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Derek Flood
Derek Flood is the author of Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. In addition to writing for the Huffington Post, he is also a regular contributor for Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, and at his website:

A longtime voice in the post-conservative evangelical movement, Derek’s focus is on wrestling with questions of faith and doubt, violence in the Bible, relational theology, and understanding the cross from the perspective of grace and restorative justice.

Entries by Derek Flood

The President Sings Amazing Grace: A Song About "Our Nation's Original Sin"

(0) Comments | Posted June 29, 2015 | 2:01 PM

President Obama delivered an emotional eulogy this past Friday for Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the other victims of the AME church shooting in Charleston. If you have not yet heard it yet, you can it watch above, as well as read the full transcript of the President's speech.

Offering thoughtful reflections on themes such as institutional racism, gun control and the epidemic of mass shootings in America, what was perhaps most remarkable about Obama's speech was that it was not delivered as a political speech at all, but as a gospel sermon.

The central theme that the President kept returning to was the subject of grace. Grace as a gift of God. Grace in the face of loss and pain. Grace in the face of evil and hate.

The President spoke of the grace that opened the church doors and invited a stranger in. The grace the families of the fallen showed when they saw the alleged killer in court, and in the midst of unspeakable grief, met him with words of forgiveness.

The sermon reached a crescendo when the President paused.

It was a long pause.

Then President Obama began to sing in a low baritone the words to the familiar gospel hymn Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.

Amazing Grace is a song we all know well. It has been called our country's "spiritual national anthem," and has become a song that inspires hope in the wake of tragedy. But there is a significance in the words of this song that are particularly significant in the immediate context of the AME shooting, and its connection to the continuing effects of what Obama referred to as "our nation's original sin."

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in 1779. When he penned the words "that saved a wretch like me" he was not expressing remorse for some personal failing - such as intemperance or infidelity. John Newton came to see himself as a "wretch" because of his participation in the African slave trade. This was Newton's great sin. When the words of this song exclaim "I was blind, but now I see" Newton's blindness was specifically to the damage of systemic racism, and his participation in it for economic gain. This was what his eyes were opened to, leading to his conversion and outspoken advocacy for abolition.

Amazing Grace is a song about repenting of systemic sin. We typically think of "sin" in individual terms, as personal failings. Systemic sin is often not on our radar at all, but it needs to be. They say "all sins are the same in God's eyes," but that simply isn't true. Newton's involvement in the slave trade clearly affected and damaged more lives than any of his individual failings could have. What makes it all the worse is that systemic sin often hides under the mantle of political or religious authority, claiming as the system to represent "the good." That is the nature of systemic sin, and it is indeed wretched.

In recent years there has been a move to soften the words of the hymn, replacing the line "that saved a wretch like me," with more palatable verse, such as"that saved and strengthened me" or "that saved and set me free." While it's easy to understand the desire to move away from the song's negative theological roots of self-loathing, at the same time, there is a power in those words that perhaps we should seek to face, even if that's hard to do, even when it's hard to face and own up to.

Even now, in a time when we have become almost numb to the news of yet another mass shooting, weary of all the vitriol, tired of nothing changing -- as we stare into the depths of our nation's addiction to violence, and its deep scars of racism -- perhaps especially now we need to rediscover as a country, as a community, the kind of grace that John Newton did.

Amazing Grace is a song about one man's real and ugly sin. The sin of slavery. At the same time it is a song about the power of forgiveness, a song about looking into the depths of very real evil and, even there, especially there, finding grace that is bigger than all the hate.

That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


Derek Flood is the author of Disarming Scripture.
Follow Derek on Twitter @theRebelGod and on

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Why Jesus Would Say 'Black Lives Matter'

(6) Comments | Posted June 4, 2015 | 4:55 PM

When people defend state violence, they do so because they believe that it keeps them safe. I recognize this, and I'm glad we have police. I feel much safer knowing that they are there.

However, as we have seen in the many protests across the country in response to police...

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Racism, Crime, and America's Faith in Punishment and Violence

(0) Comments | Posted February 7, 2015 | 8:37 PM

Whether it's our response to terrorism abroad or to crime at home, we as Americans deeply believe in state violence. It leads us to justify torture in Guantanamo or tear-gassing protestors in our nation's streets by militarized police as a "necessity." This narrative of "redemptive violence," as the late Walter...

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Questioning Genocide and Slavery in the Bible

(54) Comments | Posted January 5, 2015 | 8:17 AM

There are a number of things in the Bible that should trouble any reader. We find in its pages things like genocide, gang rape, and slavery -- not only being sanctioned, but at times even being commanded. For example we read in the law of Moses the divine command for...

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Violence-Loving Conservatives, Cherry-Picking Liberals, And Why We All Need to Learn to Read Scripture Like Jesus

(7) Comments | Posted December 18, 2014 | 5:43 AM

Does the Bible describe a God of love or a God of genocide? How are we to reconcile that the apparent answer to this question is that it describes both? As people of faith, we need to face the sobering fact that some parts of our Bible command us to...

