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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“Being Perplexed”

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Peter was perplexed. So says Luke in Acts 10:17

Not just “perplexed” but “way perplexed.”  Check out these definitions by Greek experts:

A.T. Robertson: “To be completely at a loss to know what road to take.”

Schaff’s Commentary: “to doubt within himself.”

Barclay: “At a loss in his own mind.”

What caused this bold, strong-minded “Rock” to be so fickle? Here’s what happened.

Peter is up on a roof praying and gets hungry. It happens in church services every Sunday. Peter goes into a trance – which also happens in church services every Sunday. In this trance, Peter sees a sheet, a very large sheet coming down from heaven like a sail. This sheet is overflowing with mammals, reptiles and birds – all of them “unclean” according to Leviticus 11. Everything in Peter’s religious education tells him that these things are off limits – “Can’t touch this!”

They are abominations.

Tasty? You bet.

But Peter wouldn’t know. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Poor guy.

But there on the roof, with this delicious but unholy spread before him, Peter hears a voice say to him,
Not once,

Not twice,

But three times. “3” is big in literature – Three wishes, Three Bears, Three Little Pigs,. “3” is big in the Bible – Three temptations of Jesus; Moses was hidden for three months; Peter denied Jesus three times; Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Middle-School aged Jesus went missing for three days. Saul was blinded for three days… Well, you get the picture.

According to Jewish law, once something is done three times, it is considered a permanent thing. “Three” is big.

The voice said, “Pull up a chair and eat. Eat and enjoy.”

Peter’s response? “I don’t think so.”  Check out the different translations of Acts 10:14, “Surely not Lord,” “Absolutely not, Lord,” “Never Lord,” “Lord, I can’t do that,”

When we hear this story in Sunday School, we think, “Peter, you’re an idiot! What’s so hard about this? Can’t you hear what God is telling you to do?”

Yes, Peter heard.

There’s the conflict.

There’s the rub.

There’s the chaos.

That’s why he was perplexed. He heard loud and clear. But, what he was hearing now from God went totally against what God is recorded as saying before.

Here’s God in Scripture. “Don’t eat” (Leviticus 11:47).

Here’s God in a dream. “Eat”

Same God.

Different message.

“I’m so confused.”

Like a chameleon in a bag of Skittles.

Eat the very things you’ve been told not to eat. The things that were called “unclean” I now call “clean.” Whoa!

Peter obeyed the vision. He disobeyed Leviticus 11:47.

We know the event wasn’t about food. It was about people. An “unclean” man, a Gentile, was knocking at Peter’s door. God wasn’t just opening Peter’s eyes and taste buds to the flavors of pork. He was opening Peter’s heart and arms to a Gentile named Cornelious and all the Gentiles to follow.

What would have happened had Peter made a different call?

What does this event mean for us as we interpret and apply the Bible?

I really don’t have a clear answer to that last question.

I was raised with the belief that the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible – but it seems that wasn’t the case with Peter.

I’m a bit perplexed myself.

Maybe this event tells me that the Bible + the Holy Spirit + Reason + the Community past and present work together to reveal what God wants.

What do you think?

Biblical Woman??

The week after I finished a two-part teaching series in which, in honor of Women’s History Month,  we “Focused on Females,” I saw a news article about a website’s post from my alma mater, Southwestern  Baptist Theological Seminary, in Ft. Worth.   The timing was ironic.  The seminary, on its BiblicalWoman.com website, released a statement by women for women clarifying their position on “biblical womanhood.” You can see the seminary’s statement here.

Speaking for the folks at the seminary, Katie McCoy, editor of BiblicalWoman.com, said, “…we’re excited to share the ‘Biblical Woman Statement’ with you!”

“Biblical Woman statement”
“BiblicalWoman.com”
“biblical womanhood”

The word “biblical” makes me nervous.  When it is used, it comes across as one-dimensional; like there is only one right way to look at something, which just so happens to be the way that the user of the term looks at it.

So.  What exactly is a “biblical woman”? Is she Deborah – a woman who held the highest position of spiritual authority in Israel.  She was “President” of Israel, a prophet who heard from God and spoke for God to the people (even men). She was a judge making rulings over matters concerning all people – even men.  She was a General, leading men into battle (Judges 4:4-9). Or, is a “biblical woman” one that follows Paul’s counsel to Timothy and does not “teach or hold authority over men” (1 Timothy 2:11)?

