a bone to pickPosted: 20/10/2009 | |
with my in-between-y theological views (but does anyone have ideas that are not in between something and another?), i’ve often felt ostracized by one group, and then another. i’ve been told to stop reading the footnotes in a bible study because it will prevent me from gaining access to ‘god’s truth’. and on the other hand, i’ve been judged for not being extreme enough, not being left enough, very much not being prophetic enough. most people tend to fall between the extremes, and it is among we middle-grounders that dialogue and compromise is most prevalent.
because of this, a sojourners article caught my eye on my twitter feed that made me consider the middle ground again: caught between two worlds: progressive and evangelical. the author, aaron taylor, speaks about the ostracism he felt while working with a Christian Peacemaker Team in the west bank of palestine, and at first, i was able to relate with his sense of isolation. the only evangelical of the group, he worked alongside theologically liberal christians for peace, and experienced their questions and probing about why he feels that jesus is the only true way to god. he questions, “I wonder if we’ve gone too far in laboring to share physical bread with the masses that we’ve neglected to share the “Living Bread” with the masses.”
this article made me angry. or, not angry; perhaps just irked is a better word. the concept of prioritizing spiritual aid given to strangers, over the physical aid (even though i’d rather teach people to fish), seems incredibly backwards. similarly, to justify doing this with evidence from an ancient text that has little concept of the world we live in today, makes no sense to me whatsoever. here’s why:
1) the bible is not one unified ancient text, but many. if god speaks through it at all, it would be in cacophony, and not one unified stream of meaning or thought. all of us who place value about the bible pick and choose ideas that we prioritize from this text, because it is impossible to read it “literally.” more appropriately, reading the bible “literally” might mean having to understand the original languages, contexts, audiences, and authors as they relate to the spiritual meanings they are attempting to convey. anything less is reading one’s own self.
2) basing one’s spiritual life on a divine father’s sacrifice of his divine son is, i think, somewhat grotesque and inhumane. this isn’t to say there might not be meaningful tropes within or lessons to be learned from it, but i think to focus on a violent act as something which “saves” all of humanity teaches us that needless violence can engender good.
3) basing one’s spiritual life on the concept that humanity is incapable of good and in need of salvation gives us all the excuse to be less than what we can be, and to expect less good and kinds acts of others. we are not perfect, but neither are we worms writhing in the dust. life is sometimes only chaotic and disordered. to imagine a god as having god’s hand in everything means we must accept god having god’s hand in things that are merciless and terrible. i prefer chaos.
so here is why the article makes me angry, or kind of angry. to take steps towards becoming a “progressive evangelical” means that one is already stepping away from traditional literal interpretations of the bible. to prioritize peace over war ignores the blatant history of the justification of war in the old testament. i am not arguing for war, but i am arguing that for a biblical christian to be a peacenik requires such a person to override the exemplary wrath of god that we find in hosea, exodus, amos. there ARE other examples of justice, peace, humility, and mercy in the old testament, as well. but to be a peacenik does ignore some pieces of scripture, and it is a marked departure from traditional literalism.
the same is true for nearly every topic of contention among christians. we can find scriptures to support both sides of any argument, or we can interpret the same scripture in endlessly different ways. my point is, the progressive evangelical represents a radical departure from what it means to read the bible “literally”.
to depart from traditional literalism takes courage, and i commend progressive evangelicals on that. i know that they are acting out of conscience. but to futz with biblical interpretation as if it is not literal, and then to treat it as some kind of new progressive evangelical literalism, is disingenuous.
traditional literalist evangelicals often say that you cannot pick and choose from biblical texts; they are all the word of god. my bone to pick with the progressive evangelical is that you cannot pick and choose which human rights, which aspect of social justice, and what kind of equity you support.
progressive evangelicals (i realize not all, but for the sake of my argument…) will say that eradicating poverty is cool, but opening up the pronoun of god to the feminine is off limits. fighting AIDS in africa is right but equal rights for queer people is wrong. and giving people bread to eat is wonderful — but only insofar as the same people are also receiving the bread of life. progressive evangelicals are trying to be this new evangelical movement of openness, humility, and working for good in the world, and i really want to get behind them! but when i read an article like this, all i see is a coward using the bible to mask the prejudices he has yet to overcome.