November 17th, 2012
10:00 PM ET
My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’
Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”
By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN
On "The Daily Show" recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.
When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”
And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.
It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.
As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.
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And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics - that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.
But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.
When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.
Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”
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Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”
In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul's restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent"), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 ("Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head").
Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver's.
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This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.
After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.
So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?
These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of "The Year of Living Biblically", and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing."
This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband "master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.
During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family - and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.
My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and - at times - frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.
The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
While the article is some what good I do take issue with:
"After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives"
while these are in the Bible if you read the intire context you will realize that just because it's in the bible did not mean that it was God's perfect will. the references above are a gross miss representation of what the Bible was saying.
I've heard this same thing from several people on this thread with one common missing link - none of you actually explain WHAT we are missing! If you're going to post that we can't interpret the books of the OT and take them word for word, then please tell us what these passages really mean. Or is it that you have heard your explanation by your clergy and really don't know??
Nicely written. A cautionary tale about trying to distill doctrine out of a very old and complex tome amended and edited by innumerable people.
As far as Christianity goes, "love one another" is hard to argue with. If you can do that what else do you need?
I know the election just ended, but I don;t think it is to early for President Obama to fire up the FEMA camps and send these freaks off for some re-education...make them accept implanted microchips if they want food.
Yes, just like the athiests who ran the U.S.S.R would have done; that is a glimpse of what America would look like if they ran the show...gulags for everyone who disagrees with their flawed 'reason and logic'.
HM, Atheism has as much to do with the Gulag as Christianity does with the Holocaust. In addition, the gulag, hmm, sounds like the equivalent of the christian doctrine of hell right? A place of isolation and torture for those who do not agree. Looks like Christianity came up with the Gulag before the Commies did or the Brits came up with the concentration camp. Once again, Christianity inspires.
I want to make sure I'm getting what you're saying. Are you stating that BO should create camps to send "christians" or people who believe in God for "re-education"?
If so why is it that non christians know it's their right to believe what they want but it's wrong for "christians" to believe differently?
Why does so many people go out of their way to condemn people of faith? Why do you care what they believe? That has had my curiosity for many years. Can anybody explain that?
I've said it a few times, but I'll say it again... I don't mind the faith, I mind what is done in the name of that faith. If you want to believe in a deity, fine, have at it, but do not assume that everyone has to believe what you do and do not assume that those who believe differently are wrong.
It's very easy to say you are a Christian, much harder to be one. It seems to me that most "Christians" ignore most of what Jesus said almost entirely, and are not really "Christians" at all. For example what about this: "Whenever you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private" (Matthew 6:6). Here is another one that seems pretty much ignored by virtually all "Christians": "In the same way, none of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions" (Luke 14:33). Jesus had very few "rules" that he spoke of other than the Golden Rule (love your neighbor as yourself) and to love God above self, and yet there was one other that Jesus spoke of that is almost entirely ignored, (at least by protestants). "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and the woman who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery" (Mark 10:12).
Matthew 6:6 means, the word ‘closet’ is not to be taken literally, but means that our praying must not be done for show; if we make God’s interests our own, we are assured that He will make our interest His Own. Luke 14:33 means The key to victory regarding the world is the gathering of great resources to oneself; however, the key to this spiritual conflict is the very opposite, the “forsaking of all that one has”, this refers to a denial of dependence on self, and total trust being placed in Christ and what he has done for us at the Cross. There are two types of Christian, the fake ones and the born again one. I am a born again, I study the bible daily, and it is very easy to be a born again Christian. All a born again Christian needs to do is believe, the rest has been done by Christ.