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Ferguson and America's Love Affair With Violence

(0) Comments | Posted August 25, 2014 | 4:29 PM

In Ferguson, an unarmed black teenager was killed by police. In reaction, thousands took to the streets in protest. However, rather than attempting to listen, the heavily militarized police immediately made a show of force with armored vehicles, assault rifles, riot gear, and tear gas. People tweeted photos and videos...

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Is There a Nonviolent Response to ISIS?

(2) Comments | Posted August 12, 2014 | 3:55 PM

Alarm and outrage has been growing over the mounting humanitarian crisis in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Christians in the region are being forced to

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Pasta and Peacemaking: Learning Non-Violence From My Kids

(0) Comments | Posted May 28, 2014 | 2:33 PM

So my son comes marching into the kitchen and says in a demanding tone, "Make me snacks now!" My first reaction is to think that this is simply unacceptable behavior, and that he needs a good talking to. But I also notice that I am quite triggered by this, and...

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Sin, Guilt, and Psychology: What I Wish All Pastors Knew

(1) Comments | Posted March 3, 2014 | 7:12 PM

"Whatever happened to sin?" This complaint is one frequently heard from conservative pastors lamenting that no one wants to hear about sin in a society increasingly repelled by the idea of guilt. We have come to associate guilt today with negative ideas like "guilt-trips," and with feelings of shame. As...

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VIDEO: Steve Chalke on Taking the Bible Beyond Fundamentalism and Atheism

(4) Comments | Posted February 18, 2014 | 3:04 PM

Prominent UK Evangelical leader Steve Chalke has released a position paper entitled Restoring Confidence in the Bible that may become for progressive Evangelicals what the Chicago Statement was to their conservative counterparts nearly four decades ago. Supporters include prominent post-conservative Evangelical leaders such as Tony Campolo,...

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A Better Story: Justice Redefined by the Gospel

(2) Comments | Posted January 9, 2014 | 1:43 PM

Go to see an action film this weekend, and in addition to the spectacle of epic visual effects, you will likely encounter a very familiar story line where in the end the good guys win and the bad guy "gets what he deserves." That's the way life is supposed to...

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VIDEO: Jon Stewart Blown Away By Muslim Girl Showing Love of Enemies to Taliban

(16) Comments | Posted October 10, 2013 | 8:12 AM

October 9, 2012, exactly one year ago this Wednesday, a Taliban gunman boarded the bus that Malala Yousafzai was riding home from school and shot her in the head along with two of her classmates. The violent reprisal came after the teen refused to stop speaking on behalf of schoolgirls...

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Does Religion Promote Violence?

(328) Comments | Posted September 16, 2013 | 4:18 PM

Does religion promote violence? In our post 9/11 world this is a question that people are increasingly asking. Does religion make you a better person, or does it in fact do the opposite, and instead foster hate, fear, and violence? One does not have to look far to find examples...

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A Better Story: Re-Thinking What Justice Looks Like

(1) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 4:56 PM

Go to see an action film this weekend, and in addition to the spectacle of epic visual effects, you will likely encounter a very familiar storyline where in the end the good guys win, and the bad guy "gets what he deserves" (usually by being killed by an "accident" of...

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Questioning the Bible: What I Would Have Said to Bill Maher

(740) Comments | Posted July 30, 2013 | 6:04 PM

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was recently a guest on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. In the course of the show Maher confronted Wallis on the Bible, asking him some very pointed questions about some of its more troubling texts. You can watch the exchange here:

Maher asks, "How do you reconcile this idea that it all comes from the Bible, but the Bible is so flawed... I mean, it's just so full of either nonsense or viciousness." In response, Wallis steered the conversation back to the topic of social justice and compassion, often overlooked Biblical mandates. Maher objected several times "You're not answering the question," accusing Wallis of "cherry-picking the good parts" of the Bible while ignoring the bad parts.

Now, I'm a big fan of Jim Wallis (heck, I blog for Sojourners!), and I appreciate that he moved the conversation away from Maher's attempted divisiveness and back to caring for the poor and immigration reform in this country. He's totally right that caring for the marginalized should be the priority of us Christians, and I can sympathize that he wanted to stay focused on that.

At the same time, I think the question Bill Maher was raising is an important one, too, because it ultimately has to do with caring for the marginalized as well. That is, when the Bible is read in a hurtful way, it can and has been used throughout history to justify horrendous violence and mistreatment. That matters, and consequently it matters how we read the Bible. So as someone who has focused on confronting those "bad parts" in Scripture, I wanted to take a stab at addressing Maher's questions.

"Explain to me," Maher said, "how a book that's written by God, who's perfect, has so much... It's pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it's homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murder... and I always say to my religious friends: If a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?" The implication here is that if we find anything bad in the Bible this would invalidate it all, because it is supposed to be a perfect book written by a single author with one unified voice.

