On Sunday I attended a rally held by FURIE – Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation – in downtown Chicago with my daughter. The rally was titled “Blame the System Not the Victim” and was organized as a “speak-out against rape and gender violence followed by a march through downtown Chicago.”
Despite the interminable heat it was a good and fun way to spend an afternoon. I was there to listen and support, as were many of the attendees, but many were also there to speak and share their own stories and experiences; tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, and catharsis was had.
But alas, there is always somebody intent on ruining good things for everyone else. Meet Vladimir:
The reason I didn’t show the rest of his signs is because they are horrifying and disturbing, and I don’t think they deserve to be seen (although, unfortunately, you can get an idea of it from the sign on the right).
Vladimir, who declined to give his surname, got wind of our activity on Facebook and decided it was a perfect opportunity to come spread what he believes is the word of Jesus to us, the unsaved.
Well, I looked back and forth between our group of over a hundred participants and Vladimir, standing alone with his signs, and decided to go talk to him. I’ve always wondered what people like him would say if confronted with the scriptural shakiness of their beliefs, and I was sure Vladimir wasn’t expecting someone educated in theology and Christianity to be at the rally he was protesting.
I shook his hand, asked to take his picture, and asked him about himself. He came to America from Russia 4 years ago, and it was here that he was “saved,” as he put it, by Jesus Christ. He does not belong to a specific church, or at least did not want to tell me the name of his church or denomination.
This was before most of the attendees had noticed him, so we were able to speak at some length undisturbed. When I first told Vladimir I wanted to talk to him about Jesus, he got defensive. “You don’t know Jesus,” he told me. “You don’t know the Bible.”
To the contrary, I told him, bringing out the copy of the Bible that I carry with me in my daughter’s stroller (I’m carrying it around for my Bible journaling series). I know quite a bit about Jesus and the Bible.
This seemed to soften him some, and to his credit, he never questioned my faith after that.
So naturally I asked what he thought about Numbers 5 and its prescription for an unfaithful wife.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him…and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest…Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall set the woman before the Lord…In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.
Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside…be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray…the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” Numbers 5:11-22 NRSV
In case it’s not clear, this means that God is totally cool with abortion in the case of adultery.
Now, of course, that passage is no more the “word of God” than the passages condemning homosexuality or the mixing of fabrics (Leviticus 19:19). But I wanted to see how someone like Vladimir would reconcile his Biblical fundamentalism with a passage that so starkly contrasted with his worldview.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that Vladimir took issue with my translation; according to him, the King James Version is the only “real” version of the Bible. So I took to Google and pulled up the same passage in the KJV translation. The relevant portion reads: “…when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot…” (Numbers 5:21-22).
Curiously, Vladimir misunderstood his own argument and insisted that this passage means that the woman will die, not the baby. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that bit of nonsense up to English not being his first language; clearly he believed this passage was at best ambiguous.
But then we got to the heart of the matter. As Vladimir put it: “I do not read Old Testament. I follow Jesus.”
“But Vladimir,” I told him. “Abortion existed during the time of Jesus. Jesus didn’t say anything about it. Don’t you think he would’ve mentioned if it was important?”
And here is where we got to the true heart of the matter, the reason there truly can be no reconciliation between people like Vladimir and people like myself.
“Jesus says we cannot murder,” Vladimir told me. “Abortion is murder.”
I foolishly tried to tell him that the science is far from settled on this matter. He pointedly told me, “I do not care about science.” (Hey, at least he’s honest).
I shook my head and thanked him for talking to me, then rejoined my group. As we marched through downtown, Vladimir followed, finally setting up in a much more visible area at our endpoint. That’s when things got heated.