Yes, the Bible is Full of Contradictions

This remains my favorite contradiction, from Proverbs 26:4—”Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.”

It’s great advice for arguing with people on the internet. The more you engage with their foolishness, the dumber you feel.

But the verse immediately after gives the opposite advice: “Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.”

“play nice” by nosha, CC, found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Play_nice_-_Flickr_-_nosha.jpg

When I ask Christians to explain this apparent contradiction, most come to summarize it this way: “How or if you answer or argue with foolishness depends on the context.” But the authors didn’t write it that way, did they? They slapped two contradictory proverbs down side by side because they expected the reader to do the work of interpretation.

The authors, editors, and compilers of the Bible *deliberately* included contradictory and paradoxical truths like this one because they expected readers to understand that life is messy and the application of wisdom requires discernment. This is why we have four gospels, two histories of the Israelite monarchy, and two creation stories.

This is one reason why “inerrancy” is such a silly word to describe the Bible. Wisdom isn’t about avoiding mistakes: it’s about understanding the simplicity and complexity of human life and history, about how awe is the beginning of wisdom and gratitude the beginning of spirituality.

The word “inerrant” isn’t found anywhere in the Bible, and people who wield it as a club against others harm themselves. It reminds me of this one: “Like a thornbush brandished by the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.” (Proverbs 26:9).

A Thanks-giving

Hi, friends — Thanks for the affirmations for the popularity of my post from 2018 (“The Unborn”). I’m glad it has gotten traction again in light of the dire news from Texas. I enjoy my 15 minutes / seconds of fame 🙂. The form of ministry I’ve chosen means I don’t often get to see the concrete results of my work, so hearing from folks who have found this piece meaningful certainly scratches an itch!

Some folks have asked if I’ve gotten hate mail; I have, but not nearly as many as affirmations.

I’m not really great at self-promotion or building a “brand,” partially because I am so suspicious of the cult of celebrity that drives so much of our capitalist versions of church. But it weighs on me that I’m probably not using the attention well, so if you’ve found my Facebook page because of this piece and you want to support my work, you can make a donation to my church here: https://onrealm.org/saintjunia/-/give/now

And if you find the idea of house churches intriguing and would like to explore the idea, or if you’d like to see more of my writing, you can do so here:

Church Comes Home: https://bookshop.org/…/church-comes-home…/9781791007331

God Shows No Partiality: https://www.amazon.com/…/B007…/ref=dp-kindle-redirect…

Sometimes the work the world needs is overwhelming, but our words of mutual encouragement make it bearable. Thanks for reaching out with your support and affirmation!

A Condensed Reply to my Critics and Would-be Dialogue Partners

Because it has gone viral several times over the last few years. I’ve gotten a variety of replies to my short social media post on “The Unborn” from 2018. Some are indignant, claiming that I’m unfairly characterizing pro-life people. (Sometimes people put scare quotes around their words when they call me a “pastor” or a “Christian.”) Some are more measured and say that there are pro-life people who are advocates for other forms social justice. I appreciate these nuanced interactions.

Some of these replies are in the same style as #notallmen and #notallwhitepeople. They say that my words are unfair, and that “lots” or “most” people who are pro-life are also advocates for immigrants, the poor, etc.

I’m going to condense my replies here.

First, I do have deep respect for people who have a consistent sanctity-of-life ethic, whether they be Roman Catholic or Mennonite or Jain or atheist vegetarian. I love talking with people of integrity who live out their values, even if we disagree on abortion policy.  

Second, if you read my words carefully, you’ll see that my beef is not so much with people who are pro-life as people who co-opt the term “advocacy.” People who do real advocacy, whether it’s for disabled persons, formerly-incarcerated persons, children, immigrants, women, or black and brown people ALWAYS recognize that their advocacy is part of a much larger intersectional web. You can’t be an advocate for formerly-incarcerated persons, for example, without recognizing how many people in prison suffer from untreated mental illness, so you wind up dabbling in mental health advocacy. You can’t be an advocate for homeless teens without meeting many who have been kicked out of their homes or run away because they are LGBTQIA, so you wind up learning about the importance of Family Acceptance.

