The Bible Was Clear on Slavery (But Not in the Way You Might Think)

postfull-see-a-free-screening-of-12-years-a-slave-fassy_sarah_detIf you had lived in the days before the Civil War when the battle for abolition was heating up, whose side would you have been on?

It’s important to remember that for thousands of churches, this conflict was a religious conflict – with God and the Bible “clearly” defending a person’s right to own slaves.

It was a serious moral issue: the idea that slaves should be freed was dangerously immoral.

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures,” said the Rev. Richard Furman in 1823.

“How this question can at all arise in the mind of any man . . . that is acquainted with the history of the Bible, is a phenomenon I cannot explain to myself,” said Rabbi Morris Raphal in 1861.

Verses like Ephesians 6:1-5 and 1 Timothy 6:1-2 were marshaled by the pro-slavery forces, who in most cases were decent, God-fearing Christians who sincerely believed they were following the “plain meaning of Scripture.” (The Southern Baptist Church was actually founded on the belief that slave-owning was biblical).

Slave owners had the stronger biblical argument. To accept the arguments of abolitionists, our ancestors had to look beyond the literal reading of the Bible to its overall message about love, justice, and compassion.

Would we have done the same thing? To really see the heart of Jesus in the Scriptures may require tremendous moral courage and a willingness to resist the enormous social pressures to believe what everyone else does. In the 1860s when your pastor and your entire congregation said abolition was “immoral,” in the 1960s when Martin Luther King was condemned as a heretic in pulpits across the country, would you have had the courage to defy the convictions of your own religious community in defense of justice and freedom? Would you have that courage today?

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This is What Dangerous Religion Looks Like

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Last year I wrote a post listing the dynamics of dangerous religion. I’ve spent the last year slowly adding to the list as I tweet and write my books and talk to people about the things that really scare them about the churches they’ve come out of. Eventually the list grew so long that I had to divide it into sections, and I’ll probably keep expanding it as time goes on. Please share your own experiences in the comments, and together we can continue to expose all the wrong things in the hope of bringing freedom and justice. Continue reading

Why the Bible Is No Longer My Final Authority

Chained BibleWe have to find a new way of reading the Bible.

I’m talking about the practice of dividing it up into chapters and verses, finding the ones we like, and using them to defend our beliefs.

Do this often enough and you won’t even notice the hundreds of verses that seem to contradict those beliefs. Arguments devolve into scriptural slugfests in which both parties hurl their chosen verses at one another while insisting that the other team’s verses don’t really count.

For example, a lot of us grew up believing that there wasn’t a single speck of goodness inside of us. We were shown verses about how the heart is desperately wicked and our righteousness is filthy rags. But how many of us knew that we were made in the image of God, that Jesus declared some people to be “good” (Mt. 5:45; Jn. 1:47), or that Noah, Josiah, Job, Enoch, and Cornelius, who were not Christians, were considered righteous?

The problem with reading the Bible this way is that over time it can make us blind to much of what’s actually written in the Bible. A Christian could be led to obsess over the six verses on homosexuality while literally not even being able to see the over 2,000 verses on how to treat the poor. How many times have you heard those six verses quoted? What about the other 2,000?

The other problem with reading the Bible this way is that it makes us susceptible to unscrupulous leaders who can easily twist the Scriptures to their own advantage.

A famous political theorist, Erik Voegelin, wrote a study on the violent Puritan revolution in England, which he considers a classic example of brainwashing. Puritan leaders would introduce an idea they wanted implemented. Their followers would then read this idea *back* into the Bible, regardless of whether or not it was really there. Once they became convinced it was “biblical,” there was no use convincing them otherwise. (If you tried to argue with them, they would say only *they* could read the Scriptures correctly, by virtue of being the chosen people.)

The reality is that “proof-texting” verses in this way seems designed to allow spiritual leaders to control and manipulate. There’s evidence that this “traditional” method of reading the Bible was invented by slave owners before the Civil War who used the Bible to justify owning slaves. The Bible has also been used to defend polygamy, murder, racism, and genocide, by people just like us who thought they were being *totally* biblical.

More recently, when it was revealed that leaders of Bob Jones University had been silencing and harassing rape victims, the faculty kept quoting Matthew 18 to shame those who spoke out. According to them, conveniently, the “biblical model” is to meet with the leaders in private. But you won’t find BJU leaders quoting 1 Timothy 5:20, where Paul says to rebuke a sinful leader “in the presence of all,” or the other places in the New Testament where an apostle is openly rebuked (Acts 11, Galatians 2).

