Thanks Mr. Sessions and Ms. Huckabee Sanders for the Bible Quote

Jeff Sessions

“The Bible says…”  We’ve heard that phrase in Sunday School, youth groups, and sermons.

Now we’re hearing it in the White House Press Room from the Press Secretary, and in a speech from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  

The issue to which the Bible was being applied was immigration,  specifically, the practice of separating children from their parents who have entered the United States illegally.  

Here are Mr. Session’s words, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution.”  And then he brought Paul into it, “I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.  Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” 

The Bible made another appearance in the press room when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the Attorney General’s use of the Bible.   She said, “I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing.  I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law…That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”  

The purpose of this post is not to address the present immigration policy. I have an opinion.  You probably do as well. I want to think about how the Bible was used to justify the present policy.

 

Ours is not the first government to use Romans 13:1 to justify an action and to compel obedience to a law.  

*Loyalists to King George III and his government used Romans 13 to oppose the American Revolution.

*During the years leading up to the Civil War, defenders of slavery used Romans 13 against the Northern abolitionists.

*And then there’s Hitler.  Yep.  Hitler was a professing Christian, influenced greatly by Martin Luther’s anti-semitism.  He hated Jews but he loved Romans 13:1.  

Read carefully this quote from a Nazi book, “Life and Doctrine: Christian Teaching with Study Questions,” used by the Nazi regime:  

“What are those called in Romans 13:1 who God has set over us?  Have you considered that your parents, your school teachers (your principal), policemen, police chief, judges, the priest, the bishop, the county commission, the state government, are the authorities who are installed by God, and that you owe them obedience?…Over all, we owe the Fuhrer and the government obedience.  If you set yourself up against the authorities and against the state, you are standing against God’s structure and are subject to punishment.”  

 Hitler’s government used Romans 13:1 to squelch Christian resistance to his horrific policies.

Here’s the deal.  People on each side of the above issues could appeal to the same Bible as support for their particular positions.  And they have.  

Anyone wanting to enter a Bible debate with Sessions and Sanders could cite these verses:

Exodus 23:9 – “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Matthew 25:44-46 – “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  They they will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous (just) to eternal life.”

Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Isaiah 1:17 – “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

James 2:13 – “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Mark 10:14 – “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”  

One group has its verses.  The other group has its verses.  Same Bible.  Different views.  

What does this do to the understanding that the “Bible is Our Guide”?   

What kind of guide leads you in two different directions? 

Maybe the Bible itself has the answer!

I appreciate Mr. Sessions trying to base his decisions on an understanding of a higher truth.  But, if Mr. Sessions would have quoted Paul a little further, he would have said, 

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The law, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, don’t steal, whatever other commands there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’” (Romans 13:8-10).  

Paul just quoted the only Bible they had – the Old Testament – and then says, “It’s really about love.”  Is Paul saying, “Instead of getting hung up on different laws, just love.”   It’s not the only time Paul sings “Love is the theme.” 

“Make love your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

“The goal of this command is love…” (1 Timothy 1:5).

And from a book my mom gave me to read in high school, Situational Ethics by Joseph Fletcher, 

“Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love and nothing else at all.”

“Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed.”  

Should love be our ethic?

The right thing is the loving thing.  The loving thing is the right thing.  

What if all of asked before making a decision, setting a policy, saying a word, taking an action – “What is the loving thing?” 

I know I’d be a better person, husband, dad, pastor, and driver.

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The Church, #metoo, #timesup and Me

ChurchToo-Photo_web

 

2017 was the year men learned that they can’t mess with women anymore. That’s a good thing.  Does anyone else remember the line from “Network:” “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

That’s what we’ve heard from women assaulted by:

Harvey Weinstein

Larry Nassar

Bill Cosby

Travis Kalanick -Uber CEO

Bill O’Reilly

Roger Ailes

Matt Lauer

Charlie Rose

Louis C.K.

Bill Hybels

Roy Moore

Bill Clinton 

Donald Trump 

Now we can add Paige Patterson to the list.  For those who don’t follow news from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), check it out here and here. 