Real advocates often try to figure out how to make their lives consistent with valuing the people for whom they advocate. They try to eliminate ableist language from their vocabulary, for example. They try to center the voices of the people most affected, or to approximate as nearly as possible. Advocates for black and brown people fund organizations led by black women. Real advocates, allies, and accomplices, in other words, are always doing intersectional work. Every oppressed group has their pain magnified by other forms of injustice.

This is not the case with most self-styled advocates for the unborn. When I’ve argued with pro-life pastors that contraception and comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education are effective ways at reducing abortion, they consider these “separate issues” or “red herrings.”

See the difference?

As some pro-life folks have pointed out, the unborn do not have their own voice to be centered. This is true. All the more reason that people who want to claim the mantel of “advocate for the unborn” should be advocating for parental leave and universal health care for parents; because we shouldn’t leave newborns without the full and available care of their caregivers. Their parents are the closest voices we have to the best interests of children, a principle widely recognized in our laws. Yet it is parental voices opting for abortion that get silenced by “advocates for the unborn.”

Which brings me to my third point: we have data and five years of recent historical experience which indicate that it is certainly not the case that “most” or even a small fraction of pro-life people embrace an ethic consistent with biblical mandates to care for “the alien, the widow, and the orphan.” 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump and Roy Moore, and a majority supported the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, even though all of these men were serial harassers of women. 75% of white evangelicals continued to support Trump as he imposed severe restrictions even on *legal* immigration. They continued to support him even as his Attorney General embraced a punitive policy of tearing families apart at the border when they applied for asylum, creating a whole new generation of orphans who may never be reunited with their parents.

When people get indignant over my words, I point them back to this recent history. Appeals to “family values” or “an ethic of life” simply don’t hold up to the historical facts. We all saw who got thrown under the bus just so that pro-lifers could stack the Supreme Court.

For context, I wrote my original piece in 2018, during the US Senate campaign in Alabama, when Roy Moore was running against Doug Jones for US Senate. The dominant public discussion among pro-lifers was that Doug Jones, an attorney who prosecuted and put away the white supremacists responsible for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, supported of the non-existent practice of “partial-birth abortion.”

When it came out that Roy Moore was a well-known creepy guy who harassed teenage girls at the Gadsden Mall, one local official even defended him because “Mary was a teenager when she had Jesus.” In spite of all that, 80% of white evangelical voters who showed up at the polls still voted for him, many because they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for someone who supported abortion.

So I still stand by the words I wrote in 2018 on historical, demographic, and logical grounds.

If you believe you are the exception or you know people who live a life consistent with and ethic of the sanctity of life, I am happy for you. We need more such people with louder voices. We need more people who seek peace who have diverse opinions and beliefs to do justice in the world.

But let’s not be dishonest with each other. Being an advocate for the unborn costs most conservative Christians nothing. And I have no desire to offer to God sacrifices that cost me nothing.

The Secret Room

Sometimes, in dreams, we discover a door in a familiar house that leads to rooms we never knew existed. “How have I lived here so long,” we wonder, “and never explored this place until now?”

I believe this dream is for those who are still open to learning more about ourselves and the world.

It is reserved for those who can admit they are wrong, who can stand outside of themselves and acknowledge their assumptions, who are willing to take a second, third, and fourth look when reality doesn’t match their expectations.

It is a dream for the curious, who know that neither God, nor the world, nor our own Self can be fully explored in one lifetime, that the only things worth keeping will never fit into our household closets or the boxes in storage, who recognize the artifice in compartmentalizing our lives. This secret room, hidden in plain sight, is in all of us.

This dream is a hint that certainty is overrated, and that faith is not really about certainty, but about the assurance that there is always more mystery to be explored.

My hope is that the people who do horrible things to the world still have this dream. That they dream it but merely forget it upon waking, and that they could be reminded of it. I hope that if they remembered it, they would start looking around the stumps of trees for fairy rings and that they would peek in closed wardrobes looking for a hint of Narnia.

I hope that they can find the door in their own Self before it is too late for the rest of us.