The bw.com website seems to come down on the latter.  Under the “ministry” section of the statement, we read, “We believe…that women are exhorted to instruct and mentor other women.” Not men, but “other women.”

Interesting.  There are some other interesting records showing how Southern Baptists viewed and treated women.  Interesting and instructive.

At the 1885 meeting of the SBC, a total of seven messengers came from Arkansas.  Two of them were women.  Uh oh.  For two days the convention scratched their heads trying to figure out how to handle the women.   “I got it.  Let’s change the constitution!”  So they amended Article III which stated that the convention was composed of “members who contribute funds,” to, “brethern who contribute funds.”  In the middle of the deliberations one man said, “I love the ladies, but I dread them worse.”  Hmmm.  I wonder what he was afraid of? I wonder if that fear still exists.

After the Women’s Missionary Union was formed in 1888, the WMU prepared an annual report to the convention.  Women wrote the report, but weren’t allowed to read the report – to the men.   For 42 years the report was read to the convention by a man.   The first time the president of the WMU, a woman, gave her own report, several men walked out rather than have a woman stand in a position of “authority” over them.  Slowly, things changed.  Men quit running out in protest when the WMU report was given by a woman, but for several years, when the WMU report was given, the convention moved from the church sanctuary to a Sunday School assembly room so that a woman would not stand in the pulpit!  I know.  It sounds too crazy to be true. You gotta love history.
Is the seminary’s statement an accurate expression of what the Bible tells us concerning women in ministry?  Before you answer check out 2 Kings 22:11-16, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 18:26, Acts 21:8-9.

Women today cut their hair, wear jewelry and expensive clothes, and pray in a church gathering without a hat, all of which seem to be forbidden by some passages in the New Testament. Are these ladies “unbiblical”?  At times in Christian history, many Christians interpreted the Bible to justify slavery.  We no longer understand the Bible that way.  Are we “unbiblical”?

My dad, a Southern Baptist pastor since he was 18, had on his staff at First Baptist, Little Rock, a woman worship pastor!!  She stood in authority over men.  Was she “unbiblical”? Was dad “unbiblical” for empowering a woman to use her gifts to lead women and men?

My dad invited to speak in the churches he pastored in Joplin, MO and Little Rock, Bertha Smith, a Southern Baptist missionary.  Wait. Miss Bertha didn’t just speak.  She preached!   To men.  Standing very much in authority over them.  She even shook her finger at them.

I’ve always respected my dad for getting out of the box on this issue.

Jesus loving, Jesus committed people disagree on this topic.  So, instead of claiming that we have the  final word on the definition and description, of a “biblical woman,”   let’s be willing to talk with each other, to wrestle with those passages.  Talking, questioning, wrestling.  That’s good church.

The Bible, Spanking, and Hermeneutics

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“‘Use the rod.  Beat the child,’ that’s my motto,” asserts Ms Trunchbull, Headmistress of Matilda’s school in Roald Dahl’s remarkable story, Matilda.

Sounds a lot like another motto, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” from another piece of literature.  The Bible?  Nope.  Good guess, though. The exact line is from a 17th century poem by Samuel Butler.  In the poem, a love affair is likened to a child, and spanking is commended as a way to make the love grow stronger.  I guess that’s for another post.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” may not be in the Bible but what’s in the Bible is close enough.

Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children. But the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

Proverbs 23:13-14 “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.  Beat them with the rod and save them from death.”

Proverbs 10:13 “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.”

Proverbs 20:30 “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”  

Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 26:3 “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools.”

Denise (my wife of 33 years) and I raised our two boys on a “modified” version of the above verses.  I say “modified” because the spankings were…
-on the bottom not the back.
-administered not by a rod but by a paddle on our boys – You remember the paddle with the ball attached to it?  Devin, one of our sons said, “It’s messed up when parents spank their kids with their own toys.”  He’s right.
-not close to “beatings. Though from the perspective of a child, it may have felt like a beating.
-limited to 2-3 smacks.
-not so severe that they left marks.
-not given beyond 10 years of age.

But this is not a post on parenting.  It is an invitation to think about how we interpret the Bible.

You see, each of the above characteristics of spanking were “modifications” of the Biblical instructions found in Proverbs.  Nope.  We didn’t follow the teaching of the Bible when it came to corporal punishment.  We modified them.  But, we didn’t make these modifications on our own.  They were suggested by the guru of parenting instruction in our day, James Dobson. If you look at the website of the organization Dobson founded, “Focus on the Family,” you will find an article with this title:  “The Biblical Approach to Parenting.”   The “Biblical” approach, it says, is to spank.  But, as is asked in the first paragraph, “What does it look like to spank in a way that obeys Scripture…?”  Their answer doesn’t sound very much like what the Bible actually teaches about “spanking.”  So, what’s up?

