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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No, I Do Not Accept Your Apology, Dr. Bob Jones reports on a significant apology from one of the most outspoken anti-gay leaders in America.

Thirty-five years ago, Dr. Bob Jones III, grandson of the founder and current chancellor of Bob Jones University, made this statement during a White House protest:
"But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands."
Dr. Jones finally attempted an apology with these words:  
"I take personal ownership for this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached. I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners." 
BJ Unity, a movement in support of LGBTQI people who are harmed by Bob Jones University and other Fundamentalist Christian organizations, accepted his apology with this statement:
"We are grateful that Bob Jones III has taken responsibility for these words; words that have caused deep harm for many more people than any of us knows. This means a lot to us because it represents the beginning of a change in the rhetoric and conversation." asks if its readers accept this apology. I do not and here's why. The entire statement of Dr. Jones is all about Dr. Jones. He regrets these words because they don't represent him, they are in opposition to his theology, he never preached such a sentiment, he wishes they could be erased. Nowhere in his full statement is any forgiveness even asked for. It is a statement of personal regret. 

But here's the main reason for not accepting this "apology." There is not one word in the full statement that addresses the LGBT community or even begins to acknowledge the tremendous harm  begun thirty-five years ago that continues to this day. Not one word. When he finally gets around to the supposed apology, here's what he wrote:
"I apologize for the reflection those remarks bring upon Jesus Christ, Whom I love; Bob Jones University, which I have loved and served; and my own personal testimony."
There you have it. His victims are invisible to him and remain outside his purview. The real people who initially bore the brunt of his remarks and their successors today remain invisible to him. His apology needs to be addressed to the very people he threatened with stoning. Until that happens, I'm sorry, Dr. Jones, I can't accept your feeble effort to redeem your conscience. It's too little, too late; not just for me, but mostly for your victims.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dr. David Alan Black Reviews My Book

I just finished reading Steve Kindle's new book, I'm Right and You're Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it.

"The current landscape of biblical disagreement is literally worldwide," bemoans Steve, adding, "Many of us think our way is superior to most, if not all" (p. 1). He's right of course. I often ask my students this question: "If we have a perfect source [the Bible] and a perfect teacher [the Holy Spirit], then why do we disagree among ourselves so often?" The answer is obvious: It is we who are not perfect. None of us ever thinks perfectly logically, nor is any one of us ever completely filled with the Spirit. As Steve notes, "Reason is never 'pure' reason; it is always a product of how we perceive logic" (p. 17). 

What to do then? The book concludes with many helpful suggestions, a few of which I mention here (my words, not his):

  • Be aware of our own attitudes and presuppositions.
  • Recognize that some disagreement is inevitable.
  • Let humility guide the discussion. Always.
  • Read Scripture in light of its historical context.
  • Let the Holy Spirit be our guide.
  • Be open to change and even correction.
  • Be willing to agree to disagree for the sake of the Gospel.

Steve notes that the goal is "...not to appear scholarly, or erudite, or to win arguments, but to follow Jesus as a faithful disciple" (p. 36). And that is a point, I think, on which all of us can agree. 

[Enegion Publication's] series is called Topical Line Drives. This one hits it out of the park.

Dr. Black is a world-class Greek scholar and author of one of the most popular texts in seminaries.  He teaches at Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  His interest in my book is humbling.  Here's the link to his blog: You'll have to scroll down a ways, or use Ctrl f and search for Steve Kindle.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Check Out My Latest Book--Please!

As of last week, my new book, I'm Right and You're Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it, was published by Energion Publications. Although it isn't specifically about LGBTQI issues, it goes a long way in explaining how people can, and do, differ on major biblical issues. Here's a little of the Introduction:

How many times have you had a conversation with someone that involved a disagreement over the Bible? And how many times have these conversations led to interruptions of friendships or even extended family disputes? Some of these disputes have split congregations. Even the more mild disagreements can leave us perplexed.  Why is it that something so plain to one is so obviously unconvincing to others? This often leads us to search for ways to convince others through honing our interpretive skills, doing elaborate word studies, consulting scholarly commentaries and the like.  In the end, however, people don’t easily change their minds, and we are left to wonder why. 
This book differs from most in that rather than looking at how to interpret the Bible properly, we’ll examine the sources of disagreement among interpreters.  We all have our own ways of trying to understand the Bible and they are close to our hearts.  Many of us think our way is superior to most, if not all.  But we will not venture into who is right and who is wrong in our interpretations.   What concerns us here is why we interpret the way we do and what our attitude should be toward those with whom we disagree.
It's a short book. The average reader will finish it in about two hours. It's part of the Topical Line Drive series. The publisher describes books in this series as "direct and to the point...designed to demonstrate a point of scholarship or survey a topic directly, clearly, and and quickly."

