step back, and laugh

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:57 pm by Administrator

i don’t mean to be irreverent. it just is what it is. sometimes you have to take a step back, see what people are doing to scripture or with scripture in order to justify what they believe, and laugh about it. no single interpretation is ludicrous. but the whole enterprise—the great assemblage of scholars, pastors, and believers dissecting, reformulating, and presenting scripture in their own ways, for their own distinct agendas—is at once impressive and maddening.

and i want to take a step back and declare what is intuitive to me: that the categorical use of scripture to decipher mores is futile.

last night, i heard an erudite lesbian scholar interpret Leviticus 18:22. on a theoretical level, it was a fascinating experience for me to examine her intellect in action, as her historical approach to the text established a compelling context for doubting a straightforward interpretation of the verse. but on a personal level, i felt great sympathy for her. it was not an exercise she enjoyed. it was an exercise forced upon her, as a direct result of her inherently conflicted position within the Christian community. and as she labored through exegesis of a kind, for the sole purpose of getting past the scripture to something of greater personal relevance to her, i realized that the scripture—as interpreted by heterosexual white men—has become an obstacle, a hindrance, and a minefield for her, in her personal faith journey. for her, the study of scriptures pertaining to the LGBTQ experience is veritably burdensome, however revealing; and it is anything but central to the essential substance of her spirituality.

for every interpretation of a verse that is used to judge or condemn a race, a gender, an orientation, or a tribe, i am certain that i can find several well-substantiated interpretations to rival that interpretation. i don’t mean to imply that the truth of scripture is invariably relative; but i do mean to assert that the scripture will never be, in and of itself, an effective arbiter in polemics of the social realm. and any great social issue, whether it pertains to ethics or social justice, will never find its resolution in any single, definitive interpretation of the scripture.

i wonder if we the church need to be reeducated on the purpose of scripture. since Luther’s split with the Catholic Church, it has been the prevailing assumption of Western Protestant Christendom that every believer can be individually enlightened by the personal exploration of the written Word. inherent to this assumption is the idea that the Scripture, whether by its utter clarity or by the ever-present lens of the indwelling Holy Spirit, can speak for itself. the price of this prevailing assumption has been denominationalism—a splintering of the church that we now view as facile and constructive, when in fact it has been historically divisive and even destructive to society. i think that the history of the church, and the nature of biblically-centered polemics in our time, really ought to force us to question this democratic idea of scriptural interpretation. in fact, there is a spiritual calling to discernment, as there is a specific calling to teaching, and beyond this, not all believers are equally trained in properly presenting the essential truths of scripture.

to concede the interpretation of scripture to those divinely inspired, and to submit oneself to that specific teaching, requires a certain belief about spiritual authority within the church that most every American Evangelical resists by nature. without question, we assert that a Bible in every household is our right and responsibility, and the personal study of it is an essential discipline of the Christian life. yet, any person who has not been blind, deaf, and dumb in this age of reckoning within the church ought to understand without too much effort that the Bible itself is contributing to the undermining and outright persecution of marginal identities in society. the Bible is so frequently a hostile and oppressive entity because it is so often a weapon in the hands of church leaders who have not been accorded the gifting to properly teach it.

every man brings his agenda to the reading of the Word. if he is fortunate, his lack of influence will limit the extent of damage that his misinterpretation of scripture inflicts on others. if he is fortunate, his weaknesses will spare him the judgment that his ill-conceived teachings would otherwise warrant. at some point, we must face this fact: that the reader’s agenda with respect to the Word is the Word to him. and the Word is only truly the Word when the one who reads it has God’s incontrovertible agenda in heart and mind. otherwise, the Word is just a cruel infliction upon the lives of those who manipulate it in their ignorance.

all my life, i have been accused of taking scripture piecemeal to serve my own purpose and agenda. here i am; i admit it wholeheartedly! the question you ought to ask me is whether my purpose and agenda are those of God. and that is for me to wrestle with, in that private, terrible space where i struggle with God. it is your responsibility not to be right in your reading of the Word but to discern whether your purpose, beyond any shred of doubt, is aligned with that of our common Lord. if He designates you as my authority, then i will submit to you. but if we discern the opposite, then submit to me. there need be no right or wrong when it comes to men; but there must be lordship and proper authority.

this is my great preoccupation and concern in these days and times. i do not understand how we, the democratic church, will ever come to understand the true purpose of the Word, unless we recognize our God-appointed teachers and submit to them. our blindness to God’s appointed is our blindness with respect to His Word. there is no truth in one without a great clarity regarding the other

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