Forgive Me My Shellfish Ways

For years I have been afraid to admit something.  There is a sin in my life so dark and so reprehensible that I barely can admit it to myself.  It is a nagging sin, and one that I know I should be ashamed of, but I am not.  I know what the Bible says.  I know it is “detestable.”  I understand it says it is an “abomination.”  For people who love and believe the Bible, it is an shrimpunforgivable and heinous sin.  I eat clams… and I like them.  I also love shrimp and lobster.  I have eaten them many times — knowing all the while that I am forbidden by my faith to do so — and I plan to do so again.  I am truly afraid to confess this, knowing that the only recourse for Bible-believing Christians is to “cut me off from my kin.”  Some well-meaning people have tried to tell me that Acts changed all that — that unclean foods were made “okay” — but it only applies to four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds… I know that.  What’s worse, I have done this sinning publically — at Howard Johnson’s, Red Lobster, Olive Garden — just about everywhere actually.

What would happen to me if my church were to find out that I sin with no actual desire to change my habits?    It breaks my heart every time someone points out to me that the Bible calls what I do an abomination and detestable.  I feel so guilty.  My only concession is that The United Methodist Church has not taken an “official” position on un-finny seafood.  If it were in the Book of Discipline, it would REALLY be bad.

I do wonder what others must think of me when I crack open a crab’s leg or eat a shrimp cocktail.  I would do my seafood eating at home, but my wife — being a good Christian — doesn’t like seafood of any kind (including the Biblically approved kinds) — so I can only indulge in public.  What a disappointment to God I must be…  Perhaps the time has come to organize a global boycott of Red Lobster, Captain Ds, Long John Silvers, and every other restaurant that sells seafood.  Or pizza, for that matter.  As Christians we really should remember that we are forbidden to eat meat and dairy cooked together.

I have a friend who is blessed of God — granted a shellfish allergy, which is obviously a sign from God of acceptance and favor.  I haven’t quite figured out how my other friend with a peanut allergy fits the picture, but I am sure that it a blessing too.  And wheat allergies that prevent people from taking communion?  That must be a special blessing as well.  People wouldn’t have these allergies for no good, spiritual reason.  God wouldn’t allow people to be born in any way that would be fundamentally sinful.  My shellfish sins are all my own.  I choose to defy biblical truth.  But if that were the only one, perhaps I could bear up under the shame.

I also must admit that I went to a church today where women not only didn’t keep silence, but one preached, one served as liturgist, and one gave personal testimony.  I tried not to listen — I really did — but I am afraid I must confess that I did not stomp out in righteous indignation.  All I can do is hope that God will forgive me.  But really, asking such forgiveness is disingenuous.  I know I will listen to women preachers in the future.  I shouldn’t really pray for forgiveness for something I know I will do again.

 What would really be great?  To have a faith based on a Savior and not a book.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a religion based in grace and goodness rather than rules and judgement?  I would like a faith built around doing good, not worrying about who is doing “bad.”  But I know that what I eat for dinner is much more important than people dying of curable disease, hunger and malnutrition.  I am so thankful that I am part of a church that expends millions of dollars to hold annual and general conferences to argue over personal behaviors and beliefs instead of making disciples to transform the world.  Otherwise how would I know who to love and who to condemn?  I just hope and pray that no one raises the biblical issue of shellfish, because I would be in big trouble.

21 replies

  1. I understand the point you’re trying to make, and I agree with much of it. My point is simply that when conservatives do cite the “moral” code in Leviticus ( and specifically the prohibitions against homosexuality which I believe have other problems inherent within them – some of which you’ve alluded to) even while consuming shellfish they are in fact treating the book in a fashion that is consistent with the way the N.T. as a whole applies the book.

    I do, however, disagree with your premise that the prohibition against eating shellfish, and all other dietary restrictions, were not rendered void at the Jerusalem Council when the Apostles prayerfully concluded that gentiles did not need to first become Jews in order to be authentic disciples of Christ. But the new gentile converts were urged to abstain from immorality.

    • Interpretation is a two edged sword. I personally agree with you about the Jerusalem Council — and I have been “taught” by no less than three “authorities” that I am “reading into scripture” in order to make that assertion. I have been chastised severely for ignoring the “explicit” (their interpretation) to preference the “implicit” (my interpretation). Hence, in my warped sense of things, my point still stands.