They have, according to Dr. William Webb in his book Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts, gone “beyond the Bible biblically.”

Abolitionists went beyond the plain teaching of the Bible concerning slavery (Exodus 21:20-21; Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9-10) to a “better ethic,” an ethic that reflected the spirit of Christ (See Mark Noll’s book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis).   It appears that some of the “pro-spankers” have gone beyond the plain teaching of the Bible concerning corporal punishment.

I’m glad they did.  So are my sons!

Here’s something Denise and I are contemplating and discussing:  If Dobson and other “pro-spankers” have moved away from the clear, literal teaching of the Bible to an ethic that is more in line with the spirit of Jesus, is it possible that as we learn more about raising kids, we can move away from spanking altogether?  Every pastor and parent needs to read Dr. Webb’s book before either lifts a hand or teaches others to lift a hand.

Something else… What does this say about how to interpret the Bible?
Especially those tough to understand passages like slavery and spanking?
Are we moving toward an ethic that reflects the spirit of Jesus?

“12 Years a Slave” – We Need to See This

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I watched this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture last night – 12 Years a Slave.  It’s a powerful film based on the book by Solomon Northup, in which he recounts his experiences as a slave in Louisiana.  It’s not a feel good movie.   It’s a feel sad, feel mad movie.  It’s a movie that some want to avoid.  Who wants to to do something that makes you sad or mad?

Some are mad at the injustices that were committed against people.  Some are mad that the movie portrayed slavery in such a negative way.  Really.

It’s not a movie that you enjoy.  It’s one that you endure.   But we need to watch it.

We need to know.   The movie makes us confront the cruelty of which people are capable – yes, people who claim to follow Christ.

We need to remember.   “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana

We need to recognize that slavery is not just history, it is the history of our country.

We need to do some serious soul-searching.  Is it possible that even though we’ve done away with slavery, the attitudes and stereotypes that surrounded it still exist? Think back to the Cheerios ad and the responses to it.

We need to look at our use and understanding of the Bible.
The Bible plays a prominent role in the movie – as it did in the days of slavery – something I’ve mentioned before.

In one scene, slave owner Edwin Epps holds a church service for his slaves and quotes the Bible, Luke 12:47, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” After he reads this passage, he waves his Bible in the faces of the slaves and says, “and that’s Scripture!”

Each lash of the whip from the hand of Epps upon the back of Patsey – played by Oscar winning Lupita Nyong’o – was punctuated with Biblical justification.

Hopefully no Christian today still quotes the Bible to defend slavery.  But how many still use the method of interpreting the Bible that allowed slave owners to use the Bible as a spiritual whip.

We need to see God as the slaves saw God.  The “slavers” used their faith as a tool to control and dehumanize. The slaves used their faith to endure the degradations, indignities, and cruelties of slavery.

We need to make a “hypocrisy check.”  After Solomon arrives on the plantation, his master, William Ford, gathers the slaves and gives a sermon, quoting Luke 17:2, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  We had just seen, in the previous scene, Ford buying and thus separating a female slave from her children.  We can’t miss the hypocrisy.  I should see my own hypocrisy as clearly.

We need to let the spirit of Jesus shape us – the spirit of justice, the spirit that sees each person as one made in the image of God.   The voice of justice in the movie belongs to Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt, a Canadian surveyor and abolitionist.  He tells Epps, “If you don’t treat them as humans, then you will have to answer for it… Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.”

It is Bass’ intervention that leads to Solomon’s deliverance and return to freedom – deliverance and freedom, but not justice.  Solomon does not find justice.  Because of racist laws, he was unable to hold the men accountable who sold him into slavery. In what ways do we need to intervene?

We need to see this film because it can change us for the better.  Maybe that’s what art does.

Necessary? True? Kind?

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I don’t know if it’s because I’m an “aging baby boomer” or what, but I kind of cringed at a couple of age jokes by Ellen at this years Oscars.

I like Ellen.  A lot.  So I tried hard not to cringe.  To overlook the jokes.  To think, “She didn’t really say that, did she?”

Her best joke, according to TIME, was when she said, “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.  And now welcome our first white presenter, Anne Hathaway!”

