Confession of Faith in a Queer Perspective: Article 4. Scripture
Reflections by Frank Trnka
Like so much of what we have seen coming from the merged MCUSA, the language of the fourth article of the Confession of Faith seems to serve primarily as reassurance to Mennonites of an evangelical, fundamentalist bent that MCUSA is holding fast to a use of the Bible that leaves them comfortable and unchallenged. Then there are a few vaguely worded phrases that give more progressive members of the church hope that there might be a place for them and their understandings in the merged church. But these are rather slim pickings, and the preponderance of the language upholds the patriarchy, the corporate model of the church, and tradition at the expense of the prophetic voice and justice-seeking at the margins.
Jesus reserved some of his harshest language for the people of his day who valued maintaining the status quo more than loving God and neighbor, the “brood of vipers” in Mt. 23:33. One doesn’t need to look very deeply to see the far-reaching critique Jesus made of the social and political assumptions of power, privilege and “chosen-ness” to know that he was envisioning something far different. The powerful have spent the last 2,000+ years trying to downplay the implications of his message with suitable distractions to keep the focus off the core critique of power and privilege.
One does not need to spend much time traveling in a culturally different place where one’s first language is not the predominant language, or trying to learn another language oneself, to realize that ways of looking at the world are different in that culture and language. Some things are similar and some things are quite different, and one’s presuppositions about how the world works need to be re-examined. I’m reminded of the outrage when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was newly proposed: “If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!”
How do we understand the Bible in it’s own languages – what did the Bible really say? The Greek and Hebrew dictionaries and grammar books have been written almost exclusively by European men. Add on the many attempts at translation and clarity is even harder to come by.
When the unthinking reading suits our purposes – people are tempted to keep that; when we are confronted by our greed and bigotry – people find a crafty way to weasel out of the obvious reading. If Tea Party Republicans can consider themselves good, faithful Christians, the Bible can be made to support almost anything, as it has in the past with slavery, or currently in attempts to remove medical coverage for poor children or close our borders to needy immigrants.
We bring our expectations to the texts – we assume Jesus was not married, did not have children, was asexual. How do we know? There are many references to “the disciple Jesus loved” and he traveled with a close-knit group of men. If a traveling evangelist in our day did this, people would wonder – why not about Jesus? Is it possible that visiting a temple prostitute or having a sexual relationship with your young slave, while you also had your official property-transferring marriage might in some way be different than what we understand to be committed queer relationships today?
On balance, how can so many biblical texts about welcoming the stranger and taking care of the poor and the evils of wealth, gluttony and greed be overlooked as not applicable, while at the same time obsessively focusing on a few verses taken out of their context and historical meaning and used simple-mindedly to condemn the experiences of queer people created and loved by God?
We currently have a culture that glorifies ignorance. Simply pointing one’s finger forcefully at a particular Bible verse does not make your understanding of it any truer or deeper. There is a place for study and scholarship and people who have devoted time to trying to understand the Biblical story in the contexts of the cultures in which they happened. When one hears someone doing this after a lifetime of being told the story can only be looked at one way, that fresh perspective can be overwhelming and powerful.
God is still speaking. We need to open ourselves to listening.
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This post is part of a series in which LGBTQ Mennonites reflect on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.