Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Edward Sun
MYTH STATEMENT

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

Mouthfuls of God

Micah Bournes

Micah Bournes is a poet and musician from Long Beach, California. He is most known for his dynamic performance of spoken word poetry. His work often includes vulnerable narratives related to culture, justice, and faith. He has released five studio albums, is the author of "Here Comes This Dreamer", and co-editor of "Fight Evil With Poetry: Anthology Volume One".

0:00
0:00

Fried hard or scrambled with cheese

I used to think sunny side up was a sin

Along with sushi and rare beef

Actual sins

 

Morally wrong

Gateways to cannibalism

Convinced by some  

Old Testament verse about blood 

 

And how Momma prepared

everything with flames of caution

Disgusted by meat still pink with death

Yolk runny with life

 

The way my mother 

does anything

is not a matter of taste

but righteousness

 

I am still learning

to unvirgin my bless-ed Mary

That her opinions are

not infallible scripture 

 

I am still learning

to dismiss the shame I feel when

consuming certain joys

Not every appetite is Eve's rebellion

 

So much of life is holy

Mouthfuls of God

I swallow flesh and blood 

with gratitude

 

I thank the Lord for 

freedom's sweetness

instead of groveling 

for forgiveness.


Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

THE BIBLE AND THE VERB OF GOD

Kat Armas

Kat Armas is a Cuban-American writer and podcaster from Miami, FL who holds a dual MDiv and MAT from Fuller Theological Seminary. She is currently working on her first book, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence and Strength, (forthcoming Summer 2021 with Brazos Press) where she writes at the intersection of women, Scripture, and Cuban identity. She also explores these topics on her podcast, "The Protagonistas", which centers the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color in church leadership and theology. You can check out more of her work at www.katarmas.com.

“In the beginning was the Word
   and the Word was with God
   and the Word was God.”

The first verse of the Gospel of John always gets me. It’s a deeply Christo-centric and beautifully poetic refrain that points to Jesus as with God from the beginning. As Christians, this is a comforting reminder, knowing the words and teachings of Jesus are eternal. When we read the gospels, we are invited into a world in which the socially ostracized join in table fellowship, where women are affirmed as theologians, and where ethnic and religious outsiders are welcomed into the family of God.

While these are true and powerful truths, the Bible hasn’t always been read and taught in a way that points to these realities. In fact, John 1:1 is often stripped of its beauty when “the Word” is replaced with “the Bible”—and the English version of the Protestant Bible at that.

The translation of this verse is particularly interesting to me. Growing up with Spanish as my first language, we didn’t read or understand that verse the way it’s taught in many Protestant, English speaking circles.

The Verb of God

I grew up in an immigrant Roman Catholic community made up primarily of exiled Cubans who made their way to Miami, Florida, in the height of political unrest in the 1970s and 80s. My abuela (grandmother), among the exiled, found solace within the stained-glass walls of St. Dominic’s church when she first arrived. Many in this community bonded over collective loss and grief, and the mental and emotional toll it takes to learn to live in a new country where you’re not always welcomed. Miami has been cited as the “Latin American capital of the U.S.” in recent years, but this wasn’t always the case. Those first few waves of immigrants were met with signs that read “Stop Cuban takeover!” Apartment buildings warned potential tenants: “No dogs, No children, No Cubans.” 

For Abuela and her church friends, faith was a matter of survival. There was no need for curated fellowship time because community was how they got by. Abuela’s front door swung open at all hours of the day as she ran a clothes-making business from home, and cooked regularly for anyone who was hungry and wanted a warm meal and familiar company—which was nearly every night.

When abuela wasn’t sewing clothes, cooking food, or tending to her mango and avocado trees, she was singing in the choir at church. This was the kind of faith I witnessed growing up: a faith that infiltrated every aspect of life, a faith that was embodied, that engaged the senses, the hands, the vocal cords, the dirt.

This is why John 1:1 made sense to me when I first read it in Spanish.

You see, in Spanish, John 1:1 reads: “En el principio ya existía el Verbo,” which literally translates to, “In the beginning already existed the Verb...”

Jesus, the Verb of God. The action of God.

Language is beautiful, but language also carries particular weight as words have power: they shape identity and culture. Growing up, my understanding of faith in Jesus was attached to the word verb.

The Bible is such a powerful tool because it is a book of words—authoritative, sacred words written in languages (Greek and Hebrew) not our own, translated and interpreted so that we may understand and apply its principles timelessly.

Like many other things, however, a lot gets lost in translation.

A “Biblical” Faith?

After transitioning to Protestantism in my early twenties—more particularly, white evangelicalism—and starting seminary, I began to hear and ultimately believe that Abuela’s faith was illegitimate because it didn’t look or sound like the white culture that surrounded me in southern Louisiana.

Abuela’s faith wasn’t lofty; she wasn’t a theologian in the “formal” sense of the word. Like many in my community, she brought with her a “popular” Catholicism from Cuba.

Popular Catholicism is primarily practiced in the home by those who live too far from a church, or don’t have the means or resources to make it regularly. It involves altars and affinities toward the saints, whom many petition for health or any sort of thing that would ensure their survival.

The more time I spent in white theological circles, the more I believed those in power who convinced me that the Christianity Abuela practiced—the one birthed in struggle and survival that looked toward the saints who went before us for inspiration and motivation—was lacking. Essentially, Abuela needed to be converted to a “right” form of Christianity, one that looked not to the lives of the saints within Catholicism, but to those of white European theologians for spiritual insight. To them, her faith wasn’t “biblical.”

Like the English translation of John 1:1, the word “biblical” has been used and misused. In many ways, the Bible itself has been used to justify any and all sorts of abuses and injustices. Whether it’s the justification of slavery or the subjugation of women, people in power have taken rich narratives of Scripture, disconnected them from the context, culture, and audience it spoke from and to, and attached the word “biblical” to it, deeming their own understanding or interpretation of the Bible as the one, true way.

But since the beginning of time, expressions of Christianity and readings of the Bible thereof, have taken different shapes, flowing in and through the different cultures and languages that embrace the message of Jesus. Taking a holistic approach of the Bible and our faith, we believe in the consistent story of God’s love for Creation that begins in Israel, extends to the life of Jesus and then on to the Gentiles.

The Bible Transforms Us

I began to see the Bible differently when I turned my attention to characters like my abuela in Scripture. Story after story told of overlooked and unnamed women, struggling for their survival, who are praised for their faith by Jesus—often in contrast to those in power around them. This can be seen in stories like that of the bleeding woman in Mark 5:25-34 or the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-29, among others. In Mark 5, for example, we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who came to Jesus in a crowd and touched his clothes at the thought that this might heal her. After he felt someone touch him, Jesus asked, “who touched my clothes?” The woman came forward terrified, to which Jesus replied, “your faith has healed you.” This scene stands in stark contrast to one only a chapter before it where Jesus rebukes the disciples for having little faith while in the boat with him during a storm (Mark 4:40).

