The Issue is Hermeneutics

Christians can and do harm the missional cause of Christ when they misuse the Scriptures. Make no mistake about this fact. One such "Christian", who has worked immeasurable harm to the cause of Christ in America, is the Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps, and his small flock, have been showing up to demonstrate around the country for several years now. At first they picked homosexual groups for their loud and obnoxious protests. Their strident “God hates fags” slogans did nothing positive for the kingdom of Christ, prompting skeptics to consign them, rightly or wrongly, to the category of more conservatives gone crazy. Now, Phelps and his gang are protesting military funerals around the country.

Today they showed up at the Arlington National Cemetery to sing “God Hates America” to the tune of “God Bless America.” They held placards which read: “God is America’s terror” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” They even had other creative and original signs saying “You’re going to hell” and “Bush killed them.”

As crowds of people walked by these “Christian” demonstrators the report was that some of the people yelled at them. The response that came back from the Westboro crowd was: “Read your Bible.” Now there’s a great response. The problem is that Phelps and his flock should be the ones who read their Bible. The fact of the matter is that they actually do read the Bible, and probably know lots of biblical texts well, but they read it only as a small group of individualists who are committed to reading it in a way that fits with their warped agenda. It seems to never dawn on folks like these that only the most radical, and unorthodox, expressions of Christianity have read their Bible in this manner. The issue here really is hermeneutics, bad hermeneutics. Christian hermeneutics is never to be done privately without the love of Christ guiding the community of faith. Since Protestant fundamentalism doesn’t give a fig for the classical Christian tradition this is the kind of nonsense it can produce in its worse form. Thank God there are still many reasonable fundamentalists (who do listen to the counsel of the church far more than they let on) or the missional task of the church would be even harder to carry out in our present cultural context.

Yes, "Read your Bible." But for heaven’s sake do not read it in the way some fundamentalists read it, with no concern for the larger context or for the historical realities of interpretation.

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