The trick (or perhaps better stated skill as some theological nitpickers might associate the first term with the work of the Devil) in exegeting a Biblical text is deciphering if a particular narrative the circumstances that are of an historical nature pertaining only to that unique incident from those which are a prescription binding upon everyone irrespective of time or geography.
It has been observed that the accounts of the Advent and Nativity stand in stark contrast to the gospel of abortion as advocated by infanticide front groups such Planned Parenthood.
Southern Baptist theologian Russell Moore in his column titled “Joseph of Nazareth vs. Planned Parenthood” attempts to formulate a number of suggestions and proposals for the Christian wanting to apply the spirit of the Christmas story in their own lives.
This effort in itself is not necessarily without merit. For example, Moore suggests adoption as an alternative to the pervasiveness of abortion.
However, where Dr. Moore goes a hair too far is his suggestion insinuating that adoption is somehow an obligation on the part of the believer rather than one way particular families might decide for themselves to live out the implications of the Biblical message in their specific lives. Even more debatable is the invocation of Joseph as a pretext to shame the individual Christian into compliance.
Of particular interest is how the onus of sin is placed upon Christians deciding that taking on the responsibility of someone else's unwanted child is not necessarily for them rather than the ones despising a child to the extent that they are willing to see the child in question murdered.
In his exposition, Dr. Moore rips entire Scriptures from their particular contexts. For example, Moore writes, “In his obedience, Joseph demonstrated what his other son would later call 'pure' and undefiled religion', the kind that cares for the fatherless and abandoned (James 1:27).”
Regarding the children threatened by abortion today as well as the single mother households that Moore's kind of rant invokes in order to coerce all sorts of handouts, technically these children are not necessarily orphans and these WOMENNNN (said with the politically correct emphatic pronunciation often extended to this gender category) are not widows.
These children still have mothers to provide for them and, in most cases, their fathers are still alive and are simply deadbeats that refuse to take care of the lifetime consequence resulting from a few fleeting moments of pleasure. Likewise, to enjoy the sympathy, honor, and protection of which a widow is deserving, a woman needs to have had first been married, a criteria many these days finding themselves already with children have yet to fulfill.
As such, how about first casting blame at those that have actually done something wrong? For when was the last time you heard a good old fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermon directed at both unfit parents?
Criticisms of inept and negligent fatherhood are not all that uncommon. They are in fact the homiletical staple of Father's Day. However, rarely will you hear condemnation of the unfit mother often so enamored with her carefree lifestyle that she is willing to allow the murder of her unborn child.
In the noble endeavor to save as many children as possible from pre-natal human butchery as possible, like hostage negotiation at times it might be necessary to sweet talk and stroke the egos of these women threatening infanticide until the child can be rescued from their clutches. However, one is in danger of approaching a conceptual state bordering heresy if one's systematic theology is compromised while engaged in such a tactic.
In his application of Biblical texts, Dr. Moore glosses over where shortcomings of character and behavior ought to be called out at least in generalized terms and cries out he has found these kinds of deficiencies where none in fact actually exist.
For example, the crux of Moore's argument centers around Joseph not abandoning Mary after she was found with child and this humble carpenter taking Mary as his wife and in essence raising Jesus as his own despite Him not being such. However, the invocation of Mary as a categorical imperative to be applied in the case of every other woman in the world does not hold up to closer scrutiny.
Foremost, God appeared to Joseph in a dream to dispel any notions Joseph might have had that Mary found herself in these circumstances as a result of sin. In fact, in regards to this aspect of her virtue, she was far from such blemish and actually selected because of her status as a righteous virgin.
In this day of radical non-judgmentalism, it will be snapped let he that is without sin cast the first stone. That is usually Biblically sound advice. However, nowhere in not casting the first stone is one man obligated to surrender to the humiliation of having to pick up the tab for a baby conceived through the normal carnal means between his fiancée or betrothed and another dude.
Furthermore, why does this non-judgmentalism only apply to those living in outright sin? Dr. Moore certainly doesn't mind getting up in the grill of those that haven't emptied their bank accounts so the libertines can continue to breed wantonly without the consideration of their actions.
If Mary had conceived in such a fashion, Joseph should have kicked her to the curb. Russell Moore writes, “With full legal rights to abandon Mary and her unborn child --- perhaps to a fate worse than death --- Joseph obeyed the Father in becoming a father.” But, to reemphasize, that is because in this instance Mary had done nothing wrong.
From the way that Moore writes, had Joseph followed legal procedure, he would have been exceedingly cruel. But wasn't it because of the seemingly harsh nature of this prospective penalty that in all likelihood that the out of wedlock birthrate among the ancient Israelites in times when that people were living for the most part righteously was nothing in comparison to what it is today?
It must also be asked who was it that set up what looks to early twenty-first century eyes as an excessively judgmental social system. You can't really get all bent out of shape at the ancient Israelites because in many instances they were merely implementing what God had ordered them to under threats of calamity and damnation if they failed to do so until instructed otherwise.
This matter of whether Joseph would keep Mary or set her aside is not the only matter in which Russell Moore has not thought out the implications of what he has said in regards to these issues at hand.
Moore writes, “In a culture captivated by the spirit of Herod, could it be that God is calling our churches to follow the example of Joseph?” In that remark, Dr. Moore articulates the typical anti-male animus that has come to increasingly characterize Christian Evangelicalism.
For those that might not recall, following the visitation of the Magi, Herod flew into a rampage ordering the the murder of male children below two years of age. As a result, Joseph was instructed in a dream to escape with Mary and the Christ Child into the land of Egypt.
From the way Moore flippantly handles the allusion to the narrative, one could come away with the impression that Joseph was the only father or designated male provider to care in all of Bethlehem. Don't you think the other fathers loved their children enough that if they were accustomed to receiving messages via dreams that they would have also packed up their bags and gotten out of town if they had been extended such an opportunity? One cannot very well accuse these fathers of any wrongdoing in regard to Herod's slaughter of the innocents if the general population was extended no warning of the pending assault.
The war against human life throughout the contemporary world is pervasive. Those taking principled stands of whatever form grand or small will be commended by their Father in Heaven. However, in our own zeal for what is right, caution must be taken not to pull the facts of divine revelation from their holy context to create binding parallels that can only be deduced as a result of strained analogies such narratives never intended.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.