Romancing the Book: Evangelical Lessons for Liberal Christians

This is part 2 of 3 in a series of posts called Evangelical Lessons for Liberal Christians.  Evangelicals, much maligned among liberals, nonetheless possess an impressive array of gifts and skills that can benefit the larger Christian community, including those who do not share their beliefs and biases.  Liberal Christians are so quick to self-identify as “not evangelical” or “not that kind of Christian” that we have developed a nasty habit of tossing babies out with the bathwater.  I’m suggesting that we all go outside and recover these babies from the muddy ground outside (although we may have to give them another bath before we bring them back into our house).

Wow… I’m really stretching that metaphor.

In my first post, entitled God Has No Grandchildren, we talked about how evangelicals have done an amazing job of taking personal ownership of their spiritual lives.  For them, Christianity is not a set of dogmas, morals, and rituals to which one defaults by accident of birth.  For them, it is a whole-hearted commitment of one’s self to an ongoing relationship with the divine.

In today’s post, I want to talk about the Bible.

As far as religious communities go, none have had a more passionate love affair with the Bible than have evangelicals.  They tend to take it with them wherever they go: church, work, school, and vacation.  They sometimes refer to it as their sword (a source of strength) and other times as their love letter from God.  Most of the time, they simply call it the Word of God.  They have confidence that the voice of the Holy Spirit is able to reach, comfort, and guide them through these words on a page.  Like newlyweds in the bedroom, evangelical encounters with the Bible are intense and frequent (if a bit messy and awkward).  They tend to devour it, even though they don’t understand much of what they’re reading.

Liberal Christians, on the other hand, tend to relate to the Bible like an older couple in a long-term relationship.  In place of the young lovers’ passion, they have developed a deep respect for its mystery and complexity.  They let those old, familiar words wash over them and anchor them to all time and eternity.  There are still some things they don’t like about the Bible, but they’ve learned how to accept those things and still appreciate the Bible for what it is.

Liberal Christians, while they tacitly accept the appellation “Word of God” as applied to the Bible, tend to cringe at notions of inerrancy and infallibility.  For us, the Bible is not a magical book that was somehow “beamed down” from heaven without flaw or error.  Why then do we still refer to them as the Word of God?  I love the answer given in the Catechism found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1979):

We call them (the Holy Scriptures) the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.

I love this answer’s dual emphasis on inspiration and continual speaking.  Liberal Christians believe that the divine Word is speaks to us “in, with, and under” (a phrase I’m borrowing from Luther’s sacramental theology) the human words on the page.  For those of us in the Reformed (and always reforming) tradition of Protestant Christianity, we identify Christ as the true and Living Word of God.  The scriptures, as we have them, constitute a witness to that Living Word.  In other words, the early disciples experienced something extraordinary in the person of Christ and spend the rest of their lives wrestling with what it meant.  The Christian churches have continued to wrestle with that mystery for almost two millennia.  These days, we are less certain than ever about our particular answers, but more convinced than ever about the overall importance of what we’ve found.

In our less glorious moments, liberal Christians have tended to abandon this treasure of the faith to those who would abuse it and co-opt it for their own selfish ends.  Our respect for the complexity and mystery of the Bible has sometimes led us to throw our hands up in despair that anyone could ever know what this crazy book is talking about.  We despise trite and easy answers taken from text on a page, which leads us to sometimes give up hope of finding any guidance at all.  In our very worst moments, we tend to cut and paste the parts we like and throw out or ignore the parts we don’t.  My favorite example of this kind of project is the famous Bible produced by my American forbear, Thomas Jefferson.  He didn’t like the idea of supernatural miracles, so he just cut those parts out.  These days, many liberal Christians have a tendency to cut out the parts about judgment and sex, as if the Bible had nothing valuable to say about these topics.  To be fair, many evangelicals do the same thing.  They underline their favorite verses about individual salvation and “the pelvic issues” while they ignore the passages that emphasize the importance of social justice or suggest the possibility of universal salvation.

The tendency toward idolatry is a human universal, not unique to evangelicals or liberals.  We all have an instinctual urge to recast Jesus as an advocate for our own personal ideology.  We all tend to hear our own voices, rather than God’s speaking to us in the text of the Bible.  Anne Lamott once wrote, “You can safely assume that you’ve made God in your own image when she hates all the same people you do.”

