Privilege and Biblical interpretation

This is a post where I’m raising a question that I flat-out don’t know the answer to. I watched a conversation yesterday between Derek Rishmawy who represents what I call the “Calvinist you can talk to” perspective and Stephanie Drury who is a “post-evangelical feminist.” Derek had written a post about the importance of not dissing King Solomon and the sacredness of scripture just because Mark Driscoll has misused Solomon’s words in Proverbs and the Song of Songs. Stephanie’s response was that for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.

Derek and Stephanie represent two worlds that intersect inside of me as an evangelical wannabe man-feminist. My commitment to the canonicity (divine inspiration and set-apart-ness) of scripture is integral to my identity. However, I am also aware that I’m in a position of complete privilege because none of these words I call sacred could ever be used to justify abusive behavior towards me. It’s a “theoretical” question for me whereas for other people it’s a question that involves physical and spiritual bruises. So how do I honor both realities at the same time?

Sometimes in the discourse of identity politics, privilege is deployed as an atomic bomb that completely discredits everything that a person has to say on account of their whiteness, wealth, maleness, or straightness. I’m 4 for 4 on that rubric. I actually went through a phase in my twenties where I pretended to be / thought I was bisexual in order to have one -ism “right,” to fit in with the radical community better than I did as the rich white straight guy who was the cause of all the world’s problems.

It wasn’t entirely that cynical; there were real reasons I wrestled with that aspect of my identity. In high school, I was the “sensitive guy” who wasn’t like the jocks who bullied me and got all the women that I was best friends with. So I’ve always had a need to say, “I’m not one of them (even though I am).” In any case, I have experienced first-hand the way that the privilege bomb can be a conversation-stopper analogous to “The Bible says it; that settles it.” You’re a rich white straight guy; you’re wrong; that settles it.

So what do I do with privilege? When I read Paul write, “Wives submit to your husbands as the Lord,” I’m not kicked in the teeth by that sentence, directly. It makes me angry not entirely on account of a sense of solidarity with women, but also because it conjures up (irrational) images of my high school jock bullies who have smoking hot wives and pastor megachurches now. When I attack the complementarian perspective, it feels like I’m spraying my jock bullies with a rhetorical Uzi.

So I’ve got my own axe to grind, and yet it’s not about me. When I write that Paul was applying Christian discipleship into a Roman context in which the man was legally the head of the household and the purpose of submitting to him was not because God has hard-coded gender hierarchy into nature but in order to win the husband to Christ, all of that is theoretical discourse. It’s a way to earn man-feminist points and justify myself over against those misogynists. But it’s also about my love for my wife and my belief in her call to ordained ministry and my horror at the thought of ever resolving any impasse in our decision-making by saying, “Well, honey, you know the Bible says that I’m the leader here…”

I cannot know what it’s like to read a text that has been thrown in my face by an abusive spouse. I cannot know what it’s like to have a husband who says he’s going to fix something and doesn’t do it for weeks and whenever you remind him, he says, “A nagging wife is like a dripping faucet.” I cannot know what it’s like to hear something that sounds like: “Yeah I’m sorry those words were used the wrong way with you, but you know, they are part of the Bible so uh… [respectfully long pause] get over it.ūüėČ.”

How long do you have to pause between the “I’m sorry,” the “I believe you,” the “What they did was wrong” and the part where you say “I believe this”? Is the “I believe this” always going to send like a dismissive “but” to the person on the other end of the conversation? Do they have to be two separate conversations? Can I be in solidarity with someone who has been abused and still believe that the collection of words that were used to abuse them are sacred? Or is my belief in what hurt them inherently antithetical to solidarity with them?

I’m actually in the process of reading Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, which takes evangelical Biblical interpretation to task. I saw a lot of echoes of Smith’s argument in the conversation on Derek’s blog. I agree with Smith that we have to read the Bible through a Christological lens rather than see it as a “flat text” in which every word is of equal value because we so mistrust the Holy Spirit’s active guidance in our interpretation that we idolize a book.

