Please, no more sex

Dec 5th, 2007 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

The Scriptures are full of reference after reference to justice and what does the church focus on? Sex.

The Anglican Communion threatens to tear itself apart over homosexuality; the world on the edge of environmental chaos and deep sectarian conflict; people dying every fraction of a second in sub-Saharan Africa from drought, disease and AIDS, and the bishops at the Lambeth Conference later next year will be in deep angst about the gay issue. My lord bishops, I don’t hear many people outside church circles being remotely interested. You are in danger of producing answers to questions no-one is asking.

Of course, it is much easier to discuss sex, discussing justice might be altogether too challenging.

Sometimes I wonder if I am even reading the same Bible. I dug out words of Jim Wallis, the radical evangelical leader, from an interview back in 1990:

I was a seminary student in Chicago many years ago. We decided to try an experiment. We made a study of every single reference in the whole Bible to the poor, to God’s love for the poor, to God being the deliverer of the oppressed. We found thousands of verses on the subject. The Bible is full of the poor.

In the Hebrew scriptures, for example, it is the second most prominent theme. The first is idolatry and the two are most often connected. In the New Testament, we find that one of every sixteen verses is about poor people; in the gospels, one of every ten; in Luke, one of every seven. We find the poor everywhere in the Bible.
One member of our group was a very zealous young seminary student and he thought he would try something just to see what might happen. He took an old Bible and a pair of scissors. He cut every single reference to the poor out of the Bible. It took him a very long time.

When he was through, the Bible was very different, because when he came to Amos and read the words, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” he just cut it out. When he got to Isaiah and heard the prophet say, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to bring the homeless poor into your home, to break the yoke and let the oppressed go free?” he just cut it right out. All those Psalms that see God as a deliverer of the oppressed, they disappeared.

In the gospels, he came to Mary’s wonderful song where she says, “The mighty will be put down from their thrones, the lowly exalted, the poor filled with good things and the rich sent empty away.” Of course, you can guess what happened to that. In Matthew 25, the section about the least of these, that was gone. Luke 4, Jesus’ very first sermon, what I call his Nazareth manifesto, where he said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to poor people” — that was gone, too. “Blessed are the poor,” that was gone.

So much of the Bible was cut out; so much so that when he was through, that old Bible literally was in shreds. It wouldn’t hold together. I held it in my hand and it was falling apart. It was a Bible full of holes. I would often take that Bible out with me to preach. I would hold it high in the air above American congregations and say, “Brothers and sister, this is the American Bible, full of holes from all we have cut out.” We might as well have taken that pair of scissors and just cut out all that we have ignored for such a long time. In America the Bible that we read is full of holes.

The Bible with holes seems to have become the standard text for churches in Ireland.

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  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote “Of course, it is much easier to discuss sex, discussing justice might be altogether too challenging.” It is so much easier to talk about something that comes down to different interpretations of a tiny number of passages in scripture than to challenge the power and political structures keeping the poor as they are.

  2. Ian are there many more like you? There should be! I agree that the obsesson by most mainstream Churches with issues that simply aren’t on the congregation’s agenda is so wasteful and unnecessary. Homosexuality, like prostitution is the oldest game in the world. It exists, it always will, get over it . . . move on. Vilifying, sagitating, prognosticating is not going to change a thing when there are so many other vital issues that need to be addresseed. I agree with Martin, it’s a much ‘easier’ to tackle these sideline issues than poverty and injustice.

  3. I’ve been “preaching” on this imbalance for the past number of weeks… When will we learn? So much on love for enemies…the poor…justice…

  4. I think the saddest thing for me is the way in which evangelical Christians have become the tool of neo-Con politicians, providing a theological imprimatur to a political system that allows the degradation of God’s earth, that ignores the cry of his people and that reduces his commandments to simply those that concern the private and the personal. I always believed that Jim Wallis would gain a huge following that would carry through great reforms, but he has remained like one of the Old Testament prophets, declaring the truth while the rulers have refused to listen

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