I was speaking with a colleague once at a pastor’s retreat on Christian spirituality.  I was talking about the central role that the Bible plays in shaping our spirituality.  He asked, “Does it have to be through the Bible?”  I responded that it doesn’t have to be through the Bible, but it gets to be.  As Christians, we have the privilege of conducting our collective faith-journey in dialogue with this cacophonous chorus of voices from the past.  I see the Bible as a library, rather than a book.  It’s a messy collection of stories, poems, and letters that chronicle our ancestors’ relationship with God.  They stretched to describe the indescribable.  They failed to capture the essence of the divine in their writings, but they did leave a number of helpful signposts.  I love the scriptures for their messiness.  It gives me hope for myself.  God never gave up on Abraham, Israel, or Peter, so I have every reason to trust that God will not give up on me.

The exercise that has most helped me recover the Bible as a tool for my spiritual growth is a practice developed by monks over a thousand years ago.  It’s called Lectio Divina, which is Latin for “Divine Reading.”  Here’s how it works:

  • Sit down with a short passage of scripture (e.g. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15).  Read it slowly.  Out loud, if you can.  Maybe even stopping at every verse or sentence.
  • Pay attention to any words or phrases that “jump out at you” or seem to touch your life in some significant way.
  • Take a moment to process what that word or phrase means to you right now, in this moment.  You’re not looking for once-and-for-all absolutely authoritative interpretations.  You’re listening for what God is saying to you today through this passage.  God might be saying something completely different to someone else through those same words.  God might say something completely different to you tomorrow through those same words.  The Spirit blows where it wills…
  • Craft a prayer of response to what you think you’ve heard.  This can be a prayer of thanksgiving, a request for help, or a dedication of oneself to service.
  • Sit still for a period of extended silence while you contemplate God’s presence within and around you.  It might help to focus your attention on the normally unconscious act of your breathing or perhaps pick a special word to guide and focus your meditation.
  • Close by reading the passage slowly once more.  Be thankful for what you have encountered in this process.

I think that liberal Christians have an opportunity to re-engage with the Bible in a passionate way.  We can begin our “second honeymoon” with this old partner and rekindle in ourselves the romance we admire in our evangelical brothers and sisters.

One Example of a Common Sense Liberal

Today’s post and yesterday’s (Why Liberal?  Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical) started as one, but my introduction mutated into a post in its own right.  Funny how that tends to happen when you’ve got ADD.

As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as a monopoly on common sense and family values.  Liberals in both the political and religious realms have a justly earned reputation for being elitist and overly academic.  however, I think it’s time we got to work on correcting that, especially if we hope to engage with the hearts and minds of people off-campus.  I don’t mean that we dumb it down or reject the contributions of scholarship; I mean that we communicate what we believe in ways that are more simple and direct.

One person who is already doing an amazing job at this is an older guy in Georgia who owns a peanut farm, volunteers with Habitat For Humanity, and teaches Sunday School at his Baptist Church.  By the way, he is also a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and served a term as President of the United States.

It’s Jimmy Carter.

Say what you will about his presidency and policies (I have beef with both), but Jimmy, more than any other living president, embodies a sense of personal wisdom and human decency that is rarely found among national politicians.  Perhaps that contributed to the fact that he did not serve a second term.  My wife says that Jimmy Carter is living proof that personal integrity doesn’t always make for the best presidents.

This former-president’s most recent project is the production of a study Bible with his own notes and reflections on the text.  This may be a bit ambitious on my part, but I would hope that a project of this magnitude might find its place in history alongside the famous Jefferson Bible.

You can see and/or order Carter’s Lessons from Life Bible at by clicking here.

In order to promote this new publication, Carter gave an interview to folks at the Huffington Post.  I provide a link and invite you to read the interview as an example of one Common Sense Liberal Christian speaking his mind about the faith of his heart.  On a human level, here is an example of how one can be an open-minded, open-hearted, and faithful Christian.


President Jimmy Carter Authors New Bible Book, Answers Hard Biblical Questions

Elements of Worship: The Word

Starting a new sermon series at First Pres, Boonville.  This is part 1 of 5.

The text is II Timothy 3:10-17.

