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Reading the Bible with Different Lenses

Making the connection between the Bible and the Daily Newspaper, between the Bible and Ministry is not so automatic.  What if there is a problem in how you read the Bible, the lens through which you engage the text, the biases and cultural norms that shape your reading and interpretation of the text?  What if the disconnect between ministry and the Bible is your reading and interpretation of the text? 

My first call out of seminary was to Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverside, CA, a 2400 member congregation served by 4 pastors and large staff which included 3 custodians.  The 3 custodians were men of color—two were Hispanic and the third was an African American who was a student at the nearby Riverside City College.  Robert was also president of the campus Black Student Union.  When Robert learned that I had participated in the Selma March, he asked if I would be interested in sharing my experience at one of the meetings of the BSU.  Following my presentation, in the question and answer segment of the meeting, a black hand rose ever so gradually from the back row of the room; the questioner was slouched down in his seat so I never saw his face.  However, I heard his voice loud and clear.  “Reverend, thank you for marching for integration and racial equality and justice.  So my question is this, ‘Why do you believe in the white man’s religion’?” 

In my presentation, he did not hear any connection between the Selma March and how I read the Bible.  Bob’s eyes were bigger than saucers as he watched me struggle in my answer.  He felt sorry for me.  But everyone in the room knew exactly the import of the question.  I struggled to give an answer even as deep down I understood the question and knew he was right.  90% of my seminary professors were white men and all the books I read and the scholars who shaped me were from a Western European perspective.  My biblical and theological perspectives were informed by white authoritative voices.  From that experience, I sought out scholars and authors of color.  One of the first books I read was God is Red, by Vine DeLoria Jr., a Lakota Sioux Episcopalian scholar.  DeLoria took the biblical narrative of the Canaanite conquest and posed the question: “What if you read that story from the perspective of the Canaanites?  How would you preach and teach that text?”  And the story in Matthew 15 of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman; how would you preach that story? 

3 thoughts on “Reading the Bible with Different Lenses”

  1. On Mathew 15, I’ve always wondered unfavorably about that scripture and that it didn’t speak well of Jesus. “Yes Lord, she said .but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” changed Jesus’ mind didn’t make it any better. “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” still didn’t make it any better.
    How would you preach that story today?

  2. Curious. I’d always thought that this white man was seeking a relationship with God informed by the faith of people of many colors. Despite the images that decorate many western churches, to the best of our knowledge, Jesus was no blue eyed honky. Queen Candace’s eunuch was African. And, it’s thought that Thomas made it as far as India. The good Lord filled people all over the world with his spirit. If some have been too bigoted and power hungry to accept our common grace with gratitude and humility, that says everything about them, and nothing about God.

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