What was Kim Burrell thinking? Didn’t she know that we are living in an age characterized by the mythical Argos Panoptēs—an age where anything we do can be instantly available to billions through social media? Did she honestly believe that she could preach an offensive sermon and get away with it? Didn’t she know that many of the bigoted and outdated teachings in the Bible have no place in our enlightened society?
Let’s be honest. Although that ancient book still plays a prominent role in Judeo-Christian religious traditions, its content is seriously out of touch with modern American values. Yes, I am fully aware that “Christians” of both conservative and progressive ideologies often extract pet portions of the Bible to serve their politically expedient purposes. However, for a significant number, its teachings are a most meddlesome inconvenience that if embraced will place them in a permanent state of cognitive dissonance.
The Bible is a Relic of a Superstitious Past
Think about it. On January 20, 2017, the world will witness the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America. As did the majority of his predecessors, professed Christian, Donald J. Trump, will likely place his hand on a Bible and repeat the words of a presidential oath.
In the hyper-superstitious age in which the ceremony was first conceived, this act was supposed to evoke a preemptive fear in the president being sworn in. After touching that leather-bound talisman, he wouldn’t dare dishonor biblical principles less something bad happen to him!
Well, we’ve seen how well that’s worked! After taking their “solemn” oaths, American presidents have forcefully and repeatedly thrust their middle finger at the very Bible that was supposed to guide their ethics. They have had no problem enforcing laws that promote slavery, segregation and mass incarceration.
They have repeatedly reneged on treaties made with the tribal nations from whom this land had been stolen. They have demonstrated primary allegiance to the lucrative military industrial complex by continuously stoking the flames of global unrest with myths of WMDs and the liberal use of child killing drones.
The Bible is a Convenient Political Prop
Like his predecessors, when Donald J. Trump places his hand on the Bible on that fateful Friday, he will do so with the full knowledge that this is a meaningless ritual. For Trump, the inaugural Bible could very well be My New Order, a collection of Adolf Hitler’s speeches from which he is alleged to have drawn inspiration.
As far as he’s concerned, this revered book is nothing but an irrelevant, but convenient, prop! Its only purpose is to appease the gullible masses who are still beguiled by the myth of a “Christian” America.
The same is true for Vice President-elect Mike Pence. He will also take an oath on some noteworthy Bible with the full knowledge that he doesn’t embrace much of the social justice mandates contained therein. Like most of the cold-hearted “evangelicals” that voted for his ticket, he has chosen to identify with the thieves and callous clergy in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Forget this “love thy neighbor” foolishness. Hurry up and build the wall! Scrap the Affordable Care Act! Defund the government program that many women depend on for their unique healthcare needs! Siphon more money from the poor and middle class and deposit it in the portfolios of the wealthy!
And while Pence pushes his “conservative” agenda with the dogged tenacity of his mentor, Dick Cheney, tens of millions of Bible thumpers in the Bible Belt and beyond demonstrate their assent with a resounding, “Amen!”
The Bible is an Obstacle to American Freedom
Whereas the conservatives’ repulsion to the Bible is guarded by a conniving cloak of acceptance, progressives are more honest. As far as they are concerned, the socially liberating sections of so called “scripture” are not enough to redeem its bigoted and outdated parts.
A book that clearly promotes discrimination should not have a place of honor in a society where individual citizens are promised the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It is a dangerous book that—although protected by free speech—must be delegitimized, which brings us back to Pastor Kim Burrell.
This award-winning gospel singer and pastor has been under fire for the past week because she is apparently in agreement with the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior amounts to sin. This is definitely out of sync with twenty-first century American mores, when even the Supreme Court agrees that marriage should not be defined by gender.
In fact, there are several other biblical teachings that don’t fare well in our progressive society. For instance, did you know that sex before marriage, anal sex, pornography and even masturbation are also classified as sin?
Which brings me to another series of questions: Would the response to Kim Burrell’s “bigotry” have been as visceral had she described pre-marital sex or pornography as “sinful” and “perverted”? Would Pharell Williams and Janelle Monae have turned on her so quickly, as if they were genuinely shocked and surprised that an African American Christian minister held those beliefs?
In all their dealings with her, did they detect anything in her behavior that even suggested that she hated an entire category of people simply because of their sexual identity or lifestyle choices?
The Bible informs “Personal” Belief and Behavior
What many people don’t understand about biblical religion—and religion in general—is the fact that a person’s belief is supposed to influence their “personal” behavior. Those who are not a part of the institution are not expected to embrace the beliefs.
In a society that claims to cherish freedom of religion, it should be expected that some will hold personal beliefs that others will find offensive. The challenge in a pluralistic democracy is creating an environment in which people with contrary convictions can act civilly in the public sphere.
The test of civility is not whether a person believes a certain thing that may be deemed offensive, but how she behaves towards the person who does not share her beliefs. Demanding that a person discards what she believes is the “Word of God” is an immature response to the complex phenomenon we call “religion.”
The truth is, on one issue or another we are all ideological “bigots” in the eyes of those who feel discriminated against. I wonder how many of us support efforts to normalize sexual relationships between close kin? I wonder how many agree with the ACLU’s decision to defend NAMBLA, an organization that promotes pedophilia?
Since we are all subject to the “bigot” label, a person who adheres to the bigoted teachings of a book that clashes with popular societal mores should not be surprised when Ellen disinvites her from her show. They are operating under two irreconcilable world views. However, Ellen should realize that in disinviting Kim, she is behaving just as bigoted as the one whom she accuses of bigotry.
With a broad ideological brush, she has apparently chosen to lump Kim Burrell among the fanatics at the Westboro Baptist Church. In doing so, she has missed an opportunity to understand why a person who believes homosexual behavior is a sin has no problem befriending people in the LGBTQ community.
Like Trump, Pence and their crew of callous conservatives, Ellen, Williams, Monae and their well-meaning band of progressive activists have missed an opportunity to experience the true message of an ancient book that is so offensive to modern society: “If you truly love God, you must also love your neighbor even as you love yourself.”