Click here to listen to the recording of this sermon at

Does anybody here remember the Periodic Table?  I’m taking you back to 6th grade science class on this one.  It’s an oddly shaped chart of letters and numbers that’s somehow supposed to explain everything that exists.  Personally, I always thought it looked like somebody started writing the alphabet and then got really confused.  I’m told that students used to have to memorize the whole thing, but they did away with that by the time I got to Middle School (mostly because scientists were coming up with all kinds of new additions like Einsteinium and Nobelium, so the Table was getting bigger every year).  These days, I think we’re up 118 entries.  The Periodic Table is divided into metals on the left and non-metals on the right.  At the far right, there are the Noble Gases like Helium and Radon.  On the far left are the Alkaline metals like Lithium.  Each individual unit on the Periodic Table is called an element.  Elements are the basic units of chemistry.  An element represents the most basic level to which a compound or molecule can be broken down using chemical processes.  To go any father (i.e. protons, neutrons, and electrons), you’ve got to use nuclear means.  So, they are called elements because they are the basic components of the science of chemistry.  In the olden days, that same term was applied to the basic forces of nature: earth, air, water, and fire.  These were called the four elements.  These days, when kids get old enough to go to school, they begin at a basic and introductory level in an elementary school.  An element is a basic component of some larger system or process.

Starting today and continuing for the next four Sundays, we’re going to be talking about elements in church.  Now, we won’t be talking about chemical elements on the Periodic Table.  No, for these five Sundays, we’ll be talking about the Elements of Worship.  We’ll be looking at a kind of Periodic Table for the Church, if you will.  Each week, we’re going to look at a different element and see how each element fits into the big picture of what we do each week in church.  There are five Elements of Worship that we’ll be looking at.  The five elements are as follows: Word, Prayer, Service, Sacrament, and Relationship.  Everything we do in church, from the Announcements to the Benediction, is made up of these five elements in some combination and configuration: Word, Prayer, Service, Sacrament, and Relationship.  Even though we’re only focusing on one element per week, it will quickly become clear that none of these exists in isolation from the others.  They are all connected and intertwined with each other like a great big spider web.  We can’t really think about one without touching on the others.  Nevertheless, you’ve got to start somewhere.  So let’s get going…

This week, we’re focusing on the element of the Word.  By that, we specifically mean the Word of God.  Now, I know what you’re all thinking right now: “I know what that is.  He means the Bible.  The Word of God is the Bible.”  My answer to that is: “Well, yes and no.”  You see, the Bible never actually refers to itself as “the Word of God”.  In the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), “the Word of God” typically refers to a particular message that came to particular prophet at a particular place and time.  Thus, it says in Genesis 15, “The word of the Lord came to Abram”.  Later on, in the New Testament, “the Word” mostly refers to Christ himself.  Jesus Christ is the living Word of God.  Thus, the Word of God is a person, not a book.

What then can we say about the Bible?  First of all, the Bible is more of a library than a book.  It is a massive collection of stories, poems, and letters composed and compiled over a period of many centuries.  Thus, I like to refer to them as “the scriptures” (plural) rather than “the Bible” (singular).  These writings chronicle the ongoing relationship between God and God’s people.  Opening the scriptures is kind of like finding your grandparents’ old love letters in a trunk in the attic.  When you read them, you get these insightful little snapshots into a romance that has spanned the ages.  We treasure these fragments but we would never mistake them for the relationship itself.  That is something that can only be experienced firsthand.  Thus, the scriptures point beyond themselves to the deeper reality of a relationship into which you and I are invited.  Marcus Borg calls the scriptures “a finger pointing to the moon.”  If you’re looking at the finger, you’re looking at the wrong thing.  Look instead to where the finger is pointing.  Then and only then will you “get the point”.  Jesus himself said as much in John 5 as he was debating with the Pharisees, a group of religious people who had worked very hard to preserve the scriptures in their own tradition.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.”  The scriptures point beyond themselves.  They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

In this day and age when the culture prizes knowledge that can be objectively verified and scientifically proved, people of faith often experience the temptation to find absolute certainty on historic and scientific facts documented in the scriptures.  They believe that the authors of the scriptures were inspired by God in the same way that a secretary takes down a dictation.  For them, the Bible (singular) is literally “the Word of God”.  They see the Bible as a single book with a single author who can never be wrong.

Reading the scriptures in this way can provide a comforting level of certainty in these uncertain times, but it can also cause all sorts of problems.  First of all, the words of the scriptures can be and have been used to justify all manner of brutality and injustice.  Advocates for slavery, exploitation, genocide, racism, sexism, and homophobia have all used the texts of the scriptures to support their causes.  A further (and bigger) problem that arises when we read the Bible as the literal Word of God is that our confidence in the book actually undermines our faith in God.  We mistake that box of Grandma and Grandpa’s love letters for the relationship itself.  We worship the Bible instead of God.  It seems to me that the second of the Ten Commandments has something to say about that: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”  The way I like to read that sentence is: “You can’t put God in a box.”  I think the same holds true whether that box is a statue, a building, or a book.  Make no mistake: worshiping the Bible in God’s place is idolatry.