There is now and always has been serious disagreement among Christians. This will likely never change. Disagreement isn't a bad thing; it helps us think through our own positions, and reminds us that no one is capable of getting everything right. The problem with disagreement comes when we are so convinced of our own rightness that we diminish and even disdain all other interpretations. This book is an effort to understand how disagreements can be useful in bringing people together, not tearing them apart. It explains why we disagree, that it's almost impossible for any two people to see things exactly the same, and why humility is our best partner in interpretation.

To see more about the book and how to order, here are a few links:
Energion Publications
Amazon Books
Barns and Noble and Nook

It's available in softcover ($4.99) and in the Kindle Reader format. ($.99)
Let me know what you think.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let's Not Try to Pretty-up the Bible

Although I will comment on timely issues that affect the LGBT community, mostly I flatter myself by contributing what might be called (at least by some) "think pieces." These are efforts to reframe or clarify issues of importance. By providing a different angle or detecting a nuance, we might be able to rethink a formerly held belief or position. At the very least, I hope to generate comments from other thinkers for our mutual benefit. Today's post is a case in point.

Ever since translating the Bible began, from the Septuagint to modern translations, translators have obscured certain passages for a variety of reasons. Euphemisms abound. In the Hebrew Bible, the penis is referred to as "thigh," and of course, we're all familiar with "knew" as the substitute for sexual intercourse. In the New Testament, you'd never know that menstrual rags or castration are meant by "filthy rags"(Isa. 64:6) and "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." (Gal. 5:12)  The NRSV actually says, "castrate themselves."

There has always been a sensitivity by translators to tone down for propriety sake the very earthy parts of the Bible. But when it comes to actually changing the meaning of the texts, I will protest.

Inclusive language, that is, the intentional use of "gender neutral" language, has generally been around since the 1960s. It first showed up in the churches as efforts to take the masculine meaning away from the concept of God. So instead of "God, when he...," for example, we hear "God, when God...," and the like. This is a very important move as we know that 1) God has no gender, and 2) worlds of meaning are created by words. The world created by "God, he..." easily became a world in which the male is elevated over the female. I am all for the use of gender neutral terms for God in all church settings including sermons, liturgies, and conversations. But when it comes to inclusive language in Bible translations, I must object.

Inclusive language efforts try to take the offending aspects of gender and neutralize them. This goes beyond pronouns for God and includes "Parent" for "Father", substituting "members" for "brothers" when the entire congregation is meant, "they" replaces "he or she," and the like.

Certainly this is a wholesome effort, but it actually makes the Bible less understandable and much less useful. How can that be?

Since these efforts generally come out of the more progressive side of the church, the interest goes much farther than merely inclusive language. They recognize that Jesus' message of a God of love often gets lost in the mix of competing images. So they go about "helping" the Bible represent good theology. We'll see how the Inclusive Bible does this in a moment, but first here's 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: (New American Standard Version)
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (NASV)
I chose the NASV here because it is a well-known word-for-word translation to the point of being wooden. Anyone reading these verses would come face to face with biblical patriarchy (the family/state system of male dominance and subjection of women). Patriarchy is a biblical fact that runs "from cover to cover." Occasionally there is pushback such as Galatians 3:28, yet patriarchy is the dominate setting. Elders and deacons must be the husbands of one wife, making women ineligible to hold church offices in the "Pastoral Epistles." When the original 12 disciples had to replace Judas, the qualifications made sure a man was chosen. On and on we could go, but you know all this.

So, in an effort to combat the patriarchy of the Bible,and especially its negativity toward women, the Inclusive Bible takes it head on. Here's their translation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
Only one spouse has permission to speak. The other is to remain silent, to keep in the background out of respect, and to wait his or her turn.
Surely this is the way we wish the Bible really had it, but it isn't. This is not how the original audience heard this text. Paul explicitly demands that women remain silent in church; this says exactly the opposite  Even though the original sense offends many modern sensibilities, it's the real Bible. The Inclusive Bible is merely wishful thinking. Unfortunately, most of the recent translations offend in this regard to one degree or another. The intention is honorable, but the result is devastating to biblical understanding.

