I’m no theologian, but I know enough of history to know the church has misinterpreted scripture in the past. The Bible was used to justify the bloody crusades, the inquisitions and slavery, just to name a few abuses of scripture. And Christianity is not the only religion to misinterpret their holy books, leading to violence. In view of past mistakes, interpreting the scripture calls for humility.
Interpreting the Scripture With Compassion
A few years ago I sat in on a meeting about my hometown, Louisville, Ky. becoming a compassionate city. At that meeting I read the Charter for Compassion for the first time. The charter is a call for world religions and leaders to embrace compassion and to interpret all holy scriptures from a stance of compassion. The document is several paragraphs long, but this sentence captured my attention:
“We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.”
The charter, endorsed by millions, made so much sense to me. Who can completely understand the mind of God? None of us can, but if we believe God is love, then the charter seems a perfect way to view the scriptures. A brief internet search revealed at least 100 verses about God’s love for us in the Bible and many more verses containing the word “love.” Surely love is the overarching theme of the Bible.
Respect Instead of Violence
I don’t have all the answers to the difficult passages in the Old Testament that seem to promote war and hatred of others. But if God is love—and I believe that—then we must not say it’s okay to initiate acts of violence because it happened in the scriptures. That is a misinterpretation. This should be obvious in the year 2021, but then January 6 happened this very year. So I’ll say it clearly: God does not condone violence.
Not only does a compassionate interpretation of scriptures denounce violence, it teaches respect. The Charter for Compassion says it this way:
“We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures.”
We need to avoid conspiracy theories and outlandish accusations about other traditions. The best way to learn about Islam, for example, is to sit down with your Muslim neighbor and have a respectful conversation. Don’t read books written by Christians explaining Islam. Go to the source. I hope my Muslim friends are not reading books about Christians written by non-Christians. We must instruct our children to be respectful and teach them to honor the image of God in people who may have different beliefs.
Jesus Honored the “Other”
In the Gospels, we read how Jesus honored Samaritans (Luke 10), though they didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:51-56). The Samaritans and Jews of that day hated one another—at least some did. In Luke 9, Jesus sent word to a Samaritan village that he was on the way for a visit, and they rejected him. His disciples were ready to call down fire to annihilate the village, but Jesus rebuked them. Apparently, Jesus’ disciples needed to learn respect for other cultures, and so do we.
I am calling for humility, and I submit these thoughts as my opinions only. I could be wrong as so many have been in the past, but I would rather err on the side of grace, love and compassion. I believe God is love, and I hope you do too.
What does “God is love” mean to you? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
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