We find a similar example in the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). Right after the first feeding of the 5,000 in which Mark says “[the disciples] were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves” (Mark 6:51-52), we find the story of a desperate woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus makes a peculiar remark about not taking the children’s food and feeding it to the dogs, to which the Syrophoenician woman responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus commends this woman’s faith and heals her daughter. Read in the context of the feeding narrative, this story tells of a woman who understood what the disciples didn’t: all are welcome at the table and there certainly is enough food to go around.

Jesus turned dominant narratives on their head when he engaged with overlooked peoples in society. In this way, our reading and interpretation of Scripture should charge us to do the same. This requires that we not just look to dominant interpretations of the Bible, but seek to learn from peoples and cultures that have been overlooked in our world. Instead of a simplistic view of life and faith that claims, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” we need to seek to have a robust and nuanced one. We need different cultural traditions and denominations of expressions of Christianity if we want to best understand the full image, kingdom, and Word of God displayed among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We also need this diversity if we want to understand and know Jesus’ actions in the world as the Word made flesh. 

The theology of my abuelita along with my Cuban roots helped me understand that a "biblical" faith isn’t simplistic or detached from the larger narrative of Scripture. Instead, it involves personal and systemic change. The people Jesus encountered weren’t just transformed “in their hearts.” He not only forgave sins, but healed the physically outcast, fed the hungry, and overturned power structures. Jesus called out the religious leaders while empowering and charging women and the socially marginalized as bearers and proclaimers of the Good News of his kingdom. When read through a Christian lens, the Word of God is meant to transform us into the image and likeness of this radical and inclusive Jesus.

While dominant culture may have missed it, I believe that perhaps this understanding of the Bible is what inspired abuela’s embodied, holistic faith in which she lived out with her hands: because she understood Jesus to be the verb, the action of God, one that transformed her reality and the reality of those in her community.

“In the beginning was the Word
   and the Word was with God
   and the Word was God.”

The first verse of the Gospel of John always gets me. It’s a deeply Christo-centric and beautifully poetic refrain that points to Jesus as with God from the beginning. As Christians, this is a comforting reminder, knowing the words and teachings of Jesus are eternal. When we read the gospels, we are invited into a world in which the socially ostracized join in table fellowship, where women are affirmed as theologians, and where ethnic and religious outsiders are welcomed into the family of God.

While these are true and powerful truths, the Bible hasn’t always been read and taught in a way that points to these realities. In fact, John 1:1 is often stripped of its beauty when “the Word” is replaced with “the Bible”—and the English version of the Protestant Bible at that.

The translation of this verse is particularly interesting to me. Growing up with Spanish as my first language, we didn’t read or understand that verse the way it’s taught in many Protestant, English speaking circles.

The Verb of God

I grew up in an immigrant Roman Catholic community made up primarily of exiled Cubans who made their way to Miami, Florida, in the height of political unrest in the 1970s and 80s. My abuela (grandmother), among the exiled, found solace within the stained-glass walls of St. Dominic’s church when she first arrived. Many in this community bonded over collective loss and grief, and the mental and emotional toll it takes to learn to live in a new country where you’re not always welcomed. Miami has been cited as the “Latin American capital of the U.S.” in recent years, but this wasn’t always the case. Those first few waves of immigrants were met with signs that read “Stop Cuban takeover!” Apartment buildings warned potential tenants: “No dogs, No children, No Cubans.” 

For Abuela and her church friends, faith was a matter of survival. There was no need for curated fellowship time because community was how they got by. Abuela’s front door swung open at all hours of the day as she ran a clothes-making business from home, and cooked regularly for anyone who was hungry and wanted a warm meal and familiar company—which was nearly every night.

The Bible is such a powerful tool because it is a book of words—authoritative, sacred words written in languages (Greek and Hebrew) not our own, translated and interpreted so that we may understand and apply its principles timelessly.

When abuela wasn’t sewing clothes, cooking food, or tending to her mango and avocado trees, she was singing in the choir at church. This was the kind of faith I witnessed growing up: a faith that infiltrated every aspect of life, a faith that was embodied, that engaged the senses, the hands, the vocal cords, the dirt.

This is why John 1:1 made sense to me when I first read it in Spanish.

You see, in Spanish, John 1:1 reads: “En el principio ya existía el Verbo,” which literally translates to, “In the beginning already existed the Verb...”

Jesus, the Verb of God. The action of God.

Language is beautiful, but language also carries particular weight as words have power: they shape identity and culture. Growing up, my understanding of faith in Jesus was attached to the word verb.

The Bible is such a powerful tool because it is a book of words—authoritative, sacred words written in languages (Greek and Hebrew) not our own, translated and interpreted so that we may understand and apply its principles timelessly.

Like many other things, however, a lot gets lost in translation.

A “Biblical” Faith?

After transitioning to Protestantism in my early twenties—more particularly, white evangelicalism—and starting seminary, I began to hear and ultimately believe that Abuela’s faith was illegitimate because it didn’t look or sound like the white culture that surrounded me in southern Louisiana.

Abuela’s faith wasn’t lofty; she wasn’t a theologian in the “formal” sense of the word. Like many in my community, she brought with her a “popular” Catholicism from Cuba.

Since the beginning of time, expressions of Christianity and readings of the Bible thereof, have taken different shapes, flowing in and through the different cultures and languages that embrace the message of Jesus.

Popular Catholicism is primarily practiced in the home by those who live too far from a church, or don’t have the means or resources to make it regularly. It involves altars and affinities toward the saints, whom many petition for health or any sort of thing that would ensure their survival.

The more time I spent in white theological circles, the more I believed those in power who convinced me that the Christianity Abuela practiced—the one birthed in struggle and survival that looked toward the saints who went before us for inspiration and motivation—was lacking. Essentially, Abuela needed to be converted to a “right” form of Christianity, one that looked not to the lives of the saints within Catholicism, but to those of white European theologians for spiritual insight. To them, her faith wasn’t “biblical.”

Like the English translation of John 1:1, the word “biblical” has been used and misused. In many ways, the Bible itself has been used to justify any and all sorts of abuses and injustices. Whether it’s the justification of slavery or the subjugation of women, people in power have taken rich narratives of Scripture, disconnected them from the context, culture, and audience it spoke from and to, and attached the word “biblical” to it, deeming their own understanding or interpretation of the Bible as the one, true way.

But since the beginning of time, expressions of Christianity and readings of the Bible thereof, have taken different shapes, flowing in and through the different cultures and languages that embrace the message of Jesus. Taking a holistic approach of the Bible and our faith, we believe in the consistent story of God’s love for Creation that begins in Israel, extends to the life of Jesus and then on to the Gentiles.


The Bible Transforms Us

I began to see the Bible differently when I turned my attention to characters like my abuela in Scripture. Story after story told of overlooked and unnamed women, struggling for their survival, who are praised for their faith by Jesus—often in contrast to those in power around them. This can be seen in stories like that of the bleeding woman in Mark 5:25-34 or the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-29, among others. In Mark 5, for example, we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who came to Jesus in a crowd and touched his clothes at the thought that this might heal her. After he felt someone touch him, Jesus asked, “who touched my clothes?” The woman came forward terrified, to which Jesus replied, “your faith has healed you.” This scene stands in stark contrast to one only a chapter before it where Jesus rebukes the disciples for having little faith while in the boat with him during a storm (Mark 4:40).

