The Pruitt Bible and The Jefferson Bible

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You’ve heard of the Jefferson Bible. But you may not have heard of the Pruitt Bible.

Today’s Daily Beast brings the Pruitt Bible to the public’s attention. It’s well worth the read.

The Jefferson Bible is missing whole sections. Thomas Jefferson, a produce of the Age of Enlightenment, a Deist who believed in science, took a penknife or some other sharp instrument and cut out passages of the four Gospels that made no sense to him. He didn’t twist their meanings. He just cut them. But he did so only after studiously comparing six different copies of the New Testament in King James English, Latin, French . . .  and Greek, the language of the New Testament.

The Pruitt Bible is different. It’s the bible of twisted meanings that serves the interests of eliminating real scientists from serving at the EPA. Here’s Jay Michaelson’s “EPA Director Scott Pruitt Sites Bible for Industry-Led Science Boards and Gets the Bible Exactly Wrong in today’s Daily Beast.

There’s a big difference between the Pruitt Bible and the Jefferson Bible. One of them took the texts seriously. The other twisted them.

We may also suggest that only one of the authors read Shakespeare’s Richard III, or F. Jacox:

Shakespeare embodies in Richard of Gloucester a type of the political intriguer; as where the usurper thus answers the gulled associates who urge him to be avenged on the opposite faction: —

“But then I sigh, and with a piece of Scripture

Tell them that God bids us do good for evil.

And thus I clothe my naked villainy

With old odd ends, stolen forth of holy writ;

And seem a saint when most I play the devil.”

An unmitigated scoundrel in one of Mr. Dickens’s books is represented as openly grudging his old father the scant remnant of his days (on the ground that “Three-score and ten’s the Bible-mark”); whereupon the author interposes this parenthetical comment: “Is any one surprised at Mr. Jonas making such a reference to such a book for such a purpose? Does any one doubt the old saw that the devil quotes Scripture for his own ends? If he will take the trouble to look about him, he may find a greater number of confirmations of the fact in the occurrences of a single day than the steam-gun can discharge balls in a minute.”

 – F. Jacox

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 6, 2017.

Preaching to Myself

The longer I live, the less I know. The less I have lived, the more I think I know.

“Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.”(I Cor. 8:1b)

These words seem strange to those of us who value education. But peeking into the internal squabble within the First Century CE Corinthian church (First Corinthians 8:1-13) may also give us an unexpected peek into ourselves in 2015.

There is a tension between knowledge and love. The better educated among us see the relation between knowledge and love as complimentary. Love and knowledge grow together into ever expanding circles of freedom, like snakes shedding their skins and lobsters shedding their shells for bigger skins and shells that can hold their more mature selves.

Yet we are sometimes scornful of the less educated, the concrete thinkers, the legalists who are certain about what little knowledge they have. We are quick to join Paul’s opinion that “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge ….” (I Corinthians 8:2). A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. True education leads not only to increasing knowledge but to increasing awareness of one’s own vast ignorance.

We think of Copernicus and Galileo who challenged the prevailing knowledge, and those who judged them for their unbelief, a new “knowledge” that has changed the human view of our place in a vast, expanding universe. Or we think of Darwin and the Scopes Trial – the showdown between the knowledge of evolution and the ignorance of the creationists. We think of the difference between enlightened biblical scholarship that interprets Scripture through the eyes of love’s expansion and the biblical inerrantists who insist that the Bible be taken literally, such that the book is closed on matters of human sexuality.

“‘All of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.” 

Paul makes a masterful move here in the chess game of the knowers. He says that all the “knowers” know little, and that those who know more – the stronger in faith – are in greater danger than those who know less – the weaker in faith.

He is writing to the strong, the ones who are more advanced in the knowledge of the liberty to which Christ has set them free. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Knowledge itself puts us on trial, the trial of humility, the trial of love. Paul calls for the stronger to be humble lest what they assume to know become the new idolatry that places Christ’s weaker followers on the cross of educated privilege.

The Christian claim of faith is not our knowledge, no matter how great or small. The claim of the disciples of Jesus is God’s knowledge of us. It is God’s knowing us that is the heart of faith for followers of the crucified, risen Christ. It is God’s knowledge -the wisdom of love – into which we are baptized as novices. One might even say, we die to every claim but love.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. For the likes of me and my progressive friends and colleagues in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for members of the church who are choosing to leave the PC(USA) because of what they regard as excessive liberty, knowledge sometimes becomes the new “works” that substitute for justification by grace.

