by Eyal Rav-Noy & Gil Weinreich



Liberal religionists exploit the Bible to advance an agenda

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On the Jewish holiday of Passover in 2001, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe, gave a sermon. He told his congregants that the Exodus from Egypt they were commemorating most likely never occurred—at least not in the way described by the Bible.

One can only imagine the unease experienced by Rabbi Wolpe’s congregants at this revelation. No Jewish holiday requires greater physical preparation and exertion: getting rid of all products with any kind of leavening; substituting special holiday dishes and utensils for regular tableware; thoroughly cleaning one’s home, cars, and other properties; appointing an agent to sell one’s bread and leavened products, etc.

All this effort and why? Because some ancient wise guys sitting in a smoke-filled cave made up some stories and had the chutzpah to embellish them with a not insignificant number of mandated religious rituals? Couldn’t Rabbi Wolpe have made this announcement before all the holiday work had begun?

Just two years later, diagonally across the country, at St. Paul’s Church in Concord, New Hampshire, local Episcopal church leaders chose Rev. V. Gene Robinson to be the first openly gay bishop. Whatever personal warmth one may feel for homosexual friends or acquaintances, most people’s vision of a bishop, or any clergyman for that matter, would tend to exclude a non-celibate gay man as a religious role model.

These two little vignettes—the Exodus-denying rabbi and the Leviticus-denying priest—may seem unrelated. But both point to a society whose core religious values are up for grabs. Even though both incidents provoked a loud outcry from religious traditionalists, years later both men still have their jobs and arguably have greater influence and bigger platforms.

In 2008, Newsweek named Rabbi Wolpe America’s number one pulpit rabbi; two years earlier, Wolpe was seriously considered for the top position in the Conservative movement. (That same movement in December 2006 had its own election validating gay and lesbian rabbis and same-sex commitment ceremonies.) Reverend Robinson’s career has also blossomed; he is arguably the most famous Episcopal bishop in America.

How have we gotten to the point where renowned leaders of the two Bible-based religions—and we could multiply the examples easily—can publicly take positions that oppose the Bible? The only possible answer is that they don’t really believe in the Bible.

How did that happen? How did the Bible lose its authority? It was not an accident. It was the result of many or most of the spokesmen for the Bible religions adopting a specific set of ideas, quite recent in origin, about how, when, and by whom the Bible was written. It is true that most such religious leaders tend to be on the liberal side of things. But liberalism as such is not the problem. The problem is not bad ideology but bad Bible scholarship that has dominated now for more than one hundred years. To be sure, even without bad scholarship, people who want to deny the authority of the Bible will find a way. But with the scholars on their side, armed with elaborate theories of multiple authorship and sources, phantom editors, and later interpolations, Wolpe, Robinson, and liberal religionists like them can have it both ways. They can profess, as they do, to revere the Bible, but then find wiggle room to depart from any particular passage they don’t like. Free from its strictures, liberal religionists can exploit this new secular Bible to advance an agenda, cloaking their own preferences in the garments of religious authority and tradition.