Another Perspective On The Nashville Statement By Rev. Dustin Bartlett

Reverend Dustin Bartlett

Another Perspective
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
September 3, 2017

Earlier this week a group of evangelical Christians, under the guise of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, released the “Nashville Statement.”  If you haven’t read it yet and you really want to, you can Google it.  I’m not going to reprint it here.

Or, I can save you the trouble of Googling it and summarize it for you:  “Sex before marriage is wrong.  Homosexuality is wrong.  Being transgender is wrong.  Marriage is between one man and one woman.”

It’s nothing new or groundbreaking.  On the contrary, it strikes me as being rather tired and old.  The preamble reads like it was written by people who are still pouting over the fact that the stranglehold they once held on political power in this country has forever slipped from their grasp.

But even though it’s nothing new, I feel the need to respond to the “Nashville Statement” specifically because its authors would have you believe that their statement is biblical.  (It isn’t.)  They would have you believe that the Bible expresses the very same views, with the very same clarity, that the “Nashville Statement” expresses.  (It doesn’t.)  They would have you believe that, if you want the Bible to be your guide, then you must endorse their views on sexual orientation and gender identity.  (I don’t, and you don’t have to either.)

I’m writing this article to make sure the world knows that there are millions – literally millions – of Christians who pray earnestly, who study the Bible earnestly, who seek to follow Christ earnestly, and who have come to a very different conclusion about what the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality.

Let’s start with this – the Bible doesn’t actually contain the word “homosexuality.”  Anywhere.  In the whole Bible.  That’s because there is no ancient Hebrew or Greek word which corresponds to the modern term “homosexuality”.  Not only did the ancient authors of the Bible not have a word for “homosexuality,” but they didn’t even have a conception of homosexuality as we use the term today. 

That’s not to say that there weren’t sexual relationships between people of the same-sex in the ancient world.  There certainly were, and they are widely attested to in the historical record.  However, the same-sex sexual relationships of the ancient world took place primarily between people whom we would today refer to as “straight” rather than “gay.”  And they were not distinguished from other sexual relationships based on the sexes of the participants, much less treated as a single, homogenous phenomenon distinct from sexual relationships between people of the opposite sex.

The idea expressed by the word “homosexual” – or better yet, “gay” – meaning a person who, due to their neurological and biochemical physiologies, is attracted to members of the same-sex  and who may want to pursue a life-long, committed, romantic relationship with another person of the same-sex was an idea that simply did not exist in the ancient world.

If the modern concept of homosexuality as something separate and distinct from heterosexuality didn’t exist in the ancient world, then the Bible can’t possibly be talking about homosexuality as use the term today.

It’s certainly true that there are passages in the Bible that condemn sexual relations between people of the same-sex.  But these aren’t addressing homosexuality as we understand the term.  They can’t be, because the ancient authors of the Bible had no such concept.  Rather, these passages of scripture are part of larger lists of taboo behaviors that were to be avoided in order to keep the people of God from worshipping the idols and the false gods of their neighbors who regularly engaged in those taboo behaviors.

The Bible doesn’t give a clear and direct condemnation of gay people or transgender people like the authors of the “Nashville Statement” would have you believe.  The Bible is incapable of making any such condemnation, because being gay or being transgender – as we use those terms today – is something for which the Bible’s authors simply lacked any conception.

The Bible is very clear, however, about how we are supposed to treat other people.  You won’t find the word “homosexuality” anywhere in the Bible, but you will find “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  You will find “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  You will find “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And you will find “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

In fact, in the Bible you’ll find a history of how God’s people slowly but surely let go of prejudices in order to keep expanding the circle of welcome.  In the New Testament, you’ll read the story about how, even though the scriptures were clear that gentiles could not be part of the Jewish worshipping community, the Jewish Christians welcomed their gentile brothers and sisters into the church.  And you’ll read about how, even though the scriptures were clear that a eunuch could not come into the temple (Deut. 23:1), the early Christian church welcomed an Ethiopian eunuch as one of their first converts.

All this is to say that those who try to tell you, “The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman,” either haven’t read their Bible very carefully, or more likely they intentionally selectively edited the Bible to fit their narrative.  And this article is to let you know that there are a lot of Christians, like me, who take the Bible very seriously and also totally affirm our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ.