We find a similar example in the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). Right after the first feeding of the 5,000 in which Mark says “[the disciples] were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves” (Mark 6:51-52), we find the story of a desperate woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus makes a peculiar remark about not taking the children’s food and feeding it to the dogs, to which the Syrophoenician woman responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus commends this woman’s faith and heals her daughter. Read in the context of the feeding narrative, this story tells of a woman who understood what the disciples didn’t: all are welcome at the table and there certainly is enough food to go around.

We need different cultural traditions and denominations of expressions of Christianity if we want to best understand the full image, kingdom, and Word of God displayed among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

Jesus turned dominant narratives on their head when he engaged with overlooked peoples in society. In this way, our reading and interpretation of Scripture should charge us to do the same. This requires that we not just look to dominant interpretations of the Bible, but seek to learn from peoples and cultures that have been overlooked in our world. Instead of a simplistic view of life and faith that claims, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” we need to seek to have a robust and nuanced one. We need different cultural traditions and denominations of expressions of Christianity if we want to best understand the full image, kingdom, and Word of God displayed among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We also need this diversity if we want to understand and know Jesus’ actions in the world as the Word made flesh. 

The theology of my abuelita along with my Cuban roots helped me understand that a "biblical" faith isn’t simplistic or detached from the larger narrative of Scripture. Instead, it involves personal and systemic change. The people Jesus encountered weren’t just transformed “in their hearts.” He not only forgave sins, but healed the physically outcast, fed the hungry, and overturned power structures. Jesus called out the religious leaders while empowering and charging women and the socially marginalized as bearers and proclaimers of the Good News of his kingdom. When read through a Christian lens, the Word of God is meant to transform us into the image and likeness of this radical and inclusive Jesus.

While dominant culture may have missed it, I believe that perhaps this understanding of the Bible is what inspired abuela’s embodied, holistic faith in which she lived out with her hands: because she understood Jesus to be the verb, the action of God, one that transformed her reality and the reality of those in her community.

The Bible is such a powerful tool because it is a book of words—authoritative, sacred words written in languages (Greek and Hebrew) not our own, translated and interpreted so that we may understand and apply its principles timelessly.
Since the beginning of time, expressions of Christianity and readings of the Bible thereof, have taken different shapes, flowing in and through the different cultures and languages that embrace the message of Jesus.
We need different cultural traditions and denominations of expressions of Christianity if we want to best understand the full image, kingdom, and Word of God displayed among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

“THE BIBLE SAYS IT, I BELIEVE IT, THAT SETTLES IT”? JESUS AND THE MYTH OF PLAIN SENSE

Sameer Yadav

Sameer Yadav (Th.D. Duke, S.T.M, Yale) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is a philosophical theologian who works on the Christian religious experience, the theology of Scripture, and the intersection of race and religion.

Consider the following claim: “Jesus is Lord.” Is it true? Christians certainly ought to think so. It’s something we should not merely claim, but exclaim: “Jesus is Lord!” But now consider the exclamation of an 11th century Crusader in the Rhineland massacres as he cleaves the head of a non-combatant child in a Jewish or Muslim community (i.e., an infidel): “Jesus is Lord!” *chop.* Is what the Crusader says true? Well yes, but his actions betrayed that he did not understand what it means for Jesus to be Lord. The use to which he put these words demonstrates just how exceedingly dangerous such a misunderstanding can be.  

In this respect, the popular phrase “The Bible says it, I believe, that settles it” is a lot like “Jesus is Lord” when uttered by the Crusader. What the slogan attempts to capture is a Christian commitment to Scripture as an authoritative, clear, and sufficient source of Christian faith and practice. For Christians, the authority of the Bible ought to command our humble allegiance, reverence, and obedience as a means of hearing from and responding to God. Nor is God’s revelation to us clouded or obscured, open only to understanding by an elite class of interpreters, but rather a clear source of divine guidance. Moreover, it is not so dim a light to our path that it leaves us unguided or requiring other, brighter sources of light to illuminate our way; rather its radiance is sufficient for us.  

Nevertheless, besides being a kitschy bumper sticker, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” represents a disastrously misguided myth about what biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency actually mean, and it is a misunderstanding every bit as dangerous as the Crusader’s fervent commitment to the Lordship of Jesus. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bitter hermeneutical debates over the Christian scriptural basis for the American system of slavery from the early to mid-nineteenth century.  

Slaveholder Hermeneutics and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture

Beginning with a small minority of white evangelical Quakers along with enslaved and formerly enslaved African converts, abolitionist Christians began challenging the biblical warrant for Christian practices of slaveholding. Their primary interpretive strategies, as Albert J. Harrill helpfully summarizes in “The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy,” were to appeal to what they saw as broad biblical themes of egalitarian love that God shows for all humanity and desires for humans to show to one another, which they took to be encapsulated in the notion of divine image-bearing, God’s liberation of his people from slavery in the Exodus, Jesus’s summary of the Law and Prophets in the love command understood in terms of the Golden rule of treating others as one wishes to be treated, and Paul’s recognition of the anti-hierarchical implications of Christian identity in his Christian Magna Carta, Galatians 3:28, announcing that in Christ there is neither “slave nor free” (Harrill, 150-163).

These themes, they claimed, spell out an overarching framework of divine intention that worked itself out from seeds of egalitarian love to their steady flowering across the testaments. Our own consciences and moral intuition, they claimed, resonated with the outworking of Christian love that demanded mutual equality between all peoples, rather than the subjugation and dominating control of some over others. Slaves identified with Israel’s struggles for freedom from bondage and Jesus’s commitment to take on the “form of a slave” (Phil. 2:6-8) as well as God’s vindication of Jesus and warring to free his people from oppression in Revelation, claiming on these grounds more authentic and vital Christian faith than their white slaveholding masters.  

Still, historians such as Mark Noll have highlighted how comparatively weak abolitionist readings of Scripture appeared in comparison to the pro-slavery readings that appealed the biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency of a “plain sense” interpretation (Noll, 31-50). Biblical authors were themselves inspired theologians, mediating God’s word to us by way of their own backgrounds and intentions, and no plain reading of the teachings of these divinely authorized messengers in their historical context could possibly support an abolitionist interpretation. God frees Israel from slavery, but also clearly sanctions their own slaveholding, showing not merely them, but also us, how to do it properly. Jesus nowhere condemns slavery or seeks the freedom of the slaves he encounters, while Paul gives outright commands for slaves to obey their masters, even dutifully returning a runaway himself. While slavery may well be abolished in heaven, Scripture uniformly permits its responsible use here below. To read Jesus on love and Paul on spiritual equality as implying the abolition of slavery when these texts function in the background of slaveholding societies (whether Israelite or Roman) does violence to the plain reading of the text. To fashion a few passages suited to one’s own moral intuitions into an egalitarian love principle that biblical authors themselves clearly did not apply (and would not have endorsed), and then to force the rest of the Bible to conform to this key is not just an ad hoc complication of a simple and clear unanimous witness of the Bible to the permissibility of slavery. It is a clear denial of the authority of Scripture on one’s own moral authority, a preference for pagan philosophy and morality as a needed supplement to the inadequate and insufficient word of God, and an arrogant insistence that we know better than Scripture and hundreds upon hundreds of years of faithful pro-slavery Christian readings of it. 

