I know the Bible backwards and forwards.
I grew up a conservative, evangelical Christian and “The Bible” occupied a central place in our faith life. From Bible stories in elementary school to Bible drills in junior high to Bible memory verses in high school, it was “the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.”
As I began to realize I was queer, I turned to the Bible to see what it had to say about me (or about the person I was worried I might be). Like many other LGBTQ+ Christians, I studied the Bible furiously. Before I had even graduated high school, I had what felt like a master’s level education in the Bible. I spent my nights and weekends sneaking away to the computer to look up translations and commentaries and correspondence (all on dial-up internet!).
But that was just the beginning.
I came out in college, in what was one of my greatest acts of faith, and everything that I had studied and learned up until that point was put to the test. It was trial by fire. My family, my friends from church, my pastors, my fellow Campus Crusade mates, even strangers on the internet had questions and accusations. Defending my life and faith and goodness felt like a full-time job for a few years. (If you’ve only been out for a few years — or less — check out this incredible article by Fr. Shay).
I realized that I knew the Bible sooooo much more thoroughly than most of my straight peers. And of course! I had to! These were hypothetical arguments for them; the only thing at stake was showing off how good of a Christian they were. These issues were life or death for me. Was I abandoning God? Would I get into heaven? Was this the right course for my life?
But here’s what I’ve learned in the 15 years since then: when it comes to knowing and understanding the Bible, simply being LGBTQ+ and Christian is not enough.
It felt like I’d received a master’s level education in the Bible just by growing up queer and Christian, and while I may have been leaps and bounds ahead of most straight folks, I hadn’t actually received a master’s level education. Because the only way I’d been taught to read the Bible was through the lens of conservative Christians.
I had studied for years and years but I had been pointed in the wrong direction. I had been taught a twisted view of the Bible. I had important information withheld from me. The actual historical process of how the canon was decided. Discrepancies between differing versions of old manuscripts. Historical criticism. Literary criticism. Textual criticism. The religio-political context of the writers and the audience. Exile and empire. History. Science. The reality of what Jewish folks actually believe and how they actually practiced and practice their faith.
All of that had been covered up with “the Bible clearly says…” and that was the final word.
My entire understanding of Christianity — and the Bible — had been shaped by that worldview.
As Audre Lorde says, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
So I studied religion in college (at a not-conservative-Christian school). I studied directly under theologians and civil rights leaders as part of the Soulforce Equality Ride. I’ve read hundreds of books on theology from Bonhoeffer to Cone to Althaus-Reid to Bell to Lightsey to Cheng to Spong to Borg to Crossan to Edman. I’ve worked alongside fellow theologians with rigorous training and experience as we refine our knowledge together.
And I needed to do that because I could have never understood the Bible fully with the tools I’d be given. The tools of evangelical, conservative Christianity are not up to the task.
It took me years and years of study to realize how much misinformation I’d been given, how my very outlook had been shaped and distorted, beliefs and practices that I was taking for granted that just… weren’t that way.
We can have a intimate, personal relationship with the Bible, but in order to do that we need to understand it. It was written thousands of years ago. In a different place in a different context in different languages from our own. The Bible isn’t Harry Potter. It wasn’t written for us, by us.
I think the Bible is personal and political and inspiring and convicting. But in order for it to be any of that, we must first truly understand it.
For me that was undergraduate study and a decade of continuing education in faith-based activism. For Fr. Shay that was seminary and a decade of working and studying in churches. If you want to engage with the Bible in a meaningful way, it’s up to you to decide what that course of study looks like for you. I think it’s worth it though, because the Bible is a powerful book, but without the proper tools, it can be deadly.
I’m so excited that Fr. Shay is hosting a 4-week course on how to read the Bible. Journey Into the Bible is going to be a deep dive into where the Bible came from and how we can read it today. It’s not just explanation though, it will equip you to continue reading the Bible deeply and faithfully for the rest of your life. (It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than seminary).
Registration closes today, Thursday September 12 at 9pm Eastern time so register now if you want to join us.