But that simply is not what the Bible in actuality is. In reality the Bible contains a multitude of conflicting and competing voices, articulating opposing perspectives in the form of an ongoing dispute contained throughout its pages. More concretely, we find an ongoing dispute within the Old Testament between two opposing narratives: The first is a narrative of unquestioning obedience that condemns all questioning (often enforcing this through threat of violence). This is the narrative Maher has zeroed in on. But within those same pages of the Hebrew Bible there is also a persistent opposing counter-narrative that confronts that first narrative as being untrue and unjust, and that upholds questioning authority in the name of compassion as a virtue.

Jesus and the New Testament as a whole are an extension of this second counter-narrative of protest (which explains why Maher says to Wallis "I'm down with you padre, I think Jesus is a great philosopher"). But what is truly remarkable is not simply the difference between the Old and New Testaments, but that these conflicting voices were included side-by-side within in the Hebrew canon itself. The Old Testament is a record of dispute which makes room for questions by its very nature.

Because of this, it calls us to enter into that dispute ourselves as we read. In fact, because of its multiple conflicting narratives we simply must choose, we must take sides in the debate, we are forced to embrace some narratives in the Bible and reject others. So I choose to embrace the narrative of compassion and social justice that is found in both Testaments, and reject the narrative of using religion and the Bible to justify violence and oppression, which can be found there, too.

Now is that cherry-picking? No, it's not, and I'll tell you why: Cherry-picking is when you misrepresent the evidence by referring to only the good parts as if they are representative of the whole, while ignoring the bad parts as if they were not there. It's not about choosing the good over the bad; it's about giving a false impression that it's all good and there is no bad. I'm not denying that there are bad parts, and I'm not trying to justify or downplay them. On the contrary, I think it's imperative that we confront them. That confrontation is in fact modeled for us within the pages of the Old Testament, and expanded on further by Jesus who follows in that same prophetic tradition of faithful questioning.

At the end of the interview Jim Wallis concluded, "You can find all kinds of things in the Bible that have led to patriarchy, oppression, violence, division" However, he continued, "you also can point to faith communities at the center of every social reform movement in this country invoking the same Bible for social justice and for peace." I see Wallis here embracing the biblical narrative of social justice and peace, while rejecting the narrative of patriarchy, oppression, violence, division. To that I can add my hearty "amen."

The difficulty, I think, is that we progressives often feel the need to apologize for making those kinds of choices when we read scripture -- both to those on the religious right who criticize us for not reading the Bible like a fundamentalist, and to those on the anti-religious left like Bill Maher who (ironically) have likewise assumed a fundamentalist reading of the Bible themselves. So what I want to say to my fellow progressives is that we should choose, and that we find a clear biblical precedent and legitimization within in the Hebrew Bible itself for making those choices for justice and compassion, as well as in the way Jesus engaged Scripture -- evident in his frequent confrontations with the religious authorities of his own faith who held to the narrative of unquestioning obedience.

A faithful reading of scripture is therefore not about defending the bad parts of the Bible (whether by seeking to justify or downplay them). On the contrary, a faithful reading entails wrestling with those troubling texts as the biblical authors did themselves. When we are standing up against the voice of authority in the name of the voiceless, we find ourselves in the company of the many counter-voices within the Bible who are doing the same. We find ourselves engaging the Bible in the same way the prophets did, and the same way Jesus did. That's a good place to be. As people of faith, we shouldn't wait for Bill Maher to ask these questions, we should already be wrestling with these troubling texts ourselves. After all, the very name "Israel" means "wrestles with...

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The Complexity of Humans

(7) Comments | Posted May 17, 2013 | 6:07 PM

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Rebecca Saxe's TEDTalk raises some fascinating questions at the crossroads between neuroscience and moral development. According to her research there is a particular part...

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'ParaNorman': Unmasking the Myth of Redemptive Violence With Cartoon Zombies

(13) Comments | Posted April 30, 2013 | 12:21 PM

"ParaNorman," the stop-motion animated feature by Laika Studios, just came out on Netflix instant download, so we decided to watch it for our family movie night. It's a fun film, perhaps a bit too scary for the little ones, but what really stood out for me was the surprisingly deep...

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Jovan Belcher's Murder-Suicide Raises Questions of Traumatic Brain Injury in the NFL

(37) Comments | Posted December 3, 2012 | 11:22 AM

Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs shot and killed his girlfriend in front of his mother on Saturday morning (December 1, 2012), and then drove to the Chief's practice facility where he killed himself in front of head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli in...

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Neuroscience and the Mind of Christ

(142) Comments | Posted December 3, 2012 | 7:50 AM

I believe in radical grace. I believe in the power of forgiveness and enemy love. But not because I am a naturally peaceful person. I believe it because I have seen the power it has to heal broken lives-- including mine!

But peace and forgiveness are not my natural inclination....

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Soldiers Are Not Heroes, They're Humans

(4) Comments | Posted November 16, 2012 | 3:24 PM

Soldiers are not heroes. They are not villains either. They are human beings; human beings who have been put in the middle of a horrific situation.

A ten year old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with...

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