Dr. Patterson is a giant in the SBC.  He, along with Judge Paul Pressler, orchestrated the fundamentalist take-over of the SBC and has been a strong voice for fundamentalism in his position as a two-time President of the SBC, as President of two SBC seminaries, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Wake Forest, NC, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), in Ft. Worth, Texas, the school from which he has been fired for his misogynistic views and statements.  

Dr. Patterson’s removal came only after women stood up and spoke out.  It started with Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Seminary who was told by Patterson not to report an alleged rape to police.   It was then discovered that Dr. Patterson advised an abused wife to return home and pray for her husband.  When she came back with two black eyes, he told her he was “happy” not because of her bruises but because her husband felt guilty after beating her and had accepted Christ. (I know so many pastors who have given similar advice to abused women. “Submit” to your husbands and all that…). The discovery of other incidents led the board of SWBTS to fire Dr. Patterson on May 30, 2018.

My interest in the story of Dr. Patterson stems from my roots in the SBC.  It was the denomination of my birth, childhood, and higher education.  I graduated from SWBTS under the Presidency of Dr. Russel Dilday, who was, ironically, fired by the very fundamentalist ideology represented by Dr. Patterson.  Dr. Dilday was fired for not being conservative enough. I first met Dr. Patterson when he was preaching a revival in the First Baptist Church of Batesville, Arkansas and the youth choir from First Baptist Church in Little Rock, of which I was a member, was singing.  Dr. Patterson was a good preacher.  I liked his sermon.  It kept my attention.  Very persuasive.  He could not, however, persuade the board to retain him.  

The #MeToo movement has reached the church.  

The word misogyny was coined by the Greeks because they needed to describe what was happening to women and girls in their culture.  We’re finally coming to grips with with what is happening to women and girls in our culture.  The realization did not occur because the men have stepped up, but because the women have come out – standing up, speaking out “We’re not going to take it anymore!”  

Here are a few things I’m pondering: 

Misogyny is not a problem in just one group.  We find it with conservatives and liberals.  We find it in Hollywood and in the church.  We find it with people who don’t read the Bible and with people who make studying the Bible their life’s work.  

As a Bible student and spiritual seeker, a Christ-follower,  I have to put it out there for us to consider:  

Is misogyny a direct, logical outgrowth of the patriarchy and sexism inherent in certain Biblical writings?  

Here’s what I’m talking about: 

The very first story.  Adam and Eve.  Adam is presented as the apex of creation.  Eve? An afterthought. Eve is pictured as morally weak, responsible for sin coming into the world.  Adam was even reprimanded by God for “listening to his wife.”   Then there’s the whole “he shall rule over you” statement to Eve.  Right out of the gate, the order is established:  Man is the ruler.  Woman is the subject.  

 Does this story reflect the heart of God or does it reflect the religious understanding of an ancient people?

Move on to the Ten Commandments which is, to many, the foundation of their ethical and moral lives.  Check out the “Covet” command.  Don’t covet the possessions of your neighbor – things like his house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.  A wife is one more piece of property – listed between a man’s house and his servants.  

According to the law, recorded as given by God, if a woman is not a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). The guy? No big deal.  It’s a double standard.  He doesn’t have to be a virgin at the time of marriage.   

Wanna New Testament example of misogyny?  1 Corinthians 11:7-9 tells us, in case we didn’t know, that a man is the image and glory of God, but not woman.   Woman is the glory of man. Sorry, women, I guess without us men, you’d never be able to reflect God.  

A particular reading and understanding of these and other passages can create a misogynistic view and treatment of women. Has it?  I think so.  

The Bible presents an ethic of progression…a trajectory.

The Bible does not always give us the last word on an issue.   Instead, it initiates a trajectory that leads to an ultimate ethic.  It’s true with slavery.  The Bible condones slavery – pure and simple.  Yet, we condemn it.  Why?  We recognize an ethic that goes beyond the Bible.   It is also true with women.  So, will we live out an ethic that men are superior to women or follow the trajectory of the Bible that leads to an ethic of absolute equality?