Presbyterians, on the whole, do not tend to view the scriptures as a single, inerrant document.  We see them collectively as the “unique and authoritative witness” to Jesus Christ as the living Word of God.  For us, the scriptures are that “finger pointing to the moon” and we want to look (and go to) where that finger is pointing us.  We want to get closer to Jesus.  We want to grow in our relationship with God.  For us, the stories, poems, and letters contained in the scriptures are a record of our ancestors’ relationship with God, centering around this amazing person named Jesus.  They remembered, reflected on, and wrestled with everything his life meant to them.  Finally, they wrote it all down in the best way they knew how, using the words and ideas they had available to them at that time.

And so we listen: we listen to these words of our fellow human beings with the ears on our heads, but we also listen for the Word of God with the ears of our hearts.  We believe the Word of God still speaks to us through these human words, limited and imperfect though they may be.  To do this, we need help.  In order to take us from these human words to God’s Word, we need something Presbyterians call “the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit”.  That’s why we stop to say a short prayer right before we read from the scriptures each week during worship.  Go ahead and check it out in your bulletin.  Right before the scripture reading, there is something called the Prayer for Illumination.  We’re asking God to turn the lights on inside of us so that we can see things more clearly.  We’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s Word in these human words.  This event is central to our worship as Christians.  When we come together, we prepare ourselves to receive God’s Word by gathering together, praising God, confessing our shortcomings, and making peace with our neighbors.  We listen for God’s Word in the reading of the scriptures and reflection on the sermon.  We respond to God’s Word by affirming our faith, praying for our needs, giving thanks for God’s blessings, and offering our whole lives to God’s service in the world.  Finally, we follow God’s Word back out into the world, trusting that the One who meets us in this place will continue to guide us out there during the other six days of the week.  It’s all about God’s Word, not a book but a person, Jesus Christ: God’s living Word.  As the lights come on inside of us and we begin to hear God’s Word through the human words of the scriptures, our lives will begin to look more like Jesus’ life: the life of a radical healer, teacher, revolutionary, and friend.

I can’t help but mention the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose 83rd birthday just so happens to be today.  Dr. King knew what we’re talking about today.  During his lifetime, people from all over the United States, even pastors, used the words of our scriptures to put him down and keep African American people under the thumb of segregation.  But Dr. King didn’t listen to those words.  He opened the scriptures and heard the Word of God saying to him (in the words of the prophet Amos), “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  The Word of God showed Dr. King how to dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  In spite of being ridiculed, beaten and arrested, Dr. King heard God’s Word in the book of Isaiah, dreaming of that day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”  On that day, he said, all God’s children: black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, will join hands and sing together, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  Through the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, these ancient scriptures became for Dr. King vessels for the Word of God.  That same Spirit lives in you, illumines you.  May the Word of God be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.  May you be able to say, along with Martin Luther King:

I’ve heard the lightning flashing, and heard the thunder roll.
I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, try’n to conquer my soul.
But I’ve heard the voice of Jesus telling me still to fight on.

He promised never to leave me, no, never alone.

Textual Harassment

This week’s sermon from First Presbyterian, Boonville.

The text is Genesis 9:18-28.

One of the scariest things about the Bible is how people can take one small part literally and out-of-context in order to make it say some pretty strange things.  We’re used to this in some ways.  Who hasn’t seen “John 3:16” posted on billboards or bumper stickers around town?  Thank goodness nobody (so far) has put Leviticus 26:29 on their bumper sticker: “You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.”  Personally, that verse alone is enough to make me think twice before eating at any place that calls itself a “family restaurant”!

What would it be like if we took things that literally in our love poetry?

“Oh darling, your face reminds me of the morning sun!”

“Are you calling me a giant ball of gas?!”

It wouldn’t work!

And it doesn’t work with the Bible either.  The Bible is not a magic book filled with easy answers that can never be wrong.  Yet some Christians still seem to treat it as such.

I have a good friend who has struggled with clinical depression for over a decade.  Folks at church would tell her things like, “You should just remember what it says in Nehemiah 8:10: ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”  These folks sincerely meant well, but their words did more harm than good.

