So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27, NIV)
While many Evangelical Christians quickly get distracted by the last portion of this verse (which, by the way, are often mistranslated when talking about the transgender community), the very essence of this verse is that each and EVERY person is created in the image of God -- and that as such, we are called to recognize this in each and every person we meet. Throughout Jesus' ministry, we see Jesus challenging the religious to see those they had marginalized in the same way He did. I believe our call is to do the same, seeing that God looks at the image that She has instilled in each and every person and recognizing that in our encounters.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11, NIV)
One of the things that I absolutely value within the Jewish culture is that they would often sit and debate Scripture. As Rachel Held Evans once wrote, "The Jewish people use the Bible to start a conversation, while Christians use it to end one." (Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.)
While the inerrancy of Scripture is often debated, the one thing that underlies a lot of that debate is simply this -- how do we interpret the Bible? Talk with many Christians, and they'll be convinced that the Bible can make their point -- but then the question must be, is that really in the Bible, or is that coming from your Pastor's teaching on the Bible? Are you quoting the Bible in context - both historical and literal - or are you relying on the translations that often don't convey the whole meaning?
I believe that the Bible is a collection of stories, letters, and poetry that point to the bigger picture of who God is and what God is calling us to in the world. I also believe that it was written to a specific people in a specific time period, and to try and interpret the Bible through our modern-day understanding of the world is to miss some of the entire points that God had intended. Is understanding the Bible possible for lay people? Of course, but doing so takes diligence and work to understand the cultural context and language that is being used. Tools like Blue Letter Bible and Bible Gateway give access to multiple translations, and the Bible Background Commentary along with Halley's Bible Handbook and multitudes of other commentaries can help us gain a better understanding of why the Bible says what it says. Then, and only then I believe, can we take what is being taught and apply it towards a deeper understanding. Failure to do so can have deadly consequences, as is the experience of many within the LGBTQ+ communities.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”(Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If one were to take the entire Constitution of the United States and print only that, it would exist only as a small booklet. At the same time, however, entire books and volumes have been handed down -- laws and decisions have been made, all based off of one document and its 33 amendments, trying to explain what the Constitution means in certain cases. So when we look at the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the 613 laws that followed as the Mosaic Law was formed from that, it's not hard to see how it could quickly become overwhelming and confusing.
When I was a young kid in Catechism classes, we learned about the Ten Commandments, and how the first four dealt with how to love God, and the last six dealt with how to love each other. So when Jesus comes in and boils EVERYTHING down to two commands, stating that ALL of the Law and the Prophets hang on how we love God and love our neighbor, then perhaps it's something that we should listen to.
If I try to watch TV without my glasses, I can't really see what's on the screen. I can make out some things, but for the most part, what I "see" isn't really much of anything at all without my glasses. I need them to be able to see. To be able to drive. To be able to navigate around the house without bumping into furniture (as much) or, worse yet, stepping on a cat. I need to have these lenses that are specifically tailored for my eyes so that I can clearly focus on what is before me. In much the same way, if Jesus said that EVERYTHING in the Law and the Prophets hung on the two greatest commands, then isn't that the lens that we should be reading Scripture through?
When we read of the Berean church, they were commended for going back and asking themselves if what they were being told was true, and in much the same way, we should learn to ask those critical questions. But most of all, we should ALWAYS ask ourselves how what we are reading, learning, and even teaching lines up with the two commands that Jesus said were the greatest: is what I am advocating and practicing helping foster my relationship with God? Is it helping others to grow in their relationship with God? Or is it a barrier to acceptance? What about love for our neighbor? Love isn't "love the sin, hate the sinner." Why do I know this? Because when we see how it is practiced, we see how that mentality and teaching pushes people to believe that there is no place for them to seek God in the Church. In their families. It cuts people off from God and from each other. And is that love? I think not.
So for everything that I teach and read, I try my hardest to challenge people to look through that lens. After all, it was so important that Jesus didn't just say it; He was the very embodiment of that in the world.