Instead of adopting the selective abolitionist hermeneutic, pro-slavery Christians insisted, those passages should be harmonized with the biblical background and its evident toleration of slavery and (male) hierarchical social order more generally. What they clearly commend in their context is not any radical egalitarian love, but rather a patriarchal and hierarchical love between those who rule and those who must obey: do to others as you would have them to do you, given your place in a divinely sanctioned social order. While renowned Princeton theologian Charles Hodge offered the academic defense for this slaveholding hermeneutic, Presbyterian minister James Thornwell offers a stirring display of devotion to it in his 1861 “Southern Address to Christendom.” It is worth quoting at length:  

We have said enough to vindicate the position of the Southern Church. We have assumed no new attitude. We stand exactly where the Church of God has always stood – from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, from Christ to the Reformers, and from the Reformers to ourselves. We stand upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief cornerstone. Shall we be excluded from the fellowship of our brethren in other lands, because we dare not depart from the charter of our faith? Shall we be branded with the stigma of reproach, because we cannot consent to corrupt the Word of God to suit the intuitions of an infidel philosophy? Shall our names be cast out as evil, and the finger of scorn pointed at us, because we utterly refuse to break our communion with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with Moses, David and Isaiah, with Apostles, Prophets and Martyrs, with all the noble army of confessors who have gone to glory from slave-holding countries and from a slave-holding Church, without ever having dreamed that they were living in mortal sin, by conniving at slavery in the midst of them? If so, we shall take consolation in the cheering consciousness that the Master has accepted us. We may be denounced, despised and cast out of the Synagogues of our brethren.

But while they are wrangling about the distinctions of men according to the flesh, we shall go forward in our Divine work, and confidently anticipate that, in the great day, as the consequence of our humble labors, we shall meet millions of glorified spirits, who have come up from the bondage of earth to a nobler freedom that human philosophy ever dreamed of. Others, if they please may spend their time in declaiming on the tyranny of earthly master; it will be our aim to resist the real tyrants which oppress the soul – Sin and Satan. These are the foes against whom we shall find it employment enough to wage a successful war. And to this holy war it is the purpose of our Church to devote itself with redoubled energy. We feel that the souls of our slaves are a solemn trust, and we shall strive to present them faultless and complete before the presence of God (cited in Darius Jankiewicz, “Hermeneutics of Slavery: A “Bible-Alone” Faith and the Problem of Human Enslavement,” 56-57).

This pro-slavery style of strict biblicism seemed far more rigorous than the apparently selective, speculative, and tendentious scriptural basis upon which African-American abolitionists and their allies appeared to adopt. For Christian slaveholders, matters were far simpler: the Bible said it, they believed it, that settled it. It was for that reason that abolitionist stalwart William Lloyd Garrison abandoned the attempt to find a biblical ground for anti-slavery, seeking instead more humanist and common-sense grounds for the abolitionist cause.  

Jesus is the Hermeneutical Key

But this slaveholder hermeneutic for reading Christian Scripture is mythical precisely because its apparent and professed interpretive rigor is a sham. It fails to account for what is most central to a properly Christian conception of scriptural authority, clarity, and sufficiency, which is of course Christ himself. As the Gospel writers present him, and as recent scholarship has repeatedly shown, Jesus was not a radical critic of Jewish faith and practice, but rather himself a deeply invested and observant Jew who was regarded as a teacher of Israel’s scriptures. But when he announced that the coming restoration of Israel and establishment of its Law, the defeat of Gentile enemies, the renewal of Temple worship, and the promised reign of God had all begun to come about in his ministry and among his followers, he was met with great suspicion precisely by those who thought all this a sloppy and selective reading of their shared scriptures.

For example, Jesus’ reading of the Law continued to recognize ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness, but he interpreted these in a way that violated the “plain sense” prescription of separation from unclean people and objects that Scripture prescribed (e.g., Lev. 13:45). It was not an attempt to undermine Scripture, but an attempt to find its plain meaning as rooted in a deeper truth to which it must be subordinated. In this case, as Matthew Thiessen has recently argued, Jesus recognizes that it is the powers of death that generate uncleanness, making it more important to overcome those powers by a healing touch than it is to observe the biblical command to avoid the unclean for fear of one’s own uncleanness. Underneath the surface this apparent contradiction of Lev. 13:45 in fact runs with the grain of the life-giving function of the Law to render the unclean clean, just by another and more fundamental way, that of victory over the powers of death. 

Likewise, while a plain sense of Scripture clearly identifies a desired overthrow of Gentile enemies, Jesus privileges the ultimate ends that the prophets describe in passages such as Isa. 2-1-4 and Isa. 61:1-11: Jewish/Gentile peacemaking, the cessation of war, mutual forgiveness, and shared worship, making these the very means of defeating one’s enemies: defeating them with the very love that God aims to bring about at the end of time. The whole of Israel’s story and divine expectation, he claims, can be understood in these terms, and this conviction leads him to make some apparently strange interpretive moves: identifying himself with the “temple,” or his movement of discipleship as a renewed Israel brought out of exile who embodied some rather creative forms of Torah observance. 

Jesus’s novel way of reading Israel’s scriptures was thus an imaginative reconstruction that explicitly privileged some themes and through-lines of Israel’s scriptures over others, including an identification of the love of God and neighbor as the central interpretive key to his reading of the Law and Prophets. Crucially, though, Jesus’s understanding of Scripture mediated through his love commands and worked out in his ministry did not uphold the established social order but threatened to radically upset it, which is in the end what got him killed. His establishment of God’s reign did not merely “spiritually” center the relatively powerless poor, the morally, politically, and ritually compromised, but empowered them as those for whom and with whom God’s new social order had arrived, a kingdom that portends God’s renewal of all creation. And all this was in accordance with a hermeneutical strategy that generated a lot of fellow-Jewish opposition to his readings. 

Jesus had his own Charles Hodges and James Thornwells. He recognized their brand of scriptural rigorism as a commitment to a form of social order that ultimately benefited them at the expense of those on the receiving end of their biblicism, and he diagnosed their central problem as a kind of moral and spiritual deafness, blindness, and insensitivity, instead appealing “to those who have ears, let them hear.” Not even the disciples consistently had the ears to hear, and their response was to rely on Jesus’s interpretive performances and commands as the key to their understanding of Israel’s scriptures. This is in part why it is that we can find their own appeals to the Old Testament passages as failing the hermeneutical tests that the likes of Hodge imposed on abolitionist readers.  

To follow Christ, his early disciples recognized, is to rely on him not only as Savior, but also as the spoken divine Word through whom and by whom we can come to understand the whole of Scripture, from Israel’s Scriptures that provide a kind of score or sheet music that Jesus uniquely and canonically performs, to the New Testament writers who improvise on that performance. To read the Bible, then, requires not only becoming familiar with its various notes, but to know how they come together to form a composition whose theme is revealed only in and through the good news to the oppressed preached and lived out by Jesus. It was in part precisely because of their subordinate social position that they could look to the Bible and see and hear that it was in the best interest of Christian slaveholders to not see and hear. Their pro-slavery opponents may have been more familiar with a good many biblical notes, but they could not for the life of them find the tune of Jesus and his good news. Whoever has ears, let them hear.  