Perhaps a couple more illustrations of how some translations obscure troublesome passages would be helpful. Here's Matthew 18:15-17 from the New Revised Standard Version:
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (NRSV)
"Member" here is literally, "brother." "Member" suggests that Matthew's church made no distinctions in disciplining males and females. This is, of course, how many would like for the church to conduct itself in all things. However, "brother" displays the actual situation where men stand in judgment of men. The disciplining of women fell to their fathers, husbands or brothers. But all of this is lost in the cleaned up version.

One more. One of the arguments that literalists make to oppose the Theory of Evolution is that Genesis 1 uses a phrase meaning reproduction is "after their kind," which is correctly translated. They take this to mean that all the species were created at once and that there could be no evolving of one into another. (Which, by the way, segregationist used "after their own kind" to argue that the races shouldn't intermarry.) So the NRSV translates it as "of every kind," which opens the door for natural selection.

We don't want to leave people with the impression that the Bible is not a worthy companion to help us find God and lead worthy lives. But we do want to warn that reading the Bible is not an easy thing, like reading the morning newspaper. We must learn to differentiate between the culturally derived aspects of the Bible that made sense in that day, but no longer makes sense for us. Someone once said that reading the Bible is like eating watermelon: you have to spit out a few seeds along the way.

When Paul said to "greet one another with a holy kiss," it's perfectly fine to give a hug or handshake today, instead. When in their culture women were subordinated, they are now free in ours. We are living into Paul's inclusive vision of Galatians 3:28 that
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 
So, let's not try to pretty-up the Bible.

First, it's always better to deal with reality than what we would prefer reality to be. Sweeping the problems of the Bible under the rug accomplishes nothing. If you think that cleaning up the offending passages will cure literalists from enforcing patriarchy in their churches, think again. There will always be the King James Version.

Second, if we don't know that the Bible encourages patriarchy, tolerates slavery, subordinates women, and generally represents an outdated worldview, scientifically and otherwise, we lose the fact that it is the product of human beings. Yes, human beings who wrestled with what it means to be human in the presence of the Divine, but human nevertheless. That we can stand in judgment over the Bible comes from listening to all of it, warts and all, and learning to pick the wheat from the chaff. It doesn't take much to see that the "inerrant Bible" is a fiction, but not if it's cleaned up before we get there.

Third, the answer to the problem is not rewriting the Bible, it's in doing good theology. Perhaps knowing that even the original didn't always get it right will help us to understand our human attempts are also fraught with error and subject to revision as others look over our shoulders and make our paths straighter.

So let's live with the Bible as its authors intended. We can handle the seeds just fine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What the Bible Really Says: NOTHING

(Okay, I cribbed this from my book. Maybe this will make you want to read more of it. 
Just click on the book's cover on the left of the page and you will find it on Amazon.)

The ultimate recourse for those who want to keep homosexuality on the sins list is, “My Bible says....” The sentence generally ends with “...homosexuals are an abomination,” or, “...gays are going to hell,” or “…God hates gays.” This is intended to be the final word on the matter; the Bible has spoken, the issue is clear, we can move on to other things. How so? Because the Bible has spoken.

The Bible, of course says no such thing and I will prove it to you. Go get your Bible. (Yes, really--go get it.) Now, take it in your hands and bring it up to your eyes. Say to it very clearly, “Bible, tell me, what do you have to say about homosexuality?” If you don't hear anything, repeat your question; maybe louder this time. If there is still no answer, shake it; it may be taking a nap. Still hearing nothing? Well, that's all right, because if you do hear the Bible answering you may be on your way to a psychiatric hospital.

The Bible “says” nothing. It is an inert object, words on paper. It can’t utter a sound. Of course, you knew that all along, yet you may still want to repeat that the Bible says something. What is really going on is that people say the Bible says something; people speak on behalf of  the Bible. The Bible is deaf and mute.