To be justified (i.e. made “right” with God) by grace through faith, as Paul understood it, represents a 180 degree repentance, a reversal of the direction and flow of the human-divine encounter from us to God to from God to us. Paul later speaks of the practical implications of love with respect to all claims of knowledge:

“And if I ….understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I. Co. 13:2)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 4-7)

I am among those who remain puzzled by what to do. It’s far from simple. Paul’s description of the Christ-like life is centered, but it’s not simple. The patience and kindness come hard when faced with what I am sure are the weaker, more homophobic folks whose view of Scripture supports their opposition to the full inclusion of LGBTQ members. I boast of a greater knowledge based on love. In the name of love, I become arrogant. I am rude. I have a short fuse. I want to separate myself and the more enlightened from the less enlightened, the weaker, as Paul might say. In their presence I quickly become irritable, resentful of their presence in the Body of Christ. I do not bear all things. I do not believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I do not believe that if I understand all mysteries and have all knowledge but have not love, I am nothing.

Though Paul was writing his letter to the tumultuous church at Corinth in the middle of the First Century CE, his words still speak. They arrive unexpectedly like a surgeon’s scalpel removing a cancer for the sake of the Body of Christ. The gospel cuts with a knife, but it is always for the sake of healing, a dying to ego for the sake of the resurrected Body of Christ.

Gracious Lord, by your healing mercy, keep me in the knowledge of Your love.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015.

Isaiah and Elizabeth Warren

After news about the “spending bill” came out yesterday, I took the liberty of re-writing scripture. Readers unfamiliar with Jewish and Christian Scripture may not have heard of Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-8) that began his campaign to reform his nation in the year that King Uzziah died. Here’s the re-write for December 10, 2014:

In the year that [Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed a “spending bill” that overturns banking regulations put in place after the near financial meltdown 0f 2008 and raises the cap on individual campaign contributions], I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
vthe whole earth is full of his glory!

And the foundations of the [nation’s] thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Where’s Isaiah when we need him? Then I read Elizabeth Warren’s objection to the bill. Click HERE for the story. Then call your Representative and Senators.  When they ask your name, just say “Isaiah!” When they ask how you happened to call, tell ’em God sent ya.

“I’m So Sorry”

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I’m a pastor. But there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian. Ever wonder that about yourself? Or have you left the church as a matter of dissent, embarrassment, or protest?

Take the last two weeks. President Obama shares his faith at a National Prayer Breakfast. He declares that we are “our brother’s keeper”. I feel proud. The comments on CNN run heavily against him. Ayn Rand’s “the virtue of selfishness” – not the story of Cain and Abel or the teaching of Jesus – has won the hearts of the people. Rick Santorum tells an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” I feel sad…and angry. I read the story about the church court case of the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian Presbyterian minister rebuked for officiating at same-gender marriages, one of them the wedding of Lisa Bove. Lisa was an ordained student elder at the church I served at The College of Wooster. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I feel proud of Janie and Lisa, their tenacity, their courage, their strong and gentle spirits, their deep faith. I feel sad that the church still doesn’t get it.

I’m embarrassed by how ridiculous the church debate is and how absurd this church family feud looks to the world. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, go to sleep, take a sedative maybe. But I’m also angry. I want to fight. I want to weigh in on the debate. Yet to do so will only continue the polarization, the disrespect for others, the tendency on all sides of a church argument to proclaim with Little Jack Horner, “What a good boy am I!” If I stick my thumb in the pie, I’ll just continue the ludicrous display of Christian arrogance. What to do? To keep silence feels like abdication of conscience. To speak adds my voice to the appearance of the church’s absurdity. But I’m give fan of the Theater of the Absurd and Albert Camus, as well as Jesus.

I decide to stick my thumb in the story. My comment is the first thumb in a hot pie:

“I know Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove as colleagues and love them both. Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor. Jane is that rare minister of the gospel who has managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. Lisa is the same. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, that’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-sex marriages, they will not marry anyone as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose lives bear witness to justice, love and peace, working from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolation that keeps them sane and strong.”

Three replies come quickly:

1) “You are a faithful and honest servant of God.  It has taken a long time, but every year there are more like you” (i.e., “What a good boy am I Good boy!”); and

2) “Pastors should know and preach the truth of God’s word. Please read: 1 Tim: 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9  When folks go against the truth of God’s word, then they are following deceit and you should know who the great deceiver is”  (“Bad boy! Bad boy!”)

3) “Let’s hope this church sees the light and retracts the rebuke.  And perhaps even apologizes­.”

Then this morning a classmate sends me this story about an apology: “Christian Group Shows Up to Chicago Gay Pride Holding Apologetic Signs“.

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I wish I’d been there to hold one of these signs.

I’ve experienced the forgiving hugs of gay and lesbian church members like the guy in the underwear. And when I write comment or a commentary like this one, I hear a little voice inside myself: “Good boy! Good boy!” Then, as soon as I feel the relief, I know I’ve fallen into the very self-righteousness I despise in others. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” and I’m back where I started: “God help us ALL!”

Read the story. Ponder it. Then stick your finger in the pie with a comment here on the blog.