Fides Quaerens Intellectum (Faith Seeking Understanding)

The intersection between politics and religion is a dangerous one. It's fraught with more peril than the one between health, weight, and body image. To put it in a local context, it's worse than the intersection of Red Lion Road and Roosevelt Boulevard (I'm back home for spring break). Countless people and have been killed physically and driven to commit spiritual suicide because of improper division the word of truth and a self-serving application to the physical and political worlds. (Think the Nation of Islam) I don't propose that I have the answers, but I suspect that in attempting to make my behavior more closely align with The Answer (and I ain't talkin' about no AI), then as the song says, I'll understand it better by and by. I have said on countless occasions that I cannot stand political labels. Nevertheless, sometimes, it's important to use them. When I do, I prefer to use the labels that the people themselves use. Like I say when I'm not being mean, it doesn't cost anything extra to be nice. In this discussion, when I am speaking of political opinion, I will use the terms, conservative and progressive. When I am speaking of theological frameworks, I will use the terms fundamentalist, liberal, and liberation. This way, there will be misunderstood usage, so there's no cross-pollination. Hopefully I'll remember while I'm writing. To start, I think most of the trouble stems from the fact that people tend to base their interpretation of the Bible on their political ideology. Being the postmodernist that I am, I know that people bring their previous knowledge and experience into any interrogation of new information. You can't un-know what you already knew before you learn something new. That's just facts, and there's nothing wrong with it. However, for a Christian, since the Bible is inerrant, hypothetically there should be a different standard at play. That is, since the Bible can't be wrong and we can, then if there's any adjustment to be made, it must be on our part. Let God be true and every man a liar. However, I believe that it just doesn't play out like that in the real world. People may mean to let the Bible determine their outlook, or they may do so to a certain extent, but at the end of the day, most times they wind up using the Bible to justify whatever they thought in the first place. For a good example, we'll look at the story of the woman taken in adultery. (John 8:3-11). If you're unfamiliar or don't have a Bible handy, here's the story:
Joh 8:3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, Joh 8:4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Joh 8:5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? Joh 8:6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with [his] finger wrote on the ground, [as though he heard them not]. Joh 8:7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. Joh 8:8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. Joh 8:9 And they which heard [it], being convicted by [their own] conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, [even] unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. Joh 8:10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? Joh 8:11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Now the traditionional fundamentalist reading of this passage stresses Jesus as the forgiver of sin. He alone had the power to forgive her sin and he alone could exercise that power. There is also some discussion of the Pharisees' attempt to entrap Jesus by attempting to juxtapose his judgment to that which would be prescribed by the law and Jesus' move beyond the Mosaic law into a higher form. The liberation theology reading of this passage places emphasis on the fact that Jesus sided with the oppressed against the powerful. Period. Using that interpretation, there is nothing more to add to this story; nothing more to exegete or attempt to explain.. Jesus sides with the powerless against the powerful. Now personally, I don't think that the core group of either school of interpretation gives full credence to the other view. (Liberation theologists are probably more familiar with the fundamentalist view, since liberation theology is almost exclusively an academic phenomenon. Hence, a liberation theologist would necessarily have to be familiar with fundamentalist theology in order to critique it.) There may be some movement on the fringes, but I doubt that it's very prominent. What I know for sure is that in all the lessons I have ever heard taught, or in all of the fundamentalist literature I have read on this passage, there is no mention of Jesus as the liberator of the oppressed. In some cases, I think there might be outright hostility to that reading from the most conservative fundmentalists. The question is, is the liberation reading accurate? I don't know that there is any way that the liberation reading is not accurate. There may be some question as to the application of that concept, but to understand Jesus as the liberator of the oppressed is biblically consistent. See Luke 4:18 with any questions about that. Furthermore, I believe that the job description of the church, as the physical representatives of Jesus today, the body of Christ, is still "… to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…" Now, none of this is to suggest that the fundamentalists don't do the above. In fact, I'm sure that many do. Nevertheless, it generally seems to me that healing the brokenhearted comes as an afterthought. Conservative Christian groups will get on the IB screaming long and loud about what they don't like and who's doing wrong, but when it comes to showing compassion, it gets a little quiet. Again, I'm not questioning whether it happens, but I am saying that there's a great deal of emphasis, too much in my opinion, placed on certain aspects of being a Christian with much less emphasis on others. Specifically, the zealous fervor with which some sins (mainly the ones that pertain to sex) are sought out and prosecuted. Looking back at the example in John, the woman was caught in adultery. She wasn't reputed to have been an adulteress, she was the real deal. They caught her red… uh…well, they caught her. Everybody knew what she had done. Now, Jesus did tell her to go forth and sin no more. The implication there is that the woman repented of the adultery. I point that out because in no way does what I'm about to say suggest that Jesus condoned or tolerated or blinked his eye at anybody's sin. Nevertheless, Jesus did not "come at her neck" for committing adultery. On the contrary, before he said anything to her about her sins, he defended her against the Pharisees. We should make some chewing gum out of that and work it around for a while. Before Jesus addressed the sin of the woman, he challenged the hypocrisy of her accusers. The question for us as Christians, then, is what's our role in this play? Do we act like the scribes and Pharisees, who dragged the woman before Jesus to condemn her? Do we look out on the world, stones in hand, looking to "get" people? Or are we Jesus? Do we forgo the opportunity to judge somebody who is clearly in the wrong, and then offer them the chance to meet Jesus so He can straighten out their lives? Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what I think this means politically. One reason is that the American political system is basically adversarial. Political entities define themselves by what they disagree with as much as (and in some cases, more) they define what they believe. It's all about cash and votes. Making a move like Jesus did in this instance would yield neither. Now in terms of fundamentalist theology, I think that our emphasis on the individual can have somewhat deleterious effects. In Dorothee Solle's Thinking About God, she writes, "From this perspective, the kingdom of God is completely suppressed in favor of the redemption of the individual…it takes no account of the impoverished masses of this earth; the starving appear at most as objects of charity. Otherwise problems of sexual ethics or the ethics of dying are far more important in this theology than social, political, or ecological questions." I will raise my issues with Thinking About God later, but suffice it to say that this is one of the ideas I agree with. It is our theological approach that determines our political approach, not what the Bible itself says. Again, the postmodernist in me says that this is inevitable. The problem is, because the Bible is infallible, most people think their interpretation is infallible too. Therefore, they justify whatever they agree with by quoting some scriptures while explaining away or simply ignoring the rest. Everybody does it, it just changes form according to the political and/or theological ideology of the person in question. For instance, to my fundamentalist women friends, I ask the question: when's the last time you covered your head before you prayed? If you read, you had to have read that part.(1Co. 11:5) Why don't you do it? Because by whatever exegesis the minister you listen to uses, those passages were explained away. Well, those people who believe that there is biblical support for abortion or homosexuality, to name two issues, employ the same strategies, for the same basic reasons; either they think the interpretation is incorrect or they think that those scriptures are intended for a specific audience at a specific time (and that time is not today.) And again, ask yourself: are men and women segregated in your church? Why not? This is not to say that I think that there actually is biblical justification for either abortion or homosexual relations. It is to say that I think that fundamentalist theology can lend itself to some very non-scriptural tendencies and that it would serve us well to interrogate some other modes of understanding the scriptures. The Bible does a lot more than rail against fornication. I'm sure that some of the same ministers who were telling Dr. King to wait (the ones to whom the letter from the Birmingham Jail was written) were preaching against fornication. Fornication is a sin but tolerating (at best) oppression is okay? That's not authentic Christianity. For next time (because I seriously did not plan to go on this long): how the devil you gon' tell me the Bible supports abortion?