You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
1 Corinthians 14.32-35
And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
We have a problem. I’m sorry that I have to use the pulpit to bring it up, but this is the best way to reach the highest number of people. We, as a church, have fundamentally broken one of God’s laws and we need to do something about it. We need to pray for forgiveness. We need to seek God’s mercy. And, we should get moving on this issue quickly in order to establish our faithfulness before the Lord.
We need to stop using the church bathrooms.
Now, some of you might be thinking: What in the world? Stop using the bathrooms? We’ve heard him say some strange stuff from the pulpit, but this has to be the strangest!
But scripture is pretty clear. We are supposed to have a designated area, outside the church, where we shall go when nature calls. We are supposed to keep a trowel with us at all times so that when we relieve ourselves outside, we can dig a hole and then cover up our excrement. We need to do this because the Lord is with us when we are in church, therefore this church must be holy and we can’t let the Lord see anything indecent among us.
So, after prayerful consideration, the trustees have voted to permanently close all the bathrooms in the church building, and we will construct some outhouses on the edge of the property for excrement disposal.
Have you ever heard someone preach on Deuteronomy 23.12-14? I haven’t, nor have I even encountered it during a bible study. But in the 1880’s, churches and bathrooms were quite the topic of sermonic conversation. The advent of indoor plumbing had arrived and the question about whether or not to have bathrooms in churches started to pop up.
By the logic of the Old Testament, churches were seen just like the Israelite encampments and because of this the same rules about where people could relieve themselves were applied. Many preachers used this argument from their pulpit more than a century ago to fight the growing trend to build bathrooms in churches!
Today, when designing a new church, one of the first questions isn’t what the sanctuary should look like, or what kind of design will enhance the altar, or even how many people can fit in it, but how many bathrooms should there be, and where should they be put.
How do we understand the Word of God? Do we believe that all scriptures have been inspired by God and are useful for teaching? What does it even mean that God inspired the writing of scripture?
Years ago I was invited to participate in a bible study that met once a week. At the time we were going through the gospel of Matthew when one of the women in attendance interrupted with a dilemma for the group. Her son told her that he was thinking about getting a tattoo and she knew that God forbids this kind of behavior in the Old Testament. It was clear that she was looking for approval from the rest of us, but I opened my big mouth and said something like, “Well, I don’t think its that big of a deal” To which she replied, “If God says it in the bible, then the issue has been settled!”
I should have stopped right there, but I couldn’t help myself. “So, you don’t eat pork or shrimp? And you are going to rally the community together to stone your son to death for rebelling against you? And you didn’t mean to wear earrings today because you know the bible forbids them as well?”
This sort of extreme biblical literalism is problematic, and basically impossible. If we try to live by the Word with extreme rigidity, we would not be allowed to wear clothing with blended fabrics, we’d have to completely rethink our diets, working on the Sabbath would get us killed, and men would not be allowed to trim their beards. Ever.
God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
This is another one of the trite and cliché Christianisms that float around in conversation. When Christians get into an argument about a particular biblical precept, like prohibitions against tattoos or homosexuality, they will take a verse and use it like a weapon against the person they disagree with. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
But, whether we admit it or not, rarely do we read the bible and think, “Okay, that settles it then.”
Today, no one worries about whether to build a church without a bathroom, we don’t hear preachers belabor biblical dietary restrictions, and we neglect a great number of scriptures while at the same time we use scripture to attack others.
There are all sorts of rules and regulations in scripture that, if we’re honest, we pick and choose to emphasize.
As we read earlier, Paul is clear in more than one letter that women should not speak in church. And yet, this church had a female pastor for a number of years, and our liturgist this morning just read out loud from the bible! Heaven forbid! A woman speaking in church! Can you believe it?
Of course, some churches still believe that the words about the subordination of women are the gospel truth. In those church, women are not allowed to serve in leadership positions, they are not allowed to teach Bible Studies where men are present, and they are not allowed to serve in any capacity that would require them to speak in front of the congregation.
I’ll tell you right now, this church would not be here if women kept their mouths shut. We are as faithful as we are because the women in our midst have been brave enough to speak what God has placed on their hearts, and because we have listened.
