The Bible Isn’t a Prop (But That’s How We Use It)

Some cheered and some took offense to the President’s picture in front of St. John’s Church, holding a closed Bible. It may be that we all need to stop in front of an opened Bible for a little while.

Pastors LOVE to talk.

In case you have not noticed this.

This is our task, our calling. Even an introverted pastor (and there are some) has to figure out a way to effectively do this. Primarily, we are tasked with talking about the Bible, challenging people to go in-depth in their study and understanding of a text that we view as holy and sacred.

To a large extent, we have failed. The evidence may be a photo in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C.

Forget about the wealth of debatable issues surrounding the events that led the President of the United States across the street from his house. Forget the tear gas “debate,” the picture, the motives for the photo, etc. Let’s talk about the response to the photo.

A number of ministers, including those affiliated with St. John’s, took great offense at the creation of this photo opportunity. The response of many ministers was to say that “The Bible is not a prop!” I can completely understand the frustration and the sentiment.

But they are wrong. The Bible is a prop, in far too many places and contexts where it is not supposed to be.

This does not justify anything that happened around the picture of the President in front of the church. It does mean that our response—be it outrage or adoration—to the President’s actions are not justified.

Donald Trump just did what preachers and pastors and those who listen to them do far too often. We treat the Bible as something that it is not, as something that God never intended it to be.

Witnesses in court rooms for years put their hand on a Bible and swear to tell the truth. The prop is apparently designed to keep people from lying because God may strike them down if they take this oath. Yet, we fail to ask them if they actually believe any of the words of the Bible. Not to mention that this oath never really addresses what Jesus says about the subject in Matthew 5.

After making this pledge on this holy book, some witnesses lie, manipulate, deceive, dodge, duck, dip, and dive. Who can blame them, when they see so many others in the courtroom, including those with authority, doing the same thing to varying degrees?

Many of us have a family Bible or other Bibles on display in our homes, maybe even at our places of business. How often do we open those Bibles and let ourselves ponder what the words mean?

Christians have raged for years about how God and the Bible are “removed” from our schools, not allowed inside the walls. As a youth minister, I heard parents rant and watched them post memes about this very topic. Yet the majority of the students in my group never brought a Bible to church. Many did not even know where their Bible was, which probably made reading it quite a challenge.

Some pastors love to hold the Bible in the air and declare it as the “inherent, infallible Word of God” as congregants nod their approval. But declarations about the Bible do not equal understanding of it. Besides, how can we know if the pastor is preaching the Bible when we never crack the spine of one, or at least visit on occasion?

We love to pick certain verses to prove to others what is morally right or wrong, without looking at the context of these passages. Sometimes these beliefs just echo what we heard in church some Sunday or from our parents/grandparents, and we have no idea if they are truly in the Bible.

I encounter Christians who love to declare what the Bible “clearly states.” It is interesting that the Bible never “clearly states” anything that is contrary to what they already think or were taught for most of their life. Furthermore, some of these folks offer little love or Christ-like charity to those who do not agree with their view of the Bible’s clarity.

How often do we truly struggle with the text, letting the meaning and purpose guide us beyond our preconceived ideas or traditional interpretation? What might become of us if we took on the scriptures that we do not like, or that challenge us to real change, or that totally blow up our religious training and world view? Heaven forbid!

Many Christians hold the Bible up as something to be followed, rather than letting the Bible point us to the Christ that we are supposed to follow and emulate in everything that we say and do. We come dangerously close to making the Bible an idol, something to be seen and discussed but never truly heard.

Worse yet, some people use the Bible as a weapon instead of a prop. They use it to bash the heads of those who disagree with them, or pick verses that cut into the heart of another person.

Perhaps President Trump simply did what he has seen many of us do on a daily basis, whether we want to admit it or not. He just did it right out in the open, where we might try to hide it.

As offensive as his action was—and to me, it was horribly offensive—we are no less guilty of holding up Bibles to show our commitment, rather than opening our hearts and minds to what the Scripture says.

It is time for us to acknowledge the command of Christ that is in the Bible to care for the poor and tend the prisoner and clean the wounds of the hurting.

It is time to hear the Word of the Lord that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and sacrifice our comfort for the well-being of others (a task at which I fail on a regular basis).

It is time to live the scripture that God IS love, and we prove that most effectively when we love others.

It is time to read how Jesus sees, feels, and empowers the pain of those who are hurting and suffering in so many ways.

It is time for us to end our “Whataboutisms” and stop pointing to other people. Instead of saying “What about him?,” we can start answering Jesus when He tells us to follow.

It is time for us to decide, “Who do you say that I am?”

It is time to recognize that Jesus is not our ticket to heaven. Jesus is here for us to bring the Kingdom of God in the here and now. That means standing for equity, justice, mercy, and humanity for all people in the here and now.

It is time to stop worshipping the Jesus that we think is in the Bible, and discover the hard, challenging path of the Living Christ that is actually in the Bible.

I have scripture references for every one of the above points. Feel free to search for some yourself, or feel free to contact me if you would like to know what they are.

We should be offended at someone using the Bible as prop for a photo op. The true path to change is for Christians to stop using the Bible as a prop in their own lives. If we truly believe that all are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated as such, then that is the steep and rocky path we must choose.

This may not stop police brutality or lynching or racism or hatred. But it will surely lead us to speak up and work to do something about it.

It is time for all of us to stop our strategic placement of closed Bibles, and start opening it up to do what it actually says.

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