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Proof-texting as Violence

During a lecture this past year, Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Theological Seminary told a story about the gay students at her school. Tired of being assaulted with the same handful of Bible verses over and over to "prove" that homosexuality is wrong, they were seeking out their own texts to defend themselves and their positions. In the war of words Scripture had become ammunition and the debate was nothing but a firefight of accusation and defense. I was struck by Anna’s remark:

Proof-texting is a form of violence: it is violence against one another and it is violence against the text…

I was raised in the Southern Baptist church where we proudly proclaimed our high view of Scripture. As a child I participated frequently in Bible drills – a competition to see who could find a particular passage of Scripture most quickly: Attention! Draw swords! Go! Both the imagery and its unintended effects are now startling to me. True, we learned where to find little books like Nahum. But we also learned the art of using the Bible to cut an opponent to shreds to prove a point of doctrine.

Now before I raise any hackles, I freely admit that the Southern Baptists have no corner on proof-texting. Indeed, many of us who profess to hold the Bible in high esteem are not averse to pulling out a verse here and there to prove a point:

by grace you are saved, through faith…
     faith without works is dead…
          where there are tongues, they will be stilled…

And yet how we manage to miss the overall message of Scripture when we pull out these individual words and hurl them at those we disagree with in the hopes of defeating them and their point of view. All too often defending our position becomes more important than reaching out to one another in love. When the battle clears we’re left with walking wounded and the pages of the Word that we hold in such high esteem ripped up and blowing around on the wind.

I’m not really interested in proof-texting anymore. I’m tired of responding to comparisons drawn between my life and mob violence or pedophilia or the alleged rituals of ancient religions. I’m much more interested in following after Jesus.

Perhaps if enough of us shift our focus from defending our honor to worshiping our Lord, those who seek to slay us with Scripture may find themselves in Peter’s shoes as told in Acts 10. When they hear us praise God, those who thought it impossible to be gay and Christian may also be astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit can be poured out on the likes of us GLBT folk.

A few years ago my parents came to visit when I was being ordained as a deacon in a church that ministered primarily to gays and lesbians. I’m sure they were nervous, but love for their son overcame any misgivings about what they might find. That day we all worshiped God together. And when the ordination came, my father offered a blessing. His simple act brought healing by proxy to several people there who were estranged from their own parents.

A few weeks later I received a call from my brother. "What the hell did you do to Dad?" he asked with his characteristic directness. "He’s been walking around in a daze ever since he got home." I told my brother that I hadn’t done anything and that the visit had gone well. My brother responded, "I’ve asked him what happened. He just shook his head and said, ‘I don’t know what it was, but I know that the Holy Spirit was there.’"

We didn’t preach against the clobber passages that day. We didn’t set out to convince my parents that gay is okay. We just spent time worshiping God, singing and praising and glorifying Jesus Christ. And when faced with this new reality, my father returned home astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out in that place. To me, that’s worth more than any points I could score in a proof-texting debate.

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