unnatural!! like bestiality, paedophilia to name a few. I’m sure these people justify their sexual preferences if you ask them, but that does not make it right. And are they not judged by society?
So what’s the point of this pointless argument / challenge? It is obviously to satisfy someone’s agenda. To change laws that are the backbone of Judeo-Christian nations in order to drive a wedge into the core of religion itself. There are people out there that want to kill of all religion.
The real question and challenge I put forth is “Tell us why should we change the marriage laws for a minority group”? should we then change the laws to make marriage with an animal legal? or what about marriage to more than one partner (polygamy)? I could go on and on too.
No, leave the laws as they are.
Oops… Last paragraph I meant to write: “Will you yoke yourself to Him, OR will you insist on remaining separate from the love of God…”
With all due respect Mr. President, it seems you too are well-versed in various aspects of the Bible. However, some of the areas where you appear to be struggling with may be with understanding that the Bible is not a set of outdated rules and regulations which you seem to be trying to portray but really pointing towards the person and works of Jesus our God. (John 5: 39)
Your daughter is beloved by God, and Jesus died on the Cross so that she, like many who follow Christ today, could be set free. (John 8: 36) About working on the Sabbath, Jesus did say that humankind was not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for humankind. (Mark 2: 27) Regarding pigs being unclean, Jesus now declared all foods clean. Since it is not what goes into us that makes us unclean, but the profanity that comes out of the unregenerate human nature. (Mark 7: 19)
Further, your objection regarding planting different crops side by side and wearing garments made from different threads, actually points to the New Testament teaching for purity in one’s thoughts, words and actions, and to not be unequally yoked in marriage or ministry with non-believers. (2 Corinthians 6: 14) In fact, the same principles in the Old Testament include yoking two different animals together while plowing the field among others. (Deuteronomy 22: 10) Ultimately we are to yoke ourselves to Christ our God, who being in very nature God became flesh and in our likeness (John 1: 14), and whose burden is easy and whose yoke is light. (Matthew 11: 30)
Now Mr. President, back to the original issue in contention, which you might say is outdated or irrelevant because of your views on the Bible, homosexuality remains frowned upon by our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, He did say that in the ideal relationship, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. He did say that they are no longer two but one, didn’t He? He also said that what God has joined together, let no man separate. (Matthew 19: 5 to 6)
Mr. President, God desires a relationship with you. Will you yoke yourself to Him, and will you insist on remaining separate from the love of God, which was poured out so freely for both you and me? Will you, along with many who accept Him as Lord and Saviour, become one who will be called of His Name, humble yourself, pray and seek His face, and repent of your own ways, so that God will hear from heaven, forgive our sins as a nation, and heal our land? Mr. President, will you do it for our country and our nation? Will you do it for America?
Firstly Mr President,I seek your forgiveness for not following protocol- s expressed in the New Testament part of the Bible & giving you due recognition of the position God has given you.
But in your quest to conform to God’s word, I feel that you have missed the “spirit” or direction tat tese laws were drafted. in order to acheive a desire out come.
They were drafted to make clear the distance that we as human beings have moved from the people /persons that we were created to be ( in relationship to God & thus to each other.So as to prod us to humbly recognize our need of a Holy loving Gods’ forgiveness & reswtoration towards being that person/s that God created us to be..( just like at the first before we as human beings decided that we wanted to be boss.
(thanks for this opportunity to wressel with this)
Interesting Challenge…I don’t particularly follow the TV series, but
Isn’t this challenge about…Faith Vs Reason?
In that case Faith has already lost, side by side Reason wins hands down. You can clearly see how Dr Jenna, she keeps quiet without saying a simple thing afterwards.
I’ve been to a quite few debates myself, and at the end of the day…
I’ve came to the conclusion of “How do you prove faith”? You can’t
and that’s why it’s called Faith.
Do I believe that Jesus walked over water? YES
Do I believe that Jesus converted water into wine? YES
Do I believe that Jesus Resurrected from the dead? YES!!!
Think about it this way…, If “Reason” favors “Faith”, then anyone that has the capacity to Reason, everyone of us…, We all be Christians.
I’m sorry to say this Mr President, but We Christians “see” the bible not with our eyes, but with our “HOLLY SPIRIT”.
And unless you see it from your Holly Spirit, then it’s just any other book…, It would be probably more interesting to pick up a Harry Potter’s book.
Let your Holly Spirit see the bible and not your reasoning.
Often we choose reasoning for everything, but just for this one, let the holly spirit interpret it…
You will see that, is not about “OUR reasoning” that matters, but
WHAT GOD SAYS
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The thing about children is that they don’t reason, WE adults tell them to do something, and they do it obediently. And this is what GOD expects from us.
LONG BEFORE JESUS RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD…or People even knew about Resurrection was possible by GOD.
