2014 Religious Trends
For the Bible Tells Me So: Learning to See Myself as God's Reflection
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Progressive Christian community here.
I was a sixth grader, attending a private Christian school. We were reading the Christmas story when I asked a simple question. "Did King Herod get in trouble for killing those kids?" Something told my twelve-year-old self that murdering children is wrong, no matter who does it. "Why would he get in trouble?" I was shocked by my teacher's response. "Why wouldn't he? They didn't do anything to him." "That doesn't matter. Those children had to die in order for the story to be true." I pressed further. "Why did they have to die?" Exasperated, my teacher said, "Candice, there are some things in life you just don't question and the Bible is one of them."
An apparent glutton for punishment, I decided I would consult my Sunday School teacher. At church, my inquiry would be welcomed and appreciated. Except, it wasn't. I was told it was sinful to ask questions about scripture. Though I didn't think I was "questioning" the Bible, I learned very quickly that scripture was off limits. If it made me wonder, then I was in the wrong. Being faithful required blind allegiance, no matter the cost. And I grew up with that kind of submission. Even when other passages left me with deeper questions than the Christmas story did, I never voiced my concern. After a while, remaining silent became second nature; I learned inquisition had its place and it wasn't in the church. Yet, while I couldn't question scripture, there was one passage that made me question myself.
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5; KJV).
I, as the old church would say, was born "out of wedlock" and my parents never married in attempts to legitimate my birth. Growing up in church, I was constantly reminded that the circumstances resulting in my birth grieved God. And while I thought it was just Psalm 51 that I had to worry about, I learned that there were numerous passages Christians could reference to prove that my parents were sinners and I was a result of sin. As a child, to hear that I was corrupted from birth caused me to doubt if my life would ever have meaning; I would often question why I was born. If people could point to God's own word to negate my existence, why would God allow these to be my life's circumstances? Years of silence and shame haunted me. I despised who I was because the Bible told me to do it. I was a Christian but saw myself unredeemable and unable to be loved.
If Jesus died to ensure abundant living, believing that I was fundamentally debased didn't necessarily allow me to walk in overflow. I never had a confident stride in my faith because I believed that, from the beginning, God created me to be inferior. And that is simply not true. For all the pain King David experienced that caused him to utter those words in Psalm 51, they are not my reality. My conception was not a result of sin; it was the result of a meticulously crafted moment in divine history. I do not bear the shame of being born to parents who thought it better to burn than marry. I bear the image of God, as do my mother and father.
Whether we are straight or gay, Black or White, skinny or overweight, progressive or fundamental, or somewhere in between all those spectrums, we are more than our mistakes. We are more than what others seek to define as our mistakes. We bear the image of God. We were created to be light in a world that has adjusted to darkness. Others choose to start from a place of original sin. I do not. Many, like myself, believe that is not the beginning of the human story. There was no sin when God created Adam and Eve. They were created in the image of God. And God is good. We are good.
For many, my position is uncomfortable. Sadly, my salvation has been questioned and I have been accused of everything from devaluing scripture to negating Jesus. As one who has often been labeled too "progressive" or "liberal" in my community, I used to vehemently defend myself. Not anymore. I know who I am. While I do not view scripture as inerrant, I proclaim it to be holy. It is holy because it tells us of the overwhelming, unconditional love of God. We have known that love. We have been liberated by that love. And while I acknowledge the holiness of the Bible, I also acknowledge the places in our sacred narrative where human hands have obscured the love that set us free. And when I come across those places, I remember the love I have known, the love that told me I was not sin but sacred…and I lean into it. And leaning into that love, I resolve that I will ask every question necessary until all know that love too.
Candice Benbow is the host of Divine Dialogue, an iTunes podcast that discusses social and religious issues in the African-American Community. A writer, Candice is currently at work on her first book.