Funny how some things that might seem to challenge one's testimony end up enhancing it.
Years ago, I was reading a well-constructed text about social science research wherein the author included terrific explanations of statistics and variables and hypotheses. I learned much but, near the end of the text, while discussing the research method called "content analysis," he wrote something that stopped me in my tracks.
The author did a three-page case study using this research method to show that the Bible didn’t really mean what it seems to say about homosexual behavior (his case study was supportive of homosexual behavior).
It was a startling analysis and bothered me on many levels because it almost seemed to use a mocking tone toward religious belief — and it was published in a college text.
I thought of that textbook this week as I read a post on the Belief Blog at CNN.com.
Now, I am a big fan of the Belief Blog. One of the biggest criticisms of religion coverage over the years is how the news media often neglect the nuance and depth of religious thought, disconnecting people from the sophisticated religious ideas that govern so many lives. Instead, you see news coverage that focuses on a few standard tropes, like scandal and controversy within churches; domineering, bigoted religious establishments; or hypocritical preachers. You often see conflict among and between religions as the dominant way religion is covered.
In most media coverage, you rarely see biblical verses or ancient religious philosophers quoted, and doctrine is avoided. Not so with the Belief Blog. It embraces doctrinal ideas and discusses them well.
In that sense, the Belief Blog is usually a breath of fresh air and represents much of what can be done by journalists; There can be interesting, important discussions of faith. Indeed, the blog is part of broad, generally excellent religion coverage by CNN. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints linked to CNN for a video outlining LDS beliefs about a week ago.
But with the good can come the challenging. This week, CNN posted a blog about gay marriage that reminded me of that old textbook. In a well-written argument, the author, a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School, argues that the Bible isn’t as strict about homosexual behavior as some Christians wish to imply. It attempts to carve a place in the Christian tradition for gay marriage, in part by asserting that the conservative Christian position is hypocritical.
The author argued that the condemnation of gay behavior in the New Testament stands on the same grounds as the injunction for men to cut their hair and women to grow it long.
I found the entire argument wrongheaded, and I was surprised someone was making it. It seemed nothing less than a frontal assault on biblical authority made by someone with the intellectual credentials to make his point heard.
I felt startled, just as I was when I read that old textbook.
Here’s what I did back when I encountered the case study in the textbook: I looked into my Book of Mormon and "content analyzed" it. I found its compelling, regular condemnation of all sexual behavior outside marriage through the broad term "whoredoms."
I learned that the Book of Mormon made important prophecies and warnings on these matters, matters of deep import today. In the end, the challenge to my beliefs resulted in deeply enhanced faith because I went to the Book of Mormon. It increased my testimony and planted my feet on firmer ground.
If ever there were an important reason to have a modern prophet and to sustain additional scripture, this kind of frontal assault on biblical authority is one. The Book of Mormon supports the Bible and its teachings; Modern prophets do the same.
When I encounter arguments like this one — and for sure there will be others in the future — I feel grateful for the firm ground that Mormonism rests upon and the buttressing it gives to the Bible in an hour of growing need.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.