By Derek Penwell
“You call yourself a minister? Clearly, we’re not reading the same Bible.” That’s what one person I’ve known since seventh grade asked me.
“Why, for the love of God and country don’t you just come out and admit that you’re a communist, socialist, atheist?” That’s what another person I’ve known forever asked me.
The real question beneath those kinds of questions is something like: “Why do you hate God and America?”
It’s coming, you know. The end of the world, I mean. I read it on the Interwebz.
No, I don’t mean at the approaching hoofbeats of some distant Armageddon. I mean now. Or at least soon. Really soon.
Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States recently. Same gender marriage succeeded on three state ballots—and deciding not to outlaw it succeeded on a fourth. Two states decriminalized possession of marijuana.
You might not have heard about all this shamefulness. It’s been pretty hush-hush. Need-to-know basis, and all that.
As far as reaction to the reelection of the President goes, while not entirely surprising, it still manages to catch me off guard with its undisguised hatred. Of course, there’s the racial thing from folks like Bill O’Reilly, and his comments about this no longer being a “traditional America,” that the “white establishment is the minority.” But that’s low hanging fruit.
Oh, you can deny it all you want (“I wasn’t being racist. I was just, you know, describing the [horrible, unbelievably awful—me editorializing] situation”). But when White Supremacist groups find your analysis on emerging demographic shifts penetrating and insightful, you need to face the fact that you’ve jumped the racial shark.
He’s an outlier, right? Just one guy, a misunderstood truth-teller.
If only. Mitt Romney, the guy who lost the election, in the post-mortem on his electoral defeat, offered something very much like O’Reilly’s analysis, saying that the reason he lost was—at least in part—because the President promised gifts to Latinos.
Again, this could just be another aberration … except it wasn’t. It confirmed that Governor Romney’s 47% comments from earlier in the campaign weren’t just a poor choice of words; instead, they bespoke a belief in the inevitability (is desirability too cynical?) of the disparity between the rich and the poor. And on his reading of the situation it’s not too difficult a leap to see how race and ethnicity figure into the 47%/53% split.
Yeah, the racial/ethnic thing demonstrated the nature of some people’s hatred. No question. But that’s not the basis of the belief that the world is coming to an end—racism has been around in this country for … um … ever.
No. What really has some people concerned about the possibility of an impending Armageddon is the extent to which the election signifies an imagined national move away from Christianity.
President Obama, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a socialist redestributor who wants everybody to be gay and all the unborn to be killed. He’s taken our country away from us … a country that used to be Godly and capitalist (which are pretty much the same thing), and made it a haven for atheists and communists.
Which would be one thing if those things were said just about the President. However, those are things that have been said … about me … to me, because I happened to be a minister who happens to challenge the assumptions about how the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor, about how medical care shouldn’t just be “given” to the poor, about how undocumented workers are “ruining this nation,” about how the criminal justice system doesn’t really disproportionately punish minorities through narcotics legislation, or about how gay people ought to just pray harder not to love the people they love.
“You call yourself a minister? Clearly, we’re not reading the same Bible.”
No, we’re reading the same Bible. We’re not reading it the same way, though, to be sure.
In the newspaper the other day, I read a minister lamenting the turn the nation had taken on election day. He said that obviously our country no longer holds “Biblical values.”
So here’s my problem. Setting aside what people happen to think of me, here’s why I think the apocalyptic language is so offensive. It’s found not so much in the assertions themselves about the way we read the Bible. What I find so problematic are the qualifiers used to describe our differences with such certainty.
Behind these qualifiers lies an assumption that a fundamentalist/”literalist” reading of Scripture is the baseline against which all other attempts at Biblical interpretation ought to be judged—and be judged harshly.
“Clearly, we’re not reading the same Bible … because the correct way to read the Bible leads inexorably to the conclusions I’ve already drawn.”
“Obviously, our country no longer holds Biblical values … because I don’t recognize as Biblical any values I don’t already hold.”
It is possible, nay necessary, to read the Bible in such a way that it problematizes rather than confirms one’s long-held beliefs. Oh, I know, that cuts both ways. My beliefs regularly need challenging … because of my amazing capacity to lie to myself about what’s true and what’s merely convenient to my way of experiencing the world.
My question, however, is whether those who think the world is coming to an end are prepared to enter the conversation with the same assumption about the possibility of the need to alter one’s views.
So, do I think the world is coming to an end because Barack Obama will be in the White House for another four years? No.
Do I think that because the majority of people in a few states want to allow gays and lesbians to get married means the Great Tribulation is sure to follow? Nope.
Am I convinced that soon we’ll all be wearing UPC codes on our foreheads, so the anti-Christ can track our movements just because Washington and Colorado don’t want to throw people in jail for having an ounce of pot? Not hardly.
However, the reason I dismiss that kind of fear isn’t because I don’t read the Bible … but because I do.
We’re reading the same Bible, but we’re clearly not reading it in the same way.
Our country obviously no longer holds the same values that many people consider Biblical—which I take to be a good thing … since I’m not sure they were ever “Biblical values” in the first place.
Yes, I call myself a minister, but only because the church, through ordination, called me that first.
No. I don’t hate God or America. In fact, being a liberal is how I express my love for both.