P.S.  I hope you took away from this article that the Bible is big, and it’s complicated, and that’s even before we get into translating from Hebrew and Greek into English.  If you have questions or would like to discuss this further, I am the pastor of the Custer Community Church in Custer, SD.  You can contact me here.

There is More Than One Story To Be Told About Muslims in Trump’s America

By January 31, 2017

Let me tell you two stories that happened to two different people. Both concern religion in North America.

Register how you feel about each of them.

Story one: “Why are you not Christian?” a man asks you.

Story two: You wake up to find someone has left a Bible on your doorstep.

Which of these sounds more violent, more threatening to you? Or neither?

Now, imagine yourself a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in a Western country and repeat the two stories to yourself again. How would you feel?

Now let me complete each story and give you some context.

Story one

“Why are you not Christian?” the man asked, kindly, in broken English.

“We believe in Jesus and the Bible,” I said, wanting to comfort him, “and we have a lot of Christians in Egypt where I come from.”

This happened to me in Houston, Texas around 2007 or 2008. The man was a plumber coming in to fix my sink. He found it difficult to express himself in English but seemed to care about saving my soul, however misguided that was.

It didn’t occur to me to be offended or afraid. This was a time when America was on the cusp of electing either a black president, a female president or at least a female vice president. Houston, despite what all my American friends had told me before I left Egypt, was not a generally racist place to live.

Half of the surgery fellows working with my husband at the Texas Heart Institute were Muslim. Some strangers said “Assalamu Alaikum” (peace be upon you) to me on the streets, or stopped me and my friends to comment on the beauty of our colourful headscarves.

Story two

You wake up to find someone has left a Bible on your doorstep. This happened to a friend in North America, soon after Donald Trump was elected president. She felt it was a threat or a subtle act of violence. She wondered how her neighbours would feel if she placed a Qur’an on their doorsteps.

When I heard my friend’s story, it got me thinking about the possible intentions of the person who placed that Bible on her doorstep.

I trust that my friend’s feeling of being threatened was real in that context. But I wondered if the story might have been different. What if the story had included a note inside the Bible, showing who had left it, or giving an invitation to exchange holy books?

What if the Bible on the doorstep had been the beginning of a dialogue rather than a way to scare someone away? And if the person who left the Bible on my friend’s doorstep didn’t have bad intentions, why didn’t they do it in person and look her in the eye?

What does a Bible on a doorstep mean?

Context and power

There are differences between story one and two, chief among them are context and power. The political context and who the actors are make a difference to the story. An elderly, Hispanic plumber fixing my sink? Not a threat to my 20-something self in Houston, accompanying my surgeon husband doing a fellowship at a prestigious nearby hospital.

Had I been asked the same question by a white man, in an angry voice, in another context, my reaction would probably have been very different.

I am telling this story in the era where we are lamenting the rise of fake news and exploring our roles as educators to respond to it, as if a technical solution to figuring out if something is a lie will fix our problems. It won’t. Because it’s not a technical problem.

Education and understanding

Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US is not fake news. It’s real news. And as a community, we have to deal with it.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said:

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, ‘secondly’. Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story”.

The media does this all the time. So do politicians – we see Donald Trump right now, talking about banning Iraqi refugees and immigrants from entering the US, without mentioning the role of his country in causing the instability that motivated the immigration in the first place.

Adichie also says:

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”.

In my view, the best way to ensure that we and our children see more than the stereotypical story about people who are different from us is to expose them and ourselves to multiple stories. The bare minimum is to expose ourselves to other cultures on their own terms.

So, for example, we don’t learn about Native Americans from Pocahontas or from Western films. We learn from Native Americans themselves. If we don’t have direct access to them (I live a long way away in Egypt), find them online. Read or listen or even, if you’re lucky, converse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m Muslim, talking about Muslims in America. What brought this on? But in the midst of my concern over Muslims in America, I also noticed Trump’s presidential memo to advance approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, I can see the injustice in this, and the irony: on the one hand, a “nation of immigrants” that is neither honouring immigrants, nor honouring the original residents of this land.

We will always have blind spots towards cultures that are unfamiliar to us. But the more deeply we establish understanding of the “other”, the more we try to empathise, with social justice as our underlying value, the more likely we are to become empathetic, critical, global citizens. As educators, we must expand and diversify the people in our in-groups, and help students do this too.