I was very eager to read this article, because I thought that after much studying, this girl was going to finally understand what it means to be a "Biblical." Yes, the Bible is a collection of books, laws and "stories" that we can learn from. However, when Jesus came, he clearly asked us to follow in His footsteps. God gave Moses the laws by which the Jewish people were supposed to abide by. Sadly, the Pharisees' traditions changed the law and when Jesus came, he reiterated that He did not come to destroy the Law but to FULFILL it. Jesus says in Matthew 5 17-19 that we should not break the commandments.... what is hard about understanding that? Are we to take the Bible piece by piece and live as some of the sinners lived? NO. The Bible is God's letter to us so that we can learn from others' mistakes. Look at David, and his sinful ways. Does God intend for us to go through all the suffering David went through? No. Again, the Bible is a collection of books that is there for us to learn from. It is our duty as Christians to ask God for enlightenment in His Word. If you ask God with a pure heart, and your will is truly to follow Jesus and is without hesitation to do His will, He will deliver. For whoever will ask, will receive.
It's nice to hear a comment that gets to the core of many of these arguments. Although the bible can be cryptic in some aspects, much of it is fairly straightforward (e.g. commandments for example) with a very positive message. I feel sorry for those who feel that the "religious" are somehow enemies. Jesus' message for us one of love and positivity, so if you feel threatened, resentful or bitter, look to yourself and those around you. Those are the result of our innate imperfect nature not the (presumed) result of what the "religious" are trying to do to you or share with you.
NJ. Your response is so generic, bible good = yes. Jesus good = yes. But when you actually read the bible, i would say someone such as the Buddha were far better examples for humanity. For supposedly rejecting "the message" the city of Capernaum (which never happenned btw as the end was not impending as jesus suggests) was to suffer a fate worse that Sodom and Gommorroh. How bout in Luke where jesus does not turn the other cheek and states that his enemies should be brought before him and slayed. Hellfire = a christian invention. All of these threats are acts of retribution by jesus. Now if you believe the trinity and jesus is godk, then you have to add the Noachian genocide (children and animals included), the genocide of the first born of egypt (again innocents used to demonstrate jesus/gods power), genocide of caananite tribes. Trivial slaughtering for minor violations (picking up sticks on the sabbath, execution from trying to prevent the ark of the covenant from falling). Jesus is a man/god of peace? You must either have a sick sense of humour or are twisted beyond belief. Mankind really needs to move on from a belief system more in line with Hitler and Stalin than any kind of peace. Yeah peace through extermination (and at least Hitler and Stalin did not torture for eternity) of all who do not accept jesus. Wow, evil lurks right under your nose, stop breathing it.
A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.
I've watched several interviews with this boy and his father, and all I can conclude is that the story of his experience, whatever it actually was, was heavily doctored by a frigid stage-father and a ghost writer. He describes his experience in terms that no child could possibly come up with on their own (e.g., Jesus had a "rough, but kind face," "sea-blue eyes," etc.), and "his" recounting of the properties of heaven and angels is so cliched that it really perplexes me as to how anyone could believe even for a second that this story wasn't manufactured strictly by a father who apparently finds absolutely no shame in robbing his child of his anonymity by thrusting him into the national spotlight in order to sell books.
Lee, I disagree with your guesses.
HA. That's a fun mode of argumentation. Let me try:
I disagree with your disagreement of my guesses.
The one thing that this kid said that got me was that he was scared. However, it is Biblical that Heaven is perfect. Guess what, fear is imperfect. This story is a farce.
I believe in the New Testament but I don't believe that Jesus is the son of a supreme being, The Old Testament is a lot of stories that have been mostly adapted from earlier sources and is listed is most mythology books.
The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one.
so what you are saying is that you don't believe in the NT or Old Testament
If you don't believe that Jesus is the son of God, then who do you think He is????????
Decent article. I'm glad the author was able to more objectively look at her source material. Now, if we can just expand on that, we'll have you thinking for yourself in no time!
THinking for yourself , as people like to say those days it is in great part a total illusion. It really means to agree with the person who is asking you to think for yourself. ALL are some kind os "disciple" of a school of thought, a theory, a book, a religion etc. At this point of history all thinking is linked to something else thus "dependent". Even adolescent commentary like that is not independent commentary but an echo of the "web teenager" mentality the people replicate by conformity. But understand we all LOVE to think we are unique and litlte geniuses as vanity dictates, again, nothing new.
