Joseph, Mary and Roy Moore

 

I really try to be apolitical in my comments. There are, in the church I pastor, people of all politcal parties.   I like that.   My thoughts, here, are not coming from the heart of a Republican or Democrat, a Conservative or Progressive.

They are coming from the heart of a guy who is tired and frustrated with people using the Bible to justify wrong.

It’s been done a lot and for a long time.

We are about to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  For a lot of Americans, however,  it’s a Day of Mourning for what was done to the Native Americans by the settlers from Europe.  For many it is “a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, and the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”

Much of the horrific acts were committed by those using the Bible as justification.

Stealing the land from the Native Americans?  Justified!  The Puritans saw themselves as Israel of old, God’s Chosen. The land of the Native Americans was the Europeans’ inheritance from God.   As Israel was given the land of Canaan then, these European Christians are given this land of America now!  Want a Scripture?  They had one.  No, they had several:

“However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes (Deuteronomy 20:16).

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittties, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out (Exodus 23:23)!

“I will establish your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River.  I will give into your hands the people who  live in the land, and you will drive them out before you (Exodus 23:31).  

“Since God gave this land to us, we can take it from you!”

The use of the Bible to justify horrific behavior continues. This week.

Allegations of sexual misconduct with teen-aged girls by Senatorial candidate Roy Moore when he was in his 30s, broke  in The Washington Post.  One of Moore’s defenders, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, used the Bible to defend Moore:

“Take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became the parents of Jesus…There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual…There’s nothing to see here.”  

Did he really say that? Is he serious?  Here’s the thing:

A 32 year old man dating a freshman in high school? “A little unusual,”  Zeigler says.  You think?  I can think of other ways to describe it. How about, Gross.  Creepy.  Wrong.

And now,  Zeigler justifies and defends Moore with the story of Joseph and Mary.  Really?  Is that how we read and apply the Bible?

In the culture and time of Joseph and Mary, women were property of their fathers, then of their husbands.  Yes women married much older men and men had multiple wives. Is that a Biblical mandate for us today?  “They did it then, let’s to it now!”

To equate the molestation of a minor with marriage customs of an ancient culture is ridiculous.  It is dangerous.

Unfortunately, history is filled with the ridiculous and dangerous when it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible.

The allegations against Roy Moore are disturbing.   So is justifying his behavior with the Bible.

 

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“Birth of a Nation,” starring the Bible!

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Denise and I watched “Birth of a Nation” last Friday night.

It’s certainly not a “make-out” movie.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s disturbing.

It’s gut-wrenching.

It’s important.

The main characters in the movie are:

*Nat Turner – a slave who is known for leading a rebellion against the slave owners of South Hampton County, Virginia.

*Elizabeth Turner – the plantation owner’s wife.

*Samuel Turner – the plantation owner’s son and upon the death of his father, the plantation owner and Nat’s owner.

*The Bible.  Yep, the Bible plays a major role in the real life story of Nat Turner.   I don’t recall a movie with more Scripture than “Birth of a Nation.”

Nat could read.  His ability was noticed by Elizabeth who brought him into the library of the main house.  When Nat reaches for a book, though, he’s quickly reprimanded.  “Those books are for white folks,” she says.  “They’re full of things your kind wouldn’t understand.”

So she hands him the only book he’d ever need, the book that shaped his life: a Bible.  Nat becomes a preacher and begins holding Sunday services on the plantation for the slaves.

There is an unrest among the slaves in the county, so, at the suggestion of the local white preacher, Samuel pimps Nat out to other slave owners to preach to their slaves in an effort to keep them under control.

Instructed by the slave owners, Nat based his sermons on texts like:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh”  (1 Peter 2:18)

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and sincerity of heart, just as you would show to Christ (Ephesians 6:5).

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should regard their masters as fully worthy of honor, so that God’s name and our teaching will not be discredited” (1 Timothy 6:1).

Initially, Nat doesn’t realize he’s part of a systematic indoctrination.  Then he does. And he doesn’t like it.  The words he’s reading from the pages of the Bible leave a bitter taste in his mouth.  The words are:

Offensive.

Unjust.

Unloving.

Nat began to read other parts of the Bible.  Nat tells his flock, “I’m going back through his words with new eyes.  For every verse they use to defend our torture, there’s another demanding our freedom.”

He found new texts for his sermons:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the nations… ( Psalm 149:6-9).

