Tag Archives: bible in public schools

Unleashing the Word: Freeing the Church from Biblical Studies


UN study bible

When I was in undergrad, one of the first courses I took in religious studies was Introduction to the Bible 101. It was taught by a Hebrew Bible scholar who also identified as a second-wave feminist. Throughout the semester, we learned how to examine the Old Testament using the scientific method. While many of my white, more conservative evangelical classmates left the class in unspoken rage because of the questions the professor raised, I began to learn how to read the Bible critically, and even began to question the professors approach at times.

Honestly, in our conversations looking back, I was ill-equipped to interpret Scripture because I did not even know what hermeneutics meant or the differences between genres were. These memories of growth are not what I want to talk about however. I really want to point out a rather perplexing episode that happened in this class. It was around the holiday season when the religious studies faculty made a request. That instead of returning our Oxford Study Bibles (NRSV) to the bookstore for $2 or whatever, to donate them to an organization that was providing Bibles to churches in China. Even back then I had a lot of questions about this project. Why would a faculty so critical of a text turn around and want to send ENGLISH translations of Scripture to a foreign land? Just never made sense to me until………….

I read Stanley Hauerwas’ Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America. The question that I asked of myself nearly now almost a decade ago had found its answer. Hauerwas begins this controversial work with this truth bomb:

“No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. […] North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their ‘common sense’ is sufficient for ‘understanding’ the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead, they assume they have all the ‘religious experience’ necessary to know what the Bible is about.”

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Now, Hauerwas goes on to denounce this approach as a product of liberal democracy and egalitarian values. Yet, that would be a tremendously sloppy description of the United States of America and its perpetuation of racial hierarchies. Even in Hauerwas’ own work, he recognizes that a lot of white Americans have not confronted the reality that they live in a country built on settler colonialism, genocide, and slavery. It is this denial of the truth that keeps white North American Christians from being able to do the real work of Christian peacemaking.  The triplet colonial projects of U.S. American Bible Societies, Biblical studies, and the Bible translation industry are the reigning institutions that have petrified problematic, racist interpretations of scripture in USian Christianity.

A couple of examples include recent blog posts that recycle and pay  homage to the white supremacist doctrine of the Curse of Ham.  Rather than seek to liberate and completely annihilate this oppressive reading of Scripture, emergent Christians and liberals would rather seek to somehow redeem this understanding of the Bible.  These otherwise “enlightened” folks would prefer to save something that is already familiar to them rather than encounter the Stranger at the Margins, the actual people harmed by the traditional reading of these passages.  To keep with the example of the Curse of Ham, this interpretation is seen as normative, so much so it is allowed to be taught in public schools.  This perverse racialized reading of Genesis  that evangelical leaders like John MacArthur promote is NOT worth serving, especially since I have expounded many times how the Curse of Ham (and this weird expansion of it “the Curse of Bable”) is  a product of white slave masters and racist pseudo-scientific catalogues.

The history of Bible Societies has been just as problematic. As my brother pointed out, Bible Societies purpose lied from the time of colonialism ’til now, to make Christianity a monolinguistic, monocultural spirituality that submitted to the British and American empires.  Our doctrines of Scriptures even inerrancy are often the very things we hide our agendas behind.  Now it would be for me to say, well, let’s just abolish all three institutions and get it over with. But really, what should these practices be replaced with. So, I offer the following few practices that churches can start to subvert the Powers of Bible Societies, Translations, and Biblical studies.

1. In worship settings, at academic and church planter conferences, practice a preferential option for the margins.  Invite the homeless and the widows and orphans, and allow them to sit anywhere they want, even if it is at the very front.  Read Scriptures with and do small group studies at prisons, at-risk youth’s homes, and shelters for domestic violence.  I know I had the privilege of working at a Vacation Bible School at one of those shelters, and it makes a difference in de-centering our experiences while simultaneously being present where Christ is, among the least of these.  Some of the best commentaries on the Bible come from persons who have been held in chains.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are just two examples.  It’s a shame that Bonhoeffer’s Letters From Prison is just merely used to provide one quote about God being a Suffering God, and not much else.  I think there lies a biblical  Hermeneutic of Gentile Responsibility that also need s to be examined (and I plan on blogging on that too).

2. Make an attempt to teach every congregant the original languages of Scripture and the Early Church.  When I was a children’s minister, I worked to introduce the kids to some of the Greek alphabet.  That was before I moved on to purchasing and teaching from published, Book-store approved curriculums.  Maybe I did fail by a certain view of success, but just the trying is all that mattered.   W.E.B. DuBois advocated educating black Americans suffering during Jim Crow by teaching them all the classics, and Greek, Latin, and other languages.  Susannah Wesley raised and taught her children like John and Charles to read and interpret in these languages.  Bringing back this mode of education is crucial to de-centering the notion that English as God’s preferred language.

3. Lastly, boycott Christian bookstores, especially Mardel. No, I’m serious.  Churches need to stop relying on their neighborhood Lifeways and Cokesbury’s (are they still even around?) and look to their congregants, where there are people who’ve graduated seminary, teachers, and former professors who are more than able to provide a lifetime of knowledge. Chad even proposed at one time to make his own Bible translation after failing in his search where he compared all English translations. Christian education is about discipleship, spiritual formation in a local congregation. The Bible as a text, needs to be mediated by the Holy Spirit, our encounters with the poor, and an interpretative community that confesses the Lordship of Christ Jesus.

