Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Bible as Weapon

Just home from the first gathering of an Adult educational series I am leading for Lent called “Bible 101” (which I concocted in another parish where it was called The Bible for Dummies which my current parish thought un-genteel and degrading.). I told them that the Bible was full of wonderful stories, wisdom, history, poetry, drama, some comedy, a lot of tragedy, social teaching, economic teaching and so on, to use it for any other ultimate purpose than to bring ourselves and others into a relationship with the Living God was a misuse of it. In other words to teach history, social norms, poetry, economics, or any other thing solely from it was to degrade it.

Growing up in a somewhat conservative area in a somewhat conservative evangelical Anabaptist protestant denomination I learned at a young age that the Bible was the “inerrant, changeless Word of God” and while the true meaning of this was lost on me as a teenager, I accepted it in some flat-footed way which made me more afraid of it than supported and inspired by it. We would have “sword drills” at Youth Group to see who could find a certain verse or a certain book the fastest. What genius, to turn Bible study into a competition! I later found out that it was (naturally) St. Paul (yeah the same guy who brought us women keep silent, homo’s stay out and slaves to be obedient) who coined this phrase.

It wasn’t until I was older and somewhat better grounded in things biblical that I realized how bad calling this wonderful book a “sword” actually was. It became the handmaiden of the military-industrial complex and worse, was used to gore people right and left.

This is probably why many Americans don’t see any problem using scripture to justify war, oppression, violence, and all other kinds of activities which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. A recent blogger posed the question “Why Would Jesus Puke?” I think there could be tons of reasons but many of them are the way those who claim to follow him use and appropriate scripture. I hope someday to invite people into this question and see how long a list we could come up with!

Indeed the current controversies in the Anglican Communion boil down to how you read, interpret and use scripture. If Paul had said nothing about homosexuality perhaps this would be an easier time for L/G/B/T persons in the Christian Church. But he did and for those of us who take scripture seriously enough he was speaking of certain cultic practices which involved straight people engaging in homosexual acts in order to receive a pagan God’s blessing. Lets also be clear, in Paul’s world there was no such concept as sexual orientation. Indeed ALL humans were assumed to be heterosexual. End of debate. So if everyone was assumed straight, then engaging in homosexual behavior was indeed a distortion of their “true nature”.

Even Freud thought homosexuality “disordered”.

It was until the early 18th century that the idea of any other God-given orientation was conceivable. At that time there was the “discovery” that a small percentage of humans may actually be biologically, psychologically and sexually attracted to their same gender! So while I will cut Paul a break (“But I had no idea!”) I do not cut current Christians a break who continue to harass, marginalize and reject their “other oriented” bro’s and sis’s as being exceptionally evil or perverse when they have better science and psychology at their beckon call.

I was a deputy at the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church and voted against Resolution B033 which effectively caused the Episcopal Church USA to take two steps back from openly gay clergy. Much to my deputation’s credit we did not vote for it. We can at least sleep at night now that we have witnessed how this legislation has been used against our own people. Many talented gay people are shut out of consideration of any positions which may bring influence, fame and a nomination for bishop. Many of my colleagues in the House of Deputies now express regret for voting for it. The pink ceiling has been put in place.

So back to the scriptures. My deepest desire and prayer for all Christians is to take the Bible more seriously than being a rule book for excluding others. To stop thinking of it as a sword to sink into people who differ from them and to work for justice, equality and normalization of gay relationships and stop all this hand-wringing being orchestrated by off-shore homophobes who are financed by on-shore homophobes. Groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy need to be exposed for what they are and not responded to as if they are a legitimate voice in the Church.

Yes. To take the Bible seriously might mean that one gets at the meaning and use of scripture and that the final Word of God is Jesus, not some idol made of paper with a binding we call Holy Scripture. And as I recall Jesus had quite a bit to say to his pious detractors about rejecting others as “impure”. (cf. Matthew 21:31)


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