Genesis 6: 5 – 8, Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN – The President sat at his desk in the White House. He took out two Bibles, opened them to the gospels, the story of Jesus. He grabbed a knife or perhaps a razor and began cutting up one Bible, then the other. The President was Thomas Jefferson. The year was 1804. Jefferson sliced out the parts of the Bible that he believed and pasted them onto a few blank pages. The remaining pages he threw away.
Many regard the Bible, the whole Bible, as the word of God. The act many would say was blasphemous. But Jefferson found that ask simple. The worthy parts of the Bible were easily distinguishable from the worthless. He wrote a letter to John Adams comparing the worthy from the unworthy parts as diamonds in a dunghill. Jefferson’s Bible is much smaller than one would expect. He kept the words of Jesus and some of his deeds, but he left out the miracles and any suggestion that Jesus is God.
Why did one of America’s most beloved Founding Fathers cut up the Bible? Was it an act of piety or blasphemy? Was Jefferson a Christian or a heretic? Undoubtedly, if Jefferson were running for President today, his Bible-slicing experiment would certainly cloud his candidacy. Can you imagine the attack ad? You see the Bible and you see a hand with scissors cutting up the Bible. No, that would not fair well for the red states or the blue states for that matter.
Truly, for all people, the Bible is a cut and paste job. We read the Bible selectively. It’s just that Jefferson actually takes a pair of scissors or a knife and cuts out the parts he didn’t think should be there (Carlson, P., “The Bible According to Thomas Jefferson,” TheHumanist.com, Feb. 18, 2012).
So, what parts of the Bible would you keep? What parts would you cut out? The very first story I learned from the Bible is the one of we heard today, about Noah’s Ark. The Love Boat. The animals come on to the boat 2 by 2 – every single kind of animal. I wanted this to be Daniella’s first Bible story, too – so we decorated her nursery with a big ark filled with animals. Good Morning, Monkeys. Good Morning, Bears. How are you today, Mr. Penguin? There is much of the Noah’s Ark story that I love. But there are parts of the story that I would cut out.
In our scripture passage this morning, we hear these words, “God regretted making human beings and wanted to wipe out the human race from the face of the earth.” What kind of loving, compassionate God would want to wipe the human race from the earth? Moreover, this idea that God only saved Noah and his family because Noah alone was righteous? Such thinking that some are worthy of being saved and others are not lead to privilege, control and power. Ultimately, a story like this can lead to white supremacy, colonialism, and nationalism. Let’s just take care of ourselves and forget the rest of the world. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to add bad theology to a story about a horrific natural disaster? I would take a pair of scissors to parts of the Noah’s Ark story and that would just be the beginning of my editing…
The Bible is replete with terrible texts, the sins of scripture. The Bible has been used to justify every kind of evil. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, segregation, the superiority of men to women; the superiority of Christianity to other religions so that one could actually hate people of other religions because they were infidels. Women were treated as property in the Hebrew tradition. Polygamy meant that men could have as many wives as he could afford because wives were property. The Bible is replete with the sins of scripture. The Bible has been used as a weapon to exclude others, to control others, to scare others. One person called such religious abuse of the Bible, “leatherbound terrorism.” “Leatherbound terrorism” is a fitting word.
“Leatherbound terrorism” was used a week ago at Redlands’ very first Pride in the Park. I was so proud of this congregation. We had a good number of persons from our church supporting Pride in the Park. But across the street were a small group of men, women and children who held up signs quoting scripture. “It is an abomination for a man to lie with another man as he lies with a woman.” “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Every Pride event across the country has protestors which is exactly why we need Pride. The protestors are always Christians holding up scripture passes that try to instill fear, control and judgment. I was especially grateful for those who chose to wear your RUCC shirts – to show that there is another way to be Christian in this world.
Many from the LGBTQ community face “leatherbound terrorism” on a regular basis with a mere six verses in the Bible. Six verses out of 31,102 verses in the entire Bible. Six verses used as clobber passages. Yet, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. He simply says to love God and love one another. The entire law can be summed-up in love. In fact, the word homosexuality never even appears in English translations of the Bible until 1946. Yet, six mere verses are used against the LGBTQ community. While I would immediately cut out these verses from the Bible because of the incredible damage they have done over the years, when put in their proper context none of them speak of loving same-sex relationships. One of the verses has to do with Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is not homosexuality, but lack of hospitality. Three of the verses are in Paul’s corpus and he uses the word “arsenokoitai” which means “weak man” or “man lying” and there are a lot of scholars today who think he was speaking of temple prostitutes, rather than loving same sex relationships. Two of them are in Leviticus – 18 and 20. But if we were to literalize everything in the Book of Leviticus, it would be an abomination to eat shellfish and to wear clothes made out of two different kinds of fabric. And children who talk back to their parents would be put to death.
Given that there are so many problematic verses in the Bible, how in the world did the word “holy” get in front of the word “Bible?” Holy Bible is simply a translation from the Latin for “sacra sciptura” which literally means sacred or holy writings. Some interpret that to mean the writings are “holy” because God is taken as the author and not human beings. If Paul had known that 2000 years later, people would be taking his words as the inerrant, infallible word of God, I think he would have been more careful about what he wrote. I prefer to understand “holy” in this way: Does it make us more whole, more free, more loving? There are scripture passages that do just that. From the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” From Matthew, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” From 1 Corinthians, “Faith, hope, love abide. These three but the greatest of these is love.”
The Course in Miracles says that we can choose the way of fear or we can choose the way of love. I choose to read the Bible through the lens of love. Why? Because God is not hate. God is not hell. God is love. As our children receive, study, and read their Bibles my prayer is that they, too, will hold on to the verses and stories of love. Love is the most direct experience of the Divine. God is love.
Ultimately, the Bible is a story that leads us toward inclusion, acceptance, affirmation and love. The Bible started as a tribal book and it grew through the prophets, through the person of Jesus and into a universal consciousness. The Bible edits itself.
Take today’s story. The Bible is clear: God regretted making human beings and wanted to wipe out the human race from the face of the planet. But then, God created the rainbow, the sign of the everlasting covenant. God said that God would never destroy the world with a flood again.
There are other examples, too. The Bible is clear: Moabites are bad. They were not allowed to dwell among God’s people (Dt 23). But then comes the story of “Ruth the Moabite” which challenges the prejudice against Moabites. Ruth is actually a part of Jesus’ lineage.
The Bible is clear: People from Uz are evil (Jer 25). But them comes the story of Job, a man from Uz, who was the “most blameless man on earth.”
The Bible is clear: God’s people hated the Samaritans. But then Jesus tells a parable about the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story.
The Bible is clear. No foreigners or eunuchs allowed (Dt 23). But then comes the story of an African eunuch welcomed into the church (Acts 8). Yes, a black, Ethiopian, gender variant person is the first gentile convert to Christianity.
The Bible ultimately moves us toward openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, affirmation and love. Love is the most direct experience of the Divine. For God is love. Amen.