Interpreting the Bible Multiculturally

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“Persons of faith and goodwill can no longer remain silent.  Like never before, we must address the concerns and issues related to the growing diversity in our world.  Given this task, a key question arises: ‘What is the role of the Bible in an age of diversity?’ … For people of faith, this means that the rich mosaic of cultural perspectives in our world needs to be considered when interpreting the Bible. … We need to be set free from narrow and sometimes oppressive ways of interpreting the Scriptures and be challenged to embrace a multicultural approach.  All people need to hear their own stories in the Bible and an appreciation for the outlooks of others and a knowledge of their stories are likewise critical for our understanding of God.”

~ Curtis Paul DeYoung, Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity

More than stock photos of diversity or stock statements on our love for the ‘other’ (whatever that means), the need to see all people as our people must be declared from the pulpit.  No ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, ‘center’ and ‘marginalized’ people, ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ races, we must begin to remove the barriers from our language.  The restrictions on our relationships begin with the words that we choose to employ as the ways that we define each other can very quickly confine our relationship.  The way we see each other begins with the way we say each other.

This is why we must choose carefully the names that we call each other as the response to those names is evident in the nightly news and as we celebrate horrible anniversaries like that of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.  They do not work for us but against us.  They do not connect us to each other or remind us of our kinship.  Instead, they emphasize again and again that we are less than/ greater than, better/ worse than, weaker than/ more powerful than each other.

So, more than reporting on the latest tragedy of race, we must get ahead of the story and report on the expectation of our fellowship.  We, that is all of humanity, were meant to live together in harmony.  Despite our attempts at creating difference, we are only human beings.  And I should be preaching to the choir but I’m not.

Diversity is not a new concept or reality but our attempt at accepting it may be. The need to change ‘them’ into ‘us’ and the machines that we have created to make it happen have been hard at work for hundreds of years.  Rather than understand and appreciate our differences, we want to crank out clones of our culture.  We want to make everyone else in our image.

This challenge to diversify our perspective so as to accept the fact that we are not the only ones with a voice or an experience, that our expectations may be normal for us but should not be treated as normative is essential.  There is no real conversation happening if only one cultural group’s interpretation of the events matters, if the experience only has value if it means something to you or me.  What are we learning of Christ, what kind of disciples are we becoming, if we can decide which stories matter and suggest that the Bible is only talking to us or that we are its only characters?

Dominating the interpretation of Scripture so often splits us up according to race.  It also suggests that you or I know who was there “when they crucified my Lord” (and more specifically what they looked like).  While there have been more conversations concerning diversity in Hollywood and in light of its controversial depictions of ancient stories, the same can be said of our treatment of Scripture on Sunday morning.  We do not tell a story that includes all cultures.  God’s love was for the world, which means there are no first, second or third world countries.  No country, continent or culture is better than the other.

But, so often, when we tell the stories of the Bible, we cut others out and we do so in the name of Jesus.  We suggest that because we can’t see them (or choose not to see them), because they are not apart of our immediate circle of influence, because they are not apart of our culture or socioeconomic class that God cannot see them.  They are not related to us so they must not be one of God’s children.  But, God’s eyes are all- seeing; they don’t work like that.

And how can we make declarations of exclusion under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  Our preaching must be better than this and it must call us to be better than what race would have us to believe about ourselves and our neighbors.  Sermons must reflect the love of God, the message of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit which has always been multicultural.  We must talk to all our siblings, who from different cultures, are called to God’s table.  We did not create the invitation but are called to give it to those that God addressed it to: the world.

The Bible must be interpreted multiculturally because different cultures and people groups are represented in the Bible: Edomites, Moabites, Jebusites, Canaanites and so on.  How we forgot that we share a common ancestry and how it became acceptable to suggest that God’s love was always for us and not them, I am not sure. But, we can no longer tell the story that way.  No matter our lens, everywhere we look, we are reminded of the many expressions of God creativity and therefore God’s love. This must be talked about during the sacred hour because we are all apart of the sacred.  Not to worry.  There are Scriptures and stories to support this interpretation.  We are all in the Bible.

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