Using the Bible as a Club

            One of the themes of my blogs has been the abuse of the Bible by using it as a weapon rather than a guide.  Many in the LGBTQ community hate any organized religion for being hypocritical and not even following its own principles.  Of course, the church is made up of people who are human and fallible.  We’ve been debating dogma for centuries and have become even more fractured with the passage of time.

      I belong to a small (10 – 12) Bible Study group who has managed to stay together for 12 years.  We started with the Methodist Disciples series and have progressed to selecting studies on our own.  A couple of years ago we used John MacArthur’s studies on Genesis and Exodus that were a challenge because of his fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible.  He believed every word was literally true but conveniently skipped over sections that didn’t fit his theology and even made us some theories that weren’t in the Bible.  He used the Bible to conform to what he believed, even when it became very convoluted at times.

      We’ve recently started on Mark Strauss’s Four Portraits: One Jesus that is a study of the four Gospels.  It includes a 531-page text, a series of videos, and workbook.  He claims to be evangelical but not fundamentalist.  We spent two years on Justo Gonzalez’s 2-volume history of Christianity.  We used a couple of Ben Witherington’s III studies on the New Testament and the epistles of Paul.  I read Peter Gomes The Good Book and Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible even though we didn’t use them in class.  We chose not to try the new Abington Press series Covenant, but another class in our church did.

      I will admit that I’ve retained very little of the details of the studies with my fading memory and the passage of a decade.  I feel like I’ve been through an extended but non-credited seminary.  But I’ve learned that the traditions, myths, cultures, translations, and the variety of languages used in the earliest texts provide many opportunities for different interpretations, even of specific scriptures much less the intent of the entire canon.

      We have learned as much from each other in our group discussions as we have from the texts, and although we have not used any of the original studies of John Wesley we have followed in his tradition.

      I don’t cite any of this to claim to be an expert on the Bible, and I can quote very few passages from memory.  But I will say that I’ve learned a lot about Christianity that I did not know even though I was raised as a preacher’s kid who has attended church and Sunday school my whole life.

      The new Pope has been calling for Christians to work together more amicably rather than focusing on our differences and our perennial quarrels over dogma.  He says we need to stick to the basic messages of Jesus, and I support that view.

      Of course, the confusion only increases when politicians claim that their Christian beliefs support their various biases, bigotries, and manipulative demoguery. In fact, some have tried to co-op religion and use it as a political tool to further divide our nation on social, economic, and political issues.  America was founded on the basis not only on the freedom of religion, but the freedom from a dominant religion.  In the 18th Century most European countries had a state religion that was imposed upon everyone regardless of their beliefs.  They fought hundreds of wars over centuries supposedly based upon religion differences, which in fact were simply struggles for power and dominion.

      The Hebrew Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and the Koran can all be traced back to the concept of monotheism, i.e. a belief in one God.  Civilizations up to and including Rome practiced religions with many Gods and no uniform dogma.  Native American religions still feature many Gods.

      So what is the point of this discussion about religion and the Bible?  Well, for one thing, the preoccupation in public discussion about same-sex marriage has religious proponents on both side of the issue. Jesus spoke frequently of meeting the needs of the poor, yet we still treat them like pariahs.  Before the zealots set the Middle East on fire, Moslems welcomed the stranger with great hospitality.  Can’t we disagree without shooting each other?