By John D. Pierce

My mother was not a neat freak — which with four sons would have been an effort in futility anyway. But one thing was always in its proper place in our house.

Nothing was ever stacked on top of the Bible.

Reverence for the only book with “Holy” emblazoned in gold lettering on its spine and cover was magnified at church through memorization of its interior and the dramatic portrayal of its stories by flannel figures.

During Vacation Bible School we pledged our allegiance to the Bible as “God’s holy word — a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” We sang “the B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book for me…”

We even engaged in a competitive, quick-draw exercise — called “sword drill” — to see which pimple-faced kid could find Romans 8:28 or Psalm 19 first and take a step forward before reading it. Decades later we can still rattle off the 66 Protestant canonized books in order.

Some of us were intrigued and inspired enough to take on academic explorations of the ancient texts in undergraduate and graduate studies.

News about the opening of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and the biblical twisters encircling Alabama politics have me thinking about the so-called “Good Book” — which has been at the center of devotion and disputes throughout my life.

On one hand the Bible has been a constant and revered companion — and, on the other, to be honest, often the major source of division among those who claim the same faith but demand that others embrace their particular perspectives in order to be deemed truly faithful.

Most tragically, throughout history all kinds of carnage has been caused by appeals to biblical authority from justifying ownership of other humans to the absurdity that Judge Roy Moore represents Christian values.

Even those who know better don’t often tell the truth about the Bible out of fear of being labeled an unbeliever. However, the ancient texts are not some simple catalog or road map for addressing every modern social issue that arises — and no one interpreter has special insight no matter how loud his voice or clothing.

This collection of sacred writings is filled with troubling, often-contradictory messages that require more than cherry-picking a few verses that can be appropriated in such a way to defend one’s predetermined conclusions. Horrific damage has been done and continues to be justified following the assumed authoritative phrase: “but the Bible says…”

Today it is fair to wonder if American fundamentalists/evangelicals use the Bible more for harm than good. And often those who claim the highest allegiance to the Bible are the ones who abuse it the most.

Just listen into the conversations of the men who gather in coffee shops with Bibles among their bagels — or to the high profile Christian leaders who make no room for fresh truth, and dispense or withhold condemnation depending on how much it grants them power.

God knows we don’t need more allegiance to the Bible. Alabama is full of that. We need better understanding of its origin, evolution and ultimate purpose — and a willingness to live out its hardest teachings that turn our best attention inward.

Otherwise this best-selling though not often read book will continue to be misused as justification to control and abuse rather than conveying the truth that sets us free.

Often the holy Bible is used for unholy purposes — or at least misleading ones. No wonder so many loving and thinking people reject such a poorly defined biblical faith.

They need to hear the truth: To be a faithful Christian one simply needs to follow Jesus.

To be faithful, one doesn’t have to adhere to any of the ever-changing, highly qualified, man-made definitions of biblical inerrancy that keeps power in the hands of a few and justifies male-domination.

One can be biblical without falling for the anti-science nonsense of Ken Ham’s creationism. We are to love God with our minds, not ignore clear scientific discoveries.

The creation accounts (yes, there are two varying ones in Genesis) are poetic stories that were passed along from generation to generation — revealing the truth of a Creator God, not a scientific manual for how the earth came into being. (And no, God didn’t just make the rocks look old to fool scientists.)

To be a biblical Christian one doesn’t have to give the modern state of Israel a free pass on every political decision. The promises God made to the children of Israel in the Old Testament are not transferable to this one government — that often abuses Palestinian Christians and others.

If the Bible is to be used, use it to hold all governments to the high standards of social justice to which the Old Testament prophets called kings and judges of old — often at great peril.

Despite some carefully selective biblical appeals, there is no demand that women live in submission to domineering men. And the Bible requires no one to condemn LGBT family and friends as God’s rejects.

And when someone says that the “most loving thing” they can do is to straighten you out to match their thinking — that is not love. It’s arrogance.

The Bible says a lot more about rectifying injustice and caring for the poor than it does about issues that show up on biblical scorecards at election time. Don’t be manipulated by blowhard preachers and self-serving politicians who claim that God shares their agendas.

And don’t waste your time arguing about the Bible with those who isolate scriptures and ignore others in order to defend their conclusions as authentically biblical. Rather than engaging in such futile debates, I find it more constructive to warn those on the receiving end about the potential for the Bible’s abuse.

If the Bible is indeed true, then we should tell the truth about its use and misuse.

Often it is a tool for authoritarian men to exercise control and for political operatives to claim that God is on their side. It is used to justify unjustifiable wars and horrific acts of racism and abuse.

Beware when God appears as angry as the person conveying their version of biblical truth. Dismiss those who use the Bible to suggest that God is spiteful, and is looking for a good excuse or fine-point technicality to withhold grace.

Be reminded that Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes for the religiously pious who assumed they had a corner on divine truth and were charged with sorting out the kingdom of God. Jesus turned the tables on them and their insider/outside distinctions.

Yet the Bible is the unequaled, unfolding story of the ever-widening embrace of God’s grace — beyond human-formed boundaries and creeds.

Through varied forms of literature — shared and recorded over times and cultures to reveal the creator God who is progressively known in human history — the biblical story culminates with the fullest revelation in Jesus Christ, for whose coming we prepare ourselves in the weeks ahead. Jesus is the only lens through which all scripture and life itself are to be understood.

The Bible is rich and full of treasures, instructive and inspirational, challenging and hopeful. However, it should be opened and handled with care.

If so-called biblical truths lead somewhere other than the revealing of God’s love and amazing grace then they are misdirected and misapplied.

The Bible attests to the very nature of the One who creates and redeems: “God is love.” (For those who like a little proof-texting: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8 NKJV)

In revealing God in human form, Jesus had a lot to say about what his followers should do. Yet he affirms that the greatest commandments (old or new) are to love God with all one’s being and others as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40).

Beware of those who place requirements above these and claim that they are biblical.

Likewise, Paul reserves “greatest” for the call to unconditional love  — placing it above even faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13).

Some wise professor of Holy Writ told me decades ago that faith is based on what God has already done and hope is based on what we believe God will do. Love is the greatest because it is how we are to live in this very moment.

My concern is for those who’ve been led to believe that the Bible is about anything else.

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