Camps and visiting family always mean travel for my summers. This summer in particular I’ve also been able to visit several churches around the country. Two in particular stand out for very different reasons. They remind me both of what can go horribly wrong in a church (even with good motives) and what can go incredibly right. I will write on the ones that have done well later, as I have been blessed to see so many examples of that. Here, I’d like to tell you about a 100 year-old Bible Study, written and given about one month ago.
The Bible Study took place in a small country church in the West. I’m a fan of small churches so this is not the issue. What was the issue was the adult/youth teaching time in the sanctuary. On one hand, it was the checklist of everything that should happen. The teacher was prepared and enthusiastic. Those attending were receptive and attentive. They were even clear that they wanted to be critical thinkers. Their topic…”is the Bible really true?” This one question is so loaded it should really never be used as the title to any series, but even this was forgivable. My struggle came when the teacher lectured the verbose power point slides stating all he had learned as fact when his sources and citations were quite literally 100 years old on topics where we simply have more and accurate information today. He had Hittites speaking Akkadian when they did not. He discussed the controversy over Israelite grape farming concluding that they were keepers of the vine and therefore the Bible was true. And finally he argued that the Bible teaches one (and only one) particular view of gender roles in which women were not allowed in any form of leadership. While I disagree with his take on the gender roles topic, what was egregious was his conclusion that because this church is still living this particular view 2000 years later that the Bible must be true in its entirety. That’s a dangerous logical fallacy. My friend with me was digging her nails into my arm throughout the lesson and by the end made a beeline for the door. What amazed me almost more than this man’s teaching was the room of people nodding and drinking it in as if this was gospel. There was no time for questions in the midst of the lesson but comments after included things like “that was so interesting”, “he is so smart, we have a lot to learn”.
I have made it a guideline that when I speak or do camps or weekend events to not open the lid to a can of worms I either a) have not been asked to open or b) will not be there to clean up. Despite the danger of opening the can of worms, I can’t help but wonder if in this one instance I did the wrong thing by remaining silent. I wonder whether, perhaps, I should have stood up and pointed out where he went horribly wrong. That many, and I do mean many, of the points he offered were fine points but the evidence he used to get there was false. And then there were the points that were not fine. In particular, the points that keep half or more of the church in a silent and passive position not allowing them to be the brilliant, articulate, thoughtful people created in the image of God. All because this would call into question whether the Bible is true.
This bugs me on many levels. As a youth worker, I can’t help but think of the young people in the room who are growing up hearing and seeing this interpretation as normal. I couldn’t help but to look at the adults who were a foreshadowing of the young people unless they hear something different. Unless they learn that proving the Bible true does not require sacrificing who God has created them to be.