"The lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as any nomadic subject knows, constitutes who we are." (Judith Butler)

Archive for February, 2011

Who Cares about the Bible? Part 2

I recently posted about my first article in the Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) fall 2010 edition of the “Social Questions Bulletin” (SQB). This is part of a series on what it means to take the Bible seriously in ways that are uplifting and fruitful, especially considering the fact that our public debates often deploy scripture merely as a rhetorical tool to win an argument.

Part 2 is now also available in MFSA’s Spring 2011 SQB. In this essay, I think about the problem of the fact that many sides of issues can be debated by quoting biblical texts. So if you can stand on one side of a debate and quote scripture to make an argument, and I can stand on the other side and also quote scripture to make my case, where does that leave us? What do we do with this reality? If the Bible can’t always be a decisive mediator or, more strongly as some seem to purport it can be, a definitive rulebook, what can be the role of scripture in public religious and social life?

I find John Wesley to be quite helpful on this matter because he takes the Bible quite seriously — considering it the primary source for Christian teaching — without taking it entirely literally. Instead of creating a list of thou shalt nots, Wesley’s reading of the Bible seeks out the promises that God makes that will become evident in our lives through faith. Of central significance is God’s promise of grace for those who believe and love God. Stated in its simplest form (as if that’s really possible), love for God will bring transformative grace into a person’s life, which will translate into love for others. So at the end of the day, we know we’re leading “biblical lives” when our faith manifests “good fruits.”

The consequence of this kind of reading of scripture for communities of faith is that we are compelled not to make make preemptive judgments about what “proper Christianity” looks like (such as when we say that if you are lesbian or gay, you are “obviously” and “inherently” not fit for ministry). Instead, we are called to wait and see what work God might be doing through others to bear good fruit in the world.

Of course, this kind of openness makes things complicated (or maybe not so much?), so more can and should be said… Lucky this is a series! But for now, “Part 2″… (more…)

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General Conference 2012

And so it begins again…

Every four years, up to 1,000 United Methodist delegates from around the world come together for an intense period of worship and work. The quadrennial assembly, General Conference (coming up again in 2012), considers and votes on revisions to the polices of the church, as well as makes resolutions addressing contemporary religious, social, political, economic issues, etc.

Frankly, I love church conferencing… It is exhausting. Participants can be mean spirited. I’m fairly confident that people don’t know what is happening most of the time. It’s really not the church at is best. (To be fair, people can also be great, collaborative, and competent!) But it works for my brain, and I find it all to be exciting (and it’s important because that’s the system we have).

Also, I feel that I have a fairly strong grasp on issues facing the church, being active in the UMC at various levels. Through serving as the legislative chairperson for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (which is a denominational agency charged with monitoring and advocating for the full and equitable participation of women at all levels of the church), I have gained some valuable insight into the legislative processes and the pertinent matters that will come before the General Conference in 2012.

So with a twisted fervor for church conferencing and skills and knowledge I think can be useful, I’ve decided to run to be a lay delegate. This means I’ve submitted a statement to the Iowa Annual Conference, the regional conference of which I’m a member, and we’ll be voting at Annual Conference in June to select seven lay and seven clergy delegates.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the time approaches (and after and for years to come), but for now, I thought I’d share my 250-word nomination statement: (more…)

Who Cares about the Bible?

I’ve begun writing a series of essays for the Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) newsletter, “Social Questions Bulletin,” on how the Bible is used in church debates with an eye toward developing a public hermeneutic (method of interpretation) that is grounded in the life-giving nature of scripture, rather than (solely) in its rhetorical value as an authoritative source for Christians.

The impetus is, well, many circumstances generally but specifically, a vote of the 2010 Iowa Annual Conference (a regional organizational unit of the United Methodist Church). Following Arizona’s passage of its severe anti-immigration law, SB 1070, United Methodists around the country organized to propose Annual Conference resolutions denouncing the xenophobia represented and further incited by the legislation. Perhaps most poignantly, the resolution brought forward in Iowa called for a period of prayer and a spirit of compassion in the midst of fear.

