Friday, May 25, 2012

A Few Words on Top-Down Theology

by Crystal Lewis
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
From: Crystal St Marie Lewis

By now, you’ve probably heard about Pastor (and I’m using that title loosely) Charles Worley’s “Kill-All-The-Gays” rant. It took several days for me to actually watch the utterly vile video for myself because I couldn’t bring myself to press the “play” button. I didn’t see a clip of his hate speech until I stumbled upon this CNN article which records the minister saying:

“I want to read it out of the Bible, and then we’ll go from there.”

“Listen, all of the Sodomites, the lesbians, and all of the … what’s that word? Gays – I didn’t wanna say ‘queers’ – that say we don’t love you, I love you more than you love yourself,” Worley said, according to WBTV. “I’m praying for you to be saved.”

When I first read this article, the words “I want to read it out of the Bible, and we’ll go from there” jumped out at me like the boogeyman. While I have not personally experienced the kind of Bible-based oppression that many of my LGBT friends are enduring, I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh Bible-thumpery.
For instance, I was once told that my chronic illness (which I’ve had from birth) could not be healed by God because I was involved in some kind of secret “sin”. According to that person, once I rid my life of that “sin,” God would oblige my request for healing. While I now understand that this is actually a ridiculous, spiritually abusive teaching, I was too far under the influence of that Bible interpretation to reason my way out at the time. I didn’t realize that it would not have made sense for God to “punish” a newborn baby with an illness throughout her entire life, all the while demanding that she discover the mysterious reason why. Instead of immediately freeing myself from the leaders who propagated that awful teaching, I embarked on on several severe periods of asceticism to atone for my unknown “transgression,” earn more of God’s approval, and–as I once hoped–score a supernatural “healing”.

There were other not-so-great experiences during my former life as a devotee of extreme Bible teachings. I was once told to “line up with God’s word,” which is a politer brand of Fundamentalese for “Shut up and do what we tell you to do”– and I complied until I couldn’t anymore. I walked away from that life with a sense of tremendous dismay. I was spiritually drained and emotionally exhausted.

I understand the disillusionment that comes from irresponsible “Bible instruction” at the hands of ministers, so when I see remnants of those negative behaviors (like the behaviors displayed by Charles Worley) I’m instantly turned off.

One of my biggest issues with such an interpretation is that it requires us to use scripture in a way that is so different from the way Jesus used scripture. For example, have you ever noticed that when those in power used their influence to entrap people with doctrine, Jesus used compassion to release them from it? Yes– when the powerful sentenced an adulterous woman to death by stoning, Jesus protected her. When those with religious power ostracized the “infirm,” (the lepers, the “unclean”) Jesus reached beyond the “Law” and touched them. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ time sought to esteem precepts over people–like refusing to allow hungry men to harvest grain on the Sabbath–Jesus broke the rules. He seemed to be saying that their “old way” of using scripture wasn’t working anymore, and that it was time to use it in a new way.

It’s obvious to me that the powerful religious elite preferred to read scripture from the Top-Down, meaning that they interpreted scripture in ways that would protect their societal and religious privilege. Jesus, however, employed a Bottom-Up method of scripture interpretation. He read scripture in ways that empowered those on the edges of society… the oppressed… the “unclean”… the forgotten. I’ve come to see this as the challenge of today’s theologians and ministers. I think there should be more of an effort to help people use scripture as a tool for empowering those who are being pushed to the Bottom. We need to start imitating The Master, even if it’s unpopular. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even when we’re afraid.

Christianity has a reputation among the non-religious for being a hatred-producing propaganda machine because we have yet to master the art of using scripture in the way that Jesus used it. I hope this changes in my lifetime.


Prophet said...

Amen my Sister! Great wisdom and insight for us all to meditate and act upon! Blessings and peace!

Sapphire Unbound: A Black Womanist Scholar Speaks her Mind said...

Always amazed when folk preach from the "Bible" and never tell you the source of the quoted scripture. Good job with this post.