Confronting the Royal Ideology of Pastoral Authority, Sharing the Gospel Message According to Judges
On Wednesday, Professor Anthea Butler responded to Bishop Eddie Long’s enthronement. Please read her article, for she gives great insight into the cult of the pastor in the black church. First, as a disclaimer, I don’t want to make this just about New Birth or Eddie Long. It’s significant that a religious community is attempting to reach an unreached people group in the U.S.; Black males, no matter, and that a church sees itself as political. However, what I want to deal with today is something no one really likes to talk about, and that is the royal ideology behind the Black Pulpit (well, really, the American Protestant pulpit). Part of the reason why I am afraid of working for a church is the cult of the pastor, the sectarian veneration of preaching leader of a congregation.
Part of this comes from U.S. American theology’s obsession and too optimistic reception of the Monarchy period in Ancient Israel. We like to talk about David who had a heart for God; David, had a heart for worship. Sure, we acknowledge he was wrong for murdering one of his great soldiers and taking his wife, but David’s greatness as king, his reputation as a worshiper over turns that little blemish. What ends up happening is that churches use this ideological gaze in which we look at David, and turn it on the person at the center of U.S. American Protestant worship services: the pastor.
Challenges to the royal ideology of pastoral authority are rare, even from progressive circles. It is seen as a reality to be dealt with and managed. I have grown to not accept this “reality” as such, for I feel that an adequate challenge to this brand of authoritarianism can be built from one of the strangest and most violent texts in the canon: Judges. From a very young age, for some strange reason, I have always been fascinated with the book of Judges. The stories of Gideon, Ehud (he was left handed, and you know, lefties are the smartest), Deborah, the moron Jepthah, and Samson have a special place in my heart. When I took a Judges class in undergrad, where the mode of interpretation of reader-response was prevalent, I felt a greater appreciation for Judges, especially its politics and history. How do I JUDGE a bible translation? Some scan through Romans, and others the Gospel of John, but for me, it is Judges. It is the reason why I do not like the New Living Translation in part because of its take on Judges 6:12, that YHWH calls Gideon a mighty hero– that places a value on the label of Gideon as a soldier which was not there before. Gideon, my favorite character in the Bible, is the anti-hero who struggles with embracing the royal ideology himself (as we discover by Chapter 9).
Many interpreters choose to read and promotes Judges 1-18, and skip over chapters 19-21 because of the gruesome imagery of male on concubine rape, as well as the degradation of cutting the women’s bodies to shreds as a call to war. I find this trend disturbing. I wait each Sunday to hear a sermon on Judges 19 to no avail. Alas! One example of this type of sugarcoating Judges is from The Global Bible Commentary, by Fidele Ugira Kwasi. Certainly, a liberationist reading of Judges from his Congolese context would help him to battle economic justice. The idea of God displaying divine wrath against social inequality is a fair reading of Judges, but this is the problem with contextual reading that are static. We are not allowed to move to hear other voices.
Walter Brueggemann, in his essay in Struggling With Scripture, entitled “Biblical Authority: A Personal Reflection,” argues that the Bible as the inherent Word of God, “is not a fixed, frozen, readily exhausted read; it is rather a ‘script,’ always reread, through which the Spirit makes new” (page 12). Making interpretations the settled and closed words of humanity demands colonizing churches with the familiar, and making them, in Walter’s words, playgrounds for idolatry. This is exactly the case we have with Black and White U.S. American Christian readings of 1st & 2nd Samuel, as well as 1st & 2nd Kings. Alternative voices appear in the text, they are just silenced. I oppose the idea what others call “the preaching moment” as sacrament for this very reason, that idolatry takes place too often in ecclesial bully pulpits.
In The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa and the African Diaspora, Randall Bailey chose not to avoid those hard texts, the ones in Judges where the bodies of nameless women are violated. Instead, he has provided a reading that makes these nameless marginalized women the center of the text. The focal point of the book of Judges is not therefore, that of
Pastor Bishop So And So charismatic leaders who lead Israel into battle, but the victims, those who suffer the most from Israel’s infidelity to YHWH. Bailey concludes his piece, “Somehow, although the men get the titles and books named for them, it is often the sisters who get the job done. Could this be why you are bitter, Peaches? [from Nina Simone’s ‘Four Women’] Or are you angry because the book does not show God intervening to help any of these women in dealing with the oppression they face or in saving their lives from the excesses and foolishness of the men in their lives? (122)”
Are you laughing at the congregation at New Birth for their enthroning of their Bishop? Are you angry with yourself having once dreamed of being treated like king in front of the whole congregation? Do you taste the bitterness of Jepthah’s daughter or the Levite’s concubine?
- Bishop Eddie Long is crowned ‘king in God’s government’ (VIDEO) (thegrio.com)
- Eddie Long ‘crowning’: Why do black churches often put pastors on a pedestal? (thegrio.com)
- The Shape of Things To Come: Blogging for Black History Month (politicaljesus.com)
- Eddie Long crowned ‘king’: New Birth criticized for ceremony that went viral (thegrio.com)