Tossing Out Bible Bombs

(versus The Hard Work of Hermeneutics)

By Keely Emerine Mix

Page 2

states that purple hair-dyeing is a sin, we may not conclude that it is subject to the conscience of the individual.  Rather, it is assigned a value and then condemned.

One needn’t be a Bible student to see the problem with the course Wilson has chosen.  Clearly it makes sense to have bad behavior witnessed by more than one person before an accusation is leveled.  Of course, being “unloving,” by its imprecise nature, is behavior that, if accurate, has undoubtedly been witnessed by many more than three.  But by clinging to a wooden hermeneutic that offered him an “out” by which to avoid the painful issues raised in the letter, however anonymously, Wilson demonstrates that prooftexting – the careful selection of a few verses that, while true out of context, illustrate a point that, in context, is perhaps inconsistent with the full testimony of Scripture – can insulate the believer from having to seriously examine, even repent of, a behavior that is condemned throughout the Bible.  In fact, employing this argument is impossible to do without a measure of smugness, arrogance, pride, and disregard for those around him.  Worse, he then is able to claim he is the victim of a false accusation, made false not because of the merit, or lack thereof, of the charges, but because of the form of their delivery.  It’s brilliant, in a sense, but it’s bad theology.

He then veers to the other extreme in his confident denunciation of purple hair.  He judges purple hair, and rightly so, as a departure from the norms of hair color.  He clearly doesn’t like purple hair, but presumably has no problem with a woman dyeing her hair a shade lighter. The color and style, perhaps the gender and age of the wearer, act as Wilson ’s clues to a larger and more troubling issue: rebellion, which he says is sin.  As surely as a fatal stabbing is homicide, Wilson would have us conclude, non-typical hair color is a sign of rebellion against Almighty God.  As the parent of two teenage boys, I understand rebellion.  Sometimes it’s bad – when, for example, the dishwasher doesn’t get emptied because someone decided to disobey his mother.  Other times, though, rebellion is good.  When my son is offered a joint, for example, I would hope that he would rebel – that he would refuse, thus acting in a way contrary to the culture he finds himself in, however fleeting.  Either way, though, rebellion is defined by context and a deliberateness of motive and not by hair color.  Purple hair, in and of itself, is morally neutral – it is neither an impediment to Godly living or a gateway to debauchery.  Dark gray business suits are neutral, too – and the good folks at Enron proved that they don’t guarantee ethical behavior.  And it isn’t the hoods and sheets of the Ku Klux Klan that make it evil, but surely a rebellion against the conformity of ritualized racism would be a good thing.  I regret that examples of other people’s simple bad taste isn’t enough to allow me to judge them; damned if I don’t have to actually get to know them before developing an idea of their character. 

The pendulated examples Doug Wilson has shown us this summer do have the benefit of making life more tidy, providing as they do reason to avoid sincere self-examination as well as the irritating processes of patience and tolerance.  They are lamentable, however, coming from Moscow ’s most well-known pastor.  The consequences of sweeping pronouncements on sartorial and tonsorial morality are not earth-shattering, although they’ve hurt one of my sons, who is often presumed to be “less Christian” than his brother because of his long hair, earring, and penchant for leather cuff bracelets.  The consequences, though, of rushing to a harbor of simplistic, deceptive Biblical literalism are enormous – as much, I think, for the congregants as for the preacher, who confirms in his deliberate hermeneutical evasion and steamrolling rush to judgment that, anonymous or not, this particular letter writer got it exactly right.