John Stott: A Fundamentalist in Sheep's Clothing?
The Anglican leader has decided to retire. What he needs to recognize is that his evangelical ideas retired long ago
In 1992 on a July night in Vancouver, I debated human sexuality with a man named John Stott before an audience of more than 2,000 people. The debate was videoed and played across the English-speaking world.
Who is John Stott? He is probably England's best known and most published evangelical Christian. So I read with a bit of nostalgia a recent notice that floated across the wire services announcing that this 79-year-old single man had finally decided to retire.
John Stott struggled all his life to make his dated version of Christianity relevant to the modern world. That is not easy since he, like all evangelicals, starts with the assumption that the Bible is "revealed truth." For John Stott, the proper method for settling questions for Christians is to search the Bible's pages for answers. Revealed truth for him is timeless, and thus Holy Scripture provides eternal solutions for all contemporary issues--an argument made by fundamentalist Christians.
John Stott would not be happy being tightly linked with fundamentalists. They are too strident, too unlearned to suit him!
Hubert Humphrey once called Ronald Reagan "George Wallace with perfume." In a similar fashion, John Stott might be called "Jerry Falwell with perfume." Stott is sophisticated enough to know the literal Bible is filled with land mines, so he steps delicately around those places in Scripture where women are defined as the property of men, where polygamy is affirmed, where menstruation is regarded as a source of uncleanness, where slavery is viewed as an acceptable social institution, and where capital punishment is prescribed for such offences as being disobedient to one's parents, worshiping a false god, or being a homosexual.
Yet all of these things are present in the Bible Stott calls "the revealed truth of God." One wonders what he means by the use of both of those words "revealed" and "truth."
When challenged, Stott's pious smile disappears and his soft voice becomes edgy and rejecting. He suggests that anyone who disagrees with him disagrees with the revealed will of God. He seems never to have heard of Bible 101.
The Bible was written between 1000 B.C.E. and 135 C.E. It makes assumptions that modern men and women cannot make unless we turn off our minds to the expansion of knowledge over the last 400 years. The Bible reflects the three-tiered universe of the pre-Copernican world. It defines God as a supernatural being, living above the sky, capable of invading this planet earth in miraculous and not always moral ways to accomplish what is called his divine will.
This God strikes the Egyptians with a series of devastating plagues, which include murdering the firstborn son of every family of that nation. Is that moral behavior? This God then opens the Red Sea for the Jewish people to escape and closes the Red Sea to drown the Egyptian pursuers. It is not a very pleasant view of God if you happen to be Egyptian.
John Stott and the evangelicals base their understanding that the male is to be the head of the family on the words of a patriarchal social order written 2,000 years ago when women were not educated and not regarded as equal in the sight of God. Might we ask whether they have confused "revealed truth" with "prejudiced sin"?
Evangelicals like John Stott oppose divorce based on what they call "clear biblical teaching." Yet that clear teaching is predicated on the inferiority of the woman. It was not until the 20th century that women won the legal right to leave abusive marriages. Does "revealed truth" compel a woman to place herself in harm's way, or, if she manages to escape, does it then condemn her to a life of loneliness when she finds the courage to walk away from an abusive husband? I do not think so, and I would not care to worship a God who was presumed to suggest that such was "revealed truth."
John Stott and his evangelical friends are vehemently opposed to any acceptance of homosexuals because they are condemned, or at least their behavior is, in the revealed truth of Holy Scripture. That is nothing but a claim of uninformed ignorance. There is almost no scientist today who thinks sexual orientation is either chosen or changeable behavior. Is it appropriate for anyone to make judgments on sexual orientation today based on the ancient book of Leviticus, or the story of Sodom from Genesis, both of which were written more than 2,500 years ago?