Unfortunately, people too often make what “the Bible says” what they want it to say. You see, there is no such thing as an uninterpreted reading of anything, from the daily newspaper to the Bible. All of us read (or “hear what it says”) though a filter or a lens. No one can read without one. Your filter/lens is everything that you have learned through your culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, get the point...that shapes how you perceive meaning. Every word you read or hear is processed through this filtering system. Everyone reads or hears the same word or words differently. Depending on how far apart our systems are, we can basically understand each other or totally misunderstand. In explaining this to an adult Sunday School class, one member said, “I can think of something we both read that needs no filtering, that is straightforward and immediately understood.” “Okay,” I said. “Let's have it.” He responded, “God is love.” I replied with, “What do you mean by 'God' and what do you mean by 'love'”? He got my point.

When it comes to reading the Bible, we have a two to three thousand year old bridge to cross. We need to be able to “hear” as though we were an immediate member of the culture of those ancients who created those biblical words. This is virtually impossible. The best we can do is approximate this; we will never actually achieve this. And even for those who were contemporaries, they had their own problems. Here's Peter’s comment on Paul's letters: “There are some things in them hard to understand.” (2 Peter 2:16) Indeed.

So the next time you are tempted to tell someone what the Bible says, why not be honest and tell them that you think this is what the Bible, properly interpreted, means. You will have achieved two things. First, you will have admitted that your interpretation is open to opinion (and that it is your opinion), and that you might be, dare I say it...wrong.
for those of you reading this post by email

Steve Kindle

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Biblical Ambiguity Is Our Friend

One of the findings of Bible publishing marketers is that people don’t actually read the Bible. Any pastor can verify that. America is biblically illiterate. Try as they might, their initial attempts to read it are met with elaborate argumentation (Romans), boredom (Leviticus), or the bizarre (Revelation). Some just stick to the tried and true (Psalms, Sermon on the Mount, John 3:16), or simply flip to a random passage and hope for a blessing. Most just give up altogether. But even though they no longer study the Bible, people think they should own one, which is the edge these marketers are exploiting.

Let’s face it, reading the Bible is not easy. It’s not arranged in a way that logically unfolds it meanings. We have to master biblical timelines, grapple with differing genres that require differing modes of interpretation, decipher unfamiliar practices, and try to understand foreign cultures and peoples. Add to this that the King James Version’s Elizabethan English is increasingly foreign territory to modern Americans, but still remains the bestselling Bible. Then there is the nagging problem of ambiguities in the text. We don’t like them.

Have you noticed that most of the translations in the last 25 years focus on “readability”? It’s a given that the Bible is just too complicated to let it remain complicated. So our beneficent translators set about to make the Bible understandable. Today a prospective purchaser has over 30 English translations to choose among.

Then there’s the “value added” Bibles that are marketed to specific demographics to solve their unique problems that the plain Bible can’t seem to provide. Here’s a great example of one directed to men (and it appears, manly men). The publisher writes:

Every Man's Bible: A Bible for Every Battle Every Man Faces
Finally, a Bible that every ordinary guy—from truck drivers to lawyers—can call his own.  This is a guy's type of Bible—straight talk about the challenges of life.  Notes cover everything from work issues to relationships with women to common temptations guys face....Whether on your dashboard or on your desk, you'll want to keep the Every Man's Bible close at hand.  It gives you real answers, real fast.
No demographic goes without its own specific issues resolved. There are study Bibles for teens, women, the addicted, athletes, minorities, college kids, defenders of the faith, Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Liberals, children, and many, many more. All promise "real answers, real fast." Just what the doctor ordered. In this case, is it Dr. Faust?

People who depend on this approach to biblical understanding are exchanging their own search for personal truth for the tidy explanations that someone else delivers in a palatable package. They claim to make sense out of that confusing Bible for you. The end result is that people think they are getting biblical truth when, in fact, they are simply served up someone else's opinion. And they are still not reading the Bible. They are reading the sidebars, tables, charts, and "How to apply this to your life" explanations, but rarely the Bible. It's perfect for Americans who have lost patience with patience.

