The Politics of Bible Reading

We’re in the period of the Christian year where Acts is up. For those unfamiliar, that’s the book following the four gospels in the New Testament, and it’s often described as the most journalistic book in the Bible. We studied the eyewitness account of the shipwreck found therein, for a reporting class on disaster news at the University of Tennessee.

I’ve read the Bible through five or six times if you give me a little leeway for skimming the public health parts of Leviticus on mold care. As a child, as a euphoric member of Youth with A Mission, as a college student fighting to keep her faith and sanity, I never noticed what I do now as a health policy advocate and director.

Acts is massively political.

Heavily about the prejudice between Romans and Greeks, Jews, and Gentiles it chronicles Romans on top, Roman Jews better depending on the trouble you were in, and if you were a gentile Greek convert, just be grateful anyone would deign to speak to you.

I do remember in YWAM and in other sermons how the good news of the gospel the apostles were spreading took center stage, how Jesus transcended all the problems. Paul getting converted dominates Acts, winner takes all. The anger over Greek widows getting less food at distribution, the confusion of Greek gentiles when men show up and tell them they must get circumcised or they’re not real Christians, the appointing of managers to oversee free meals: just background stuff.

Maybe because it’s Divided States of America here, maybe because I’m old enough to have seen a few things in action, maybe because I spend a lot of time working with free food and health policies that (mostly) men in power make without any lived experience of hunger, I see how much Acts is about getting our act together using thoughtful, prayerful solutions to social problems.

Certain widows are getting short rations? Let us pray, then appoint seven men (oh well) to oversee the handouts: six of them are Roman, one of them is Greek, and three of them appear to be Gentiles.

There’s a circumcision cult starting in Antioch? Hold on! We’re coming! We are sending four men to you, and two of them are Gentiles, and one of them is Greek! We got your back, and you don’t have to do this.

And, by the way, Jesus loves you. So, we’re gonna try and make sure everyone’s interests are represented in the things Jesus told us to do.

It’s not a side message, it’s a central message: figure it out, with kindness, with prayer, with honesty, and with genuine representation of those who understand the mutual interests at stake. It’s what Acts tells us about how we should live now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s