Consider the following claim: “Jesus is Lord.” Is it true? Christians certainly ought to think so. It’s something we should not merely claim, but exclaim: “Jesus is Lord!” But now consider the exclamation of an 11th century Crusader in the Rhineland massacres as he cleaves the head of a non-combatant child in a Jewish or Muslim community (i.e., an infidel): “Jesus is Lord!” *chop.* Is what the Crusader says true? Well yes, but his actions betrayed that he did not understand what it means for Jesus to be Lord. The use to which he put these words demonstrates just how exceedingly dangerous such a misunderstanding can be.  

In this respect, the popular phrase “The Bible says it, I believe, that settles it” is a lot like “Jesus is Lord” when uttered by the Crusader. What the slogan attempts to capture is a Christian commitment to Scripture as an authoritative, clear, and sufficient source of Christian faith and practice. For Christians, the authority of the Bible ought to command our humble allegiance, reverence, and obedience as a means of hearing from and responding to God. Nor is God’s revelation to us clouded or obscured, open only to understanding by an elite class of interpreters, but rather a clear source of divine guidance. Moreover, it is not so dim a light to our path that it leaves us unguided or requiring other, brighter sources of light to illuminate our way; rather its radiance is sufficient for us.  

Nevertheless, besides being a kitschy bumper sticker, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” represents a disastrously misguided myth about what biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency actually mean, and it is a misunderstanding every bit as dangerous as the Crusader’s fervent commitment to the Lordship of Jesus. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bitter hermeneutical debates over the Christian scriptural basis for the American system of slavery from the early to mid-nineteenth century.  

Slaveholder Hermeneutics and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture

Beginning with a small minority of white evangelical Quakers along with enslaved and formerly enslaved African converts, abolitionist Christians began challenging the biblical warrant for Christian practices of slaveholding. Their primary interpretive strategies, as Albert J. Harrill helpfully summarizes in “The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy,” were to appeal to what they saw as broad biblical themes of egalitarian love that God shows for all humanity and desires for humans to show to one another, which they took to be encapsulated in the notion of divine image-bearing, God’s liberation of his people from slavery in the Exodus, Jesus’s summary of the Law and Prophets in the love command understood in terms of the Golden rule of treating others as one wishes to be treated, and Paul’s recognition of the anti-hierarchical implications of Christian identity in his Christian Magna Carta, Galatians 3:28, announcing that in Christ there is neither “slave nor free” (Harrill, 150-163).

Besides being a kitschy bumper sticker, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” represents a disastrously misguided myth about what biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency actually mean

These themes, they claimed, spell out an overarching framework of divine intention that worked itself out from seeds of egalitarian love to their steady flowering across the testaments. Our own consciences and moral intuition, they claimed, resonated with the outworking of Christian love that demanded mutual equality between all peoples, rather than the subjugation and dominating control of some over others. Slaves identified with Israel’s struggles for freedom from bondage and Jesus’s commitment to take on the “form of a slave” (Phil. 2:6-8) as well as God’s vindication of Jesus and warring to free his people from oppression in Revelation, claiming on these grounds more authentic and vital Christian faith than their white slaveholding masters.  

Still, historians such as Mark Noll have highlighted how comparatively weak abolitionist readings of Scripture appeared in comparison to the pro-slavery readings that appealed the biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency of a “plain sense” interpretation (Noll, 31-50). Biblical authors were themselves inspired theologians, mediating God’s word to us by way of their own backgrounds and intentions, and no plain reading of the teachings of these divinely authorized messengers in their historical context could possibly support an abolitionist interpretation. God frees Israel from slavery, but also clearly sanctions their own slaveholding, showing not merely them, but also us, how to do it properly. Jesus nowhere condemns slavery or seeks the freedom of the slaves he encounters, while Paul gives outright commands for slaves to obey their masters, even dutifully returning a runaway himself. While slavery may well be abolished in heaven, Scripture uniformly permits its responsible use here below. To read Jesus on love and Paul on spiritual equality as implying the abolition of slavery when these texts function in the background of slaveholding societies (whether Israelite or Roman) does violence to the plain reading of the text. To fashion a few passages suited to one’s own moral intuitions into an egalitarian love principle that biblical authors themselves clearly did not apply (and would not have endorsed), and then to force the rest of the Bible to conform to this key is not just an ad hoc complication of a simple and clear unanimous witness of the Bible to the permissibility of slavery. It is a clear denial of the authority of Scripture on one’s own moral authority, a preference for pagan philosophy and morality as a needed supplement to the inadequate and insufficient word of God, and an arrogant insistence that we know better than Scripture and hundreds upon hundreds of years of faithful pro-slavery Christian readings of it. 

Instead of adopting the selective abolitionist hermeneutic, pro-slavery Christians insisted, those passages should be harmonized with the biblical background and its evident toleration of slavery and (male) hierarchical social order more generally. What they clearly commend in their context is not any radical egalitarian love, but rather a patriarchal and hierarchical love between those who rule and those who must obey: do to others as you would have them to do you, given your place in a divinely sanctioned social order. While renowned Princeton theologian Charles Hodge offered the academic defense for this slaveholding hermeneutic, Presbyterian minister James Thornwell offers a stirring display of devotion to it in his 1861 “Southern Address to Christendom.” It is worth quoting at length:  

We have said enough to vindicate the position of the Southern Church. We have assumed no new attitude. We stand exactly where the Church of God has always stood – from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, from Christ to the Reformers, and from the Reformers to ourselves. We stand upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief cornerstone. Shall we be excluded from the fellowship of our brethren in other lands, because we dare not depart from the charter of our faith? Shall we be branded with the stigma of reproach, because we cannot consent to corrupt the Word of God to suit the intuitions of an infidel philosophy? Shall our names be cast out as evil, and the finger of scorn pointed at us, because we utterly refuse to break our communion with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with Moses, David and Isaiah, with Apostles, Prophets and Martyrs, with all the noble army of confessors who have gone to glory from slave-holding countries and from a slave-holding Church, without ever having dreamed that they were living in mortal sin, by conniving at slavery in the midst of them? If so, we shall take consolation in the cheering consciousness that the Master has accepted us. We may be denounced, despised and cast out of the Synagogues of our brethren.

This slaveholder hermeneutic for reading Christian Scripture is mythical precisely because its apparent and professed interpretive rigor is a sham. It fails to account for what is most central to a properly Christian conception of scriptural authority, clarity, and sufficiency, which is of course Christ himself.

But while they are wrangling about the distinctions of men according to the flesh, we shall go forward in our Divine work, and confidently anticipate that, in the great day, as the consequence of our humble labors, we shall meet millions of glorified spirits, who have come up from the bondage of earth to a nobler freedom that human philosophy ever dreamed of. Others, if they please may spend their time in declaiming on the tyranny of earthly master; it will be our aim to resist the real tyrants which oppress the soul – Sin and Satan. These are the foes against whom we shall find it employment enough to wage a successful war. And to this holy war it is the purpose of our Church to devote itself with redoubled energy. We feel that the souls of our slaves are a solemn trust, and we shall strive to present them faultless and complete before the presence of God (cited in Darius Jankiewicz, “Hermeneutics of Slavery: A “Bible-Alone” Faith and the Problem of Human Enslavement,” 56-57).