  2. Disappointing post – and poor biblical reasoning to boot! I actually believe that both the right and the left in the Church can put forth solid arguments in support of their positions on homosexuality, and that it is a relatively minor issue (though obviously not to those experiencing it) that the Church should NEVER consider dividing over.
    But here’s my problem with your satirical post. When people ask conservatives whether or not they eat shellfish, or ham, or stone their insolent teenagers, what they’re really suggesting is that because Christians no longer keep or practice many of the prohibitions found within the book of Leviticus that there is NOTHING in this book that we might still find relevant or instructive, or that we might aspire to keep. But do we REALLY want to make that argument. Might there be something we ought to retain – and if so, how would we determine it? Rather than debate individual verses, think laterally with me for a moment.
    Each of the three synoptic gospels contain a narrative where a man who is identified as a Scribe or lawyer approaches Jesus with a question. In MT & MK Jesus is asked what the great commandment in the law is (in Luke the question is “What must I do to inherit eternal life”). In MT & MK Jesus answers, while in LK Jesus, in good Socratic fashion, turns the question around and asks the lawyer how the scriptures read to him. In any case the answers are the same. There is not one but two great commandments, the pillars upon which all of the law & prophets stand. We are to “Love God with all of our heart, and soul, and mind, and we are to love our neighbor as ourself.”
    How many of you still believe that these commandments are relevant to Christians today, that (though we are “saved by grace”) we should still aspire to place God first, and love our neighbors as we wish they would love us? I see that hand – and another – and another – okay, enough. But from where does Jesus pull these verses (or the lawyer in the case of Luke)? The first, of course, appears initially in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The Shema). The second? It finds its genesis (no pun intended) in the book of Leviticus (Lev. 19:18, to be precise).
    Think for a moment about what we’ve just done. Firstly, we’ve agreed (assuming you raised your hand earlier) that there is at LEAST one verse from Leviticus that Christians should still aspire to keep today (and if there’s even one than those satirical questions “do you eat ham – or shellfish – are rendered void), and secondly, we’ve begun to construct a framework for how we might determine whether a verse from Leviticus will still be deemed “relevant”, and that is that it is dependent upon how Jesus (and perhaps the writers of the N.T. as a whole since Paul & James also highlight this second command) treated either that particular commandment or that TYPE of commandment.
    Study some of the ancient creeds and confessional statements of the Church, and you’ll discover that the Church generally broke the levitical code into three types or categories – the cleanliness code (including the dietary restrictions), a penal code (punishments for various transgressions) and a moral code. The early church leaders appear to have dismissed the dietary code at the Council of Jerusalem (not in Peter’s vision as you implied). Jesus personally ignored and dismissed the penal code in John 8, when he tells the woman caught in adultery that “neither do I condemn you” (carry out the sentence proscribed in Leviticus – stoning), but he upholds the moral force of the law when he sends her away with the instruction to “not sin again.”
    Using this framework Christians have historically concluded that the commandments governing interpersonal relationships (the moral code) found in the Book of Leviticus remain relevant today – that even though we might eat ham or shellfish we should not murder, rape, slander, make our daughter a harlot, do injustice, oppress our neighbor, or rob (etc.) another person.
    One might still attempt to argue that the prohibitions in Leviticus pertaining to homosexuality are a part of the cleanliness commands (and were thus dismissed at the Jerusalem Council) but if so they are the only commands in that genre that call for the death penalty as a response.
    There most certainly are other problems with Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, but dismissing them with sarcastic remarks about eating ham and shellfish really doesn’t cut it.

    • But it is still playing with pieces of scripture to make an argument. Ham was made clean and acceptable, so it’s a moot point in the shellfish argument. Stoning has a little more merit — no one told us we couldn’t throw rocks at each other as good Christians (which may be a big part of our current problem…) Yes, there is much of value to lift from the scriptures — such as they were a communal covenant that defined the terms of social intercourse in a specific place and time, and we need the same thing today, but not the exact same wording and understanding of a premodern, primitive, illiterate, Middle Eastern, patriarchal culture superimposed over a 21st century post-enlightenment (sometimes I wonder…) Western, struggling not to be racist, sexist, but absolutely fine with being greedy and materialistc culture. My gripe is the pick-and-choosism of finding a verse or two to construct a legalism to define the whole, while ignoring anything that doesn’t support ones personal view.

  3. Good job, Dan. I see how you used humor to make a larger point. Forgive me for zeroing in on my pet peeve. I really appreciate your columns.

  4. In case folks didn’t get the analogy, I believe you’re alluding to the prohibition against men lying with men, also in Leviticus. I agree that we are wasting a huge amount of time and energy and getting rid of good people to boot, just like the military is doing with its gay ban. It seems that people need a scapegoat group. First it was Jews, then women, then African Americans and now gays. No matter how much fornication and adultery goes on among straight Christians, they can thank God that they’re not being unnatural or abominable. With the growing acceptance of gay marriage and the courageous steps toward equality taken by the Lutherans I can only hope that the peer pressure will give the UMC the push it needs to take that big step toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians in the pulpit and the pew.

    • That’s part of it, Jeff. More broadly, I am spoofing those who want to take the Bible literally about the things they agree with, but not all the many things we aren’t supposed to do that we want to do, so we ignore what the Bible says — about things as simple as observing the Sabbath and not borrowing or lending money at interest. If we are to use the Bible as our standard — even though it is the product of a premodern and often primitive mind from an entirely foreign culture and worldview — then let there be consistency and integrity. If we are simply going to pick and choose what we like? Well, then allow the same practice equally to all. Our Bible is a glorious gift and a powerful tool. I get so tired of all the people who merely want to use it as a weapon.

  5. A humorous post- but with an interesting message. Actually to eat kosher is very healthy, and the “sinfulness” of eating shellfish was a health concern because of the fact that the animals in question are bottom feeders which means there could be some very nasty stuff in their systems.

    I, too, am a sinner in this regard as I love eating crab legs and lobster. Yet I also know that in order for me to properly digest these items my body must create an enzyme which isn’t usually present. This may explain why there are those among us who have “allergies” to this food and therefore cannot sin along with us.

    I find that the various food “requirements” of the Old Testament are actually quite sound in terms of nutritional value, and believe that if we were to follow them we’d find ourselves healthier and probably with fewer diseases as our immune system would be able to work at full strength.

    Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to complete the Law. In Him there is life, and life everlasting. That’s tons more important than worrying about my having a shrimp cocktail before dinner.


    • Almost all of the “spiritual” admonitions had very “practical” reasons behind them. In a culture before refrigeration and an understanding of salting, jerking, or smoking a whole lot of foods were dangerous. I truly believe that the rules against eating the sacrifice on the third day has more to do with real results than “evil.” Eat meat sitting out for a day, you will probably be fine — leave it out two days? Yuck. Cramps and vomiting must have been a sure sign of the Lord’s disfavor!

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