This means that we can say unequivocally and authoritatively that Jephthah should rot in hell for sacrificing his daughter to God in Judges 11 because Christ is utterly absent from that picture. And we can also say that the massacre of the Canaanites in Joshua looks nothing like Jesus, and so it is utterly abominable for the American colonists to use that story to justify the genocide of Native Americans or for Israeli settlers to use it to justify the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank today.

Is it okay for some of these Old Testament passages to be the story of a people getting to know God progressively over time, i.e. having and even writing down in canonized words their partly mistaken assumptions about what God was telling them to do at certain points because all of that was necessary to laying the groundwork for an Israel that could give birth to Jesus Christ? If there were no Leviticus law, then Micah wouldn’t have had a foil to respond to in his sixth chapter, saying God doesn’t want your animal sacrifices, he wants mercy, justice, and humility. If the temple were not sacred, then Jeremiah couldn’t chide his people for thinking that God would defend it forever from the Babylonians.

Does the canonicity of scripture mean that all of it must be prescriptive? Can “useful for teaching and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16) include negative examples? Yeah, that Old Testament polygamy… not such a good idea for family systems. And when Solomon engages in a blood-bath at the beginning of his reign, maybe we’re supposed to be bothered by that (even if the scribe who recorded it thought it was perfectly normal and proper for an incoming king to do). If our approach to Biblical interpretation is to look for and submit to the authorial intent of the human scribes, then we can’t make those kinds of assessments.

Now I love my brother Derek but I’m going to have to take issue with the common retort that I heard him use to the Christian Smith’s argument for a Christological interpretive lens: “Which Jesus?” The insinuation seems to be (?) that the words of scripture mediate our access to Jesus, so it’s nonsensical to say that we can mediate our interpretation of scripture through Jesus. But I would rejoin that if we see Jesus as trapped underneath the words of the Bible, then we don’t really believe what the Bible says about Him. Every time we read the Bible, we’re having a God-breathed conversation with Jesus, who is not just in the book but in the room with us.

Yesterday at my Monday mass, the gospel reading included Jesus’ promise from John 14:26: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Jesus doesn’t say that a book will teach you everything; He says that a person will. The only reason that the Bible does anything for me is because God breathes on me when I read it. That breath is an infinite person. The Greek for God-breathed is theo-pneustos which we could see as a verb form of the slightly different word hagio pneumati, the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit, the letter is dead. When we read the Bible as a flat text upon whose univocal meaning we can come to a clear agreement, the way we are reading it precludes the possibility of God breathing it.

I hadn’t been to mass since before Easter, so yesterday was incredible, particularly after I received the Eucharist. My heart and mouth were filled with the strange language that somehow erupts inside of me when the Spirit has saturated a room. It was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament that shaped my encounter with the Biblical passages that I read after mass. I cannot explain why it is different to read the Bible in that room, but I have never heard it talk that way when I read it in other places. The book by itself is nothing; the living, in-the-physical-room-and-not-just-metaphorical breath of God makes it everything it is.

This has gone afield from my original question, so I’m going to try to get back if I can. The tragic fate of the Bible in our era is that many Christians who wanted to use sacred words for their power and control have stomped the God-breath out of the Bible like a legion of pigs sloshing around in a garden of delicate plants. When people who have been hurt try to open that book, all they hear are sneers and all they see are disingenuous, patronizing smiles. Maybe the plants can come back, and the sacred words can be reinhabited by the breath that gives all things life. I’ve seen cilantro that shriveled up in a brutal winter and proliferated in leafy goodness come May.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is our ultimate teacher. I also believe that we need an anchor in the concrete transmitted testimony of Jesus Christ and the people of Israel. Part of trusting in the Holy Spirit means not having the goal of certitude and conformity in Biblical interpretation. Certitude precludes infinite divine personal presence. Every person encounters each sacred word on a very specific journey with God in which God is breathing through the testimony in a very specific applicable way. I think what 2 Timothy 3:16 promises me is that even horrible stories like Jephthah killing his daughter to “honor” God can provide some kind of useful teaching to somebody somehow even if I will never be blessed by them myself.