Yes, some of us like to think there are undead zombies watching us from behind the clouds. Others rely on facts, evidence and rationality. So you're right, there are plenty of delusional ones out there.
Rival interpretations of a book of mythology and chock full of contradictions – hilarious. Society will only progress as we become more secular and rational. The bible and the koran are meaningless in a modern society. The only appeal is offering magical, impossible answers to people's irrational fear of death. Sorry, but it's stupid.
It is true that the Bible can be interpreted a number of different ways. That is why there are so many denominations with slightly (or vastly) different beliefs. Think of the Bible as one point in space, an infinite number of lines can be drawn through it from any angle. If you add a second point or witness, however, only one line can be drawn. This is why the Book of Mormon is so vitally important. It is a second testament to the teachings of the Bible and clarifies much of the mystery and misunderstanding in the Bible. Set aside what you have heard about "Mormons" and find out for yourself. http://www.mormon.org
The comical book of moron is a mishmash of fictional B.S.. that is even harder to believe than the bible.
Show me your brass discs with the truth on them and Ill consider them, til then "we are all gods" is a bit much. I, for one, am glad we are not all gods, look at this world turned on end, divided down the middle by One God, imagine billions of Gods?!!
The bible is the ONLY book given to us by God. The Book of Mormon is NOT another testament of God, it's a testament of Joseph Smith, FILLED with nothing but lies. If you think the BOM is vitally imporant, that is a direct insult to the bible itself, and you have been brainwashed. God didn't need Joseph Smith, correcting ANYTHING or restoring ANYTHING. If that were the case, God wouldn't be needed at all!!!!! The Book of Mormon DID NOT come from God, it came for the Mormon Church! There is only one book, and it's the BIBLE!
saying the bom is 100% falsehood is an ignorant thing for a biblical christian to say.
one of the ciriticisms of the bom is that it plagurizes the bible.
Hopefully your other metaphysical convictions did not occur with the same reckless indifference to comparison and reason.
Interesting thought. Not sure how people can the Bible is all that is needed and in the same sentence talk about how many interpretations there are. They can't all be true. If God can make one book of scripture in one part of the world, why can't He do the same in another? And wouldn't it be nice if there were some clarification on the Bible, since it's obviously not clear enough to interpret God's words all by itself, as evidenced by the many existing churches all claiming to have the Bible as their source.
Why is it that CNN chooses to attack Christianity but have never attacked Islam with the same fervor? Both are religions aren't they? Muslims are still subjugating their women far more now than Christians, also preventing them from getting an education. Just wondering. I guess they are intimidated by radical muslims huh? I don't care for either religion but let's be fair. But again this is just a opinion piece not real news.
Why is it fundies cant see the difference between "CNN ATTACKING!" and "Christian woman opining". Is your belief system so fragile that you really feel threatened when someone points out the obvious contradictions and nonsense contained in your holy recipe book?
Poor old Christians...hey people, quit picking on those poor Christians! They are fragile flowers, you bullies!
You are attacking Christians.
You are not being nice.
LOL CNN attacks Islam everyday. "Jihad" is not terrorism it means "to struggle" we all have jihad in our lives. What are your views on Islam? Did you know they see everyone as equal and not infidels?
Biblical values? Like stoning disobedient children?
The inspired word of God has any meaning u want to attach to it. A quiet acknowledgement of a greater being is certainly not the same as the pope talks to God, Moses brought two tablets down from Mt. Sinai which were inscribed by an angel with working papers for God, or that a Jewish carpenter hung on a cross by Roman legions was speaking here on earth for God. Imagine if books and the internet were our sole source for the context of God. What would that be? Would u believe it since there are so many lies. It is magnificent that one of the virtues of faith is the dispelling of anything contrary to your dogma and cherished ideals.. Belief in God or spirituality is a form of faith. But for everyone who religiously follows what their church leader demands is The Truth there are other people who are just as well grounded if not more in reality – that which one can see and feel – which says otherwise. There is no truth in the book of the bible that is greater than anyone's thought's on God. For that reason we have substantial wars and disagreements. But to try to explain to an evangelical believer whose outside commitments to money, fame and power interfere with the works they claim to make in the name of the Lord which they claim they read about on Sunday....well that's more than most of the rest of the planet can bear. Evangelicals like fundamentalist of any religion are basically crack pots.
