When I was a teenager we had a preacher visit our church presenting a particular view of creation that was at odds with what I had been taught in my school science lessons. I was eager to engage with this subject because it seemed to me that it could be keen sticking point for many people.
I was somewhat surprised to find, however, that rather than starting with a scientific explanation of Genesis the speaker stated that if we didn’t believe the literal text of the creation narratives then we would undermine the whole of scripture including the gospel itself: we would even risk losing our own salvation.
You can imagine how the mainly Pentecostal audience took this news; after all what Christian in their right mind would want to stand against the whole bible, let alone the gospel. It seemed to me at the time that his overstated link between a particularly literal interpretation and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour was somewhat tenuous. It felt as if he was manipulating a well intention group of people; perhaps hoping they would keep their doubts to themselves and nod in agreement with his anti-scientific language.
It seems to me that people fed on the conflation of two apparently linked ideas can find it difficult to change their views when challenged. Especially when their allegiance to God might be questioned.
In this construct denying the literal six day creation teaching of a particular church is to deny God and his word. So what choice do we have but to take a stand for ‘truth’ and ignore the scientific evidence: who would want to let God down by not having enough faith to believe that the whole scientific community is part of some giant conspiracy.
The ministry of conflation, however, is not limited to the conflict between the reading of ancient documents and the study of even more ancient dinosaur bones. The continuing debates on the nature of sexuality and the perceived teaching of scripture falls victim.
Well-meaning church members don’t seem to be presented with the basic arguments about the few verses that deal with male homosexuality (lesbianism not seemingly worthy of being mentioned). The difficult verses in Roman, 1 Corinthians, and Timothy are discussed in the environment of fear that seems to be a big part of the evangelical scene at present. Consider the way that some have adopted the position of victims when it comes to being challenged if they refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings or provide holiday accommodation for same sex couples. In addition is the growing campaign from some church leaders to suggest that they are being persecuted for standing for traditional marriage.
More inclusive evangelicals are presented as those who no longer believe the bible. If one believes that a particular Greek phrase might be written in a context that means its prohibition doesn’t include same sex faithful relationships your are told that you have stopped being faithful to scripture.
Now consider this: if our congregations are continually told that to re-interpret these verses is akin to being unfaithful to the bible how can any sensible conversation be had.
If recognising that the New Testament says very little about homosexuality and that we might have got it wrong is conflated with undermining the gospel how could most evangelicals feel at ease with considering a broader, more inclusive, reading of the bible.
The ministry of conflation is powerful; it’s just not one mentioned in Ephesians 4 for building up the church.