Education expert Sean Michael Morris, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, urged us to change the way we teach. He wrote:

“An education that convinces us of what needs to be known, what is important versus what is frivolous, is not an education. It’s training at best, conscription at worst. And all it prepares us to do is to believe what we’re told”.

This goes for parents and mentors as well as those of us in more formal teaching roles.

Building empathy

The best way not to believe what we’re told is not to go fact-checking each and every thing we hear. Instead, I propose we start building our ability to understand people who are different from us, in context, rather than relying on harmful stereotypes. To know them as individuals, as they would like to be known, not as some dominant power (or US president) has decided we shall know them.

This is not quick or simple. But it can allow us to form a view of the world that rises above deception and to see what’s important in our humanity. And it will change the way we vote. When we empathise with others, we imagine how our decisions can impact them.

Remember those two stories I mentioned earlier? Back in 2007 and 2008, I felt comfortable and safe praying in a mosque in Houston. Now, I would not, given the latest news of Islamophobic violence in mosques coming from North America, most recently the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City that left six people dead.

My friend with the Bible on her doorstep, a dual citizen, was unable to attend a conference in the US a few days ago.

But that isn’t the biggest tragedy. The tragic stories are those of families torn apart by this executive order. Parents who cannot reach their children. What we need now, more than ever, is empathy.

The Conversation

Maha Bali, Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2: Scripture Study by Rev. Dustin Bartlett

Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2:  Scripture Study

by Rev. Dustin Bartlett

Welcome back to my three-part series on spiritual disciplines.  You can find part one, “Ending with Examen,” about the Examen prayer here.

One of the most important spiritual disciplines for Christians, as well as in many other faith traditions, is spending time reading and studying the sacred texts of the faith.  For Christians, our sacred scriptures are found in the Bible.

As a pastor, I’ve had a lot of people – good, churchgoing Christians – tell me that they don’t know very much about the Bible.  This becomes a reason to not study the scriptures – as in, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to understand what I’m reading, so I’m just not comfortable reading it.”  Unfortunately, this is also the reason they don’t know very much about the Bible in the first place!  Kind of a Catch 22 situation.

Although it’s true that knowing about the historical context of the scriptures, knowing the ancient geography and political arrangements, and knowing the original languages of the Bible does help to understand the scriptures better, there are plenty of good methods that allow anyone to read the scriptures and listen for a Word from God.

One that I’m fond of is often called the African Bible Study, because it was developed by evangelists and missionaries in Africa to help Christians who lived in remote and impoverished villages where educated clergy were rare.  It’s a series of three questions used to investigate the text.  Simply read a story in the Bible, and then ask yourself, “What is God doing in the story?” Next, ask “What are God’s people doing in the story?”  Finally, ask yourself, “What does this mean for us, as God’s people, today?”  It’s a great way to let the Bible guide your actions and the actions of the Christian church based on what God and God’s people did before.  And note, sometimes (read: often) God’s people didn’t get it right the first time!  Thank God for second chances!

Another popular method is the Lectio Divina, which is a part of the wider movement of Benedictine spirituality.  It’s a four step process.  First, read the passage slowly and reflectively.  Read it more than once if you’d like.  Pay attention to any words or phrases that might leap out at you.  Second, meditate on what you’ve read.  Think about the ways that the text connects to you and your life.  Third, pray to God a prayer which has been inspired by the reading and meditation.  Even if it’s a simple prayer like, “God, I don’t understand this passage; help me to understand.”  The final step is contemplation, and depending on your point of view it’s either the easiest or the most difficult.  That’s because this is not something that we do, but something God does.  Sometimes after reading and praying, you’ll sense a presence, hear a voice, feel the movement of the Spirit.  This is God using the message of the scriptures to affect change in us.  We can’t force this.  We can only receive it.

I hope these methods help you if you feel like studying the scriptures is too difficult.  But most of all, if you feel like you don’t have the expertise, then don’t do it alone!  Christianity is not a singular endeavor.  It takes place in the context of communities of Christians.  There are plenty of people and churches that would love to help you delve into the scriptures.  My own church, the Custer Community Church, has three different weekly small group Bible studies and a monthly Pastor’s Bible Study.  Whatever community you’re a part of, you’ll find that the most rewarding Bible studies are the ones you do with sisters and brothers.

Come back next week for the final installment on spiritual disciplines:  “Faith 5 with Family.”