Saturday, July 20, 2013
Last time we looked at how many progressives deal with difficult passages by appealing to scholars who question the authorship. But does that really solve the problem? Let's be honest: If we have a problem with passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 it is not because of who wrote it, but the content of what it says. It is therefore disingenuous to act as if the issue here is one of authorship. Let's have the integrity to face the real issue: We find the statement to be wrong and hurtful, and that's why we wrestle with it.
So how do we deal with Bible passages that seem wrong or hurtful to us? Of course the conservative approach would be to simply say "Well too bad, if God commands it, you just have to do it, no matter how profoundly immoral it may seem!" That of course a recipe for moral atrocity, and has repeatedly lead to exactly that. It has resulted in burning people at the stake, slavery, torture, mass killings, and on and on. It is a profoundly evil position to take. It is frankly demonic.
Biblical scholarship is unfortunately little help to us here. Ironically, while liberal scholars have had little problem questioning the historical reality of biblical claims (saying for example that the exodus never happened) they have resisted making any sort of assessment as to the moral claims of the biblical text and its underlying assumptions (for example it seems rather obvious to question the morality of claiming that God told you to commit genocide as the Old Testament does frequently).
Biblical scholarship has consistently seen such ethical questions as off limits, and as a result pastors and students are given no tools in seminary with which to engage in what is perhaps the single most important task of biblical interpretation. This constitutes is a big fat glaring deficit in how ministers are being trained in our universities and seminaries, and leads one to question whether academic scholars are really the best people to train us how to read scripture as scripture.
What we need are tools by which we can ethically engage with, and wrestle with the biblical text as responsible and thinking adults. Yet we have been persistently taught -- both in our churches, and by scholars -- that we cannot question the Bible simply on merit. We can't simply say "that's wrong" or "that's hurtful" or "that's awful" and instead need to say "that's a mistranslation" or "Paul didn't write that" or "that's taken out of context."
Now, of course some things are taken out of context. Some poor interpretations are due to wrong translations. However, there's a point where this kind of argument becomes absurd and sounds like special pleading. The following video by NonStampCollector painfully but hilariously illustrates this point:
Ouch. What we need to realize is that this is not making fun of the way fundamentalists or conservatives read the Bible, it's making fun of the way progressive Christians read it. In other words, this is stepping on my toes (and if you are reading this blog, it's likely stepping on your toes too!). So after having a good laugh at ourselves, I think we need to take an honest look and re-think how we are reading the Bible.
Can we handle the tension it creates when we call a spade a spade in Scripture? Or to put it differently: Can we dare to have the integrity to side with the victims, to side with love, to side with true justice, even if that means that we may need to question the Bible in doing so? Because isn't that exactly what Jesus did all the time? And isn't that exactly why he got in so much trouble the the teachers of the law and the religious leaders of his time? As his followers, we need to take a look at where the priorities of Jesus were, and make sure that is also where our priorities are too. His priorities were not upholding a book, but on caring for the least and vulnerable, even when than meant he was accused of being a law breaker and blasphemer.
CONTINUE TO POST #4