This pro-slavery style of strict biblicism seemed far more rigorous than the apparently selective, speculative, and tendentious scriptural basis upon which African-American abolitionists and their allies appeared to adopt. For Christian slaveholders, matters were far simpler: the Bible said it, they believed it, that settled it. It was for that reason that abolitionist stalwart William Lloyd Garrison abandoned the attempt to find a biblical ground for anti-slavery, seeking instead more humanist and common-sense grounds for the abolitionist cause.  

Jesus is the Hermeneutical Key

But this slaveholder hermeneutic for reading Christian Scripture is mythical precisely because its apparent and professed interpretive rigor is a sham. It fails to account for what is most central to a properly Christian conception of scriptural authority, clarity, and sufficiency, which is of course Christ himself. As the Gospel writers present him, and as recent scholarship has repeatedly shown, Jesus was not a radical critic of Jewish faith and practice, but rather himself a deeply invested and observant Jew who was regarded as a teacher of Israel’s scriptures. But when he announced that the coming restoration of Israel and establishment of its Law, the defeat of Gentile enemies, the renewal of Temple worship, and the promised reign of God had all begun to come about in his ministry and among his followers, he was met with great suspicion precisely by those who thought all this a sloppy and selective reading of their shared scriptures.

Jesus’s understanding of Scripture mediated through his love commands and worked out in his ministry did not uphold the established social order but threatened to radically upset it

For example, Jesus’ reading of the Law continued to recognize ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness, but he interpreted these in a way that violated the “plain sense” prescription of separation from unclean people and objects that Scripture prescribed (e.g., Lev. 13:45). It was not an attempt to undermine Scripture, but an attempt to find its plain meaning as rooted in a deeper truth to which it must be subordinated. In this case, as Matthew Thiessen has recently argued, Jesus recognizes that it is the powers of death that generate uncleanness, making it more important to overcome those powers by a healing touch than it is to observe the biblical command to avoid the unclean for fear of one’s own uncleanness. Underneath the surface this apparent contradiction of Lev. 13:45 in fact runs with the grain of the life-giving function of the Law to render the unclean clean, just by another and more fundamental way, that of victory over the powers of death. 

Likewise, while a plain sense of Scripture clearly identifies a desired overthrow of Gentile enemies, Jesus privileges the ultimate ends that the prophets describe in passages such as Isa. 2-1-4 and Isa. 61:1-11: Jewish/Gentile peacemaking, the cessation of war, mutual forgiveness, and shared worship, making these the very means of defeating one’s enemies: defeating them with the very love that God aims to bring about at the end of time. The whole of Israel’s story and divine expectation, he claims, can be understood in these terms, and this conviction leads him to make some apparently strange interpretive moves: identifying himself with the “temple,” or his movement of discipleship as a renewed Israel brought out of exile who embodied some rather creative forms of Torah observance. 

Jesus’s novel way of reading Israel’s scriptures was thus an imaginative reconstruction that explicitly privileged some themes and through-lines of Israel’s scriptures over others, including an identification of the love of God and neighbor as the central interpretive key to his reading of the Law and Prophets. Crucially, though, Jesus’s understanding of Scripture mediated through his love commands and worked out in his ministry did not uphold the established social order but threatened to radically upset it, which is in the end what got him killed. His establishment of God’s reign did not merely “spiritually” center the relatively powerless poor, the morally, politically, and ritually compromised, but empowered them as those for whom and with whom God’s new social order had arrived, a kingdom that portends God’s renewal of all creation. And all this was in accordance with a hermeneutical strategy that generated a lot of fellow-Jewish opposition to his readings. 

To read the Bible, then, requires not only becoming familiar with its various notes, but to know how they come together to form a composition whose theme is revealed only in and through the good news to the oppressed preached and lived out by Jesus.

Jesus had his own Charles Hodges and James Thornwells. He recognized their brand of scriptural rigorism as a commitment to a form of social order that ultimately benefited them at the expense of those on the receiving end of their biblicism, and he diagnosed their central problem as a kind of moral and spiritual deafness, blindness, and insensitivity, instead appealing “to those who have ears, let them hear.” Not even the disciples consistently had the ears to hear, and their response was to rely on Jesus’s interpretive performances and commands as the key to their understanding of Israel’s scriptures. This is in part why it is that we can find their own appeals to the Old Testament passages as failing the hermeneutical tests that the likes of Hodge imposed on abolitionist readers.  

To follow Christ, his early disciples recognized, is to rely on him not only as Savior, but also as the spoken divine Word through whom and by whom we can come to understand the whole of Scripture, from Israel’s Scriptures that provide a kind of score or sheet music that Jesus uniquely and canonically performs, to the New Testament writers who improvise on that performance. To read the Bible, then, requires not only becoming familiar with its various notes, but to know how they come together to form a composition whose theme is revealed only in and through the good news to the oppressed preached and lived out by Jesus. It was in part precisely because of their subordinate social position that they could look to the Bible and see and hear that it was in the best interest of Christian slaveholders to not see and hear. Their pro-slavery opponents may have been more familiar with a good many biblical notes, but they could not for the life of them find the tune of Jesus and his good news. Whoever has ears, let them hear.  

Besides being a kitschy bumper sticker, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” represents a disastrously misguided myth about what biblical authority, clarity, and sufficiency actually mean
This slaveholder hermeneutic for reading Christian Scripture is mythical precisely because its apparent and professed interpretive rigor is a sham. It fails to account for what is most central to a properly Christian conception of scriptural authority, clarity, and sufficiency, which is of course Christ himself.
Jesus’s understanding of Scripture mediated through his love commands and worked out in his ministry did not uphold the established social order but threatened to radically upset it
To read the Bible, then, requires not only becoming familiar with its various notes, but to know how they come together to form a composition whose theme is revealed only in and through the good news to the oppressed preached and lived out by Jesus.
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard

Silencing Women who tell the truth

Michelle Ami Reyes

Michelle Reyes (PhD) is the Co-Executive Director of Pax and the Vice President of the Asian American Christian Collaborative. She is also the Scholar-in-Residence at Hope Community Church, a minority-led multicultural church in East Austin, Texas, where her husband, Aaron, serves as lead pastor. Michelle's work on faith and culture has been featured in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Missio Alliance, Faithfully Magazine and more. Her forthcoming book on cross-cultural relationships is called Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures (Zondervan; April 27, 2021). Follow Michelle on Twitter and Instagram.

Tiffany Bluhm

Tiffany Bluhm is the author of Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up (Brazos Press 2021) as well as She Dreams and Never Alone. She is a speaker, writer, and podcast co-host of Why Tho, a show answering the existential and nonsensical questions we ask ourselves, with author and speaker, Ashley Abercrombie. She speaks at conferences and events around the world, and her work has been featured in World Vision Magazine, Pentecostal Evangel, TODAY Parents, YouVersion Bible app, the Hallmark Channel, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and more. She leads an engaged audience of 50,000 followers online and is committed to encouraging people of faith to live lives of conviction, substance, and grace. As a minority, immigrant woman with a interracial family, she is passionate about inviting all to the table of faith, equality, justice, and dignity. Tiffany, her husband Derek, and their two sons, Jericho and Kingston, live in Tacoma, WA.