Privileged guys like me need to interrogate our motives in the battles we fight over the sacred words that we love. Is the Bible a citadel where we have gathered our coalition of forces to shoot arrows from the walls at the insurgents below? Or is it a garden into which we invite plants that have been crushed and ravaged by a legion of pigs, doing all that we can to walk lightly so that God’s breath can restore them to their infinite beauty?

47 thoughts on “Privilege and Biblical interpretation

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  3. I cringe when I see well-intentioned people take Ephesians 5:22 out of context and use it as a club against women. However, I am even more disheartened when they see it as an offense and as a result turn away from scripture. Had they just backed up one verse, they might have seen the TRUTH –

    Eph 5:21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
    22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
    33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

    The Bible doesn’t advocate wives submitting to husbands ONLY. The Bible advocates mutual submission to one another. A wife submits to her husband by giving him respect as the head of the household, and a husband submits to his wife by loving her the way she needs to be loved and giving up his own desires for her. There is nothing unequal about this. Both submit to one another’s greatest needs. The best book I’ve read on marriage is Love & Respect by Dr. Emmerson Eggerich.

    • Of course, I would say that Paul isn’t making a prescriptive statement about gender norms but rather applying Christian paradigms to life in a Roman context in which the husband was legally the paterfamilias. What I see here is that in all our relationships, we should think of ourselves as serving Christ (v. 22) and being Christ (v. 25). I just don’t see anything wrong with my wife loving me as Christ loved the church or with me being subject to her because I am subject to Christ. For that matter, I am called to be subject to my own children “as to the Lord” because Jesus said whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me.

      I don’t think it undermines Biblical authority to recognize some of Paul’s directions as pastorally contextual. They are still God-breathed and useful to our teaching but after translating the essential issue at hand into our context. Should women wear hats in church and never jewelry or are these specific instructions from Paul applicable to analogous fashion choices in our era? Is this easy and clear-cut to do? No. But the fact that we are inadequate to the task doesn’t mean that we should let our limitations determine our assumptions about faithful interpretation. We’ve allowed the populism of democratic perspicuity to be conflated with faithfulness to the text.

      Based on the broader witness of scripture, I just can’t see a necessary prescriptiveness to the gender norms that Paul was working with in his time. I feel like some have raised 1st century gender norms to the same level as love God and love your neighbor which is problematic regardless of how you interpret that passage.

      Having said all that, what you describe in your marriage sounds like a loving, healthy marriage and if that’s the paradigm that works for the two of you, I’m not going to throw stones at it.

      • Morgan, you said ” I just don‚Äôt see anything wrong with my wife loving me as Christ loved the church or with me being subject to her because I am subject to Christ.”

        I don’t see anything wrong with it either. What is interesting to me, and perhaps it will be for you also is that God commands a husband to love his wife unconditionally, and he commands a woman to respect her husband. However, no where does the Bible command a wife to love a husband, or a husband to respect his wife. Dr. Eggerich makes this point in his book – that perhaps the creator God knew that he designed women to be more loving and men to be more respecting and that we wouldn’t need to be commanded to do something that was already part of us by nature. He goes on to make the point that “his love motivates her respect, and her respect motivates his love”. He calls this the Energizing Cycle, whereas he says there is also a Crazy Cycle where “his lack of love motivates her lack of respect and her lack of respect motivates his lack of love”.

        The science seems to bear this out. Men and women have different brain chemistry. Testosterone damages the connections between the logical and emotional centers of our brains. Whereas many women have strong connections between the logic and emotion centers and process both logic and information simultaneously, most men have many fewer pathways and tend to process logic OR emotion, and usually trying to do both simultaneously is overload for us.

