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The biblical genealogies summarized: STFU, Ezra

The biblical genealogies summarized: STFU, Ezra May 29, 2021

Paige Patterson is even worse than we thought,” Hemant Mehta writes, pointing to new reports finding that the disgraced architect of the Southern Baptist “conservative resurgence” (aka, the Purge, or the Great Leap Backward) pillaged Southwestern Baptist seminary after he was forced to resign its presidency due to multiple scandals.

Due to their alliterative names, their dual credit for launching that “conservative resurgence” in the SBC, and their seemingly bottomless ongoing scandals, I sometimes get Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler mixed up. The way I keep them sorted out is to remember that Patterson is not the one who wanted to Pat Your Son. That was Pressler — the predatory, closeted, Kevin Spacey of Southern Baptist conservatism. Patterson was the slut-shaming rape-and-abuse apologist who never met a sex scandal he didn’t try to cover up and blame on the victims.

Hemant’s post includes a Cliff Notes survey of Patterson’s prior scandals as well as a discussion of his latest — his theft of artwork and donor lists from Southwestern on his way out the door there. Ever since his departure, apparently, he’s been calling those donors and convincing many of them to redirect their gifts away from the seminary and toward his personal “foundation.”

Always. Be. Grifting.

And but so, Paige Patterson is a miserable human being whose legacy is the misery of others, but that’s not really what I wanted to talk about here. What I wanted to talk about is the apparent topic of the sermon that he’s preaching tomorrow as guest preacher at Robert Jeffress’ Trump Baptist Church in Dallas.

Right passage. Wrong messenger.

His sermon title is “Must I read genealogies?” and the passage it’s based on is Ruth 4:18-22. I think that’s an excellent topic for a sermon. Especially at that particular church.

Or, rather, I think that’s potentially an excellent topic for a sermon. In the hands of a devious authoritarian fundamentalist like Patterson, it seems far less promising — likely involving far more 2 Timothy 3:16 than “They married women from Moab” (Ruth 1:4). And that latter bit is what makes this such an important topic.

Because those long, boring biblical genealogies are all about the line of David. And thus they’re all about a Moabite woman named Ruth.

They are, in other words, all about taking sides in one of the fiercest intra-biblical arguments.

I’ll eat my hat if Patterson admits that in his sermon tomorrow — or even if he suggests it’s permissible for anyone in the congregation to admit such a thing. The existence of fierce intra-biblical arguments is not something fundamentalist illiteralists allow to be recognized, even if it’s a massively obvious feature of the scriptures.

And the genealogies all land on one side of one of the biggest intra-biblical disputes of all: the inclusive/universal vs. exclusive/exceptional argument. This is, admittedly, a lop-sided dispute. The exclusive/exceptional side of the argument just doesn’t have the firepower to stand up against the scriptural diatribes on the other side like the book of Jonah or Galatians. But the scriptures still give the exclusive exceptionalists their turn to speak — if only to get shouted down, mocked, rebuffed and rebutted by the Good Guys.

And, yes, I think of the inclusive/universal side of this intra-biblical argument as the Good Guys. That’s self-serving for me to say because otherwise, like Ruth, I would be excluded from this story. But I think it’s also what we’re meant to conclude if we read the whole thing. I think that’s what those genealogies are for.

The brief genealogy Patterson cites in Ruth 4:18-22 is repeated elsewhere in longer genealogies of the line of David, including in the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels. “Must I read those genealogies?” No, I’ll save you the time and summarize them in five words: STFU Ezra.

What’s Ezra got to do with this? Everything.

Because the story of Ruth is the story of Ruth vs. Ezra — the guy who decided God wanted him to “purify” Israel via mass divorce and child-abandonment. That’s the climax of Ezra’s story, ministry, and message — mandatory mass divorce and child-abandonment to get rid of the foreigners. It’s a monstrous story — so monstrous that big chunks of the rest of the biblical canon go out of their way to condemn it, directly or indirectly.

Here’s what I wrote about Ruth vs. Ezra five years ago:

Ezra’s story doesn’t get discussed as much as it should. When “pro-family” preachers turn to the Bible to collect proof-texts on divorce, they always seem to forget the “clear biblical teaching” of the final chapters of Ezra. For Ezra, divorce is not merely permitted — it’s mandatory. Divorce is commanded by God. And so is the abandonment of racially impure children.

Like I said, Ezra was a prick. He was such an abusive, wrong-headed jerk that whole chunks elsewhere in scripture go out of their way to repudiate his ideology and behavior. That’s why Ruth is in the canon. It’s why Ruth is in every story of David and why Ruth is in the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels. Oh, and pretty much everything the Gospels and Acts have to say about Samaritans.

I realize that for many of my evangelical friends this — Ruth vs. Ezra — is a terrifying, headsploding matter. They can’t look at it — can’t allow themselves even to peek at it. But you can’t read both the book of Ruth and the book of Ezra and not see that what you’ve got there is a direct, explicit, intentional conflict. It’s Ruth vs. Ezra. Pick one side or the other, you can’t have both.

And, by the way, there’s a right answer and a wrong answer here. I mean, you can sign up for Team Ezra if you really want to insist that David and Jesus are polluted and tainted by the uncleanness of a Moabite garbage-person, but the idea that the anointed king’s great-grandmother should have been deported and his grandfather abandoned as an infant isn’t something you’re going to find much support for in the rest of the canon.

In the unlikely event that I were ever invited to be a guest preacher at First Baptist Church in Dallas — W.A. Criswell’s church, a vanguard congregation in the white backlash against the Civil Rights Movement and for generations an epicenter of Team Ezra white Christianity — then I might very well choose as my text the genealogy of Ruth 4:18-22.

But I rather doubt that Patterson is going to preach anything like the sermon I have in mind.

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