ABUSE OF POWER FROM PREY TELL

Tiffany Bluhm

Tiffany Bluhm is the author of Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up (Brazos Press 2021) as well as She Dreams and Never Alone. She is a speaker, writer, and podcast co-host of Why Tho, a show answering the existential and nonsensical questions we ask ourselves, with author and speaker, Ashley Abercrombie. She speaks at conferences and events around the world, and her work has been featured in World Vision Magazine, Pentecostal Evangel, TODAY Parents, YouVersion Bible app, the Hallmark Channel, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and more. She leads an engaged audience of 50,000 followers online and is committed to encouraging people of faith to live lives of conviction, substance, and grace. As a minority, immigrant woman with a interracial family, she is passionate about inviting all to the table of faith, equality, justice, and dignity. Tiffany, her husband Derek, and their two sons, Jericho and Kingston, live in Tacoma, WA.

Adapted from Chapter 5, “What Do You Have To Lose?”

In faith communities, those with a story to report concerning a church leader that will inevitably paint the Christian ecclesia in a poor light are often warned not to harm the church at large or speak ill of the Lord’s anointed—a conduit of higher power. Taken out of context and weaponized against whistleblowers, David’s warning to his men, and to himself, not to touch the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:10) is misused by clergy, board members, and churchgoers alike when it provides an air of untouchability and silence where accountability and truth telling are wholeheartedly necessary.

In 1 Samuel, David is publicly at odds with Saul’s choices as anointed leader of the Israelites but does not physically harm him. When presented with the opportunity of a sleeping, vulnerable Saul in a cave, David does not murder his someday-predecessor’s life in hopes of ending his own troubles. How that moment in biblical history has translated to power-hungry pastors that shirk culpability is disheartening to say the least.

Let us not forget that later, in 2 Samuel 11, King David sends his royal aides to bring Bathsheba to him after he has invaded her privacy by voyeuristically watching her bathe herself after her “monthly uncleanliness” from his palace rooftop. Abusing every ounce of his God-given power, he rapes Bathsheba, an innocent woman and wife to another man. Bathsheba finds her body, mind, and soul devoured by David’s thirsty appetite. She is not a vixen who seduces him, but a victim of sexual assault. Diana R. Garland, dean of social work at Baylor University, notes, “Bathsheba was a victim of a man with authority, the leader of his people, abusing his power—something akin to employer sexual harassment or clergy sexual abuse today.” David clearly exploits the power imbalance between himself and Bathsheba.

As the story goes, once King David receives word that Bathsheba is pregnant, he commands Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, to take a leave of absence in hopes that Uriah will lie with his wife and mask David’s consequences. When Uriah does not act as David has hoped, David effectively commits murder by insisting Uriah fight on the front lines. The prophet Nathan confronts David with a story about a man who took advantage of his place and power to steal from the vulnerable. Enraged by the story, David discovers that he is the man who has capitalized on his power, and by God’s grace, Nathan’s bold confrontation ultimately leads to David’s sincere repentance. The God of Israel forgives David, but consequences are still dealt to the guilty king by way of death and destruction.

Second Samuel 12:9–12 outlines a lifetime of consequences for King David:

“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”

This is what the Lord says: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”

The son born to Bathsheba dies because of David’s utter contempt for the Lord (2 Sam. 12:14). Later, his own son Amnon will rape his daughter Tamar, and her brother Absalom will go on to battle him for the seat of king. David is disgraced by those beneath him, he later faces revolt by another one of his offspring, and he has only a slice of the favor he had before he took advantage of his limitless power. David has been caught, and even the Alpha and the Omega isn’t about to bury the hatchet without retribution. David faces dire consequences for his actions, yet stone-in-the-slingshot David, known by his famous moniker “the man after the Lord’s own heart” (see 1 Sam. 13:14), is routinely paraded in con- temporary Christian circles as an example of how sinful a man is, yet God can, and will, still use him. It doesn’t matter if he is a president, preacher, or pastor. Why? Because he’s chosen, but let’s not forget that David, with a heart of humility, repented for what he stole from Bathsheba as the prophet Nathan spoke up to illustrate his sin and how it grieved the heart of Father God.

Rather than call for leaders to recognize and repent of their misconduct, I’ve heard men and women take the stage to pray that no weapon formed against their male headship would prosper and every tongue that rose against them in judgment would be condemned. They professed that this was their leaders’ inheritance in the Lord (Isa. 54:17). In ecclesiastical contexts where abuse of power is reported, this verse is misapplied, along with others, to those charged with caring for the flock. I am wholeheartedly committed to praying for my church leaders, yet “a weapon formed against them” should never be the label we slap on claims of misconduct.

In many cases, if pastors are accused of egregious actions, they remind parishioners to turn the other cheek when attacked (Matt. 5:39) as they humbly demonstrate—although foes have attacked the pastors, they will respond in love and pray for those who persecuted them (Matt. 5:44). Nothing makes a manipulative pastor look better than claiming the moral high ground and forgiving the accused for their bravery while never taking responsibility for their own actions. Whether in the face of false accusations or legitimate accusations, this “godly” response seems to fit the bill. It’s not uncommon to witness ministry leaders use these sanctimonious tactics when accused of misconduct, even quoting Jesus’s words in Luke 23:34 toward their accusers: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (ESV).

The last thing any person wants is for their church community to believe they vilified an abusive man for personal gain, weren’t thankful for his mentorship, or that they are against, in some bizarre way, the advancement of the kingdom, when in reality, they deeply love the church. Such was the case when good men and women spoke out against a Midwest pastor with an outsized influence who labeled his accusers as “colluders” seeking to discredit his ministry with lies. Despite testimonies from credible witnesses that spanned several decades, the pastor maintained his position of innocence against the accusations and placed the spotlight on those looking to vilify his leadership. As much as we’d love to believe that the church might handle misconduct differently than mainstream culture, there is no wrath quite like the wrath of holy men caught in the transgressions they condemn.


Content taken from Prey Tell by Tiffany Bluhm, ©2021. Used by permission of Baker Publishing www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.

Adapted from Chapter 5, “What Do You Have To Lose?”

In faith communities, those with a story to report concerning a church leader that will inevitably paint the Christian ecclesia in a poor light are often warned not to harm the church at large or speak ill of the Lord’s anointed—a conduit of higher power. Taken out of context and weaponized against whistleblowers, David’s warning to his men, and to himself, not to touch the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:10) is misused by clergy, board members, and churchgoers alike when it provides an air of untouchability and silence where accountability and truth telling are wholeheartedly necessary.

In 1 Samuel, David is publicly at odds with Saul’s choices as anointed leader of the Israelites but does not physically harm him. When presented with the opportunity of a sleeping, vulnerable Saul in a cave, David does not murder his someday-predecessor’s life in hopes of ending his own troubles. How that moment in biblical history has translated to power-hungry pastors that shirk culpability is disheartening to say the least.

