Speaking of the Old Testament, what do you think a book like Leviticus has to offer to modern readers?
When my wife and I read through the Bible, we don’t dwell on Deuteronomy and Leviticus much. I don’t mean to be critical, but they are an accumulation of texts that used to guide the six hundred or so rules and regulations that permeated Judaism before Christ. Obviously Jesus said He didn’t come to change the law, but He came to explain it. When Jesus came to explain the nature of God in a very revolutionary way He emphasized that it wasn’t just a compliance with all those rules and regulations that made someone acceptable to God, but it’s the way we lived our lives. It was whether we believed in peace and justice and humility, service of others, forgiveness and love, and to mirror the image of God, which is full of grace and forgiveness and love. So I think that has maybe caused the people who choose the Scriptures for the universal lessons not to dwell on Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We spend more time in the Psalms, in the prophecies, and in Genesis and in Exodus in the Old Testament.
People are asking a lot of questions about what the Bible says on science, homosexuality, and things of that nature. What are the questions you think people SHOULD be asking about the Bible?
I think Americans in general, whether Christian or not, should emphasize the character of Christ. We worship Jesus as the Prince of Peace, not war. I don’t think there is any doubt that among all the nations on earth the United States nowadays is more inclined to go to war than about any other country in the world. I go to China quite often, every year at least, and China hasn’t been to war now in thirty five or forty years. When you go to Brazil they haven’t been to war in thirty or thirty five years, Egypt hasn’t been to war in thirty three years, and so forth. The United States is constantly at war. So I think to derive the basic teachings of Christ, which is to try to resolve differences peacefully between two people like a husband and wife, or between nations, is something that we might remind ourselves to address through Biblical Scriptures. That’s just one of the things, obviously there are others like sharing our good lives with those in need, being unselfish, reaching out to the poor and needy, and implementing justice or equality of treatment of people, those sort of things are also important.
Peace has been a big part of your life, but in your writing you acknowledge that the Bible shows a side of God that is quite violent. How do you reconcile the two?
Well, you know, I’m a Christian, and although I don’t criticize people that have other faiths, and I certainly don’t criticize any element in the Holy Book including the Hebrew Scriptures, I really derive my life lessons and the things that I try to do from the life of Jesus Christ and I believe that the teachings of Jesus obviously earned him the title Prince of Peace. He reached out to those that were in conflict, He reached out to those that were despised, who were in need, who were outcasts in society, who were looked upon as especially sinful, and said those were the ones that He came to minister to. So I don’t feel any incompatibility about it, I’m an avowed Christian and I go by the teachings of Jesus more than I do some of the stories in the Old Testament. We have to remember that they were written about the history of the Jewish people, and although Isaiah and some others very clearly point out that God was a God of all people on earth, that was an emphasis that Jesus made when He came that was not looked upon favorably by the Jewish leaders of that time because they thought that the covenant of Abraham was exclusively for Jews, and Jesus made sure that they knew that this was not the case. Paul emphasized too that the covenant with Abraham was made not because he was a Jew but because he had faith. So, I’m not trying to preach Old Testament versus New Testament, but to just explain my own point of view as a Christian.
You have done a great deal of work to improve human rights for many around the world, what do you think is the Bible’s ultimate message on human rights?
I think that Americans, if you ask an average class even in the church, what are the basic human rights? They would quickly say to you like college students would, or people on the street, that the human rights are freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship, the right to trial by jury, and they would stop there. But the fact is that human rights encompass a lot more. Those things, of course, but also the right for a person to have a decent place to live, the right of a person to have food to eat, a job, adequate health care, things of that kind, and so I think the social and economic rights are also very important, and I believe that the Christian faith encompasses all of them. Not to oppress other people, not to deprive them of freedom, but to give increased freedom and encouragement to stretch our hearts, to stretch our minds, to encompass more people in the beneficent effect of our own existence using the talent or ability that God has given us. So I think that the broad definition of human rights is something that I get from my Christian faith.