Why am I seeing so many Christians who are struggling with marriage equality NOW? They saw the Supreme Court decision from last Friday coming, didn’t they? If not in 2015, it was coming eventually. Surely this has been an inner unresolved issue for a long time for those who are now outwardly grumbling. And yet, until now, they chose to ignore it like a zit they’ve been told they shouldn’t mess with and in time it will go away on its own.
Maybe the issue of same gender marriage has been ignored because some Christians didn’t take it seriously, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s because it scares the bejeebers out of Christians who look to the Bible as a rule book. The fear is that once you start chipping away at those rules, what’s left?
From their perspective, I suspect they can’t fathom how someone like me, someone who calls herself a Christian, can say the things I do when they so blatantly contradict what the Bible says. I’m not always sure what to do about this because it seems like we’re speaking a different language when it comes to the Bible. They quote Bible verses to convince me of the error in my thinking, and they might as well be speaking Urdu. It’s absolutely meaningless to me. I just don’t read the Bible like that.
What separates us is the way we allow the Bible to inform our lives. For many Christians, quoting the Bible is an effective way to make a point. This is the way it is, they’ll tell me, because it says so right here in the Bible. It’s the bumper sticker approach to Scripture: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Sometimes I wish it were that simple. Instead, for me, it’s more like: “One version of the Bible that is commonly accepted today says it. While trying to find meaning in my life, the Biblical writers are among the sacred voices that inform me. I’m open to some of the Bible’s truths for me as my journey continues to unfold.” It’s not as catchy as, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” And it sure won’t fit onto a bumper sticker.
I could tell you some of the reasons why I’m not a Biblical literalist, but then, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a Biblical literalist. Even those who might be labeled as such are selective about which parts of the Bible they take literally.
What most of us probably would call a Biblical literalist is someone who looks to the Bible for definitive answers.
You don’t have to turn very many pages in your Bible to see that it was never intended to be read that way. It’s evident from the get-go, where we have two versions of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis. If there were one, we would be able to point to it and say, “There, that’s how it happened.” Instead, we have two entirely different stories describing how it happened.
If the Bible were written to give us definitive answers, we also would have one story about Jesus. Instead, we have four. When Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can’t agree about the way the story unfolded, how can we say that the Bible was ever intended to give us definitive answers? Which answers would those be?
I don’t think the Bible is intended to be a rule book. Jesus certainly didn’t use the Scriptures as a rule book. He often turned the law inside out and challenged what once had been accepted as truth. Much the same way, in the early Church, laws that once seemed ironclad were suddenly changed or discarded altogether. (Take the need for male converts to be circumcised, for instance.)
One of the things we can learn from the witness of the Scriptures is that part of what it means to be God’s people is to be open to new ways of understanding how God is working in the world. Maybe God changes, or maybe it’s just our understanding of God that changes, but clearly God is a God of transformation.
When the laws of Scripture are changed within Scripture, how can we think that those laws would suddenly become etched in stone once someone decided the Bible had been completed? Isn’t the Spirit still alive and active in the world today?
For me, the Bible is not a set of instructions that tells me how to live. It’s not prescriptive, but descriptive. It’s a collection of writings from people who have been in relationship with God. They’ve written about their experiences and the meaning they’ve gleaned from those experiences—as people of faith. Because I’m also a person of faith who searches for meaning in my own experiences, I treasure their witness. They enrich me, encourage me and often challenge me. I also feel free to disagree with them.
I think that’s how we were meant to read the Scriptures.
When I sit down with the adult Sunday school class at Holy Trinity, we get into deep discussions about what it means to live out our faith in the world today. We share with one another about how it’s working for us, what meaning we're finding along the way, how we struggle. We don’t always agree, but the Spirit speaks to us in those open discussions. I’m thankful to be a part of a community of faith where that can happen.
In the same way, the authors of the Scriptures are also a part of my faith community, and they speak to me. I may not always agree with what they have to say, but I trust that the Spirit is at work as they inform me along the way. Their witness has stood the test of time. They’ve spoken to millions of Christians throughout the centuries, and that gives them a level of credibility that makes them hard to dismiss. They’re a treasure to me. I can’t imagine how I would negotiate the life of faith without them. I suspect I’d be lost. And yet, the Biblical witnesses don’t tell me how to live.
Does that make me a heretic? I don’t think so. It just means that when I read the Bible I’m not expecting answers. I’m expecting a conversation.
When I began seminary I read the Bible for answers. I didn’t know a lot about it, so I was hungry for those answers. Then I read passages that told me I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing—preparing for ordained ministry. The problem was that I knew beyond a doubt that the Spirit had called me to do this. So, I had to wrestle with how to interpret scripture. My interpretation had been too narrow. It had to expand so that it was big enough to contain what I knew to be true from my experience.
That’s the way we change and grow. When what we have held to be true is challenged and we’re forced to wrestle with a new truth, in one way or another we’re transformed. May this be such a time for Christians who struggle with the SCOTUS decision on June 26.