The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is coming up very soon.  This year there will be some debates on the agenda, yet again, about the place of LGBTQ people in the church.  So, of course, the discussion boards of the church had been pretty active lately with people posting and discussing these weighty matters.  I hardly want to spend all my time attending to these discussions, but I can’t help tuning in from time to time.

Lately, as you may have noticed, people who are strongly opposed to making any changes in our policies at this time, had been taking to labeling those they disagree with as “revisionists.” I don’t want to presume that this is their intention, but I can’t help but notice it often comes across as a pejorative label. They seem to be thinking, every time that they say it, that they are the true believers and that those who disagree with them are merely revising a time honoured approach to the Bible and to truth.

The other day, I stumbled into one of these discussions and caught on something that someone wrote. “The Old Testament is very clear on the definition of marriage,” they said (or something to the effect, I don’t recall the exact words). I thought, yes, that is quite true, the Old Testament is pretty clear on the definition.

But it also made me wonder, how would the Bible define revisionist? For example:

1) If you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,

you might be a revisionist!

This is one that most people would be aware of. Many Biblical heroes, including Abraham, Jacob and many kings had multiple wives. The Bible never expresses a problem with it.

2) If don’t agree that a woman is a piece of property and she belongs to her husband,

you might be a revisionist!

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.(Exodus 20:17) This is the Bible’s primary law regarding wanting (and taking) someone else’s property. The wife is simply listed as another example of your neighbour’s property.

3) If you believe that sex should be consensual between the two people involved,

you might be a revisionist. 

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbour’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) The issue in this law is consent. It might not seem to be at first glance because, in this case, a man and a woman could have freely chosen to have sex together. The reason why it is considered a capital crime is that the Bible did not consider that a woman had the right to consent to have sex.  Only her father had the right of consent and if he had chosen that she should marry someone else, she did not have any choice in the matter.

4) If you believe that a woman shouldn’t be forced to marry anyone (including someone who has raped her),

you might be a revisionist. 

 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

5) If you don’t think that there is something inherently shameful about being a woman who engages in a sex act with a man (even if she is married to him),

you might be a revisionist.

“In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27) This one is not immediately obvious, but the key phrase is, “received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” This condemnation is based on an attitude towards sex that was taken for granted in the society of the Bible and which Paul repeats here uncritically. The idea is that there is someone inherently shameful about being on the receiving end of a sex act. It was all very well to be the sexual penetrator but to be penetrated in any way was to be degrated and was a punishment in and of itself. That is the assumption behind this verse. But think about what that statement implies about women who have sex with men! 

Of course we’re all revisionists, and thank God that we are! If we actually tried to apply biblical practices of marriage today, it would be horrible. The only question is the degree of revisionism that we each feel comfortable with.

Now, I am not really trying to make a big point here, other than a point about our language. I find the language that some people use in this debate a bit problematic. What does it mean to call someone else a revisionist if we are all revisionist to some degree or another?  I don’t necessarily have a better word for the position though.