One Sunday after worship, I greeted a young man who was visiting with us for the first and – as it would turn out – the last time.
Before I had the opportunity to introduce myself and welcome him, and without so much as a “hello, howdy,” he pointed to a name printed in our worship bulletin identifying the person as one of our “Deacons of the Week.”
“Is that a girl?” he asked.
“Well,” I responded, “if you could call a woman in the neighborhood of 80 years of age a ‘girl,’ I suppose so.”
“That’s not biblical,” he said curtly.
My response was clear and quite courageous. “Oh?” I said boldly.
“Yeah, look here.”
He opened his Bible and pointed to 1 Timothy 3:12, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”
“Based on that, a woman can’t be a deacon,” he said.
By this time I was getting my courage up. “Oh?” I repeated myself.
“Yeah. It’s right there in the Bible,” he said.
I sensed the conversation had hit a wall, and my reticent responses to his biblical proof-texting weren’t going to work anymore. So, it was time for a bit of hermeneutics on my part.
“It’s a slippery slope,” I told him, “when you take an ancient writing – especially one that is written from a cultural point of view, as was this letter by St. Paul to his young friend and colleague, Timothy, and posit it squarely into a world that exists some two millennia later.
“What we need to do is take the spirit of what Paul was telling his young protégé and apply the truths of it to our current experience. The truth of what he said, as I see it, is that the deacon needs to be a person who focuses on a healthy family life. This ‘girl’ does just that, so in our way of thinking, she is more than qualified to serve in this office.”
I could tell I wasn’t getting through, so I continued.
“But let me say one more thing: if you are insistent on lifting Paul’s admonition and placing it directly in our situation in the world today, we’ll have to reinstitute slavery.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Why would we want to do that?”
“I didn’t say we would want to do it. But read a bit further down in 1 Timothy,” I explained to him, “the sixth chapter, I believe: ‘Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor.’
“If you take the reference to deacons word for word and insist that its literal meaning be applied today, to be consistent you have to do the same when it comes to slaves and their owners.”
“But that’s not what I mean,” he replied.
“It may not be what you mean, but it is what you are saying. Long after the literal application of Scripture may be gone, the truths yet remain. I prefer to be on the side of biblical truth, when at all possible. I certainly fall short of that at times, but I do try.”
That pretty much ended the conversation, but it came to mind a few days after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, once I got over the shock of what had happened and tried to process some form of response.
I believe what is true for Scripture is just as true for the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is how the Second Amendment reads.
Think of the context. Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, was in office. Arkansas did not yet exist as a state nor had the Louisiana Purchase been completed under Jefferson’s bold leadership.
Every day, the people lived with the threat of reprisals, largely on the part of their British foes, and maybe even within their own ranks by those in sympathy to the Crown. It was a day in which it was difficult to know who the real terrorists were.
It was imperative that this young, fledgling nation be ever vigilant to protect its newfound freedoms.
Therefore, “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
But times have changed and our culture has shifted. Now, the U.S. is not only looking out for its own welfare but also that of other, less powerful nations.
Our recent wars have shown, painfully but clearly, that we have a well-trained and efficient military that sees each day to our nation’s best interests. They also reveal how difficult is the challenge of securing freedom in our world.
All the while, people in Arkansas and other states ply our many woods and forests hunting and fishing, both for sport and sustenance, under governmental restrictions.
While I am not a hunter, I say, “God bless ’em.” A number of people in my congregation are hunters, and I see the pleasure it brings them – unfortunately, even on Sunday!
But can anyone logically – and I do mean logically – tell me why assault weapons should be in the hands of anyone who is not wearing a uniform?
How can stricter gun controls in regard to assault weapons be a threat to hunters?
Would you want to eat meat that had been brought down by a rifle equipped with a 30-round clip?
The kinds of weapons that took the lives of the children in Connecticut and the innocent moviegoers in Colorado were intended not for any sport other than the taking of human lives.
Sometimes, even in interpreting Scripture, common sense must be applied.
I am aware that stricter gun control is not the sole answer to our societal problems related to violence of such an evil nature, nor will it put a complete end to the kind of tragedy we witnessed recently.
But doing nothing about access to assault weapons by civilians is no longer an option. Indeed, Scripture has a word for it. It’s called a sin.
Randy Hyde is senior pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. His sermon manuscripts appear on EthicsDaily.com.