Biblical ambiguities are our friend. There is no need to explain them away. For when we do so, we lose touch with a necessary aspect of biblical and lived life. Not everything is easy, or immediately available. Often the explanations involved that "clear up" ambiguities are nothing more than veiled attempts to force theological or ideological opinions in the name of "Thus saith the Lord."  I will provide just one example.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is a notoriously difficult passage to translate.
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (NRSV emphasis mine)
In an earlier post I dealt with the anachronism involved with"sodomites," a word not invented until 1000 years after the Corinthian letter was written. Nevertheless, some of the more recent translators are not content to let stand the ambiguity of just what or who these people, male prostitutes and sodomites, are. So this is how they clear it up, from the Common English Version:
Don’t you know that people who are unjust won’t inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, thieves, the greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won’t inherit God’s kingdom. (emphasis mine)
There is a perfectly fine translation alternative to this speculation that now serves as a proof-text against homosexuality. "Male prostitutes and sodomites" can easily be translated "male temple prostitutes and those who use them." The ambiguity inherent in this and other passages forces us to dig deep into the biblical text for our answers. It reminds us that all our findings are of our own making and subject to all the restrictions and restraints humanity must bear. We are finite beings only touching the hem of the garment of absolute truth. To pretend otherwise is to dishonor not only the Bible, but the God who created ambiguity in the first place, to make us searchers after God, not imprisoners of the Divine Truth. Ambiguity is our friend; it keeps us human.

Steve Kindle

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Hope of the World

Nothing is more annoying than a “know-it-all.” I can vouch for the factuality of that statement because I was Exhibit One for many years. Know-it-alls are especially annoying to other know-it-alls. We can’t imagine that any in their right minds would disagree with us. Every now and then I fall back on my know-it-all brain, especially when I’m losing an argument. I then reacquaint myself with how annoying I can be.

Observing Congress over the tenure of the Obama administration makes me wonder if it isn’t a congress of know-it-alls.  An ideologue, which Congress is filled with, is just another name for a know-it-all. These are people who are so sure of themselves they can’t bend a whit, for that would be compromising with what they know not to be the truth. So we have a Congress in national disgrace because they love their point of view, their ideology, more than they love the nation. (Some would even jeopardize the “full faith and credit of the United States” simply because they refuse to admit that some things are more important than a point of view.)

What’s going on in Congress now is a national teach-in on the need for humility. Humility is nothing more than the recognition that I am a finite human being and, as such, cannot know everything, and need others to temper my inadequacies. It is a teachable spirit, a seeker of answers in the midst of vexing questions. Humility in oneself allows us to respect differences with others, even to honor them. For if we lack humility, we lack the capacity to extend grace to our companions along the way. Extending grace is more than merely giving the benefit of a doubt; it is acknowledging our humanity by limiting our own sense of self-importance.

But even now, in a world filled with know-it-alls of all types, there is hope. Shades of gray are replacing simplistic patterns of black and white thinking. The Enlightenment notions of absolutes are giving way to relativity. The screams you hear that “the center will not hold,” come from those who depend on knowing it all and see their assurances fall, one by one. Humility is standing by preparing to replace knowing it all with being at one with all.

In this old world a new sense of itself is emerging. The New Physics is teaching us that all things are connected; that nothing is simply by itself; that everything depends upon everything else. “No man is an island,” and no one is “master of his own fate or the captain of his own soul.” We survive because we are connected and thrive because we recognize that reality. East meets West and rugged individualism is overcome by community. Taking our cue from Gandhi and King, we know that when one suffers, we all suffer, and when one overcomes, we all overcome.

In the religious context, this is working itself out in Interfaith dialogue. Rather than try to convert those of other faiths, we now prefer to understand them. The outcome is that with greater understanding comes a deeper sense of our own faiths and even the recognition that our differences are diminished and our commonalities enhanced. Those who see people of other faiths as objects to convert really don't see human beings. These are reduced to being merely statistics, and in the worst cases, trophies to display.

When people sit down with their gay and lesbian friends or family members, and be with them as people, not stereotypical objects, they discover a common humanity and that any differences that remain are rendered irrelevant. Some even come to celebrate them. But whether we are concerned about religion or sexual orientation, or any other issue, needing to be right will inevitably lead to being wrong.

My sense (call it faith if you will) is that God is orchestrating this Great Transition from me to we. The cosmos is realigning itself against the selfishness of me and mine toward us and ours. When the know-it-alls of the world finally learn that they don’t know the most basic truth of our day, that we need each other, a wholesome prosperity will cover our world, and even Congress will ignore the aisle that once divided a nation. And nation will not rise up against nation, and there will be war no more. This is the hope of the world.