Saturday, May 17, 2014
Long time friend of the blog "Samurai" left a comment last time where he offered some pushback to a statement I had made.
First, here's my statement:
We see books with opposing views, engaged in moral arguments with each other. So what I would want to point out here is, it is not any particular passage that is inspired, rather it is the debate that is inspired. What is inspired is the vigorous questioning and debate we can observe in Scripture of humanity struggling to figure out who God is and what faithfulness looks like. The questioning is inspired, the dialog is inspired.
Now here's Samurai's response (the underlining was added by me):
I'm all about reading the Bible "morally." However, I see a logical problem with saying that only the internal debate in Scripture is inspired and it is this: you'd agree with me, I suspect, that the Gospels bear strong witness to the idea that God calls us to love those on the margins.
How do we know this? Because Jesus announces this as his mission in Luke, and because multiple passages in both the OT and NT mention that we must love the poor, the widow, the orphan, the least, and the stranger.
This abiding Christian value isn't based on inspired debates only, but inspired passages. We have to have a better paradigm than simply saying that only the questioning and debate are inspired in Scripture.
The reality is that the Old Testament books were not written with the intent of being an open debate, as if both sides agreed to respectfully make room for the other to be heard. Instead what we have is a majority voice that is on the side of unquestioning obedience enforced through violent threat. This side demands you obey, no questions asked, or else. This majority voice (and by "majority" I mean both in the sense that it holds the power, and that most of the OT is written from this perspective) has no intention of allowing for other voices of dissent to be heard.
Yet in the canon of the Hebrew Bible we do find these minority voices of protest (it is the "minority" both in the sense that there are fewer pages where we hear this voice, and because it speaks on behalf of the marginalized, the scapegoat, the "bad guy" that the majority voice seeks to blame).
Hyper-Calvinists look at the Bible and conclude that most of it is advocating this majority voice of merciless unquestioning power (and most of it indeed is). Reasoning that "majority rules" they then pick that voice and advocate for violence and power in God's name (pro death penalty, pro war, pro capital punishment, pro torture, pro corporal punishment of children, etc). Anyone who disagrees they seek to silence. In choosing this majority voice however I believe that they are opposed to Jesus who instead sides with the voice of the marginalized. Thus while they have a view which represents the majority perspective from in the Bible, this at the same time is tragically a perspective that is the polar opposite of the way of Jesus.
If we want to read Scripture as Jesus does, prioritizing what he does, then we need to learn to read from the margins, to choose the minority view. That means we need to begin with Jesus and then go back and pick the minority narratives found in the OT that stress mercy and compassion, while rejecting the majority voices that stress the opposite.
The fact that the minority voice managed to find a place in the canon alongside the majority voice says something remarkable about the Jewish faith that we as Christians really need to learn from. Imagine if we let the voice of the heretic be heard alongside the voice of official orthodox doctrine. That is what the Hebrew canon is doing, and the result is that in allowing that voice of protest to be heard we can see how the orthodox majority view can sometimes hurt people. For example Jesus drew attention to how the practice of excluding people who were "unclean" from the temple was really hurtful, and instead worked to heal and restore people on the margins, rather than exclude and condemn them.
So again, let me propose that we often find "inspiration" in the places where Scripture makes room for protest to be heard from the margins, leading us to grow in compassion. Doing this then directly leads to those inspired passages that focus on grace and compassion. Making room for the questions lead us to find better answers. In keeping with this we need to continue to make room to ask questions today so we can continue to grow, reform, and work towards the good.
When we make space to hear the voices of those on the margins--whether that is found in Scripture (in the Psalms or Job for example where we hear the voice of the victims) or today as we listen to groups who are often marginalized, demonized, and silenced by those with religious, economic, and political power--we make room for Jesus. We make room to learn how things that were intended to be good are really hurting people, and if we are listening this gives us an opportunity to grow in compassion, and to work towards reform (of our systems and ourselves) and restoration (between those who have been estranged).
When we instead try to shut down that voice of protest--as the majority voice seeks to do in Scripture through threat of violence (read Deuteronomy 28), as the church did in the past by burning heretics, and as many try to do today through economic power plays to silence people (and to be fair, it is not just conservatives who do that!) what we are then shutting down is the voice of Jesus found in the least of these.
So when we are looking for Christ in the Bible we need to look for the minority voice of protest. Listening to that voice, as Jesus did, was what lead him to focus on caring for those on the margins: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the least, and the stranger. In this way, making room to hear the minority voice of the marginalized leads us to those inspired passages that focus on compassion, grace, and enemy love. As we also learn to listen to the minority voice of the marginalized today, we can likewise grow in compassion, and make steps towards creating a more just world.
So let's keep listening to each other with grace, and let's all keep pushing back in the name of compassion!