The resolution grounded itself firmly in scripture and the Methodist tradition, beginning with the following:

WHEREAS:  Throughout scripture we see evidence of God’s call to welcome the sojourner,
WHEREAS:  We are called through our baptism to stand against evil, injustice, and oppression…

The footnote to the first statement highlighted the biblical call to care for the stranger and outcast, referencing Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33-34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Zechariah 7:9-10, Matthew 25:35, and Hebrews 13:2.
(Read the full resolution here: Final 2010 Resolution on Immigration for AC Floor (as approved by Legislative Section II) June 2010)

Of course, support for immigrants is generally perceived as a politically “liberal” position, and so the conservatives in the church were ready with a response. I’m assuming they ceded the fact that a majority of people might feel compelled to respond in some way since the Bible speaks so clearly about care for our neighbors (who are, to be sure, everyone). Thus,an alternative was brought forward saying simply that “God calls for love” and that “Christians have differing views on the complex issue of immigration,” so we should pray for comprehensive immigration reform. (The full text can be read here.) Basically, it was a way to say something without saying much at all.

The substituted resolution felt more comfortable (“less divisive”) to people, and it passed. What was most striking to me, though, was that scripture was totally and completely axed from the substitution. What does it mean when we claim at one moment that the Bible constitutes the primary source of Christian teaching and then at another time toss it aside as it challenges us toward places we do not want to go?

Moreover, I am absolutely certain that those who proposed and advocated for the scripture-less substitute resolution are among the same folks who reject the ordination and full participation of LGBT persons, ostensibly on the “literal” basis of scripture. I have long had this cynical suspicion that people don’t actually care what the Bible has to say when engaged in church debate; rather, scripture serves as a convenient rhetorical tool to win an argument since it is afforded such primacy by Christian tradition.

After the astounding rejection of the Bible as a source for thinking about immigration that was displayed at the 2010 Iowa Annual Conference, I say it’s time to stop pretending that we take scripture seriously… and do it (or don’t but at least admit to it)! Certainly, the challenge is how we take the Bible seriously since interpretations will invariably differ (which I don’t think is such a bad thing). As a biblical scholar in training, this issue is an especially crucial one to me, and so I have begun a series of articles for the Iowa MFSA to consider how we might engage in processes of (re)reading the Bible so as to build up the church rather than tear it apart.

My first article was published in the Fall 2010 “Social Questions Bulletin” (but the topic has been on my mind recently, and so the post now), which can be found here, or you can read the text below. The next essay is coming quite soon. (more…)

Introduction

The motivation behind this blog is the fact that writing is a significant part of my life, but it is largely compartmentalized into different spheres of activity.  I write for school, for church, for fun, to make a point, to share a thought… in papers, sermons, correspondences, Facebook posts…  All of this writing and a lot of it related.  Or at least, it should be related.  But it often stands on its own.

Take, for instance, academic and church work.  It is my intention and hope to do research and produce scholarship that contributes to the discipline of biblical studies, while also having relevance for practicing communities of faith.  This is a significant part of my intellectual self understanding.  And certainly, because I am an academic who does church work, influences and interests carry over.

But where can it all come together (in an intentional, hopefully thoughtful way)?  Where is the space to share a sermon and then to indulge some wonkish, though fascinating and meaningful (at least in my opinion!), aspect of a text or artifact from the first centuries CE?  Then to write about current social-political-religious events, only to be followed by an enthusiastic post in support of the Iowa Hawkeyes?  To realize, at the end of the day, that the lines demarcating various aspects of our lives are not most meaningful as boundaries giving definition.  Rather, to discover the deep meaning found in the process of drawing, crossing, redrawing, accepting and transgressing these lines as that which constitutes ourselves.

Ah yes, the obvious space for it all to come together, where anything goes: a blog!  A place to perform this intermingling and interaction of very facets of life, which are sometimes more related than even realized.  And if something I share intrigues another person and motivates conversation or further thinking, excellent!  If not… well… not everything on the internet is valuable.

So who knows what will really happen here?  I suppose there’s a chance of nothing (“the best-laid plans…”).  In any case, right now (and always, really), I am inspired by Judith Butler’s words: “The lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as any nomadic subject knows, constitutes who we are.”  And so here I start a blog that is about and is an act of crossing lines.

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