Tuesday, February 1, 2011


A comment reposted from the Spectrum blog

by Dr. Linda Seger
Author, "Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why the Republicans Don’t Have a Corner on Christ"

Everyone interprets the Bible, even those who believe that they take the Bible literally. Rarely are fundamentalists stoning adulterers and their children, even though Leviticus and the Gospels tell us that’s just what we should be doing. Fundamentalist women cut their hair, wear men’s clothes, work outside the home, and no one seems to be burning oxen in their back yard to atone for anything, even though the Bible seems clear about what we are, and are not, to do. We all have a different lens by which we read the Bible – the difference is, Progressives tend to admit they have a lens through which they view the Bible, whereas Fundamentalists and Conservatives usually don’t believe they see the Bible through anything but the correct, absolute lens. For many, they are right and we are wrong. For Progressives, we believe that only God knows for sure – and anything we interpret may be, but probably is not, 100% accurate.

Many Conservatives and Fundamentalists read the Bible through the lens of their pastor, the view of their favorite authors about the Bible, or through what someone said in their Bible study which they’ve decided to accept as absolutely true. It is not to be questioned. Yet, even Fundamentalists don’t agree. Billy Graham has a different view of the Bible than Bob Jones, which is why he left Bob Jones College and enrolled, instead, in the Florida Bible Institute and then Wheaton College. Both would say they believe in the inerrant truth of the Bible, but both are emphasizing different aspects of what the Bible says, and what it means.

Most Progressive Christians do take the Bible seriously, and some parts even literally, but they look for the consistencies and are less apt to be concerned over ambiguities, unclarities, and seeming contradictions. Whereas a Conservative might spend a great deal of time trying to match up Biblical passages that are seemingly contradictory (i.e., was Jesus really born in a manger in a stable, as Luke tells us, or was he born in a house and laid in a manger beside the house after his birth, as Matthew seems to suggest? Or was he born in the stable, and then moved to the house and to the manger after most of the other visitors to Bethlehem left and some room opened up at an inn? Or did Joseph and Mary have relatives in Bethlehem where they stayed at his birth? Or before his birth? Or during his birth?) The Progressive generally doesn’t care so much about these details – but cares about the many values implicit in this story and what they have to say to our lives today – Light coming into the Darkness, the Word made flesh, the Hope, the possibility of forgiveness, the celebration of new beginnings, a Savior that would, truly, save us from our hurts, our wounds, our sins so that which was torn and broken now can be made whole. And on and on – the many, many, many meanings that can come out of one passage and speak to us, so profoundly.

Perhaps one of the greatest distinctions comes from what, or who, is the true Word of God. For fundamentalists, it’s the Book, the Bible, and they take most of what it says literally. This may come, partly, from their desire for facts, and absolute desire to know everything for sure. They seem to like to do Apologetics more than Progressives – to argue and convince and persuade that Christianity is the One Truth Faith and proof text and choose the Bible verses to show their logic. They are less comfortable with conflict, confrontation, ambiguity, and the mystery.

For the Progressive, the Word of God is Jesus, the Christ, who dwells within as the Holy Spirit, who continues to move, guide, inspire, and fill us. For the Progressive, it is the on-going revelation that continues to work through the Bible, through other spiritual literature, through our lives, and is without limits. We are more interested in the work of the Holy Spirit, then who we can convince and how to memorize all the verses so we can argue better than anyone else. Logic is not what moves us. It can be phrased in many ways, but for many of us it’s the Holy Spirit, the Inward Presence, that which is Transcendent and Immanent, that which pulls us together in spiritual community. We are less concerned about persuading others, than in figuring out how to actualize our faith in action.

We are willing to live in the Mystery, knowing that we won’t know everything in this life, but that we can take, very seriously indeed, that to abide in God means to abide in Love, in Compassion, in Care. Quakers (and I’m one) talk about dwelling in The Light, holding others in The Light, Being in The Light, holding up our concerns and our joys and our sorrows and our uncertainties to The Light. This does not de-emphasize the Bible, but recognizes that we can connect with the Light and the Spirit that inspired the Bible.

Politically, this means that Compassion is more important to us than Being Right and proving that the other people are Wrong – perhaps wrong enough that we need to kill them, get rid of them, or to convert them. It means that Mercy might, in many circumstances, be more important than Justice, especially when Justice has echoes of revenge. (Although we always hope they work together.) It means that we care more for the poor, and the hurt, the broken-hearted and broken-bodied, than being overly concerned with the rich who seem to be doing just fine. Since we know that none of us deserve the blessings and grace that we have, we have less problems with raising taxes – it won’t hurt the rich to give more, and we know that it isn’t simply theirs anyway. We are more aware of the ambiguity of wealth- that much of it is earned at the expense of others, and that there truly is such a thing as privilege. We know that suffering can be alleviated, and that the work of Jesus did much of that. We are less concerned with the End Times, than we are with being Good Stewards of these times. We are more concerned, politically, with Doing Good, than with telling everyone else how good we are – while doing nothing and putting a stop to solving problems. We are more apt to see Christ as the Liberator than as the Sacrificial Lamb whose image might seem a bit too passive to us. And we are more concerned with action that expresses and actualizes the Love of God, than with a belief system that says the right things, but may create division rather than unity, judgment rather than acceptance, and harm rather than resolving the many, many problems that can only be solved socially and politically. We recognize Christ as the Man for all Seasons, and as more than just an individual Savior, but as one who can speak to all aspects of our lives and can inform all of our individual and collective decisions.

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