24 July 2006

Too Dumb To Read The Bible?

I discourage people from reading the Bible without a minimum of familiarity with how the texts came to be, the import of the cultures which shaped them, and the issues of transmission . . . without scholarly guidance (not that scholars always agree!), it is easy, too easy, to read our own desires and interpretations into the texts, and to imagine they speak to us in the 21st century when they were composed for a very ancient and different people . . . I doubt that it is often helpful to wage the battle on the field chosen by the opponent.

The text quoted above is excerpted from an email sent to me recently by Dr. Vern Barnet, a local interfaith minister. I had been sharing some of my blog postings with him and encouraging him to give me feedback. He did so, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Some of his feedback was quite useful. Gradually, though, I began to perceive that he wasn't comfortable talking with me about the Bible.

Our final correspondence, which I recall included a request that I never contact him again, makes his discomfort quite clear. I always knew that some people would disapprove of the Scriptural interpretations I post at Christ, The Gay Martyr. However, I never expected to be told that I was too dumb to know how to read the Bible! Here's an excerpt of my response to Dr. Barnet:

I'm not so naïve as to think that, as a Gay man, the Bible will have no effect on my life. It has, it does, and it will continue to have one. For centuries, the Bible has been used to vilify Lesbians and Gay men. Its texts have been twisted to make a very potent weapon against us. However, if we make an effort to understand specific Bible texts, we can nullify the power of those who seek to use them against us. I believe that. The Christ did not teach what Fundamentalists say He taught, and certain Bible verses often don't say what they are purported to say. I am approaching my Bible study as a scholar, using heavily annotated translations. I may not have a Bible college degree, but I can comprehend the meaning of texts as well as if not better than a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell.

Dr. Barnet writes a column for a local Gay periodical. He identifies himself as a friend of the Gay community.  This has led to him being subjected to some very real threats from concerned "Christians." Recently, one of them came to his house in order to assault him. Upon not finding him home, the brute beat up his son instead! So, the good Reverend has been through the mill a few times. He has more than earned the right to advocate for Lesbians and Gay men.

The problem is, he's not very effective at it! Often, he's asked to take part in public debates on issues that involve religious opposition to Gay Rights. When false prophets hurl misinterpreted Scriptural citations at him, such as the infamous verses from Leviticus, he never challenges them directly. His defense of homosexual citizens always comes across as pitifully weak, and the bigots have no trouble making short work of him.

I do appreciate the Reverend's efforts. I believe he's sincere about wanting to diminish the level of religious intolerance. However, you can expect only so much in the way of advocacy from somebody who accepts the most hateful interpretations of Bible scripture! His last message certainly leads me to believe that he does accept them.

The Reverend has the right to believe what he believes. He does not have the right to suggest that I keep silent about what I believe! How often does any fighter get to choose his field of battle? You fight where and when you must. He forgets that the Bible and other Christian texts belong to all believers, not just to those who believe in a certain way. They don't just belong to ancient cultures, either, which is obvious when you look at how much influence they have on the world today.

The Reverend's inference that you have to be a cultural anthropologist to interpret Scripture is elitist, to say the least! Historically, the majority of Christian ministers have not been cultural anthropologists, and most of the current crop of preachers aren't, either. Even if they were, I would never cede them the right to define the Bible! That's the easiest way I know to fall prey to manipulation. For centuries, corrupt theologians have done no less than manipulate their congregations! They've employed hard-to-understand translations of the Bible, like the awful King James Version, in a deliberate campaign to distort Jesus Christ's teachings. As a result, unsuspecting believers have been left largely at the mercy of evil socio-political agendas.

We who call ourselves Christians must stop allowing ourselves to be led like lambs to the slaughter! We must incorporate intellect into our faith. For the record, my source texts come from the Revised Standard Editon of The New Oxford Annotated Bible. It's one of the most widely-used versions by Bible scholars. My source for Gnostic texts are various books edited by Marvin Meyer, a world-renowned Gnostic historian. Rest assured that I do not approach the work I'm doing in a cavalier manner. What's more, I don't ask anyone to accept my interpretations of Scripture. One of my main reasons for sharing this blog is to encourage Lesbians and Gay men to investigate Scripture for themselves.

Don't ever let anybody get away with saying you don't have enough sophistication to understand the Bible! The most widely distributed book on the planet . . . and you're not equipped to absorb its meaning just because you're not a scholar? Or because you're not Straight, and might be inclined to "read things" into the text that aren't there? Preposterous! Homosexual adults are not empty-headed Dumb Doras who can't read religious texts unless heterosexual theologians are there to explain them. How could we possibly interpret them any worse than Fundamentalists have?

Don't let anyone patronize you like that, and please, don't be afraid of the Bible! Pick it up! Pray to God for understanding, and then open it. If something confuses you, consult a diversity of resources and use what you learn from them to achieve enlightenment. As you read, the Lord may send insights that are meant specifically for you. I definitely believe that there are insights in Scripture that homosexual men and women are uniquely qualified to comprehend. Seek, and you will surely find them. With God's guidance, maybe I can help point you in the right direction.