Progressive Christians need to have the proverbial Come to Jesus Moment about the Bible.
This weekend, the trending hashtag on Twitter was #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, started, I guess, by a Christian feminist as an afterthought as she was boarding a plane. At least it was trending in progressive Christian circles. The gist was that most male churchgoers misinterpret the Bible. The majority of the tweets testified to a daily barrage of discrimination and double standards for women in ministry and beyond. Some examples:
First off, I agree. The Christian feminists are right. Patriarchy and misogyny are indeed rampant in the church. But the people who are pushing those agendas are just following the clear orders of scripture.
The Bible says what it says about women.
Progressives Christians need to come to terms with the very human book they call scripture. It’s not God’s word–well, maybe here and there, but, for the most part, no.
Progressive Christians say all scriptures from Bible that advocate tolerance and equality are indeed inspired, holy writ, and they point to a handful of verses that seem to have a progressive worldview. (For example, they like to point out that Jesus accepted the woman caught in adultery.) But the overwhelming number of verses that say the polar opposite? They either use tortured logic to say those verses have been misinterpreted for thousands of years—or they just try to change the subject.
For example: It sure seems like the Jesus presented in the gospels believed in a literal hell—a place where bad people were sent to be flame-grilled. This makes progressive Christians uncomfortable—their God of Love and Grace would never send a person to hell, would He? So, to alleviate their cognitive dissonance, progressive Christians trot out all sorts of flimsy solutions, prominent among them being that Jesus was “accommodating” his message for the benighted listeners. That is, they weren’t ready for the truth—so Jesus had to “dumb down” his teaching.
Just following orders
Okay, the question I would ask those progressive Christians who say conservative believers have misinterpreted Paul for 2,000 years: How did the people Paul wrote his letters to interpret his teachings? You would think they interpreted him correctly, as they were living in the same culture, where words had common meanings. How did the first-century church (and the ancient Israelites) treat homosexuals? How did the first-century church treat women? Yes, there are a few exceptions that progressive Christians like to trot out—like the fact that Priscilla seemed to be a woman of some influence in the early church. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The Bible was written by men, progressive Christians. Deal with it.
And deal with this—God is not interested in talking to you. He’s not interested in letting you know His opinions on matters. If He was, He would. Does that mean he doesn’t love us? I don’t know. I’m just trying to interpret the actual data we have. That is, the only way God speaks to us is through His creation—what scholars call general revelation to contrast it with burning bushes and prophetic utterances: special revelation. As theologian Michael Dowd says, “Evidence is our scripture.” All truth is God’s truth.
(If you can come up with an explanation of how general revelation tells you that God loves us, more power to you. Just remember, along with the rainbows and waterfalls, you have to account for the carcinogenic sunbeams slanting through your parlor window and for the poison monkeys. To me, it’s a mixed bag. General revelation tells us of a God who is indifferent to us, at best. See Does God Speak Through Scripture? Yes and No.)
Read all the red letters
So what’s my advice for progressive Christians? Keep fighting for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights—but also, be honest about the Bible. Honest about God. And stop making Jesus out to be something he wasn’t. He wasn’t a modern-day progressive Christian. He was an ancient conservative Jew.
Progressive Christians like to call themselves Red-Letter Christians—the meaning being that the teachings of Jesus, printed in red in most Bibles, take precedence for them. That’s fine. But they need to know what they’re really saying. Sure, Jesus said a lot of great stuff in the Bible—about loving you enemies, for example. But he also said a lot of benighted stuff—see above discussion about hell.
My advice to progressive Christians, to the emergent church, is to be done with the Bible. It does more harm than good, if you want my opinion.
That’s probably not going to happen, though. The Bible is just so embedded into our culture. So, I guess, keep pointing to the places in scripture where Jesus is loving and tolerant. But don’t feel like you’re obliged to come up with explanations for the verses where he’s an asshat. (Why did he call the Samaritan woman a dog?) Just say—he was wrong. (Or at least the guy who wrote the gospel was wrong.) Let’s use our brains to judge scripture, keeping the parts that jibe with modern sensibilities and discarding the parts that paint an unacceptable portrait of God—for example, God commanding the ancient Israelites to slaughter the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Those passages aren’t God’s word. They are nationalistic propaganda, meant to justify the status quo, keep people obeying the higher ups.
The Bible says what it says.
Photo: CL Society 367: Runner praying by Francisco Osorlo CC BY 2.0