I found myself deeply torn this week about what to do with the sermon with the topic of immigration. On the one hand, it would be insanely simple to go to the Bible and pile on the texts that support love, care and compassion towards the immigrant. Of all the tough topics we are hitting, this is the one that has the most Biblical support for an approach that looks beyond legality toward our broader humanity. I could just make it easy on myself and let the Bible do the talking…
While I will be introducing you to many of those passages, I think this is so much more complicated than simply loading up on the scripture and letting loose. One of the underlying issues here is how we use scripture. If I were to simply go to the text and dump dozens and dozens of verses on you, what would be accomplished? Those that already agree would nod and feel righteous, those that don’t would turn a deaf ear. What is abundantly clear, is that this kind of approach doesn’t really work, and I am perfect evidence of that.
As a kid, I remember many an occasion with classmates at school who were coming from more fundamentalist traditions loading up on scripture and quoting it at me or others to prove their point. Most of the time all this really did for me is turn me off from church altogether—part of the reason why my journey to ministry was not simple and straight forward, but took a bit of a circuitous path. I also came to realize that this was all for show. So many churches indoctrinate their people, give them a list of verses to memorize and send them out to war to be an apologist. There are actually classes in some of the more fundamentalist seminaries on apologetics (defending the faith). However, once you started to push on all those memorized verses and arguments, you quickly came to realize that this was all a front. This wasn’t their real argument, it was a prepackaged response that had no depth. When challenged, they couldn’t come up with other verses or biblical stories to support their case. When confronted with biblical passages that contradicted their view point, they completely shut down and had no idea what to say next.
That kind of faith isn’t faith at all, but essentially memorized rote information as if for a pop quiz in school the next day. While at first I was angered by this approach, I eventually came to feel sorry for them. Rather than a faith that would grow and support them through whatever complex changes in the world might develop, they were given answers to multiple choice questions. Certainly, my faith has been challenged over the years, but there is a resiliency to a faith that isn’t just formed around exam questions and apologetics.
So, if on Sunday I were simply to do the same thing and present gobs of verses and drop the mic, I don’t think that anyone would truly learn anything. Instead I would end up with some people congratulating me on my enlightened world view and some people chastising me for being political in the pulpit. That is a recipe for church conflict that doesn’t really have any benefits, though it might make me feel more woke.
Instead, I want to talk about some conflicting scriptures on this topic. You see, while there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 scriptures that I could use to back up my point, there are also numerous ones that would contradict my point. What do we do with those? If we are doing apologetics or trying to “Win” an argument, we sweep them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist. Of course, nobody ever truly wins by doing this, they just take one round and wait until a more stout contender who knows their Bible comes round to offer a smackdown.
But this also offers us an opportunity…what do we do when the Bible speaks with conflicting voices about a topic? The fact is, with enough cutting and pasting, you can get scripture to support a huge range of arguments, many of which are the furthest thing from faithful. The other fact is, the Bible speaks with many different voices, unfortunately, we tend to turn off the stereo and believe that there is only one channel in scripture.
This Sunday, I want to turn on the surround sound and address a bigger and more complicated question—how do we live our lives faithfully with a scripture that contradicts itself at times? How do we know how to respond as disciples, when there are many people snagging a few verses here and there to support one side while someone else has another cache of verses preaching the exact opposite? I think the apostle Paul might just have some wisdom to offer to us on this. While we look into that deeper conundrum, my hope is, we will also have a better sense of who we are called to be in the midst of divisive conflict, and maybe even how we are called to respond to the global migration crisis. See you Sunday!