Crushed Testicles | Living in Theological Fear

by , under Church, Emerging Church, Theology

I’ve just been reading a post by Frank Viola over on his blog, where he’s put up an interview with Paul Copan, author of ‘Is God a Moral Monster.‘ Part of it really made me sit up and think:

Question: Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” Whhhhaaaa? What’s the point of this? How does this reflect God’s nature?

Not only do specific kinds of food, clothing, planting, and sexual relations in their respective “spheres” serve as a picture of Israel’s set-apartness from the nations. The distinction between clean and unclean animals in particular symbolizes how Israelites were to act in relationship to their neighbor as well as to God. In the language of Leviticus, animals symbolize what God required from his people. For example, note the parallels between the kinds of animals offered in sacrifices in Leviticus 1, 3, and 23 (“without blemish”—including no crushed testicles— which resulted in a “pleasing aroma to the Lord”) and the priest who is to be “without defect/blemish” (Leviticus 21:18-24), including no crushed testicles.

There is a connection between the kinds of animals that are permitted/forbidden to be eaten and the kind of people God wants Israel to be in its relationships. The theme of (un)cleanness in Leviticus and Deuteronomy not only symbolizes creation’s orderliness with everything in its own sphere. (So, unclean animals represent a lack wholeness or integrity in not belonging to their own “sphere.”) Yet something more is going on: animals that are unclean appear to be either (a) predatory animals or (b) “vulnerable” animals (defective in appearance or characteristics). This has a parallel to human relationships.

I find this troubling, because it suggests that those with disabilities (‘defective in appearance’) should be excluded. Which is just outright offensive.

What worries me is that people are spending an awful lot of time doing complicated somersaults to try to get round the thorny issues and still claim that Scripture is ‘perfectly true.’ Though he’s speaking tongue in cheek, Frank does make sure he nails his colours to the mast before he plays Devil’s Advocate in the interview:

I hereby solemnly declare before God, angels, and mortals that I believe in the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, the 66 books of what we call “the Bible” or “biblical canon.” I believe that they are fully inspired, true, and reliable.

You only need to look on the ‘statements of belief‘ on any (US) church website to see similar things written, which boil down to: Don’t worry, there’s nothing to see here! We’re good guys – just like you! So breath easy now!

As I commented on Frank’s post: my fear is that people are expending energy convincing others that they believe that Scripture is inerrant, that hell is for unbelievers, that crushed testicles are no good in church, not because they truly believe it, but because they cannot countenance the flak that would come their way, and the exclusion they would experience if they admitted what they were really thinking. In other words, getting back to Deuteronomy, they don’t want their balls broken, because that means being thrown out.

The result of this: the defence of Truth has perpetrated a lot of lies. A lot of bluff. And that just seems wrong somehow.

[I think this has been one of the differences between UK and US emerging churches. In the US, communities seem more keen to be seen to be kosher, to still be holding orthodox views on the central tenets in order that they can be accepted. Whereas in the UK I think people have been a bit more free to deconstruct things more radically, though that’s just my own perception.]


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  1. Corinne

    Rob Bell did an amazing video titled “The God’s Aren’t Angry” which really helped put this in light… I think this is another reason you have the vast majority of American gen-x and gen-y leaving the church. However… I think there are churches willing to deconstruct things in the US. Perhaps it’s not quite as radical as the UK, but there are cracks beginning to appear in the traditions and orthodoxies of our churches, and where there are cracks, light is beginning to shine through. It may take time, but I do believe it’s happening.
    Also, as far as that scripture goes, I really don’t know many churches (even conservative/orthodox) in the US that would “exclude” one based purely on defectiveness (unless you perceive certain “sins” as “defects”, such as homosexuality, then we’re talking a WHOLE other issue). I have been part of very traditional congregations that very openly and lovingly welcomed those who had disabilities, allowing them not only to participation, but opportunities to serve as well. How they would align these practices with the scripture referenced above, I don’t know… I’ve found that most often, lack of education and just outright ignorance on what scriptures really say leads people to adhere unswervingly to the “infallibility” argument. If they truly knew or even understood the whole of scripture, they might begin to see the cracks in their arguments.
    I think fear also plays a HUGE role in why most are afraid of abandoning their views. We are a nation that runs on fear… and it’s not just the politicians using it as a tool for control. Our churches are full of people who are deathly afraid that even the slightest doubt would cast them into eternal damnation. Just some thoughts…

  2. kit johnson

    For some reason I find this really moving. People twist and turn to such a degree that they end up justifying the unjustifiable. Let’s be honest.

