Purity and the Muezzin

Over a few years I have been watching with interest different friends’ responses to the various ‘hot button’ issues that emerge. The most recent, and one of the most interesting the NZ Government’s decision to call on the state broadcaster to transmit an Islamic call to prayer for the 2 minutes silence for the victims of the Christchurch tragedy.

While often people’s responses are predictable, sometimes people surprise. I have begun to think that a significant component in many of these examples is the question of purity. Among 21st C Christians the priority of concern for purity is probably correlated with respect for the text of Scripture, but that correlation is far from perfect.

This should be expected because the priority the Bible gives to purity (among the virtues) varies. In Leviticus purity ranks very highly, in the prophets it stands alongside social virtues. In the New Testament’s lists of virtues and vices purity seldom features positively – James 3:17; 2 Cor 6:6 and 1 Tim 4:12 are exceptions. On the other hand ‘impurity’ is listed as a vice in Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; and 2 Cor 12:21. Lists that seem to omit purity are Rom 12:9ff.; 13:8ff.; 1 Cor 13:4ff.; Eph 4:5ff.; 1 Thess 5:12ff.; 1 Tim 2ff., 6:3ff.; 2 Tim 2ff.; Titus 1:6ff.; and 1 Peter 3:8.1 In the NT too, as almost all these lists make clear, ‘purity’ is primarily associated with sex, while in the OT it more often has ritual connotations.

This prwho prioritise oves nothing, but does suggest that both Christians who prioritise purity and those who prioritise the way we treat others can support their position from the Bible. Purity focus is seen (I think) in my friends who objected or hesitated significantly over the Muezzin’s involvement in the recent two minutes silence.

I am not posting this with the thought that either those who prioritise purity or those who prioritise the way we treat others are ‘right’, of course both are important. However, it seems to me that if this difference in priority (and hence in knee-jerk reactions) were (to be true and) recognised then we might be able to have more fruitful conversations about such contentious issues.

  1. These lists are very approximate, produced quickly, but may give an impression of the presence of purity in these lists, but the extent to which it is not a positive focus. []