We must find adequate lenses for Bible study, but this is very, very difficult. Further, it would be a mistake to think that everyone should have the same lens(es). That we think there is one lens for all is mainly because of the reductive ways we approach the task of interpretation in the West. Particularly in the United States. We read the Bible like we’re reading the newspaper–without critique. This causes problems because we should be critical of both the newspaper and of the Bible, reading widely, even with lenses with which we ultimately disagree. This is reading in a spirit of charity, charity being a central Christian virtue.
Our untrained ways of reading the Bible break my heart. Both conservatives and progressives do it.
We lack integrity and don’t acknowledge mystery. We are essentialist, literalist.
Not Just a Conservative Problem
Again, this is of true of both the progressive and the conservative camps. Often we do not read each other’s work sympathetically, which speaks to our rigidity in place of the flexibility that defined Jesus’s life and ministry.
We cherry pick select phrases we hear in passing, interpreting them through the lenses of our own party line. Often, however, these select phrases mean radically different things depending on the community in which they are used.
Just recently I was interacting with a conservative woman who talked about how she was glad that what she called the “affliction of colorblindness” continued to grow in her family. Her kids had friends of every color, she explained. Her dad, in a significant leadership role, had always forbidden discrimination or racism.
In the progressive camps I’m often in, colorblindness might as well mean allegiance to the KKK, though this is of course not the case.
I find white people to be more up-in-arms about the word “colorblind” than people of color. People of color I’m friends with, an I’m not saying this is an exhaustive survey, tend to be more frustrated by the term but open to hearing more. This is just one example.
Love is the Only Law of the Christian faith
Finding adequate lenses for Bible study depends on our definition of what adequacy means. To me, adequacy in the Christian faith requires, at the very least, love. Jesus says that love is the greatest commandment. Lenses that don’t feature love are by definition inadequate.
However, what love looks like is different to different people.
As a progressive, to me love looks like centering minorities and prioritizing marriage equality.
Thoughtful conservatives, I would imagine, might see love as showing kindness to minorities and valuing the contributions of all in the world, including those the gay community. Sort of agreeing to disagree, but valuing the humanity of all and welcoming celibate gay people into community.
Love, to conservatives, might also look like trying to mold gay people to deny themselves. To me this is ignorant and spiritual abuse. But I have met celibate gay conservatives who have conservative Christian values and live by them. It is problematic to assume we know what people should do with who they are. It is rude to assume we know what’s best and insulting to the integrity of conservative gay people.
One thing I really don’t understand is the backlash against the transgender community when it is specifically stated that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Furthermore, eunuchs feature prominently in the New Testament. I imagine it’s because some branches of Christianity value patriarchy highly, harkening back to the traditional texts that encourage women to be second and to not speak in church–with which I disagree.
This brings me back to needing to challenge the Bible. We cannot read the Bible, or the newspaper, without thinking. We will challenge the Bible differently based on our political leanings. Humility is key.