#timesup = “repent for the kingdom of heaven is here” (Matthew 4:17)

Change the way we think, the way we see.  The old paradigms are gone – “old wineskins are replaced with new ones” (Luke 5:36-39) There is a new way to live.  A new way to see people.  A new way to treat people.  The values of the kingdom – love, justice, kindness, humility, replace the values of control and dominance.  

Thank you women for standing up and speaking up.  We’re listening. 

 

“Shoot Christians Say, Part 2 -” “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

holy shit 2

“The B-I-B-L-E.  Yes that’s the Book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God.

The B-I-B-L-E”

That little song, learned and sung around snacks of Kool-Aid and Animal Crackers, flannel graph Bible stories in the Sunday School of my childhood, formed the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.  

It’s dangerous to mess with someone’s foundation. 
It’s uncomfortable.  Scary. Risky.

But that’s what I did with last Sunday’s phrase in our “Shoot Christians Say” series.  Here it is:  

“God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” 

The teaching, for some, was tantamount to messing with motherhood, the flag and apple-pie. 

A bit unsettling.  

Think it through with me:  “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Except it doesn’t.   Settle it, that is.  If it settled it, why do we debate it?  If it settled it, how do we explain books like Zondervan Counterpoint Series – “indispensable for understanding different views on Christianity’s vital issues” (Zondervan’s description of the series)?  

If “that settles it” why are there “different views” not just on side issues, but on “vital issues?”  

We want to be settled.  We want to be sure.  Being settled is a basic need. The two largest Christian groups have addressed the need to be settled.

Protestants, the folks that protested the Catholic Church developed the infallibility of Scripture.  

Catholics developed the infallibility of the Pope.  

“Infallibility”- the inability to be wrong.

Both the Bible and the Pope speak for God – depending on if you are Catholic or Protestant.  

And what is spoken is infallible. That is settling. 

 Both positions come from a need for security, for something strong on which to stand.  These positions give us that, “I’m secure with ‘the Bible tells me so, ‘“ or “I’m secure with ‘the Pope tells me so.’”  Standing on this foundation, I don’t have to think, wrestle, or try to figure things out.  I just go with what is said.  

This position meets our need for security, but does it meet our need for truth?  Maybe not.

The Pope “said it” but got it wrong about the sun orbiting the earth.  Ask Galileo.  The church admitted it was wrong 359 years later.

The Bible “said it” but got it wrong about slavery.  

 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5).

 “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them” (Titus 2:9).

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate,  but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:9). 

The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination into which I was born, raised and educated, admitted in 1995 that it got it wrong, apologizing for its support for slavery and segregation.

The Bible did not “settle it” when it came to slavery.  In fact, what the Bible says about slavery is unsettling.  

Jesus did not operate on the basis of  the “God said it, that settles it…” position.

Do you remember all of those, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” verses?
Compare and contrast the following:

Deuteronomy 6:13 and Matthew 5:33-37

Deuteronomy 19:21 and Matthew 5:38-39

Numbers 15:32-36 and John 5:8-10

If  it were “settled” why did Jesus challenge and change it?

The apostles didn’t stick “God said it, that settles it” on the rump of their horse or the bumper of their chariot.  Acts 15 tells us that the apostles debated how the Bible applied to their lives and situation.  When they set aside circumcision as a requirement for following Jesus they reinterpreted the Bible for their times, recognizing that some of what “God said” was not God’s will for all time, all places, all people.

Even those today who say the phrase, don’t practice the phrase.  How many of you give other church-goers a “holy kiss” each Sunday?   You don’t? Why not?  Paul commanded it 4 times in his letters.  Try it next Sunday and see how it goes. 
“God said it”  but with that command, and others, it’s not settled.  How many other things did “God say” aren’t settled?  “Welcome interpretation.  Come on in and let’s get to know each other better.”

