Sunday, February 18, 2007

Unthinking Bible Study

Foxfaith films is a new production company created by Fox. Its aim is to make inspirational and Christian films. A worthy idea! And yet, I find myself fearing and worrying that they will only contribute to the bad Christian films out there. I don't mean "bad" in the sense of incompetent -- although many Christian movies do kinda make me cringe. What I mean by bad is: films with really bad theology, unquestioned assumptions, non-Biblical stories, and American biases.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?Most Christians will agree with Jeremiah’s statement that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and yet...even so, we often think we know our own hearts.The Word of God states that the Holy Spirit came that the thoughts of many will be revealed.We can often see when the thoughts of our hearts are evil, but when we read the Bible with self-serving interpretations – especially those interpretations which other Christians also falsely believe– that we are being deceitful and falling into Scripture Twisting.

One of the greatest delusions in Christendom occurs in the way we read into Bible stories things that are simply not there. Our human carnal and fleshly mind "sees" what simply isn’t there. Because our denomination, our preachers, our own mindset "understand" these verses in one way, we don’t really read what the Bible says.Throughout the generations, false teaching has built upon false teaching and even now we Christians are allowing those false teachings to veil God’s words from us.

The funny thing is that one really sees how attached people are to these false teachings when one tries to reason them out of their misguided selfish interpretations.

Often if a verse in the Bible conflicts with a reader’s life-style, the reader is faced with four choices.

(A) Believe that the Bible is the True Word of God and agree that the Biblical verse disagrees with her lifestyle but live unaffected by the Biblical prohibition.
(B) Believe that the Bible is the True Word of God and agree that the verse disagrees with her lifestyle and change her lifestyle.
(C) Believe that the Bible is the True Word of God but that the common interpretation of the Biblical verse prohibiting her lifestyle is the wrong interpretation and is being used by rigid judgmental people to make other people feel guilty.
(D) Believe that the Bible is not the Word of God at all but only a collection of sayings by wise but misguided people.

Racism, sexism, denominational doctrine, all contribute to these false "understandings" of Scripture passages:For instance RACISM was responsible – IS STILL RESPONSIBLE– for some mis-interpretations:

I have heard many white Baptist ministers preach against interracial marriage when there is nothing in the Bible against it.

A subtle Anti-Semitism is seen in the Roman Catholic understanding of the Book of the Revelation. In Roman Catholic paintings the woman crowned with twelve stars who escapes into the desert represents the Virgin Mary. It is not. The woman represents Israel. And the Roman Catholic notion that the Roman Catholic church is God's first Church is also wrong because the Christian church first consisted of many home churches made up of Jewish and Gentile believers.

Many preachers preach as if the problems between the Jews and the Arabs came about because Ishmael was born. First let’s begin with the very strange assumption that all Arabs are descended from Ishmael. Before Ishmael’s birth, Syria, Egypt, and countless cultures existed. Did these cultures simply disappear and get swallowed up by Ishmael’s descendants? But one can argue that Abraham had other children (Keturah’s children) and grand-children (Esau and the Edomites) who also turned against the Jews. In fact, Esau’s descendants and Ishmael’s slowly merge and it is perhaps the prophecy of Esau’s enmity against Israel that is the major cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

SEXISM is also responsible for folks reading things into Scripture that just isn’t there. Not only sexism but, I dare say, prurience and male wishfulfillment. The interpretations of many stories would be vastly different if we allowed the influence of women preachers more often. We've already seen One Night With the King. Talk about a movie mired in male fantasy! Male preachers have preached as if the story of Esther is a romantic love story. Why? Because Esther is obedient and beautiful. Many preachers preach about Esther as if she is their true love. When they do this, I can only think they’re in love with her. Often they're as bad as Xerxes who was nothing more than a rich powerful shallow man who wanted an obedient submissive wife he could show off. The Bible tells us that Esther was chosen for "such a time as this." Most people think that God made her beautiful and good in order to catch Xerxes' eye. But a woman preacher would not have forgotten that Esther had lost her parents and had been raised by her Uncle. This is a wounded girl who knew how to keep silent in order to survive. She was not the type to challenge anyone. I have no doubt that, unlike Vashti, Esther would have removed her veil and let all the drunken princes of the kingdom look upon her. A perfect trophy wife whose needs are unmet, she marries a man who sees her once a month if that – and who has other lovely women in his harem to deal with. Esther is doomed to live without her Jewish neighbors, to live without children (a Jewish girl's great dream), to share her husband with other women, and yet Christian preachers have turned her into a fantasy figure, not the tragic living sacrifice that she is.