No one person on this planet has ever cared or ever will care about what sort of crazy, unverifiable, contradictory, scientifically impossible BS you believe in.
Really? google" physicist faith" and you'll find names like Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Freeman Dyson and many many more who were/are all Theists or Christians
Non sequiturs are fun.
Prayer changes thngs
What isn't healthy is indoctrinated children into weird cults that worship an invisible "god". Grow up.
Mindfulness changes things
Prayer changes nothing. Getting up off your knees and doing something does.
Doing nothing changes things. To do nothing is to do something.
So, all those Christian Republicans voted for Barrack Obama? Who'd have thunk it?
Prayer does change things, but sometimes God has other plans. The rest who don't see it? They're just too dumb to notice it.
The biggest danger of calling something "biblical" is that it perpetuates the idea that there's something desirable about it.
I generally refer to the Bible as the "Big Book o'Horrors". I think Sam Harris summed it up best when he wrote: "As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might have been the very worst, in fact — if we didn't also happen to have the Koran." (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason)
I really need to finish reading The End of Faith...Sam Harris kind of came out of nowhere, and I am glad he did because he gets it just right in a non-threatening, common sense way that I can't see how any rational person could disagree with his logic.
Religion is the opium of the masses.
Opium of the masses? You can't come up with something more original? Regurgitating Marx is no different than Huckabee's using the bible as an adjective.
I should add, you are also quoting Marx out of context. Again, no different than the Huckster's tactics.
Yes, truth is many 'Christians' are saying things ... well, even preaching things ... that are really more personal opinions than 'Biblical Truths'. It represents our value system.
Regarding the 'Biblical Truth' that stands. Leave it in CONTEXT, , context, context and let it 'speak' for itself! The God of the Bible can easily convince and defend the Bible. Most of it was written by prophets starting with Moses.
Yes. People are subjective by nature. When people say, "God is like X" or "The Bible says Y" it is very important to take notice because they are about to tell us something very important about themselves, but likely not very much at all about who God is or what the Bible really has to say about it. Who can really claim to know God or the full extent of "what the Bible says" about something? Claiming to have the proper context for interpreting God's thoughts is a very tall claim indeed because it's essentially claiming one is no longer subjective. Seeking that kind of perspective is, in my experience, a lifelong journey, not something you get from the Bible on a first read, or a sixth for that matter. But it's a journey well worth taking.
As soon as I read "bible inspired by god" she lost all credibility. I have a better iidea. Just be a GOOD person.
Easier, more exciting, and more contraversial to camp out on the lawn one week a month than to be a good person. Booo-oo-ooring.
I'm an atheist, but not militant in the sense that I try to enforce the requirement that things be proven before they are believed. But I will try to share that I think rationalism is better than blind faith. I think it is better to try to truly understand the universe than to merely believe in stories. And rationalism is a lot more civil. It doesn't engage in social issues unless there are scientific reasons for doing so. For example, interbreeding has proven bad effects, so science votes against it. Living is so much simpler and more grand with science than with religion.
Your position appears better thought out than many who just jump on the atheist band wagon, proclaiming science triumphs over religion. Good job. Religion and Science are two different things. Guys like Werner Heisenbert and Max Planck were devout believers. Google Christian Physicists and you find a stunning number of big name scientists, like Freeman Dyson (still living). I'm not taking a position either way here other than many of those with the militant atheist tone have not taken the time to research the facts when they use Science to stake out their position. It is naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst.
"Interbreeding"? Nifty little coin to toss in the fountain.