So what are we to do? We can’t just throw out the bible, but at the same time we can’t live by every single word within it.
Like the apostles and disciples before us, we read scripture and we hear God speaking through it. But we also ask questions of it. We consider context. We wonder if God really intended women to remain silent in church. We recognize that things like slavery are counter to God’s will, despite more than 200 verses that support it in the Bible. We don’t preach and teach that having bathrooms inside churches are offensive to God.
We follow Jesus’ example.
Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, did not adhere to strict biblical literalism. He had different interpretations of the Sabbath restrictions, he had stronger opinions about divorce and adultery, and he regularly disobeyed the Law by eating with those deemed unclean.
Living as a Christian, reading the bible, it’s all about interpretation. And, to be clear, interpretation does not mean to change the text, or to ignore it, but to proclaim it for this time and for this place.
Even the Bibles in our pews are themselves a work of interpretation. Someone, and more often than not some people, made particular choices about how to translate particular words from Hebrew and Greek into English. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you take something like one of the most beloved of all scriptures: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life. The word for “perish” in Greek is apollumi which can mean perish, but it can also mean to die, to be destroyed, to be lost, killed, or ruined. Each of these translations can change the meaning of the text slightly, and are therefore a product of interpretation.
So whenever we take up a bible, whenever we flip to a specific passage, the work of interpretation started long before our eyes flow over the English translation. But nevertheless, even the best translations leave us to continue the task of interpretation.
How do we do it? Well, we don’t do it in isolation. We don’t read our bibles in our living rooms never to speak about the words again, we don’t listen to a sermon only to have that be the only time we encounter the words.
We interpret God’s Word in community. We go to bible studies, we send emails to our friends and to our pastor, and we do what we need to do in order to comprehend that which is often incomprehensible.
And we let Jesus help us interpret. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. As the definitive Word, Jesus helps us to understand the words of scripture. We read from the Old and New Testament alike through the lens of Jesus and we begin to wrestle with how these words continue to live and breathe in our lives today.
But that requires a lot more work than “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” It compels us to actually take up our bibles, read them, and talk about them. It challenges us to ask hard questions and produce new ideas. It requires us to believe that this book is in fact the living Word of God and that it continues to speak truth in new and exciting ways, perhaps in ways we cannot even imagine.
This last week has been filled with controversy from the Oval Office. In their first week, the new administration put forth a number of executive orders including a call to begin construction on a wall at our southern border, a gag order for the EPA, and the halting of refugee migration from a number of countries.
On the same day we celebrate the liberation of the concentration camps in Europe, our country said, “we don’t want them” to people fleeing persecution and destruction.
Now, no one has said that this has been done because of scripture, but the bible should have played a role in the decision if our politicians are going to keep claiming their Christian allegiance.
Moses was a refugee after fleeing from Egypt.
Ruth was a refugee after her husband died and she followed her mother-in-law to a strange new land.
The entire Israelite people were refugees in Babylon.
Jesus, the one we worship here in church, was a refugee. Jesus, like people in the Middle East today, had to flee his home out of fear of violence, persecution, and even death.
And yet, we tout these certain stories from scripture and hold them over people’s heads about behavior and identity. But when we start actively preventing the oppressed from entering the country, we forget all about the story of our Lord and Savior.
People have used this book, with understandings like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” to attack and belittle people for far too long. It has been used to justify the horrific practice of slavery. It has been used to subjugate and relegate women’s rights. It has been used to rationalize physical violence and aggression toward people of different religions. It has been used to incite fear and terror in those who do not believe. It has been used as a weapon again and again and again.
And now we, the people of God, join together to say “no more!”
“No more!” to the use of scripture like a weapon to oppress the weak and the marginalized. “No more!” to the complacent Christianity that stands idly by as people are attacked for whom they are. “No more!” to the backwards ways of the past that lose sight of God’s grace here and now.
“No more!” to God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
I appreciate your bravery in addressing this past week’s dark turn of events. Thank you for standing with the oppressed and downtrodden. Blessings for little Elijah Wolf tomorrow.
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Well said! Telling the truth can get you in trouble these days, especially among many parishioners who are basically illiterate when it comes to any depth of Biblical understanding.