This is my contribution to the Living Liberation blogging event with MennoNerds and The Wild Goose Festival. The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here: wildgoosefestival.org

The #Apocalypse Of the #NRA: God and Guns #NewTown

Today, I would like to take the time to respond to the New Town tragedy. Usually in pop culture when one refers to “the apocalypse,” they are referring to some horrific notion of the end of the world. That’s not really what the term means. The meaning in Greek means a revealing, like the lifting of a veil during a wedding night in the days of old. While I have for a long-time believed that the National Rifle Association just does not value sanity, they proved my theory in the last few weeks of 2012. There, NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre proposed what boils down to a racist form of martial law. Why is it racist? Public schools are segregated de facto by class and race due to the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Racist. Martial. Law. Of course the NRA didn’t suggest that all black men who wore hoodies go arm themselves in self-defense against the George Zimmermans of the world! Arming the good guy is racial code for the white men that we can trust with deadly weapons, simply put.

In the video above, a group of bloggers tried to make sense of all of this, addressing the craziness and irrationality of a number of so-called Christian leaders. As pastor and blogger, Chris Tiedeman put so eloquently, this all boils down to the “cult of the Constitution,” where even good-Bible believing creedal.inerrantists church goers like those folks at the Institute For Religious Democracy must partake.

The NRA has been exposed as powerful lobbying group (duh!) that only wants to PROFIT from this tragedy; more people buying guns means more money in their pockets. The NRA does not speak for all gun owners everywhere, you don’t have to be a fan of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine to see this. The Revelation of the NRA Presser is not that an all powerful God has been “thrown” out of public schools but that a number of false idols have been allowed to overtake them, the god of the cult of the Constitution. Change was built in as a mechanism to our system of government, (amendments + plus elections), but the Worship Cult of the Constitution (mostly conservatives) believe that these words are divinely inspired and eternal (in the name of Originalism!) and in the name of this Originalism [excluding what proto-socialists John Jay and Alexander Hamilton say in the Federalist Papers). The Second Amendment was not about the individual’s right to start private uprisings everywhere, but the state’s right to retain the ability to train militias according to the Federalist Papers.

I suggest this, if not even Originalists (so-called) are going to look to the sources of the 2nd Amendment or the Constitution in general, I think the problem is not with the SECOND AMENDMENT, the problem is the Constitution itself. Look, we can either claim the Constitution and its authors are our own system or, we can follow the example of the Founders and totally eschew the written law of their day (The Articles of Confederation) and adopt a new system of government, perhap a parliament, and a weaker executive while we’re at it. The NRA has disclosed our system as one where the rich and powerful have the politicians in their pockets. The Founders feared the day where factions would reign in this country. I say its time that peaceable people take our country back!

No, the Bible Should Not be taught in Public Schools

There is an interesting, ahem, “conversation”  going on at Unsettled Christianity.

Last year I reported on my Old Kentucky Home and its bi-partisan push for an established state Church. As a faithful Christian, I do really that the Christian canon is a sacred text.  There will try to be some post-modern philosophizers who will want to try to blur the line between the sacred and the secular, but I see that in Scripture, there is a clear difference between the sacred and the profane.

Above all, humanity has the freedom of conscience, the freedom to recognize or not recognize a relationship with God.  This very right is grounded in the notion of the imago Dei for Christians, so when I hear politicians misquoting bible passages to push their agenda, I get suspicious.

In addition, I find the arguments that the Bible can be taught as some “neutral” history text or piece of literature to be nothing but baloney.  Especially when it comes to the SBL’s Bible Literacy Project, which sounds more like a plan to keep the biblical text in the hands of a few elites, mainly scholars and public school teachers. No, the Bible should not be taught as an elective anymore than the Psalms are “poetry”; far from it, the Psalms are not history or poetry, but a pro-YHWH, pro-Monarchy theology meant for worship.  Any analysis that falls short of this in the name of making a “neutral” curriculum is just kidding themselves.

A while back I quoted Sugi on the need of Christians to STOP using the Bible as exclusively a “literary” text since that is a false myth. Suffice to say, I must quote him once more.

“Is a literary approach really an important hermeneutical device or has it become a counterpart of the heritage industry,  an escapist activity which replaces an historical and praxilogical engagement with nostalgia? It may serve as a stimulus not for critical engagement but for luring readers into dreaming for a long lost imaginary idyllic past.”

This “long lost idyllic past” is the drug that keeps the advocates for teaching the Bible in public schools going.

Public official, politicians, and the like do not need to be using scripture to justify their political goals, taking God’s name in vain. Rather, the government, and the powers that be, need to be told that they are NOT God, and it is the mission of the church to remind them of that. Indeed, that is was the vocation of the prophets of Israel, to remind the monarchs of the law, as a reminder that YHWH is the final lawgiver and ruler of all.

If you want children to learn about the Bible, show them to a church with a children’s ministry, full with Sunday Schools and everything.

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