Nat hatches a plan to put that text into practice. His wife, Cherry, reminds him of another Bible verse: “…those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

But Nat is determined.  The passage that confirms for him that he should lead an armed rebellion against the slave-owners is 1 Samuel 15, in which God tells Saul, through the prophet Samuel, to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

While this movie, like all movies “based on a true story,” plays loose with some facts, the portrayal of the role played by the Bible in the story is spot on.

From one Bible came three different ethics.

  1. Slaves, submit to your master no matter what.
  2. Slaves, kill your master  (remember the Exodus?).
  3. Love your enemies.

Each of us is living a story.  What role does the Bible play in our stories – our ethics?

In this story, “Birth of a Nation,” the issue is slavery.  On that issue the Bible was used as the basis for diametrically opposed positions: pro-slavery and anti-slavery.

Slave owners and pro-slavery pastors used the Bible to justify the African slave trade through the 19th century.  Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, said that slavery…

“was established by decrees of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” 

Through the 21st century white Christians continued to used the Bible to justify their feelings of superiority over and oppression of non-whites.

Throughout history, people have invoked the “Good Book” to rationalize the widespread murder of others.  Europeans quoted the same verses that inspired Nat to brutally kill white slave owners, to excuse the murder of Native Americans.  Catholics and Protestants have each quoted it in their violence against the other.  Preachers quoted it to support the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  Some Christians are still quoting it today to teach that the murder of men, women and children is the righteous reaction to disbelief in God.

There is a lot of pro-slavery backing in the Bible.  In fact, in his book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, historian Mark Noll, in comparing the pro-slavery sentiment in the United States with that of Europe, says, “When a populace, committed to republican and democratic principles, was also a Bible-reading populace, the proslavery biblical case never lacked for persuasive resources.”

On the other side, were anti-slavery Christians who appealed to the spirit of Jesus to support their view.  The line was drawn between the anti-slavery spirit of Jesus and the pro-slavery letter of the Bible.

And according to Dr. Noll, “Those who defended the legitimacy of slavery in the Bible had the easiest task.”

I’ve found Dr. Noll to be right.  It’s easier to point to chapter and verse than to point to the life and spirit of Jesus.

So, I have to remember to whom the Bible itself points – Jesus.

Jesus is talking to religious people who, when confronted with the radical teachings of Jesus, liked to point to a particular verse to prove Jesus’ way was wrong.

“…the Father who sent has himself testified on my behalf.  But you have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him who he has sent.  You search the scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.  Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37-40).

Jesus says the Bible points to Him.

It doesn’t point to itself.

It’s about Him.

It shows us who God is, and who God isn’t, through the person of Jesus.

Any ethic found in the Bible that is not found in Jesus loses to Jesus.

Let’s build the story of our lives around Him.

 

Do We Have Enough Religion?

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Jonathan Swift, 17th Century Satirist, Clergyman, Writer (Gulliver’s Travels), Political Activist said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

I wonder why that is.

But I don’t question it.

I see it.  All around.  In different religions.

The shooter, who claimed to be Muslim, on June 12.

The response to the shooting by those claiming to be Christian:

Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento told his congregation, “Christians shouldn’t be mourning the death of 50 sodomites…the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.  The tragedy is – I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job…I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” 

Jimenez posted his sermon, in which he made these remarks, on his church’s website under the title, “The Christian response to the Orlando murders.”

So that’s the Christian response? That’s how Jesus would respond?

Pastor Steven Anderson, who has previously said that gay people are “worthy of death,” weighed in with these words:

“The Bible says that homosexuals should be put death in Leviticus 20:13.  Obviously, it’s not right for someone to just shoot up the place because that’s not going through the proper channels.  But these people all should have been killed anyway but they should have been killed through the proper channels as in, they should have been executed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them them executed…That’s what the Bible says. Plain and simple…the bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.”

Hateful speech has punctured the airwaves for years:

In 2012, Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina told his congregation, “Build a  great, big large fence – 150 or 100 mile long – put all the lesbians in there…Do the same things for queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out…do you know why?  They can’t reproduce!”

Last year, Matt McLaughlin proposed a ballot measure in California mandating the execution of all homosexuals by “bullets to the head” or “any other convenient method.” He explained that it is “better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath.”

Connecting gays with God’s punishment is not new.

John Hagee, in a 2006 interview, described Hurricane Katrina as “God’s retribution for a planned gay pride parade.

