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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

The Devil you Know

In a conversation about church dynamics recently someone asked me if I could explain the difference, the disparity, between radically opposing interpretations of scripture. They for instanced Rev. Dr. William Barber, and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

They wanted to know, how a single gospel, or a single book, could be taken in two such divergent and seemingly opposed paths. My answer was, "It cannot be."

There is such a thing as an inaccurate and even harmful interpretation of the gospel. There always has been. We cannot forget that. Matthew 4:5-6 reminds us that the great deceiver quotes from psalms with ease and knows the Bible well. Knowledge of the Bible does not immediately align to Godly purpose.

In this conversation with my friend, I asked the to first examine the Godly quality of these two people that they saw as opposite.

Rev. Barber, famous now for the poor people's campaign and their work in NC to end gerrymandering, and along the border to stand up for the rights of people who seek asylum and safety in the U.S. His father was a physics teacher and their family moved to NC to participate in the desegregation programs in 1967. Rev. Barber created "Moral Mondays" outside the NC capitol to hold lawmakers accountable to their actions, and continues to work for the health care of all people, making a stand for the "poor people" (a title taken from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's original 1968 campaign) across all colors and political spectrum.

Jerry Falwell's father was of course the famous baptist pastor of central VA, who spoke out endlessly against de-segregation, and called the desegregation movement and affront to God's will and purpose for the world. Falwell Jr's legacy at the school in Lynchburg is by all accounts a draconian and harmful regime as reported by his own employees and students in several articles in the past few years. Jr is also not a pastor, but a lawyer, something that people tend to forget as they look to his views on Christianity. His legacy at the university is one of vocal harm to the LGBT community and is currently asking the FBI to investigate his own people for dis-loyalty to him. Expecting to use Federal resources to bolster his own power withing the LU community doesn't seem like the affects of a Christ centered leader. Anyone that disagrees with Falwell or threatens his narrow view of what God wants for the world is threatened by the University police force.

Without a deeper conversation about the Christian theology of each person, which life I wonder sounds more like the life of Christ, or Peter, or Paul, or Mary?

The fact is that people like Falwell, pastors included, are not reading the true power of the gospel. Instead, they are taking their own uneasiness with the current social culture changes (in Falwell's case a racism born of his father's instruction) and running into the Bible asking it to explain why they are right. It's the most profound form of "iso-gesis" (that is, putting our own slant into the scripture) and it is sinful all by itself. Not to mention the harm and destruction that using the Bible as a hit-man has and is causing.

The reason we have two divergent radically different "interpretations" of scripture is simply because one of them has nothing to do with scripture or the Word of God for the world. And we should know this.

While Rev. Barber's actions may hold us accountable in ways we didn't imagine, while we may be uncomfortable with his passion and strict moral value, we can see, or should be able to see, the alignment between what he is doing and the radical love of Jesus Christ.

Similarly we should be able to see the evil and harm in the actions of someone like Falwell. [Just to be clear, this isn't an attack on Evangelicals-who bring good news- but is a look at Falwell's completely un-Christian points and his viciously harmful practice. There are many evangelical brothers and sisters out there who are on the side of God.]

The scripture should confront us and make us uncomfortable. It is the blinding light that showed Saul a new path on the road to Damascus, the lesson that Jonah is still learning as he fumes outside of Nineveh, the re-connection with Joseph as family savior after his brothers though he was surely dead. In that confrontation there is often as sense of peace and hope and comfort and all of the things that we all want. The social justice portions of God's will for the earth do not have to be sacrificed in order for us to find comfort and rest from the taxing world. Instead, within that work there is the peace we have longed for and the solace we desperately need. The Bible is unified in it's interpretation. It is unified in its view of universal grace, Holy love, and the nature of a God who peruses his creation endlessly. The Holy Spirit can guide us into better visions of that interpretation as we become more ready for them. That's how the church continues to evolve to stay central to the story of humanity over thousands of years. We can disagree from time to time, but the centrality of God's will is that it should never be used as a weapon to gain power and control and wealth as many pastors and university presidents do. That way is a total capitulation to the temptation we all face, that voice whispering in our ears, when we see "all the kingdoms on earth and their power."

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