A high school wrestler in Iowa (where wrestling is a bigger deal than it is in most other states) forfeited a match based, he and his father said, on Christian principles. The principle on which he stands is that boys ought not be groping and grasping and throwing girls about the mat. Since his slated opponent was a girl, he elected to bow out.

The response from his critics inside and outside the Christian community is to demand specific verses that support his decision. This is what passes for modern doctrine, and it's telling that it works for both believer and atheist alike. In this worldview, the Bible becomes a collection of rules, and the job of exegesis, then, is no different from that of a law clerk, namely, to comb the text for quotes that support one's point of view and undermine that of one's opponent.

I recently had a friend, who ought to know better, announce that most of what Jesus talked about was economics. I told him that notion is at odds with the understanding of every Church father, and of every serious theologian for that matter. He responded that if my claim were true, he would have heard about it in divinity school.

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My friend-like the critics of the boy who won't wrestle girls-labors under the notion that everything stupid or wrong will be labeled as such by the Bible or theologians. This vastly underestimates the idiocy of which man is capable. Of course my friend never heard in divinity school that Jesus didn't mostly talk about economics-because it never occurred to his teachers (except perhaps for the one with the novel theory) that anyone could conclude such a thing. And of course there's no verse in the Bible forbidding boys from wrestling girls, because it seems fairly sensible, given all the business about respect and avoiding temptation.

It's a hole we've dug for ourselves with our proof-texting approach, our sense that any one of us can glean everything we need to know unaided from the Bible, and that anything not specifically mentioned is a matter of conscience or liberty or culturally determined propriety. We undermine the authority of the Church when we think this way, which is perhaps the objective of many of my friends who do think this way, and who concomitantly view pronouncements from bishops and preachers and church councils with suspicion.

But in so doing, we invite any unbeliever with a Bible to imagine that the task of discerning truth and right behavior is as simple as finding verses to match one's demands, or assuring oneself that there are no verses explicitly denying oneself the right to do what one wants.

What gets lost in the shuffle are conscience and Church, and all the remains are volley and returned volley of quotations, all of them stripped of context, all of them approached with the eyes of lawyers rather than penitents and petitioners.


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