Sometimes sexism and racism work together to create misreadings. Sometimes they are even joined to a kind of favortism. Consider the way preachers treat Hagar, Delilah, and Job’s wife.Hagar is a married woman who is divorced and sent out into the desert with her small child to die because the first wife says in a very racist manner, "Divorce her! I don’t want this slave woman’s child to be heir with my son." I have yet to hear a sermon which addresses Sarah’s racism. Why not? Because many preachers have a childlike attitude that turns some Bible characters into sacred cows who never do wrong, and scapegoats who are always wrong. In this way, although ministers are against divorce and Hagar is a married woman, they are unable to identify with her and see her only as an uppity slave. (They forget that she is a slave who was probably given to Sarah because of Sarah’s and Abram’s lie to the Pharoah – something that would make me not respect Sarah much either. ) In the Bible Ishmael is shown as being a decent fellow. The one possibly questionable act he does –when he was a little kid, mind you– was teasing baby Isaac. And this word is translated as mocking in The King James Version of the Bible. But in other translations it is translated as playing with. Sarah could have been angry because her son was being teased but she would have been just as angry that her son was playing on an equal footing with a half-brother she considered racially and socially beneath him. But ministers never question this.

What ministers do to Job’s wife is equally obnoxious. Just as they –being men– completely ignore Hagar’s pain, they also ignore the pain of Job’s wife. Because they consider Job a prophet, they consider her comment to him, "Curse God and die" as an insult to a prophet. I often want to say to them, "Wake up and smell the coffee, guys. I know men are always ignoring women, but get real here. The woman has lost all her children in a single day, has lost all her property, and is preparing to see the death of her beloved husband!" Male preachers, show their utter lack of understanding of grief by their insistence on thinking Mrs Job was trying to get rid of her husband. Folks, she lost her children. It is very possible she is talking about both of them committing suicide and just giving up on trusting a God who has destroyed them. Which is understandable. What we are dealing with here are a glimpse of words spoken by extremely stressed grieving parents in an intimate moment of grief. Would we judge a grieving woman because she thinks the God she has trusted in has destroyed her children? Alas, many Christians do! T D Jakes even goes so far as to say that when Job is blessed in the end, God gets rid of Job’s wife and gives him a new wife so he can have new kids. But, where in the Bible does it say that? And truly if God did such a thing, it would show that he was concerned only with caring for a man’s pain and not for a woman’s. But it's clear that TD -- who seems to think he understands women so well (Woman, thou art loosed!" only sees these stories from a man's viewpoint. An unloving man's viewpoint, I might add.

As for Delilah, the carnality of preachers, their concept of "impure races" and "foreigners" and their need to be on the side of the favorite is very evident here. True, Delilah is a betrayer. But why do so many preachers want to see her as a prostitute? And why do they see her as a Philistine? This is all misreading, and second-hand readings. Nowhere does it say Delilah is a prostitute or a Philistine. She could be a simple Israelite country girl, or a simple Philistine farmer’s daughter, who gets caught up in powers greater than she can handle. Actually, her name seems more an Israelite name than a Phillistine one. The preachers often forget that the Philistines were threatening to kill her parents. Hey, if one has a choice between betraying one’s lover or betraying one’s parents, what would one do? But there is such a xenophobic mentality in the Christian church, and such a dislike of the "foreign tainted woman" that we can't help but slip in our own racism and sexism when interpreting this story. As in the case of Job’s wife, we have never experienced Delilah’s situation. And yet we feel free to judge these people.

Lord Jesus, you said, "If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit." Jeremiah tells us our heart is deceitful. Help me to see and read what the Holy Spirit and your prophets have written. I want to live an honest life. Amen.

BTW, at the FoxFaith films website (www.foxfaith.com) you are able to sign up for free tickets to your local theater for fox films. Might as well go and sign up. True, the movies may not be the greatest, but they're the best we have.
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