Saturday, April 30, 2011

Abuse by Bible

Listen again to what Peter told the crowd at Pentecost:

"You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say:  Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you - this man you crucified and killed
by the hands of those outside the law.”

This is not the first time in the last two weeks that we have heard the Jews blamed for the death of Jesus. 
In fact, compared to the two Passion Narratives we read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, it sounds relatively mild.  I would be willing to bet that none of you heard anti-Semitism in this reading or in the Passion readings, either.  I’m guessing that’s because we just don’t hear it anymore.  Perhaps, we’ve heard in sermons and hymns that we are the ones who crucified/crucify the Christ to the point that we substitute ourselves for the Jews, Chief Priests, etc.

And I am also betting that none of us here would declare ourselves anti-Jewish.  Most likely we really aren’t.
I do hope we have all thought about it, though.  Otherwise, we are very likely to say something incredibly offensive to a Jew and then be stunned by his or her response!  It is not enough to declare ourselves as free of this prejudice.  We have to work through the issue, test our feelings and question whether we are truly
not prejudiced.

You see, we cannot simply ignore these passages from the New Testament that have been used for thousands of years to oppress, abuse and kill people of the Jewish faith, our ancestors in belief.

AJ Levine, who grew up in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood and even went to church with her Catholic friends, was stunned one school day when she was seven to have a friend tell her that she had killed Jesus!  Obviously, her little friend had heard about the crucifixion of Jesus and taken it to heart.  Was she inherently anti-Semitic?  We don’t know.  But it seems likely that no one attempted to explain things to her.

Here’s a common sense approach – perhaps a little too simplistic – to hearing that Jews demanded Jesus’ death.  It was to the Jews that Jesus went.  There was not a large community of Chinese or Dutch or Americans living in Palestine at the time who decided that this itinerant teacher was causing them trouble and had to die. 

Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus came to the Jews primarily, and on the Feast of the Passover, Jerusalem was full of Jews.  Not Americans, not Canadians, not French or Norwegians or Philipinos.  Had any of those peoples been there and been faithful Jews, they would have acted in the same manner.  Maybe they would have without being Jews!

We cannot change what happened.  We cannot edit the story to make it more palatable.  But we must make sure that we do not beat up our Jewish brothers and sisters because of it.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using Scripture to oppress, abuse and kill people.  How many centuries did we allow and participate in slavery in large part because it exists in the Bible and Paul even went so far as to return a runaway slave to his master?  Granted, he sent a nice letter along imploring the owner to remember that his slave was a brother in Christ.  So we baptized a lot of slaves and that is supposed to make it all right?

How long has it been since a woman was kept in subservience because it is the biblical way?  It’s still going on.  We use Scripture to excoriate people of other faiths – sometimes even different denominations – other countries, other genders and, yes, other orientations.  We simply have to stop using the Bible to justify what we want to believe and what we feel.  There are way too many places where God tells us it is not ours to do the judging.

We also need to be very careful about not reading into Scripture what is not there.  For instance, poor Thomas, who was one of the faithful – remember it was Thomas who said they should go to Bethany with Jesus even though they might well die with him there – has forever been labeled by one word in all of those said about or by him.


Because Thomas is honest enough to express his doubts, he is forever called Doubting Thomas.  Do we think he was the only disciple who had doubts?  And we have convinced ourselves that doubt is wrong,
that doubt is the opposite of faith.  So we read back into the story this misunderstanding of a perfectly good word.

My brothers and sisters, one of the reasons many of us are Episcopalians is because we are encouraged to ask questions, to work through out doubts knowing that the community is here to support us through those hard times and questions.  We baptize babies and young children into the Christian faith precisely so that, when they doubt, they will know the love of God is present anyway, especially then.

Doubting is working through the questions.  It is being honest about where we are in our journey, what is causing us to stumble.  Doubting is not turning away or giving up.  Rather it is actively engaging in the working out of faith in real time with real people and often in real pain.

Rather than scorn Thomas, let us lift him up as one who has been where we are and whose experience
of doubt turning to belief gives us the courage to grow in faith and to live in hope.

(Image from


Teri said...

Hello Margaret--your blog is all official in the RevGal ring now! We introduced your blog today. Thank you for being such an active part of our community!

Crimson Rambler said...

And welcome (again) Margaret -- I look forward to hearing more from you!

WomanistNTProf said...

Hello Margaret, thank for this blog on abuse by Bible. I could not agree with you more. Glad to be your sister blogger.

Mary Beth said...

Great to see your blog! Welcome to RevGals.

Jan said...

Welcome to RevGals! (and you seem familiar. . . .)