There is one thing this seminary process has shown me – I am really opinionated. Perhaps it is the constant debates in the classroom environment, the spontaneous debates at Marietta Diner, or the random dialogues to and from church, but I have gotten used to articulating my opinion and making my voice heard. Lately, however, I had tried to sit back and be intentional about which debates I throw my hat in and which one’s I refrain from participating in. My friends ask me all the time, via facebook or other electronic social networking platforms, to enter into a myriad of debates ranging from the place of one’s identity in ministry to human sexuality and every subject in between; however, I have, for the most part, refrained from entering into these conversations, just to spend time listening and analyzing the arguments of others. However, when an opportunity arose to comment on a recent piece of news arose, I jumped at it.
A friend of mine asked me to comment on the recent news regarding the bill before the Ugandan legislature that, among other things, would make homosexuality punishable by death. The article analyzed the role the Church of Uganda, the Anglican presence in Uganda, was playing in the debate. Rather than speaking out against the grievous breach of human rights present within this bill, the Church has proposed small amendments to the bill and in fact praised the bill for protecting the institution of marriage. Now, anyone who knows me or has read any of my blogs knows my view regarding human sexuality and its relation to Christian doctrine. However, humor me while I make this one point: I do not view homosexuality as a sin as promoted by many churches based on a faulty, uninformed, ignorant, and oppressive sexual ethic extracted from a fundamental view of scripture that robs and strips the biblical text of its meaning. We will spend more time on this later. As I attempted to enter the argument regarding the authority of scripture in relation to this subject, I approached the argument from a historical standpoint. I said:
The Church of Uganda is simply interpreting scripture from their context as a result of missionaries spreading the Christian doctrine to Africans, in an attempt to bring God to a place and a people who already had a conscious awareness of God, with a Gospel laden not with concepts and constructs of love, but with those seeking to control and divide. Most missionaries went to Africa not as tools of liberation, but as tools of colonization and oppression. The religion spread by these missionaries, be it Anglicanism, Catholicism, etc., was used to buttress the slave trade and colonial takeover. Therefore Gospel given to them was one that was filled with suppositions that supported the oppression of Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. These theological suppositions have become part of the tacit cultural values of Uganda and are resurfacing as the government of Uganda and the Church of Uganda wrestle with human rights, human sexuality, and what it means to be a Christian and human being in general.
Now, I was not attempting to excuse the stance of the Church of Uganda or attempt to present a “relativist” argument of right or wrong; I was simply attempting to provide a historical framework for understanding the issue at hand. Now, I don’t consider myself an expert on African History, however, my training as a historian as shown me that for the most part, the presence of any religious missionary group in Africa was accompanied by a desire from either a Western nation to colonize and control that certain portion of Africa. Renowned human-rights activist and former Archbishop of Cape Town and primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Desmond Tutu once said,
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened then we had the Bible and they had the land.
Christianity in particular, and religion general, has long been used a tool of control by those seeking to exercise power over a group of people. That’s why Karl Marx described religion as the “opiate of the masses.” I was not attempting malign the Church or the faith that I hold dear, but I was naming a truth that is often overlooked and under-analyzed. Furthermore, in order to properly understand, and therefore argue against, this heinous breach of human rights, we have to have a firm understanding of the tacit cultural and religious values that undergird it. In order to understand something, you have to understand its context.
That brings me back to something that I learned while taking Introduction to the New Testament last spring, the importance of one’s context. Whether we readily admit it or not, we all read and interpret life in general, and the Bible in particular, from a certain context through a certain set of lenses. Conversely, the Bible was written from a certain context to a particular community and removing the text from the tension removes and hope of faithfully interpreting its meaning. Maybe it’s the historian in me that desires to learn more about the “World-behind-the text” and the “World-of-the-text,” but I think that as one who is learning how and is desirous of faithfully and responsibly interpreting the scriptures, it is important.
So what’s the problem? To many times we attempt to interpret scripture in particular, and life in general, outside of the context and therein, fail to understand it at all. I have said it before, I but I think it warrant repeating – The Bible is not filled with contradictions (perhaps it is the faithful Christian in me who cannot reconcile having a faith in a collection of books with “contradictions” that will not allow me to say that it is filled with “contradictions), instead it is filled with conversations that span centuries and continents, take place among hundreds of authors, redactors, editors, communities, between humanity and the divine “other,” humanity and humanity, and humanity and the “self,” and that represent different views of God, salvation, sin, the person/divinity of Christ. By removing the scripture from its context, we remove any hope of faithfully interpreting the scripture because we have taken this voice out of the conversation. The operative word here is “conversation.” All the texts do not agree; however, the duty of the faithful would-be preacher/prophet is to add her or his voice to the voices of the ancestors, to ask questions, and, guided by the Holy Spirit, bring out a prophetic word for a world in dire need of one. (I explore this thought more in my FIRST blog post “Reframing Our Hermeneutic“)
The problem arises when we attempt to take the tension out of the text. Why is this problematic? This is problematic because when you add the words “inerrant” and “infallible” to the Bible as the Word of God, you attempt to harmonize the different voices of the Bible. Therefore, you are unable to to truly interpret St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans because you are too busy attempting to make it say the same thing as Moses in Deuteronomy. You’ve taken it out of context. The Bible does not exist in harmony, but rather a glorious tension that keeps it active, viable, involved, and relevant.
What results is a religious system that is so buried in the “mud” or “tacit cultural assumptions” of a specified culture group that it begins to self-destruct, i.e., Uganda’s bill, backed by the Church of Uganda, that would make homosexuality and capital offense. As opposed to missionaries simply doing the true work of the church, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and healing the sick, they force-fed a heavy-treading Gospel down the throat of those they desired to subjugate and perpetuated their own ignorance. This gospel destroyed the sense of community and idea of “Ubuntu – I in you and you in me” and replaced it with the overwhelming sense of individuality, that I can survive without you and therefore you are expendable.
How heavy is your Gospel?
The Word of Marcus for the People of God…