Saturday, August 9, 2014

Speaking to the Church - Cultural bias and the call towards a Great Commonwealth of Love

As the reader engages with this blog post may they be richly blessed with revelation and understanding.

I write this post on cultural bias very much aware that I engage in cultural bias.  While this post could be considered a great endeavor of cultural or religious bias I find that I am compelled to address such.  Now, that I, and I would add many others, regardless of the religious/spiritual spectrum, engage in cultural bias is no surprise yet this normative reality must be addressed if we are to overcome a particular debilitating hypocrisy which daily seeks to transform the Church and ourselves into a phenomenon of deception, denying the very life and ministry of Jesus Christ, even the Cross.  Yet I know that the Church and I are capable of so much more grace and mercy, and it is from this point that this post emerges.

And so……….
While recuperating from surgery I went to the Christianity Today magazine website.  A conservative religious publication, it holds a worldview grounded in conservative interpretations of sacred biblical texts.   Exploring the site I came upon an article on George Fox and California Baptist Universities and housing policy regarding transgender students posted by Kate Tracy 7/15/2014.  I posted a comment regarding transgender inclusion from a viewpoint of liberation based on Isaiah 61:1-3 and further comments regarding Eunuchs based on Matthew 19:12, Acts 8:26-40, Isaiah 56:3-5 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Now having started my biblical studies at Regent University, a conservative seminary in Virginia Beach, Virginia I was familiar with their interpretation so their responses were not surprising.  Comments such as “there is no way Isaiah 61:1-3 could possibly mean the acceptance of crossdressing or “if you have had the operation then may God keep your soul but if you have not had the operation then you need to repent.”  These were typical comments.  In the midst of this exchange I began to ask the question of cultural bias and reflection of that bias in matters of biblical interpretation as a sacred act in myself and in the wider Church.  Cultural bias occurs as we seek to interpret the sacred text from a standpoint which affirms our own context, i.e. race, gender, sexuality, economic status, etc.  In a nutshell. 

Cultural bias is the phenomenon of interpreting and judging phenomena by standards inherent to one's own culture. The phenomenon is sometimes considered a problem central to social and human sciences, such as economics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

And this is my concern, that cultural bias opens the door for all manner of oppressions for the sake of affirming cultural and social sensibilities based in empirical notions of tribalism and/or nationalism.   Patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, bi-phobia, slavery and even capitalism, just to name a few, have their beginnings and their legitimacy, at least in the context of the western Church, in biblical interpretations and scholarship that are more often  about affirming a particular hegemonic worldview.   Scripture, its interpretation and even god "himself"are called to serve at the pleasure of a narrative skewed as a matter of power, i.e.,  the sacred now serves at the pleasure of the secular, and faith is now enslaved to reason.  As such any difference from the secular normative is seen and experienced as adversarial, and the enemy of a supremacy of the "secular righteous.”   Politicians then, whether conservative, liberal or progressive, some of whom are ministers in their respective denominations, who spout biblical propaganda with a tinge of the apocalyptic to give it the appropriate hue to get the unsuspecting to vote them and their agenda’s into office are a danger to the safety and well being of a progressive democratic society and its principles.  That said, cultural bias is a dangerous reality and those who consider themselves sincere about their faith must be mindful of this.

The Great Commonwealth of Love 

I suggest that the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of cultural bias in Galatians 3:28-29 (NRSV) as he critiques identity, calling for oneness in Christ.   Vanessa Sheridan, author of Crossing Over, Liberating the Transgendered Christian, writes, in her analysis of Gal 3:29 "There is no longer male or female!. . . Could this possibly mean that faith in Christ transcends the barriers of sex and gender, thus rendering each person, regardless of sexual or gender orientation, equally precious in the sight of God?"[1]  And therefore shall Christ overcome cultural bias?  The Apostle Paul’s critique makes this evident and that the one who would seek to interpret the text must do so with the utmost integrity in Christ and this beyond cultural bias.  Christ within, must be the lens of vision, and the origin of the interpretation.  

The experience of crossing the proverbial theological and biblical battle lines of cultural bias and interpretation reveals the importance of a Great Commonwealth of Love.  The Great Commonwealth of Love, based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-12) NRSV becomes the ground of a great covenant.   I want to suggest here that this covenant, particularly in regard to the Church of the 21st century must be a covenant rooted in the dynamic life, witness and ministry of Jesus and community.  That said, the one who would embrace life in the Church must study the life and ministry of Jesus and the Cost of Discipleship in Luke 14:25-35 (NRSV) in community to ascertain what it means to be a reflection, a follower, even a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Identifying with Jesus and reflecting Jesus then, in terms of a response to the issues and concerns of life in community, emerge as a significant discourse of utmost importance within the great covenant.  This is central, particularly in regard to living and working in a multi-cultural society engaged in various issues full of implications and consequences.

Three questions asked

How deep shall the disciple delve into the teachings of Jesus Christ?

What presence shall the Holy Spirit have within their soul?

Shall the disciple’s very consciousness become love itself? 

Within the implications and complications contained in a complex, painful and suffering world the joyous beloved embodies Jesus, even the Christ through fervent prayer, reflection, contemplation and ministry.  And this becomes a means to embrace the heart of God embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Beloved, may I be offer clarity on this point even more so, that the one who seeks to be a disciple of Jesus must do so with a peculiar mystic joy, a joy necessary to move in a complex world.  The follower of Jesus Christ and his teachings living in a 21st century multi cultural capitalist society is compelled by the realities of the spirit to develop a critical faith.  As the disciple lives a critical faith, increasingly engaging the deepest depths of love for the sake of humanity, there is an ever increasing intention towards a consciousness of love.  The beloved’s consciousness becomes love.

And is this not what Jesus Christ lived daily, a life of critical faith, evidence of a love so deep that even now it cannot be fully understood or comprehended yet so intimate to the human soul. 

Having a consciousness of love the issues and concerns of cultural bias become notions of the juvenile and of no consequence in a movement of joy and love.  For in the final analysis the goal is not so much to be an image of cultural bias, i.e., the bible or the bible itself for that matter but to be the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ.

[1] Vanessa Sheridan.  Crossing Over,  Liberating the Transgendered Christian.  (Cleveland, OH, The Pilgrim Press) 124.