GOD had asked Abraham to kill his SON!!! (Genesis 22:1-12)
Did Abraham hesitated? or reason to it? NOT EVEN 1 SEC.
I always wondered myself why Abraham did not even hesitate, not even a why?? He just went ahead and obeyed GOD….
You know why??? Because Abraham HAD ABSOLUTE FAITH IN GOD, He Knew that
even He had sacrificed Isaac, He knew that somehow GOD was going to resurrect Isaac from the dead.
And we’re all meant to be descendants of Abraham, but do we have much faith? My brothers & Sister, we have lost must faith in GOD..
And so, as a Christian I’d like to post the following prayer…
My Father in Heaven, Please forgive me for doubting you words in the past, now, and in the future, please give me the strength to use my free will and reasoning for your glory. I know that more difficult times are ahead, and I’m going to need your guidance more than ever. Amen!
If you say that “homosexuality is an abomination” then it is so.
And I will preach your words no matter what..
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes
All Glory to GOD.
PS: Apologies for the long speech, Mr President.
Legitimate questions that could come from anyone today and are real reasons why people refuse to look any further into what the Bible and God/Jesus really have to say.
Firstly, reading specific passages of the bible without context to the rest is as dangerous as reading your political briefs the same way.
Focusing on the Old Testament laws (like the demi president) when a new covenant is in place will see you focusing on the same pitfalls the Pharisees fell into so long ago.
Certainly we cannot deny the bible states that homosexuality is an abomination in the Old Testament but looking into the New Testament we are told many times specifically in Mark 12:30-31 “30 You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. 31 The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
Again more context, it says in John 13:34 ‘So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other’. In Colossians 3:14 ‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.’ Wrapping up in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 ‘And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.’
I am certainly not saying that we need to accept sin, rather we need to see them through Gods eyes and love the person but acknowledge the sin. While homosexuality may be more in your face than other deceptive forms, as stated in Romans 6:23 ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Going onto the base ball what more can be said than Mark 7:20 “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
What more can we say regarding Jesus own words on the Sabbath, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12 10:12)
What more can I say be prepared and read your bible in context. There is so much more on these topics in the scriptures.
All humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), that means all humans from Adam to the child being born as I write this. But because of the original sin of Adam and Eve all are now sinners (Rom 5:12; 3:23). The act of homosexuality is sin (Ex 22:19; Matt 15:19; 2 Cor 12:21 + others). Christ came to save sinners (Matt 1:21; John 3:16-18 + others). Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Pentateuch law, he was the perfect sin offering so that no more offerings are necessary (Heb 10:1-18).
The Israelite’s were to be a blessing to the nations around them, this meant that they were set apart as God’s people.God gave the Israelite’s laws to live by, these laws all had a reason behind them, for some of these laws the reasons are no longer needed (the wearing of two different yarns woven together etc) and some of these laws are for the protection of the Israelite’s, and others are to protect one of the first commands of God to procreate. The act of homosexuality cannot fulfill the command to procreate.
BUT My argument is this, the people we label as homosexuals are made in the image of God, what they do is sin, but Christ came to save the sinner. So these people are entitled to hear the Gospel message and to be saved by it.
Societies laws are very contradicting in our times, a child can be aborted legally in the womb, now there is a proposal that a child can be terminated at birth, but it is also proposed that a law should be made to enable the mother who looses her unborn baby through violent negligence, has the right to compensation. Humans will make laws that are contrary to the will of God (procreation being just one). It doesn’t make them right and it will certainly make living the Christian life harder.
Mr. President, my apologies for not standing. As far as I know you are also not a ThD (theological Doctor) nr a scholar in Biblical Theology to know the difference between regulations to the Israelites in the 15th BC and what pleases and abominates God yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Whilst the other Laws quoted from Leviticus 11:7, Exodus 21:7, Exodus 35:2 are defined as a regulation between members of Israel’s 15th BC community, they are not an abomination to God.
Mr. President, in regards to man-woman relationships, doesn’t Jesus say in Mat 19:4-5, quoting God Himself in Gen 1:27 & Gen 2:24, that a sexual relationship should be between a man and a woman? As far as my Bible reads, it does not say man-man or woman-woman.
Doesn’t the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans Chapter 1 say that God gave wicked men and women over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another? And in verses 26-27 declared homosexuality as a shameful lust “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 2 7In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”?
Doesn’t the same Paul in 1 Cor 6:9-11 says that “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” will not inherit the Kingdom of God?
Doesn’t Jesus in Mat 19 condemns divorce between a husband and wife (which is an abomination to the Lord – Mal 2:11), and our modern democratic society approves it as a just and perfect right of any individual, even thought it is against God’s will?
My apologies Mr. President, but from these Bible quotes we can clearly see that what is popular with men is not popular with God!
For example, in Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a small list of 6 things that the LORD hates and abominates: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brethren. Most people present here would agree that these are required traits for survival in politics.