        • I suspect that there’s a lot of overlap in the way you and I live things out regardless of the words that we use. Generally my wife and I just try to listen to God and to each other. We are both bad at making decisions. When she’s being indecisive, I take the lead; when I’m being indecisive, she takes the lead. I don’t think we’ve ever not come to a consensus on something after talking it out; if we don’t agree, we table it and pray.

          The thing that gives me pause about the respect/love duality is it seems too reliant upon there being a very clear, unequivocal binary between masculine and feminine. It seems more to me like it’s a spectrum than a binary. We’re talking about a complex mixture of hormones and socializations. I don’t want to tell effeminate men or masculine women that they need to learn how to have a more manly or womanly personality so they can fit into a 1st century paradigm for gender. I would rather see two people who complement each other in terms of personality and spiritual gifts end up together even if they don’t fit whatever the most typical man or woman is like.

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  6. Morgan,

    Thanks for your post. It feels to me like honest wrestling with how to faithfully read the text and live faithfully with people who have been harmed by the text. I am grateful for your words and appreciate the approach of openness.

  7. “d” writes: “The Apostle Paul.
    The Apostle every feminist tries to understand, attacks makes excuses for or hates…”

    Wow, dude — generalize much?

    I’m a feminist, and for me Paul is like other authors of Scripture: Products of their particular time and place, trying to communicate a human experience of God through the filters of their own cultural situation, limits of knowledge, assumptions and personal foibles.

    But reading Scripture in a contextual way also means reading it in the context of our own experience — as my teachers taught me, the thoughtful student of Scripture asks the following questions:

    What does this say?

    What does this mean?

    What does this mean for me/my faith community at this time?

    It is not responsible for the faith community to ignore the experience of people who have been hurt, sometimes in shocking and even violent ways, because of the way their particular faith community has chosen to answer those second and third questions. That is part of OUR context, in our culture, at this time. It’s also irreponsible, and disrespectful, to dismiss people’s experience as oversensitivity or some past occurrence that they need to “just get over.” It speaks to a lack of love/care for our neighbor, and a lack of pastoral care.

    I think it is very important for Christians who have traditionally been in “power-over” positions in society and within Church history to acquaint themselves with the stories of people unlike themselves, people who have been wounded over the years by various “texts of terror.” They also need to give these people the freedom to approach Scriptural interpretation with a legitimate “theology of suspicion” borne of their group’s experience — and, damn it, LISTEN to them; listen without becoming defensive or dismissive or desperate to defend the honor of God or Scripture.

  8. Alan Storey, a South African pastor, says that not everything that is biblical is Christ like. For me, we must read backwards from Jesus to see God being revealed in the OT.

    In other words, it is more accurate to say, as a Christian, “God is like Jesus” than to say “Jesus is like God.”

    To take one example, “God” commands the annihilation of every single Canaanite, babies too, while Jesus heals a Canaanite woman’s daughter. To believe that God wants us to commit genocide is toxic. To believe that God is violent is deadly.

  9. The Apostle Paul.
    The Apostle every feminist tries to understand, attacks makes excuses for or hates.
    Paul is not so hard to understand if you research the times the Apostles lived in.
    Do you know from about the time of Nero forward in Rome abortion, child exposure, selling unwanted children into slavery. birth control, adultery, divorce by request (male and female) were practiced?

    Have you read Juvenal’s description of a wife that lords her promiscuity over her husband,?
    Did you know Augustus, watching the decay of marriage ,passed laws trying to curb the trend to an earlier era in Roman history?
    Do you know Paul delves into and lists the sexual sins because of the of incest episode he would not ignore?

    You said in another post Paul was a rebel.
    In one respect you are correct.
    Paul did come against the norms of the culture he lived in.
    Paul, Peter and others preached against divorce, sexual immorality, disrespect of husbands, abortion, men not loving their wives, child exposure and a few other trends and practices in ancient Rome heavily influenced by the Greeks.