    Personally I am quick to say what I think but then qualify it to seem reasonable, to be appreciated, to be agreed with. But there comes a time when we just have to say what we bloody well think is the truth.

  3. Scot Miller

    Interesting observations, especially about the difference between the US and the UK.

    I think the Deut. 23:1 passage shows just how inconsistent (incoherent?) orthodoxy has become. You are correct that the implication of this verse is that “defective” human beings really need to be excluded, but I don’t know of any Christian group who would do such a thing (in fact, they have services for the deaf and make accommodations for handicapped people and special classes for children with learning disabilities, etc.). So they believe all of the Bible, but just not all of the Bible.

    I think orthodoxy is way overrated. I find it implausible that God would be more concerned with the beliefs one holds in one’s little brain than in how one treats other persons

  4. chris

    I read through Frank Viola’s post and his response to your comments and I have to agree with him on this one. It seems like you are taking one example way out of context and applying it directly to a modern day church (which it sounds like is exactly what Copan is arguing against). I am no biblical scholar but it would seem like a person with crushed testicles may not be able to enter the assembly of the Lord but that doesn’t automatically mean that they are no longer part of God’s chosen people. Furthermore I think you also have to take into consideration that when Jesus died the veil was ripped and for me that symbolically tears down a lot of the previous barriers of who was allowed “in the assembly of the Lord”.

    With that said I do appreciate the observation that UK churches tend to be a little less beholden to orthodoxy and would be interested to hear why you think that is.

  5. KB

    I think it’s entirely the other way round – my concern is that he has taken an example from the Old Testament, and is suggesting (“This has a parallel to human relationships.”) this applies now. Whether or not he means that explicitly, I think a person with a disability would be justified in taking offence. And I think that’s where your comment goes: why should someone with crushed balls be excluded from the assembly of the Lord?! What do you mean by that?

    I think that the differences between the UK and the US go a long way back, but are perhaps rooted in the more established Church of England, which has always created a culture of difference – a big umbrella. Whereas part of the DNA of the US (for which the UK has some responsibility) has been schism and purity.

  6. Sam Willis

    I do find this really interesting and find myself nodding alont with Kit. Why is there such a defensiveness? I struggle with a lot of the’christian givens’ that appear in churches and organisations. As I lead a CU run under a rather particular though contempary organisation, I find myself unable to be free to be me. I usually end up pre-planning excuses, reasons and arguments to back up MY ALTERIOR understanding rather than just allowing the difference. Isn’t that what Jesus was brilliant at? Saying his mind and holding the tension? Trusting God to such a degree that being RIGHT or WRONG didn’t even matter?

    The honesty to say a true “I don’t know” seems to be the most powerful and vulnerable act of trust I have come across.

  7. Adam Moore

    The real question here is “what were you doing reading Frank Viola’s blog?” Doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.

    Anyway, that’s what I was wondering…

  8. Kester Brewin

    Haha good question Adam. Actually, as I’ve posted here before, I think there’s a serious point: it’s really important that we read stuff we don’t agree with. The web allows us to filter so much that we can spend all day just reading things that we like, and nothing that challenges our viewpoint. So trawling around other sites keeps things dirty, stop things getting sterile.

  9. chris

    thanks for the clarification, I had to re-read your comment twice but now I think I understand the point you are making and I like the question you are asking.

  10. matybigfro

    What’s really crazy is that the only people that buy into these arguments are those fundies looking for ammunition to silence the voice of Doubt and Disent from outside.

  11. Laurence

    Hi Kester,

    someone pointed me recently to John 1:14 – ‘… from the Father, full of grace and truth’. We mere mortals tend to be good at either grace or truth – seems like the ball crushers are very keen on (what might be) truth! Us wishy-washy Anglicans are much better at grace 🙂

  12. Donny

    Crushed testicles were a form of punishment for rape.
    could it mean this person is not acceptable for that reason. Not that the person is deformed.
    Same for a male organ cut off.
    For a reason, you think?

    Think.

  13. KB

    Yeah, let’s not have rapists in church. Man, that might lead to repentance and transformation. Let’s exclude them.