My friend responded, “Ordering me around with Bible verses about joy will only make me feel more distant from God than I already do!”

Again, the Bible is not a magic book that’s full of easy and infallible answers.  It’s complicated and often confusing.  The divine Word comes to us in the midst of these human words.  You have to listen for it.  And sometimes, it can be very hard to hear.

Nowhere in the Bible is this truer than in the passage we read this morning from Genesis.  This is the real end of the Noah’s Ark story.  It’s the part they probably didn’t teach you about in Sunday school.  It’s pretty dark and disturbing, isn’t it?  There’s no divine intervention or moral to the story.  All we have is the image of Noah getting blackout drunk, Ham committing an unspeakable act of abuse against his father, and Noah then cursing his grandson Canaan for all time.  This story doesn’t lend itself to simplistic interpretation.

Many biblical scholars see this as a story that was made up in order to explain the origins of a certain international conflict.  In the ancient Middle East, there was an intense rivalry between Israelites and Canaanites.  They were competitors for the same piece of land (not unlike the modern-day conflict between Israelis and Palestinians).  Undoubtedly, young Hebrews would eventually come to the point of asking, “Why do we hate them so much, anyway?”  So the tribal elders produced this story as an answer to that question.  You may have noticed that Noah’s cursed grandson is named “Canaan”, just like the nation that was then in conflict with the Israelites.

Canaan was the son of Ham, who had other sons.  If you look at the list of their descendants in Genesis 10, you’ll see some other familiar names: Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and the Philistines.  All of these (along with the Canaanites) were the ancient enemies of Israel.  And (according to the story) they all had Noah’s son Ham as their common ancestor.  The Israelites, on the other hand, claimed Noah’s other son, Shem, as their ancestor.  By the way, that’s where we get the words “Semitic” and “Anti-Semitic” in reference to Jewish people.  “Semitic” is derived from the name “Shem”.

So, for the purposes of this story, all of Israel’s national enemies are lumped into one convenient ethnic basket.  They can all be traced back to one person: Ham son of Noah.  You can see why the Israelite storytellers then had a vested interest in making this individual out to be as nasty and evil as possible.  So they have him commit this horrible act of violence against a member of his own family (who also happens to be a member of Israel’s family, according to the mythological genealogy in Genesis).

The text tells us that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father”.  This is more than just accidentally walking in on someone in the shower.  It’s a Hebrew euphemism that typically refers to some kind of shameful abuse.  Thankfully, the text spares us the gory details.

Ham, the ancestor of Israel’s enemies, is a perverted deviant while Shem, the ancestor of Israel, is the hero who tries to help his father.  As a result, Noah proclaims, “Cursed be Canaan [son of Ham]” and “Blessed by Yahweh my God be Shem”.  So, an ancient Hebrew reading this story would come away with the notion that “we are the good guys” and “they (our enemies) are the bad guys”.  The purpose of this story is to justify the hatred of one’s enemies.  It paints the ancestor of one’s rival as a monster who was less than human.  This hardly seems consistent with the ethic of love that Jesus taught!

What’s even more disturbing is the way this text was interpreted by Christians for several centuries.  You’re looking at the primary biblical text that was used to justify the institution of slavery until the 19th century.  Early commentators portrayed Ham as the ancestor of African people.  His African descendants, they said, bore the weight of Noah’s curse and were thus doomed to be the “lowest of slaves”.  Christians bought this line of twisted theology for hundreds of years.  Our African brothers and sisters suffered and died under the yoke of slavery because of it.  It wasn’t until the 19th century that Christians in the abolitionist movement came up with a new way to read and interpret the Bible.  Thankfully, many Christians in that day followed this new guiding light from the Holy Spirit.  In fact, some of them lived right here in our own community.  We know from historical records that the Underground Railroad ran right through our little village of Boonville as escaped slaves made their way toward freedom.

You may notice that, while I’ve said a lot about how this passage should not be interpreted, I haven’t said much about how this passage should be interpreted.  I’ll be honest: I’m not going to.  This is a difficult passage that defies easy answers.  If I were to make an attempt at interpreting this passage, it might go something like this:

This is a warning passage.  The hateful rhetoric in the book of Genesis eventually gave rise to brutal genocide of Canaanites in the book of Joshua.  In the same way, the Anti-Semitism of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s eventually gave rise to the Holocaust in the 1940s.  I might ask a question: What words are we using today that might become the basis for atrocities in the future?  But, like I said, I’m not going to give this particular Genesis passage a full treatment in this sermon.  Instead, I’m using it as a springboard to launch us into a discussion about how we understand and use the Bible itself.