    Paul was not a woman hater.
    Paul was a people lover who loved God most of all.
    I think we can have the same assurance and conviction Paul had if we learn what Paul knew and learned.
    We can find those things written in words, carved in stone and depicted in art guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

    You touch on a lot of issues. Far too many to tackle in one post.

      • Your are welcome.

        When did you last read The Apology of Tertullian?
        The man who believed, fell into error and then returned to Orthodox Christianity.

        Chapter 47:
        For this reason, I imagine philosophy was banished by¬†certain¬†states‚ÄĒ I mean by the¬†Thebans, by the¬†Spartans¬†also, and the¬†Argives‚ÄĒ its¬†disciples sought to imitate our¬†doctrines; and ambitious, as I have said, of¬†glory¬†and eloquence alone,
        if they fell upon anything in the collection of¬†sacred¬†Scriptures¬†which displeased them, in their own peculiar style of research, they perverted it to serve their purpose: for they had no adequate¬†faith¬†in their divinity to keep them from changing them, nor had they any sufficient understanding of them, either, as being still at the¬†time¬†under¬†veil‚ÄĒ even obscure to the¬†Jewsthemselves, whose peculiar possession¬†they seemed to be‚Ķ‚Ķ..
        ..Finding a simple revelation of God, they proceeded to dispute about Him, not as He had revealed to them, but turned aside to debate about His properties, His nature, His abode

        As true today as it was then

  10. At the risk of being a contrarian and outright ignoring the forest for a blade a grass, I want to address the statement: “for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.”

    In God, there is no permanent toxicity. God can heal all wounds. It is not words that become toxic, but our hearts that become hardened. God is ready to free us from all such baggage and bring us to the fullness of His truth. To those who feel that way I would exhort them not to give up!

        • Of course I encourage people to hope in God’s healing. You’re conflating two different things. All I’m saying is if there’s a Bible verse that’s been hurtful to someone, I’m not going to badger them about it until they say, “Okay, now I see why I was wrong to be hurt by that.” I’ve got a little more pastoral intuition than that.

    • I would probably take issue with the word permanent, but as Morgan said, I have no right to decide how long that process should take. We should trust God that He knows what He is doing and allow ourselves to listen to His Spirit, as well as wait for their openness in when we engage in that process of healing. Otherwise we run the risk of making the wound worse.

      • Exactly! When people claim that it is impossible that they might reconcile themselves to God’s word, we should remind them that all things are possible in God!

  11. To supplement what Will is saying about Biblical submission in evangelical culture, I meet a lot of people who have significant spiritual and emotional wounding, and I’ve gotten to hear the stories of many people who have been involved at Mark Driscoll’s church here in Seattle (Mars Hill). The stories out of there cause me so much concern. What I hear about gender roles and authoritarianism manages to surprise me and make me cry even after six years of hearing them on a fairly regular basis. (For more information and actual accounts of people who have been at Mars Hill Church, search these articles as Amazon reviews won’t let me use URLs: “Jesus Needs New PR Mark Drisoll’s church discipline contract,” “Mark Driscoll’s gospel shame: the truth about discipline, excommunication and cult-like control at Mars Hill,” and visit Joyful Exiles dot com, and Mars Hill Refuge dot com.) I see submission theology being used against women and not in a way in which they are also submitted to by their husbands.

  12. 99.9%of the people I council come from a base of scriptural “abuse” from pastors/priests who “when in doubt, spit it out”, impotent advocates of often literal but mostly subjective biblical translation ( to exert power and control on “touchy” topics). Spiritual healing does not begin from a base of guilt, scorn or bigotry between the cultural haves and have not. Submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit is living proof that the Bible is organic and “obtainable” to everyone.The voice of the Spirit is never subjective (insert snarky comment here). Dissect scripture all you want as intellectual beings (we all have a voice), but without the Spirit, the letter is dead.