Her worst joke?   There were two nominees.
One was aimed at 84 year old Best Supporting Actress nominee June Squibb.  Ellen mentioned the Nebraska actress, and then turning to Ms Squibb, she shouted “I’m telling everyone you were very wonderful in Nebraska,” as if the elderly actress must have hearing problems. Granted,  It may be true – it’s true for me.  A lot of music booming in this baby boomer’s ears has surely lessened my hearing.   The comment still seemed hurtful

The other nominee for worst joke was one directed at 67 year old Liza Minnelli.  Ellen complimented the crowd for including “one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators she’d ever seen…Good job, sir.”  She was, of course, referring to Minnelli herself.  Ouch.

Liza came to the Oscars with her siblings to see their late mother, Judy Garland, honored in a tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz.”  Not sure how “honored” Liza felt.

The “age theme” was set early in the show with this joke,  “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world. I’m not saying that because the most important thing in the world is youth.”

Sadly, the joke represented reality to a lot of people.

Last week, Ellen promised on “Good Morning America”  that she would not be doing any “mean joke”.  “My intentions are to make people happy, “ she had told Robin Roberts, “and my intentions are to never hurt anybody, and my intentions are to have compassion and to hope I can spread that a little bit every single day.”

I believe her.   Few people set out to intentionally hurt others.  “Hurt,” though, doesn’t know the difference between intentional and non-intentional.  It just hurts.

There is truth in the African proverb, “The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.”

As one who speaks publicly regularly, I know people have said about me what I said about Ellen: “He didn’t really say that, did he?”   I get that.  So, I look at this situation not as a judgment against Ellen but as a mirror in which I can see myself and the power of my words.

I was accepted into membership of an international service fraternity last week.  Its members commit to live by the following:
Of the things we think, say or do:
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER RELATIONSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

As a Christ-follower, should I commit to anything less?

Buddha put it like this, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
Or check out the Bible, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

the-most-and-least-bible-minded-cities-in-america

“You can do better Phillip…..#4???”

This is a text I got a few days ago from one of my most sarcastic and best friends.  It then linked me to a survey conducted by the Barna Group for The American Bible Society who was looking for “American’s Most Bible-Minded Cities.”  Here’s a different link but to the same survey: Barna Group

See who’s in 4th place?  That’s Springfield, MO, where I live and pastor.  Yes, I could do better – in lots of areas, not just this one.

“Bible-mindedness.” What does that mean? How do you tell if you’re Bible-minded or not?    According to the survey, those who “report reading the Bible within the past seven days and agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible” are classified as Bible-minded.

A couple of thoughts:
Accuracy: According to Webster, “accuracy” is “freedom from mistake or error.”    Does one need to “strongly agree” that the Bible is “free from mistake or error” in everything within its pages – historical references, science references, chronology of events, details of events (For example, Mark 6:8 – Take a staff; Matthew 10:9-10 – Don’t take a staff,) to be considered Bible-minded?

This is a head scratcher.    What does this definition say about guys like Dietrich Bonhoeffer – yes that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the guy who wrote The Cost of Discipleship, a book that’s on every evangelical pastor’s book shelf?  Yet, by this definition, he brings up the rear on the survey.  In his book, Christ the Center, Bonhoeffer, writing of the Bible and the use of historical criticism, uses pretty clear language, “But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.  We must get into the troubled waters of historical criticism.”

Uh-oh. What does his view do to our understanding of what it means to be “Bible-minded”?

Does anyone question Bonhoeffer’s commitment to Christ, love for God, love for people?  Does anyone question his desire to live out the life of Christ in his culture?  Can we really label him as one of the “least Bible-minded”?

I’m just asking.

Second thought:
Going to Sunday School as a child, I remember proudly checking the box on my offering envelope that said, “I read the Bible every day last week.”   As I grew up, and continue to grow up spiritually, I realized that being “bible minded” was not as simple as checking the box.

The Pharisees knew the Scriptures like the back of their hands, but when God stood right in front of them, they didn’t know him from Adam (John 5:39-40).
Here are some questions I have to ask myself – questions that aren’t so easy to check off:

*Am I more attentive to my wife than I was last year?
*Am I more generous with my resources than before?
*Do I handle disappointments and hurts with trust in the God who has the power to work all things for good?
*Do I show compassion for those who are hurting?
*Do I do justice, love mercy, and walk in humble dependence with God (Micah 6:8)?

In other words, am I allowing the Word (Jesus) to whom the words of the Bible point, to transform me into His likeness?