Proof-texting verses makes the Bible into a Rorschach test onto which we can project our own opinions and then berate anyone who disagrees for being “unbiblical.” Taken to its extreme, it can create an “alternate Bible” saying whatever the reader wants it to say, and nothing in the world can convince him otherwise—not commentaries, not pastors, not even the *actual* words of the Bible. This alternate Bible can easily reinforce a person’s own prejudice and hatred, leading him ever further away from the Christian religion into a hell of his own making.

The Scariest Thing about My Abuser

tree_of_life_universe_1-650x333Each of the three counselors was smiling and cordial as they sat facing me in a room the size of a small office.

“Bobby, we’re here today because you had the courage to come forward and say you wanted this,” said Brandon*, a tall young man with dark eyes and a buzz cut. “That’s a huge step. But in order for this to work, you have to talk to us. We can’t just read your mind, we actually have to know what’s going on in there so we can pray into it.”

Tuesday evening. It was my first official counseling session with Prisoners of Hope, an unlicensed Charismatic ministry offering spiritual deliverance to those who have been involved in sex trafficking and similar abusive environments. Continue reading

The Abused are Being Silenced and It Breaks My Heart

the_tree_of_life_2011_1224x679_9800981{ trigger warning: rape, rape apologia }

 

 Last week I was contacted by an alumnus of Bob Jones University. She wanted to discuss what’s really going on there.

I’ve spent the past weekend reading testimonials from former students. The extent of the cover-up is worse than has so far been reported in much of the mainstream media. The leadership of this allegedly Christian organization has systemically ignored, shamed, shunned, slandered, and demonized those who have been abused and the people who speak on their behalf.

Here’s what you need to know about the developing sexual abuse scandal at BJU: Continue reading

The Night We Were Persecuted

the_tree_of_life_movie_04“The body of Christ on this campus is under assault tonight,” said Tyler Deaton. “And I’ve called on God to summon a legion of angels, but I also know that the most effective prayers come from God’s people in unity.”

November 2008. It was almost the end of my last semester at Southwestern. Within a few weeks Tyler and Bethany and I would be graduating.

We were three of the key leaders in the prayer group that God had started on campus the year before, and right now the big question on each of our minds was whether this group would survive once we had left. No one doubted the zeal and sincerity of the twenty-five students who met every night in the Chapel for prayer and worship; but as the semester sped towards its ghastly conclusion, our ministry was under attack like never before. Continue reading

The World I Dream Of

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[ Cross posted on No Longer Quivering, a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor’s Network ]

I dream of a world…

– where women are not shamed because of their bodies, where men can take responsibility for their own sins rather than trying to oppress and control others.

– where those who are bravely trying to expose abuse and injustice within an organization are no longer accused of slander and publicly shamed by those who claim to speak on behalf of God.

where the protection of people is a greater priority than the protection of a ministry.

– where “spiritual leaders” can no longer cloak their hatred and arrogance in biblical language, so that everyone thinks them to be great men of God.

– where victims of spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse are celebrated for their bravery in coming forward rather than being told that what happened to them was their own fault.

where no one ever says, “If you speak up about this, you are aiding the enemies of God and dividing Christ’s body in two.”

– where the Bible is not used to try to force abuse victims into confronting their abusers in private, where no one has to protest injustice within limits set by the oppressor, where “that which was spoken in the inner room is proclaimed upon the housetop.”

where whole communities don’t rush to support the perpetrators of abuse as victims who need to be protected from the people they’ve abused.

– where victims don’t encounter the second betrayal of disbelief and character assassination, where the community doesn’t believe them to be crazy or wicked or deceitful or malicious just because someone standing in a pulpit, carrying a Bible, says they are.

– where the oppressors are not shielded by a coterie of rich and powerful friends who continue to support them just because it would be financially or politically inconvenient to do otherwise.

– where the “tone” of a person’s words is not used as a way of invalidating everything they have to say, where victims are not more condemned for the way they respond to abuse than their abusers are for abusing them.

– where the prophetic resisters who are grieved, broken and, yes, angry about a culture of systemic violence and oppression are not told to “calm down,” “just quit being angry,” “forgive and move on” when there are wrongs to be righted and thousands of people cry out in the darkness with no one to plead on their behalf.

A world where church is a refuge rather than a manufacturer of nightmares.

A world that is safe.

A world where people are loved and supported.

This is the world that I dream of.