  13. Hello again Derek. I appreciated the tone you had in your response to my post yesterday. We obviously approach scripture from different places, yet we both see it as sacred and important.

    In regards to your last post here under number 2, I wonder how this theory works out in practice. It reminds me of the argument in the Plessey vs Ferguson Supreme Court case. This case coined the phrase, “separate but equal” in regards to separate facilities for African Americans in the US. About 60 years later the Brown vs Board Supreme court case overturned Plessey saying “separate is inherently unequal.” Obviously we’re not talking about racial segregation here but the parallel is that sometimes theory and practice are two different things. In the case of Plessey, the Jim Crow south never in practice kept facilities equal, it was inherit in the nature of their segregated culture to keep African Americans under the thumb of the dominant white culture.

    I fear the same thing when I hear people uphold the idea of “submission” in a marriage. First of all, complementarians often explain submission as nicer than what most people think it may mean. But the problem is that submit means submit. That’s the end of the story. If my wife and I disagree, I win. I get the winning vote to break the tie. When churches set up marriage in this context it creates an environment similar to the environment created under the Plessey ruling. In theory men are told to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” but in practice this does not always happen. There are many stories of abuse coming out of not just Mars Hill but many churches who preach this sort of submission. I find this to be freighting for the women in these marriages, and this culture. It sets up a cultural narrative that makes it easy for abusive men to dominate their wives in a harmful way.

    I think the main thesis of this post is about privilege and how being in a place of privilege can effect how we interpret scripture. I think this is important to think about when we read verses that talk about submission.

    • Will, just saw this. Yeah, definitely not an expert on this. Honestly, if I’m a complementarian when it comes to marriage, its of the very soft sort. Tim and Kathy Keller outline a pretty good picture of things in their excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage.

      I don’t think it should be construed along 1950s strict gender role fashion. I encouraged my wife to get here MA in education and work if she wants to. She’s a person with interests, capabilities, intelligence and beauty apart from me, whose wisdom and strength I depend on. Ironically, when it comes to big decisions, she’s far more comfortable with me taking point than I am. I trust myself less than she trusts me. I’d rather just talk it out until we go with something I know she’ll like. I think 99% of decisions should be made like that. Ideally 100% would. Beyond that though, I think every once in a while there’s a deadlock, but a decision has to get made for the good of the family and the marriage. That’s about when I see something like this kicking in any kind of “submission” kind of way beyond simply respect. Even then, I’d prefer to call it “trust”–as in, trusting the husband that he’s trying to love his wife in this decision. I know this answer probably isn’t satisfying to you. It kinda sounds weak to me writing it. And in a fallen world of broken men and women, this is going to get abused. But I don’t think that invalidates the best and godliest forms of it, just the way that legalistic attempts at obedience to God don’t invalidate the ideal, love-rooted forms of obedience.

      Like I said, this stuff gets complicated. I’m still processing it all myself. That’s why I haven’t written much on marriage and gender roles myself. I’m committed to the text, but not necessarily to my current exegesis of every verse.

      • this sounds a lot like what my wife and I are processing through it as well, Derek, so know you’re not alone. just the other day we were talking about this and it kinda went something like…

        Me: “I want it to be us making the decision together all the time.”
        Her: “Yeah.”
        Me: “I mean I know sometimes there will come a point where we’re in a true deadlock and something has to be decided, and I once believed that meant, I have to make that decision, but then as I think about it, what if your side is the best in that deadlock? I mean I’m not right all the time. I know I’m not. What makes me right in that time?
        Her: Well, that’s where I trust you, respect you.
        Me: And I should respect you too, earn that trust, and part of that for me is realizing that I can’t be a head of the household all the time, that love comes out more in servanthood rather than leadership, I need to be humble enough to realize when you’re right and I’m wrong in a deadlock, and let you be the leader then.”
        Her: “Okay.”
        Me: “In other words, leadership..maybe it rarely looks like what our current models of leadership look like, maybe it looks like servanthood.”
        Her: “And I can be a servant too, realize when I’m wrong, and respect you.”
        Me: “Exactly, it’s mutual servanthood, mutual respect, mutual humbling ourselves before God and seeking Him together.”
        Her: “So what do you think it means. ‘the husband is the head’.”
        Me: “Honestly? I don’t know, I know what people think it means, I know what it means in a patriarchal society, I think for me personally it means something completely opposite of what most people think it means.”
        Her: “I see.”

