Tyler Schwaller

ThD student, Harvard Divinity School

Who Cares about the Bible?

Posted by Tyler Schwaller on November 8, 2010

As someone who studies the Bible (for a living, you could say), I’m quite interested in how scripture is used in public and church debate. What strikes me is a sense that the Bible stands as the foundation on which all Christian teaching is grounded… and yet, when I hear scripture referenced in public discourse, especially when it comes to setting church policy and defining Christian teaching, it feels like people care more about the authority the Bible lends than actually engaging in a practice of meaning making with the texts.

This became quite clear to me in the discussion and vote on a resolution calling for just immigration reform and renunciation of xenophobia at the 2010 Iowa Annual Conference. A politically-conservative contingent proposed a substitute resolution, ostensibly because they felt the original was too “political” (read: liberal). It occurred to me after the vote (the substitute passed as it was so vague as to win general approval) that the substitution completely stripped out all scriptural references. This must have been because the Bible is largely oriented toward radically-hospitable care for the neighbor, which includes strangers (e.g., Leviticus 19:33-34), and this challenges the “conservative position” on immigration. What was most striking to me was that the people who proposed it — and axed out scripture — are the same folks who claim — on the basis of some literal words of the Bible — that LGBT people should not be ordained or fully welcomed into our churches.

So when does the Bible matter, and when doesn’t it? Feeling compelled to take up this question and offer a vision of what it would mean to take scripture seriously in ways that give life and build up the church and society, I pitched a series of essays on the issue to be published in the Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action newsletter, the “Social Questions Bulletin.”

The result is my first article, “Who Cares about the Bible?” In it, I address the situation from the Iowa Annual Conference and the questions it raises. I’m used to writing at least 20 pages on a topic, so it is different for me to write something short while trying to say something meaningful. Thus, we don’t get far into solutions within this article itself… but that’s why it’s a series! So expect even more later. As for now, you can check out the Fall 2010 SQB, in which my essay is found, here.

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