This post is already too long, kind of like my teaching last Sunday – 35 minutes! So, I’ll cut to the chase ( a phrase used in the movie world by directors to get past the boring dialogue and to the excitement of a chase scene).

I don’t call the Bible the Word of God.  I call Jesus the Word of God.  So does John.  A “word” is an expression of an idea.  It is my understanding that Jesus is the “exact expression” of God. 

Not the Bible.  Check out Hebrews 1:1-3 and note the phrase “exact expression.”  Does that mean that the Bible (Hebrews 1:1) is inexact?

Maybe the problem is not the Bible.  Maybe the problem is how we use the Bible – what we expect out of the Bible.  Again, let’s take our cue from Jesus.  Seems to me like a good idea.

John 5:39. No one knew the Bible better than the Pharisees.  They knew it up and down, in and out, forward and backward.  Yet they missed God in the flesh who was standing right in front of them.  

Is it possible to be so busy following the Bible that we miss Jesus?  The Bible is a sign that points to Jesus – to his life, to his way, to his values.  

Why do we settle with the sign instead of going on to the destination?  

I’ve written too much.   If you’ve stayed with me, you’ve read too much.  Let’s both stop. 

Let’s spend some time looking at Jesus. Appreciating him. Following him and his way.  

 

What a Relief!

alka seltzer

Yesterday (Sunday November 9) was “National Chaos Never Dies Day” – where do they come up with this stuff – but I digress.

“Chaos,” according to the first entry of a Google search means: “disorder, disarray, confusion.”

So, if school is stressful, work is wacky, home is hectic, November 9 is your day.

A day to let it out, admit it, face it.

I’m teaching a series now in which we are facing, admitting the fact that one thing that causes us to experience chaos is – here it is – reading the Bible.

It takes a lot of guts just to admit that doesn’t it?   But it’s true. How could we not experience some chaos when we read this from Exodus 21:20-21

If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished.   But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.

Who can honestly read that and not think, “What the …?!

“Oh, that must just be a record of what some guy said…” Sorry.  According to the Bible, it wasn’t just a guy. It was God.

Chaos. Confusion.

Here’s another. We’re justifiably horrified and disgusted with the genocidal attitudes and actions that we see from extremist Islamist. Like these words from a member of Isis. God willing, this generation will fight infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies, God willing. The right doctrine has been implanted in these children. All of them love to fight for the sake of building the Islamic State and for the sake of God.”

Yep, Isis wants to wipe us out – all in the name of God.   “For the sake of God” “God willing.” We instinctively know that’s wrong. We know such a view and vision does not accurately reflect God. But then we read this:

They (Joshua’s army) completely destroyed everything in it (Jericho) with their swords – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

“Well, that must have been Joshua acting as a rogue commander!” Then we see this:

So the Lord was with Joshua and his reputation spread throughout the land. Joshua 6:27

Hmmm.  So God was with Joshua through all of that?  Really?

According to Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua was faithfully following the command given by God through Moses which said, “In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing.”

 

Chaos. Confusion. If it’s wrong for Isis to do that now was it right for Joshua and the Israelites to do that then.

How do we clear up the confusion? How do we find some calm in the chaos?

I got some help from one of my seminary professors – Yes, I remember a few things from my education.  He said, “If you thought God told you to do something, you would do it. Now, the question is, ‘What is Jesus telling us?'”

He answered his own question by quoting Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbors but hate your enemies, but I say,  Love your Enemies.”

Wow. RADICAL!   Is Jesus saying what it sounds like he’s saying?  Is he re-framing or even overturning Scripture?  Things like that can put you on a cross.

Hermeneutical principle here?

Jesus takes precedence over Moses and according to Hebrews 1:1-3, every other “revelation”: Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. Now in the final days, he has spoken to us through his Son…The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.

 

That is like a dose of Alka-Seltzer: “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh what a relief it is.”

I feel immediate relief – Jesus is the hermeneutical lens through which we interpret Scripture. He is the standard by which every other word is measured. We’ll unpack that a bit more in the days to come.