        And we went on from there. As you can see…we like to talk about this stuff, rather than me just deciding how it will be and her following suit.

  14. Men who can’t know what women experience in the Church. Your sisters desperately need your curiosity about what it is like for us so that you can also.speak against the same injustices that outraged Jesus. We need the the ones with more societal power (men) to be curious and in order to be safe recipients of our stories. But I meet with women every week who have been raped by their pastor fathers and youth leaders and churchgoing husbands and are told thy may not contribute in their churches beyond working in the nursery. That is just the tip of the iceberg and all I will say here because if someone can’t understand how far-reaching that treatment is towards someone’s self-worth and concept of God as their father then I can’t share more here and manage to honor my and other’s stories. I’m grateful for your posture and wanting to discuss this, Morgan.

    • “Stephanie‚Äôs response was that for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.”
      Could you comment more on this? I basically agree, but this raises some questions for me: What do you think such people need from the church? Is this just a call for sensitivity and understanding, or is there more to it? As far as it goes, for some people the whole Bible is permanently toxic and if we added up ALL the toxic verses for every wounded person, we wouldn’t have just a few “verses to avoid” in the canon, but perhaps a list of “banned texts” longer than the canon itself.

      • I agree that we can’t let the toxicity that certain passages have for some people strike those passages from the canon. I think it’s more a question of sensitivity. If I’m trying to reach out to somebody who’s been wounded, it’s a process. Start with “Comfort, comfort my people” and build from there.

  15. I just stumbled upon this blogpost via a Facebook link. For what it is worth as a progressive Lutheran feminist and lay minister: When I was studying Scripture in a formal manner and dealing with the variously misogynistic, homophobic, genocidal, fill-in-the-adjective “texts of terror” therein, my professors were quick to note the importance of reading Scripture contextually — not only in terms of making distinctions between simply descriptive and prescriptive texts but in terms of trying to understand the culture, worldview, assumptions, etc. of the authors/redactors. To me, the response to the “texts of terror” is not to skip over them but rather to work through them in a contextual way so that we can discuss them thoroughly, intelligently and relatively dispassionately (much easier said than done) with people like neo-Calvinist types whose hermeneutic doesn’t allow them that freedom. Otherwise we tend to reinforce the meme that progressives “pick and choose which Scriptures to follow,” are gutless cowards when it comes to apologetics, etc. I do not expect a conservative Evangelical to agree with my mainline way of reading Scripture, nor am I particularly interested in converting him or her to mainline interpretative methodology; I am, however, interested in demonstrating that one can (and should) take Scripture seriously without upholding a literalist, wooden way of engaging with it — if not for that person’s sake, then for my own sake as a person of spiritual/intellectual integrity whose thoughts also deserve a hearing in the greater theological forum. .I think it would be helpful if more con-Evo people saw and heard more mainline/progressive/emergent people in action “doing Scripture,” including the hard stuff, in a rigorous way. Peace.

