When the Bible is used as a weapon to oppress and keep people in line

December 31, 2013

I recently saw the film, 12 Years a Slave, the true story of Solomon Northup who was born free but was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. In one scene, he is shown with a group of other enslaved men and women that the plantation owner has gathered together for Sunday worship. The owner stands in front of them, opens his Bible, and reads part of Luke 12:47. ”And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” He paused.

Then, in a triumphant tone, said, “That’s Scripture.”

I was thinking about that scene and the smug “that’s Scripture” attitude in connection with the brouhaha over A & E’s short-lived and rapidly reversed dismissal of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty television reality show. He had been dismissed because of his homophobic and racist remarks in a GQ magazine interview.

Huge numbers of conservative Christians rushed to his defense. Sarah Palin told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Robertson was “just spreading the gospel.” Mike Huckabee indicated Robertson was being bullied for “steadfast, old fashioned biblical Christian values” and threatened to boycott Cracker Barrel for removing Duck Dynasty items from its country stores. Phil Robertson himself said, “All I did was quote from the Scriptures.”

In the midst of all this, one of my sons sent me a link to a short post from the Unreasonable Faith blog on Patheos. Titled “The Bible, Bigotry, and the Willie Nelson Look,” the blog’s author (a former evangelical whose personal journey led him away from Christianity and into atheism) wrote this:

Do you start to see? It honestly looks to us outsiders that many Christians only care about the parts of the Bible that they can use against the people they don’t like. The whole stance of “The Bible says it, I believe it, that does it” is a total sham. For some Christians, the Bible is only useful as a weapon.

He included a number of examples that show how selectively many people use the Bible.

Then this past Sunday, an article was published on Alternet, titled “The ugly collusion between ‘religious’ faith and bigotry” that contained these lines:

We need to call out the fact that just because your “faith” says that homosexuality is a sin is no justification to tack on lies geared to demonize the lgbt community.  . . . And it is certainly no justification to judge lgbts based on your view of the Bible and play the victim when you are called out for it. Folks who do these things always seem to think that they own the word “Christianity” and everyone else is beholden to their interpretation. They forget that many lgbts are also Christians and bring up good points when they lay out their case in proving that God doesn’t condemn them for being who they are.

Now that’s Scripture!  A message of God’s loving acceptance of each person just as God created her or him to be.

(Here’s an extra reading assignment related to the topic of equality. Check out sociologist Lisa Wade’s blog post, “Why are people changing their minds about same-sex marriage?”  She explains the findings from a Pew Research Survey.  Can you guess the answer?)

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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