And if you have more time and interest to do a proper Bible study, I would be delighted to show you all how Jesus’ “new covenant” explain and make more relevant God’s will for us in the 21st AD.
When one persons argument is to show how ridiculous the bible is, spewing more bible quotes is probably not the best way to continue debating.
I’m sorry, but you rather lost me here.
“Mr. President, in regards to man-woman relationships, doesn’t Jesus say in Mat 19:4-5, quoting God Himself in Gen 1:27 & Gen 2:24, that a sexual relationship should be between a man and a woman? As far as my Bible reads, it does not say man-man or woman-woman.”
How does that then translate into homosexuality being a sin, without referencing the old testament? If you DO reference the old testament, then the original points from this scene stand surely?
My understanding (I admit I find Christianity very interesting from an academic point of view, but am not a believer myself) is that Jesus had nothing to say on homosexuality. Any attempt at “reading between the lines” is very problematic given the translation issues that have been brought up already. If I were to put myself into the shoes of a believer, I would struggle to understand why Jesus would hint at a law of God, rather than outright state it.
The old testament provides a lot of issues in regards modern sensibilities. The New Testament is, I am led to understand, a new covenant. Forgive my lack of exact Bible knowledge but I think Jesus said something like “I come not to break the old laws, but to fulfill them”. So my interpretation is that those laws are fulfilled and so no longer apply. Which nicely counterpoints this scene…except it doesn’t.
I don’t have the audio in my office to rewatch the scene, but from memory it was President Barlett railing against homophobia of a radio host who justified her issues with homosexuality based off of old testament. If homosexuality is to be seen as a sin, then the old testament stands (and so does his point). IF it is not seen as a sin because Jesus had nothing to say on the matter, then he has proven his point about how the woman was wrong to be denouncing homosexuals because of the teachings of God and Jesus.
Christians have a bad habit-sinful, of recounting certain biblical position to judge some sinful behaviour in a most unloving manner, whilst failing to recognise sin that is easy to turn a blind eye to; gossip, criticism, judgement, arrogance, elitism of place in heaven, adultery and fornication is common place, control, failing to care for the sick, orphans, widows…..I could go on. The Old Testament was written for a time and a people and in context remains very valuable and full of principles of how we are to conduct our lives today (this is a very simplified summation of the OT and within it lies God’s grace, mercy, justice and righteousness-one word). The New Testament is the fullness of all that is God, given through Christ-a new covenant. It seems some do not understand what a covenant is, let alone a new one. Perhaps rereading Corinthians; Love is…… will remind all people who say they have a personal relationship with Jesus, where He lifted them from……..It is easy to mouth what the bible says, but to live it and understand the greatness of God…..’o wretched man am I’ is something else. God’s truth cannot be delivered without mercy. God is justice and righteousness, we don’t think this way. I was living as a lesbian for 12yrs before God lifted me out of the miry clay. I have been a born-again believer for 8 yrs. It has been an interesting lesson in christian love. I am now engaged to a wonderful christian man who is black-african (I am white) and so the lesson of christian love begins again.
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Powerful stuff indeed. A salutary lesson on the transformative power of God’s love. Something that each one of us could and should model more and more in our lives
Thank you again.
Unlike the other laws President Bartlet mentioned, homosexuality continues to be seen as abhorrent to God well into the New Testament. It is a fundamental law of life- homosexuality, if a major form of relationship on this planet, would hinder our future as a peoples on this earth (taking the argument to the nth degree).
It is glib and very smart to align it with cultural laws that were designed to establish a nation in purity and health. Homosexuality is beyond culture – it is a fundamental law of life.
And no- it is not the “worst” sin in the universe, and needs to be seen in perspective to all sin. But most people are repelled by it, and may approve it in theory, so long as they never have to sit near a same sex couple acting romantically.
Like you Bernie, I believe we need to see the real people not the act they are trying so hard to legitimise. They have their reasons for their beliefs and actions, in many ways formed by their own lives and histories.
HOwever, no amount of political lobbying can remove the dislike of the homosexual act which is innate, I believe, within men and women everywhere. We automatically recognise it as “unnatural” or unGodly, for a reason.
Great – that’s your understanding of the answer, but what we’re looking for is how you got to the answer … from the Bible.
Bartlet throws down the gauntlet – eloquently and convincingly – by setting out his logic and method for reaching the conclusion that he does.
What’s your reason and method? What’s your biblical basis for coming to the conclusion that you do?
That’s really what this blog post is trying to explore.
Over to you and others ….
I think the conclusion I come to is ‘he without sin cast the first stone’, and without making some sort of ‘bridge’to those we should be reaching as Christians. Jesus, as far as I can tell, hasn’t asked for my opinion on this..
he wants sinners to come to him, (me included), so how we are helping that to happen is that matters.
To Jan Darcy, I think you should be very careful calling one particular sin ‘worse’ than another. All sin is sin, and is equally worse.