In 1988, as Hurricane Bonnie set its course toward Orlando, Pat Robertson pre-emptively blamed gays at Disney World’s Gay Days Weekend for being the cause of the pending storm.  “Hold the judgment, Pat!” The storm changed course, completely missed Florida but hit the rest of the East coast.  One of the hardest hit areas was Hampton Roads, VA, where Robertson’s 700 Club is based.  Oops.

Following the 9-11 attack, Jerry Falwell said, “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way all of them who have tried to secularize America.  I point the finger in their face and say, ‘you helped this happen.’”

In January, 2016, Franklin Graham said in a radio interview,

“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches.  I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them.  And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to  influence those parent’s children.  

What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving.  We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes.  He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let out kids hang out with.  We have to be careful who we let into the churches.  You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous.”

LGBT kids, the enemy?  Did he really say that?

40% of homeless children in the United States are LGBTQ.

68% of them report their homelessness is due to family rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, often by religious parents.

Is there a connection between those statistics and the sentiment expressed in Franklin’s words?  How could there not be?

Is there any wonder why our LGBTQ friends hesitate or refuse to enter the doors of most churches?

How much religion do we have? Enough to love?

Are we following the ethical progression in the Bible?  God calls us to a higher and higher ethic.  I see this in Jesus’ repeated phrase: “You have heard it said…but I say to you…”

The Bible, in both Testaments, condone slavery.  Yet, we abhor and condemn slavery today.  Why? Ethical progression.  Jesus is constantly calling us to a higher ethic of love.  The Spirit of Jesus has transformed how we interpret and apply the Biblical passages on slavery.

It’s easy to look at the Orlando shooting and make judgments about the shooter’s religion.

Are we willing to look at our own?

 

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?

Martin Luther King Jr., Slavery, the Bible, and Us

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Today is the day we have set aside to give national recognition and much deserved  honor to Martin Luther King Jr.

The battle for civil rights was fought on many fronts.

Dr. King appealed to us as Americans, taking us back to our founding documents which declare  the “self-evident truths that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  Politically, Americans had to choose between being an American as defined by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence or being racist.

The civil rights movement was a spiritual movement.  Dr. King was also Rev. King. On this point, the matter gets more complicated.  You wouldn’t think so.  To our minds, slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racism, prejudice just don’t fit with the Christian life.    It was not always so.

Growing up in Little Rock, I am well aware of the stain of a segregation mentality. Growing up a Southern Baptist, I was not aware until sitting in a Baptist History class in a Southern Baptist college that the founding of the SBC was all about slavery.  Foreshadowing the Civil War, white Baptists in the South separated from their northern counterparts on May 10, 1845, and formed the Southern Baptist Convention  in order to defend the South’s practice of and dependency on slavery.

Slavery was biblical.  Abolition, therefore, was sinful.

On January 27, 1861, Ebenezer Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, delivered a sermon in which he said, “Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man.  Its institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible…The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject…It is necessary for ministers of the gospel…to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the Holy Spirit…Both Christianity and slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time …. Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life ….”

Wow.  Such a view, a view which its holder claims to be grounded in Scripture, staggers my mind. But he wasn’t alone.

All you history buffs may know Mark A. Noll.  He authored, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.
Great read.
Eye-opening.
Instructive for us in regard to Bible interpretation and application.  The book is a case study in hermeneutics.

It seems that pro-slavery pastors and Christians appealed to specific Scripture verses in support of their position, while anti-slavery pastors and Christians appealed to the general Biblical principles of justice, mercy, and love to support theirs.

Henry Van Dyke, Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn, wasn’t comfortable with the abolitionists hermeneutics.  Noll quotes him as saying, “When the abolitionists tell me that slave holding is sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record, and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.”

The problem was, the pro-slavery folks had a lot going for them in the way of proof-texts (Exodus 21:20-21; Deuteronomy 20:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:20,21; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1 to name a few).

The same verses and interpretation used to support slavery were used to support segregation a century after emancipation.

What then was the Biblical basis for Rev. King’s call to unity and equality?
What’s the Biblical basis for us making the same call?

The same basis used by the abolitionist…

Noll says that the abolitionists appealed to the “broad sweep of Scripture” moving away “from the Bible’s ‘letter‘ of sanction for slavery to its ‘spirit‘ of universal liberation.”  In 1861, abolitionist Gerrit Smith said, “The religion taught by Jesus is not a letter but a life.”

Do you see the dilemma?

Noll’s book is not just a look at history.  It’s a look at ourselves and how we use the Bible.