  16. Okay, as always, you’re super-smart and write too much to comment on.

    1. First half of the article–point well-taken. I try to slow down and hear what other hear, but I’m not them. We all do. My experiences as the Arab Christian who was subtly taught that I’m second-class because of pop-dispensationalism didn’t put me off of the Bible, though. It pushed me to a more Christ-centered, canonically-sensitive, eschatological reading. And when it comes to the slob of a husband throwing “don’t be a leaky faucet” in his wife’s face, she’s got plenty of ammo in the back half of Ephesians 5. “I thought you were supposed to die for me the way Christ does the church? You can’t even take out the trash?” Now, both are kind of crappy uses of the text, but even still, you can see the way that they both can be re-appropriated thoughtfully, in line with the Spirit. I think the leaky faucet one applies both to men and women. There are plenty of leaky faucet, critical husbands who need to hear that proverb as they wear the life out of their brides, as there are some beat-down men in an analogous situation; the words of our spouses have power–to build up or to destroy. That’s an important truth that needs to be taught for marriages to work. The text needs to be digested, though.

    2. I’m fine with the OT containing negative examples. I think it clearly does and Jephthah is one of them. You’ll note the author of Judges does not write of it approvingly. The point of Judges is, “look at the nonsense that happens when God is not king.” I also am okay with God inspiring, possibly more than the author himself knew. But, I just think we have to go about that carefully, without just quickly saying, “Well, that was just their culture.” According to what? Our culture? What makes our white, post-Enlightenment liberalism normative? I think the text itself gives us ways of reinterpreting the text.

    3. On my “which Jesus point”, I’d say that yes, the Holy Spirit is our teacher, but he is our teacher, not by way of contradicting the Gospels he inspired, but by way of illuminating them. I don’t think the Bible is a dead, flat letter. I think it is living and powerful, which is why I don’t want people walking away from it because its been abused. Your move here is similar to the “enthusiasts (God-within-ists)” who pit Spirit against word, instead of having a theology of Spirit AND word. My point is, the Spirit is going to teach us about Christ by making clearer to the heart, what he’s already spoken in the text. Otherwise, you end up with a radically-subjective situation in which we’re just pitting different experiences and “feelings” of the Spirit against each other. I don’t have access to your subjective revelations. I do have access to the same text we share, where the Spirit might convict me of the same picture of Jesus through you talking to me about what he’s revealed to you through the text. You see where I’m going here?

    Alright, too much already.

    Always keeping the conversation going.

    Love ya!!

    Also, Stephanie has been really great throughout this thing. Just wanted to say that.

    • “I don‚Äôt have access to your subjective revelations. I do have access to the same text we share, where the Spirit might convict me of the same picture of Jesus through you talking to me about what he‚Äôs revealed to you through the text.”

      Here’s where the hinge is for me. If “having access” is about control, then that’s a problem. If anything which falls under the purview of subjectivity is problematic because it can’t be brought into the ring and duked out in territory where reason can make a conclusive ruling,then that’s the wrong reason for it to be problematic. If on the other hand, we recognize that you and I are on completely different journeys but God wants to use each of us in each others’ journeys and thus needs some basis for common discourse to sharpen iron, build each other up, etc, then I think we’re talking about canonicity appropriately.

      I definitely don’t want to pit Spirit against letter, but I do want to say that the letter has life *only through* the Spirit and in the context of a dynamic, fully present in-the-present-tense mediation. Where this comes into play hermeneutically is that if a woman sees the back of her husband’s hand in “Wives submit,” then that verse has essentially been demonically inhabited and cannot speak life to her, God-breathed or not, until after a long period of healing if ever at all. I think that’s part of what we have to make peace with. Pastorally, I’m not going to argue with a person in that context about divine inspiration. Those words have simply become demonic no matter what they are when the Holy Spirit illuminates them.

      • 1. Not talking about duking it out, but the practicality of someone saying, “Jesus is like x, so do y or be like z.” But I don’t see that? “The Spirit led me to this picture of him.” He didn’t say anything to me on that. ūüôā

        2. Sure, pastoral care and tact is needed. I think I’d probably point her to the next few verses that show her the back of her husband’s hand was never the way that text was supposed to be used and that her husband can probably expect the back of Jesus’ hand if he keeps it up (that is, after we call the cops and get him arrested and she’s safe.)

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