Hi! The following is an ask I got on Tumblr a little while ago. Tumblr is losing a lot of its shine for me (I almost never use it anymore) but sometimes I write things there that are probably worthwhile holding on to. This is one of them.
hereunderthe75stars asked: As both a Christian and a feminist I’m finding it really difficult to get through the book of Deuteronomy. Do you have any advice?
Hi, good question. It’s also something that I probably can’t satisfactorily answer in a Tumblr text post. Sorry about that, but I will try my best.
I think we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the Bible. The Bible is an uncomfortable book written a long time ago by a lot of people, many of whom I probably would disagree with and probably wouldn’t like very much if I met them. It’s also, culturally, a completely different world to the one we inhabit now, and a lot of the history and context behind the words has been lost and we’re doing our best to patch it together and understand it.
It’s kind of like the church in this way, you know? I work for a church, and there are lots of people who are part of that organisation who would rather I wasn’t working there because I don’t do things the way they like. There are also a lot of people who love that I work there and would be very sad to see me go.
The reason the Bible is so important is because it’s like a prism that teases out all the different ways we think about life and God. In order to help you remember this, I have put together a handy graphic which will hopefully make things very clear.
When I read the Bible, I’m pretty sure I’m looking at it differently to some other people. I’m seeing a different “colour” to what they’re seeing. I’ve seen some of what the Bible is saying and some other people are positioned differently and can see it from angles I can’t. They’re seeing “colours” I can’t. We need to be talking to each other for us to try and get a better idea of what’s going on. This goes for people alive today from other cultures and walks of life, and it also goes for people throughout history. I need to “talk” to them by reading their stuff and doing my best to understand that and empathise with it. Talking about God should draw people together, not drive them apart. I’m a firm believer of that.
Deuteronomy is not a fun book. It is long and has lots of laws, most of which we don’t follow anymore because Christ is the fulfilment of the law and has changed our relationship to the law. Actually, I think I’ve only read it the one time, and I was relieved when it was over. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it! I found it really helped me understand parts of the New Testament, and it’s pretty vital in understanding the context of books like Joshua and 1 & 2 Samuel.
But! Feminist stuff! Deuteronomy won’t ever affirm our modern feminist ideas because it is not a modern feminist book. Instead it was written by people blissfully unaware of their own misogyny, in the same way your great-grandparents were probably blissfully unaware of their classism/racism/homophobia/take your pick. And yet! The author/s of Deuteronomy – misogynists all – were interested in maintaining a just society and pursuing the ways of God. They wrote a whole book about it and made sure it would survive the ages.Their misogyny was wrong, but they got some things right.
This is a great comfort to me, because I am sure I must be blissfully unaware of prejudices I no doubt hold. Perhaps my grandchildren (grandnephews and grandnieces?) will look back on my Google archive and be horrified that I could believe XYZ or phrase something in the way I do. But I do good things too, and I love God and do my best, and I hope that they’ll see that and give me the benefit of the doubt.
One of the central themes of the Bible is grace – unmerited favour – and so I guess as Christians we need to show grace to the people who’ve come before us, and on whose understandings we’ve built to get us this far. It doesn’t excuse those attitudes, but it frees us from judging them and now we can try and understand them and learn from them. Their perspective on life and God is so radically different to ours – there’s a lot they can teach us and I’m grateful to them for writing it. The misogyny will spoil some of that, but not all of it.
I am gay, so this is relevant to my day-to-day life. There are some people I work and worship with who are homophobic, but I have to show them grace and do my best not to let that homophobia colour the way I see their whole perspective on life and God. The homophobia is not acceptable, and I won’t shy away from telling them so or standing up for myself and others. But there’s more to them than their homophobia.
This is an idea that isn’t well-loved on Tumblr right now. Tumblr likes to find something wrong someone has said or done (however large or small) and then humiliate and destroy them with it. Everything they’ve ever said or done is painted with that imperfection until they’re totally written off. It’s highly judgemental in the worst way.
Remember that as Christians we believe that the Old Testament points to Christ. How is Deuteronomy doing this? What story is it telling? How does it fit in with the story being told in the other books surrounding it?
- God is infinite and complex and we need to talk to others with different points of view in order to understand God better
- Those different points of view will often contain offensive ideas
- Deuteronomy contains offensive ideas
- Without excusing or mindlessly accepting those ideas, we need to show grace towards those points of view so we can try and understand what that book is saying about God.