Let us not forget that later, in 2 Samuel 11, King David sends his royal aides to bring Bathsheba to him after he has invaded her privacy by voyeuristically watching her bathe herself after her “monthly uncleanliness” from his palace rooftop. Abusing every ounce of his God-given power, he rapes Bathsheba, an innocent woman and wife to another man. Bathsheba finds her body, mind, and soul devoured by David’s thirsty appetite. She is not a vixen who seduces him, but a victim of sexual assault. Diana R. Garland, dean of social work at Baylor University, notes, “Bathsheba was a victim of a man with authority, the leader of his people, abusing his power—something akin to employer sexual harassment or clergy sexual abuse today.” David clearly exploits the power imbalance between himself and Bathsheba.

Taken out of context and weaponized against whistleblowers, David’s warning to his men, and to himself, not to touch the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:10) is misused by clergy, board members, and churchgoers alike when it provides an air of untouchability and silence where accountability and truth telling are wholeheartedly necessary.

As the story goes, once King David receives word that Bathsheba is pregnant, he commands Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, to take a leave of absence in hopes that Uriah will lie with his wife and mask David’s consequences. When Uriah does not act as David has hoped, David effectively commits murder by insisting Uriah fight on the front lines. The prophet Nathan confronts David with a story about a man who took advantage of his place and power to steal from the vulnerable. Enraged by the story, David discovers that he is the man who has capitalized on his power, and by God’s grace, Nathan’s bold confrontation ultimately leads to David’s sincere repentance. The God of Israel forgives David, but consequences are still dealt to the guilty king by way of death and destruction.

Second Samuel 12:9–12 outlines a lifetime of consequences for King David:

“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”

This is what the Lord says: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”

The son born to Bathsheba dies because of David’s utter contempt for the Lord (2 Sam. 12:14). Later, his own son Amnon will rape his daughter Tamar, and her brother Absalom will go on to battle him for the seat of king. David is disgraced by those beneath him, he later faces revolt by another one of his offspring, and he has only a slice of the favor he had before he took advantage of his limitless power. David has been caught, and even the Alpha and the Omega isn’t about to bury the hatchet without retribution. David faces dire consequences for his actions, yet stone-in-the-slingshot David, known by his famous moniker “the man after the Lord’s own heart” (see 1 Sam. 13:14), is routinely paraded in con- temporary Christian circles as an example of how sinful a man is, yet God can, and will, still use him. It doesn’t matter if he is a president, preacher, or pastor. Why? Because he’s chosen, but let’s not forget that David, with a heart of humility, repented for what he stole from Bathsheba as the prophet Nathan spoke up to illustrate his sin and how it grieved the heart of Father God.

Rather than call for leaders to recognize and repent of their misconduct, I’ve heard men and women take the stage to pray that no weapon formed against their male headship would prosper and every tongue that rose against them in judgment would be condemned. They professed that this was their leaders’ inheritance in the Lord (Isa. 54:17). In ecclesiastical contexts where abuse of power is reported, this verse is misapplied, along with others, to those charged with caring for the flock. I am wholeheartedly committed to praying for my church leaders, yet “a weapon formed against them” should never be the label we slap on claims of misconduct.

Rather than call for leaders to recognize and repent of their misconduct, I’ve heard men and women take the stage to pray that no weapon formed against their male headship would prosper and every tongue that rose against them in judgment would be condemned.

In many cases, if pastors are accused of egregious actions, they remind parishioners to turn the other cheek when attacked (Matt. 5:39) as they humbly demonstrate—although foes have attacked the pastors, they will respond in love and pray for those who persecuted them (Matt. 5:44). Nothing makes a manipulative pastor look better than claiming the moral high ground and forgiving the accused for their bravery while never taking responsibility for their own actions. Whether in the face of false accusations or legitimate accusations, this “godly” response seems to fit the bill. It’s not uncommon to witness ministry leaders use these sanctimonious tactics when accused of misconduct, even quoting Jesus’s words in Luke 23:34 toward their accusers: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (ESV).

The last thing any person wants is for their church community to believe they vilified an abusive man for personal gain, weren’t thankful for his mentorship, or that they are against, in some bizarre way, the advancement of the kingdom, when in reality, they deeply love the church. Such was the case when good men and women spoke out against a Midwest pastor with an outsized influence who labeled his accusers as “colluders” seeking to discredit his ministry with lies. Despite testimonies from credible witnesses that spanned several decades, the pastor maintained his position of innocence against the accusations and placed the spotlight on those looking to vilify his leadership. As much as we’d love to believe that the church might handle misconduct differently than mainstream culture, there is no wrath quite like the wrath of holy men caught in the transgressions they condemn.


Content taken from Prey Tell by Tiffany Bluhm, ©2021. Used by permission of Baker Publishing www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.

Taken out of context and weaponized against whistleblowers, David’s warning to his men, and to himself, not to touch the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:10) is misused by clergy, board members, and churchgoers alike when it provides an air of untouchability and silence where accountability and truth telling are wholeheartedly necessary.
Rather than call for leaders to recognize and repent of their misconduct, I’ve heard men and women take the stage to pray that no weapon formed against their male headship would prosper and every tongue that rose against them in judgment would be condemned.
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

Almost Love

Micah Bournes

Micah Bournes is a poet and musician from Long Beach, California. He is most known for his dynamic performance of spoken word poetry. His work often includes vulnerable narratives related to culture, justice, and faith. He has released five studio albums, is the author of "Here Comes This Dreamer", and co-editor of "Fight Evil With Poetry: Anthology Volume One".

0:00
0:00

It was not the first time

a white pastor told me

my message was true

but his congregation was not ready

That he nearly lost his pulpit

after letting me speak

That he agrees with every word

but cannot keep pressing

with such urgency

That I must be gentle with hatred

That privilege is addictive

A drug to be weaned off gradually

Four centuries and counting

That half his church left

after hearing good news for the poor

And what good is preaching

if there is no one in the pews

No tithes in the bucket

Surely I must understand how

a man needs to feed his family

How the sacrifice would be too great

How it pains him to even admit this

How it almost feels like a bullet to the chest

Almost feels like a noose to the neck

Almost feels like a nail to the wrist


Almost



Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

Artist Statement with Micah Bournes

Pax Creative Director, Mondo Scott, interviews Poet Micah Bournes about his life, the Bible and what inspired the two poems we featured in this StoryArc.
Micah Bournes

Micah Bournes is a poet and musician from Long Beach, California. He is most known for his dynamic performance of spoken word poetry. His work often includes vulnerable narratives related to culture, justice, and faith. He has released five studio albums, is the author of "Here Comes This Dreamer", and co-editor of "Fight Evil With Poetry: Anthology Volume One".

Mondo Scott

Mondo Scott is the Creative Director at Pax. His other creative side hustles include design, photography and mentoring urban youth in the digital arts at AMP Los Angeles, where he serves on the Board of Directors. He also serves on the Pastoral team at Ecclesia Hollywood in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife Salena and daughter Selah.

0:00
0:00
Link copied
to clipboard
MATERIAL   >
<   MANIFESTO