If we treat the Bible like a magic book with easy and infallible answers, then we are bound to end up in some strange ideological territory.  This text alone has been used to justify everything from slavery to genocide.  The good news is that this is not the only way to read the Bible.  If we come to the text with open minds and hearts, we can trust that the Holy Spirit can and does still speak to us through these ancient words.  Even though the Bible was used to uphold the institution of slavery, let’s not forget that the abolitionists also drew their inspiration from the same Bible.  They just read it differently!

How can we be sure that we won’t end up reading the Bible in a way that oppresses and dehumanizes our fellow human beings?  What kinds of tools are out there to help us listen for the divine Word as it comes to us in midst of these human words?  There are several.

To name a few, I’m going to pull from a paper published by the Presbyterian Church back in in 1982.  It sets forth some general guidelines for understanding the authority and interpretation of the Bible.  These guidelines are printed on an insert in your bulletin.  I invite you to take it home with you and look it over in greater detail.  In the meantime, let’s read these guidelines out loud together as our Affirmation of Faith this morning:


The United Presbyterian Church in the USA, 1982

Recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture.  The redemptive activity of God is central to the entire Scripture.  The Old Testament themes of the covenant and the messiah testify to this activity.  In the center of the New Testament is Jesus Christ: the Word made flesh, the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope, and the promise of the Kingdom.  It is to Christ that the church witnesses.  When interpreting Scripture, keeping Christ in the center aids in evaluating the significance of the problems and controversies that always persist in the vigorous, historical life of the church.

Let the focus be on the plain text of Scripture, to the grammatical and historical context, rather than to allegory or subjective fantasy.

Depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and applying God’s message.

Be guided by the doctrinal consensus of the church, which is the rule of faith.

Let all interpretations be in accord with the rule of love, the two-fold commandment to love God and to love our neighbor.

Remember that the interpretation of the Bible requires earnest study in order to establish the best text and to interpret the influence and cultural context in which the divine message has come.

Seek to interpret a particular passage of the Bible in light of all the Bible.

My Mind Was Changed

Below, I’ve posted a link to an interview with Rev. Dr. Arlo Duba, a seminary professor whose personal journey in relation to equality for LGBT Christians is remarkably similar to my own.

As a Christian who still considers himself to navigate (mostly) within the bounds of the evangelical and catholic faith, what I appreciate most about Duba is his grounding in biblical fidelity.

I hate the fact that polarization in our churches has led so many to the assumption that the relationship between LGBT equality and the Bible is “either/or”.  Too many on the extreme left dissect and ultimately dismiss the Scriptures as a unique and central source of revelation and enlightenment.  Too many on the extreme right refuse to look at the Scriptures with a new set of eyes.  They will not allow the Scriptures themselves to challenge long-standing theological and cultural assumptions.

If this argument is going to bear any fruit in our churches and in our denominations, it has to be a biblical argument.  If we allow our theological disagreement to deteriorate into a free-for-all over church property, then I believe we have all (on both sides) betrayed the Gospel of Christ and created a bloody spectacle worthy only of the Jerry Springer Show.

Those closest to me know how strongly I support the dual-cause of marriage and ordination equality for LGBT people in my church.  I think the relationship between LGBT equality and the Bible is “both/and”, not “either/or”.  I believe a biblical case can be made for our cause and I hope to call on others, especially my fellow pastors and biblical scholars, to join me in building it.

To those who work with me for LGBT equality in church and society: Let’s bring it back to the Bible, for it is there that we will find what we need to take our stand for the freedom of all God’s children.

To those who disagree with me on this issue: Let’s keep reading the Bible together.  Let’s read it as much as we can with as many different people as possible (including those who are different from or disagree with us).  Let’s let our sisters and brothers challenge our assumptions about the Scriptures.  Let’s let the Scriptures challenge our assumptions about our sisters and brothers.  We might not agree at the end of the day, but at least we will have sought the will of God together.  At least we will have (hopefully) grown in our love for God and our neighbors.  And that’s what God truly wants from all of us.

Wherever you stand, take a look at Arlo Duba’s words, posted at the link below.  There are seeds here that have the potential to grow into authentic and fruitful theological discourse.

Rev. Dr. Arlo Duba


My Mind Was Changed