Coded language

by John Lentz

I am interested in the issue of “coded language.”   As a protestant minister who preaches from sacred texts often using theological language concerning, for example, “sin” “redemption” “judgement,” etc., am I to interpret that this theological language is “coded?”  It is, of course, in a way – for it is language that is full of meaning(s) – hence, meaningful.  Professor Marcus Borg, author of a great little book The Heart of Christianity writes that the best way to interpret biblical language is metaphorically – rich in multiple meaning; it saves us from narrow literalism. 

A good example is Islam is “jihad” – inner jihad, outer jihad, spiritual jihad or military jihad?  Christianity has the same issue with “Kingdom of God.” 

But my sense is that the esteemed professors are using “coded language” in another way – perhaps I am wrong.  I doubt that preachers are using words like “sin” when they really mean “go kill the bastard.”    It seems to me that when the imam, rabbi or pastor wants to share with his congregation that, for example, homosexuality is an abomination, he comes right out and says it.  So it isn’t “coded” at all – it is as clear as it can be.  That is the thing about fundamentalist preachers – there is no irony or “hidden” meanings because there is a word means ONE thing.  The issue is not what word is used but what kind of reaction is caused and what kind of action is anticipated.  There are many so-called conservative Christians who would argue that the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is an abomination – however, there would be no necessary cause and effect to violence in a direct way.  Many churches would use this interpretation for outreach and conversion because they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” 

Furthermore, I am also not sure there is such a clear distinction between religious language and secular language – there is nothing “magic” about the language.   What is at stake is how one interprets the language of the sacred text – literally, metaphorically, or whatever.    J. Lentz

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