Post author Brian Crisp is former chairman of Pullen’s Missions & Outreach Council. He studies Hebrew Bible and Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School and has been a guest on our pulpit.
Over the past several days two volatile news stories have had a common cynosure: the Bible. In the middle of a preliminary presidential campaign that has been harsh toward immigrants and negligent of African-American citizens, Donald Trump proclaimed in an Alabama football stadium that the Bible is his favorite book. “We take the Bible all the way,” Trump told the crowd. A few days later, a fraction of the entering freshmen class at Duke University refused to read Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic novel Fun Home due to personal Christian beliefs. Brian Grasso, incoming freshmen, penned an editorial in the Washington Post explaining, “But in the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic.”
As a person of faith who spends ample time reading the Bible for academic and spiritual endeavors, I am distressed that the Bible is continually used for political pandering to gain votes and for personal justification for bigotry and ignorance. My first question to those who continue to flaunt the Bible as an excuse for recoil from people and retreat from working for healthy communities is simple: “Have you read the book?”
The Hebrew Bible and New Testament are simultaneously beautifully crafted, continually compelling, and absolutely horrific. Together, their pages do not offer simple answers, but engage readers in a story of people trying to understand, commune, and covenant with The Divine. Many times a reader leaves the stories with enveloping questions that propel a deeper search into an ethics of faith that is meant to construct a community that is welcoming and caring for all. ALL. These stories are messy as the love for community is not approached without equal justice.
It is such Justice-Love, the term used by famed theologian Carter Heyward, that sent Moses to talk back to Pharaoh about the atrocities of slavery. Divine Justice-Love is seen when Esther boldly approaches the king and saves the annihilation of Jewish people. Jesus himself promoted an ethic of Divine Justice, which means that he was, at times, relentless, biting with his words and physical with his actions. Jesus spat, cursed, flipped over tables, and chased people with a whip.
Although these actions are, at times, questionable and puzzling, they invite us to examine the motives for such behavior. The Bible tells us of women and men who stand up to the privileges of the powerful on behalf of those who are being silenced, persecuted and destroyed by such entitlement. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Romans had their cruelties called out by Deborah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul. These prophets stood up and talked back on behalf of those who’d been silenced.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Grasso are flexing the hurtful muscles of the American Empire drenched in the privilege of White Heteronormative Class experience. Mr. Trump wants to build a wall along the Mexican border while deporting many people who have built their lives contributing to the economy and culture of the United States. He has taken to using the term “anchor babies” to belittle and dehumanize immigrant families. Mr. Grasso equated the lives of LGBTQIA people with pornography in his editorial published in one of the world’s largest news sources. This continues to label non-heteronormative human sexuality as perverse and unacceptable. Now both men have married their entitlement and their hatred to the Judeo-Christian tradition with a simple mention of the Bible. Such actions continue to happen at the expense of African-Americans, Latinos, Queer people, working class brothers and sisters, women, and children; they are paying for such antics with their lives.
If abhorrent, sexually-explicit material is such a concern for Mr. Grasso, then he should refrain from reading the biblical texts themselves, as they contain incest, rape, masturbation, penis mutilation, polygamy and prostitution. If Mr. Trump’s favorite book is the Bible then he has avoided those passages that promote hospitality to the stranger, feeding the poor and taking care of the children. Equally, he has erroneously missed that the walls of Jericho violently tumbled. I have read these stories, and I hear their repeated call to stand up for those who are paying for others’ privilege with the economy of their lives. I stand up and remember that many prophets such as Ezekiel, Jesus, Dorothy Day and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew Divine Love was equally filled with Divine Justice. I stand up and talk back.
So, again I ask directly, “Have you read the book?”