I’d had a long day talking to young ministers and seminarians. So, when I lowered myself into the jacuzzi at the hotel, I wasn’t looking for conversation. I just wanted to let the heat work its magic.
Apparently, though, the gray haired man in an over-sized NASCAR t-shirt misread my closed eyes and generally round-shouldered posture as a signal that I was in the market for a little friendly fellow traveler chinwag.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“I love how you people from Looey-ville say it. Say it again.”
“Looh-a-vul,” I said, playing along.
“That’s it! I love that! What brings you out to California?”
“I was giving a talk to some young ministers and seminarians at Claremont.”
He gave me a knowing look. “If you’re a church guy, you don’t want to spend any more time in California than you have to. It’s Obama country out here, full of liberals. And I’ve got a pretty good idea about your politics, being a church guy and all. I suspect your political leanings are pretty much like mine: starts with an ‘R’ and not a ‘D.’
Apparently finding a response from me unnecessary, he plowed on. “Yeah, this state is a Mecca (sly wink) for lefties. You probably heard we got gay marriage here again (exaggerated eye-roll). And I know how you feel about that. Am I right?”
This time I didn’t wait for him not to wait for me: “Actually, I’m proud to be in California on this historic day when marriage for all people begins again in earnest.” And, being unable to help myself, I said, “I suspect God’s proud of California today, too.”
At that point, the discussion hit something of a lull, which wasn’t my intent, but a fact I considered serendipitous nevertheless. My conversation partner quickly excused himself, and I went back to staring at the inside of my eyelids.
As I sat there soaking in the jets of heated water, I recalled an exchange I’d had with a seminary president about this very issue earlier in the day. The seminary president made the comment that those Christians who support the full inclusion of LGBT people have done a lousy job over the past twenty years disabusing people of the mistaken notion that one can be supportive of LGBT people or one can believe the Bible -- but not both at the same time.
He’s right, you know -- the seminary president. My exchange with the jacuzzi conservative only served to illustrate the casual assumption that Christian support of LGBT folks is a hermeneutical dodge … “because, you know, everybody understands that the Bible says God hates gay people (Well, God doesn’t hate gay people; God hates the sin and not the sinner -- just like we do. You know what we mean.).”
Unfortunately, all too well.
But here’s the thing: Liberal Christians love the Bible. No, seriously. We love the Bible. We just refuse to treat it as though it is a set of timeless golden tablets that says all that needs to be said once and for all about everything of importance. (It doesn’t say anything, for instance, about why the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years.)
We liberals refuse to treat the Bible as a casuistical rule book for every conceivable eventuality, or as a precise blue print for every possible organizational contingency.
Liberal Christians aren’t liberal in spite of the Bible, but because of it. They don’t pursue justice for LGBT people because they haven’t read Scripture, but precisely because they have. And in the arc of the narrative of God’s interaction with humanity, liberal Christians find a radical expansiveness, an urgent desire to broaden the embrace of God’s hospitality to include those whom the religious big shots are always kicking to the sidelines.
In fact, on behalf of liberal Christians, I’m calling for a moratorium on the Liberals-hate-the-Bible meme. I’d like to suggest that the burden of proof should be on those who would read the Hebrew prophets and the Jesus of the Gospels and come away thinking that God has no problem tightening the screws on the abused and the powerless:
“Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden … and I will make sure that, until you get your life together to suit Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee, your weariness and heavy laden-ness will increase exponentially.”
Look. If Christians are ever going to establish credibility with anyone besides themselves, they’re going to have to start reading the Bible through the same eyes as the people with whom Jesus spent most of his time--those folks whom the religious power brokers are convinced don’t quite measure up.
The problem with assuming liberal Christians hate the Bible isn’t just that it fails to take liberals seriously, but that it fails to take the Bible seriously.