Jerry Falwell Jr's Misuse of the Bible to Support Donald Trump

I was listening to NPR’s Steve Inskeep interview Jerry Falwell Jr., president of evangelical Liberty University, about his support for Donald Trump when I was struck by Mr. Falwell’s misuse of the Bible.

SI: Is his (Trump’s) personal life or any candidate’s personal life relevant to you?

JF: I think Jesus said we are all sinners. When they ask that question, I always talk about the story of the Woman at the Well who had five husbands and she was living with someone she wasn’t married to and they wanted to stone her and Jesus said, “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I just see how Donald Trump treats other people and I’m impressed by that.

Let me start by saying that this post is not about Donad Trump’s suitability for the presidency. It is about a prominent evangelical misusing the Bible. As a priest who takes the Bible seriously, and who also supports marriage equality as well as other progressive issues, I am tired of evangelicals claiming ownership of the Bible.

So here’s my critique of this very short exchange:

First, Jesus did not say we are all sinners. It’s mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but not on the lips of Jesus. I suppose this isn't such a big deal. I just mention it because there is a tendency to falsely attribute things to Jesus - like condemning people who are gay.

What really caught my attention was the misuse of the story of the Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42.) Mr. Falwell is conflating that story with the Woman caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11.) They are two different people, two very different stories. If Mr. Falwell “always” tells this story, he should know better.

More importantly, he demeans an important woman in the Bible, the Woman at the Well, by painting her as a sinner – a judgement that is not supported anywhere in the Bible. This may seem minor, but it is part of a wider pattern of demonizing the sexuality of women. Yes, she was married five times. And yes, the man she is currently living with is not her husband. But why assume she is at fault?

Mr. Falwell may see her as a woman trading in husbands like people today may trade in cars – upgrading for a newer model. He may see her as a sexually “loose” woman. But is that really the most reasonable interpretation? Since men had more power to divorce in Jesus’ day, isn’t it more likely that the Woman at the Well was the discarded one, the used car? She had been discarded by five husbands and now the man she is with won’t even dignify her with marriage. She is the outcast, going to the well at high noon, when no other women would be there. Labeling this woman as a sinner is akin to labeling women today who are trafficked into sex work as sinners, rather than victims. In the Biblical story, this victim, this outcast, has the courage to engage Jesus, debate with Jesus, and become the first evangelist, drawing the men of her village to Jesus.

Mr. Falwell dismisses this courageous, victimized woman as a sexual sinner (making her the woman caught in adultery.) She is no longer a hero and role model. Not only should he know his Bible better, in doing this he is perpetuating a worldview that diminishes powerful women figures.

I realize this is may seem nit-picky - insider Biblical baseball - but it bothered me. And then there's this:

SI: Do you think he (Trump) is a truthful person?

JF: I do. I just know you don’t get where he is in life by not telling the truth or by being dishonest in business or by treating your employees unfairly, and it’s just not possible.

Really? Is Mr. Falwell really saying you can’t be successful if you mistreat your employees or you are dishonest? Has he read the Bible? It is chock full of powerful, successful, dishonest leaders. That is the core of much of the lament in the Bible. Jeremiah’s complaint “Why do the wicked prosper?” is echoed throughout the Prophets and Psalms. Again, I’m not writing this to criticize Mr. Trump. I’m writing to encourage religious leaders to be more thoughtful in their use of scripture. My reading of the Bible encourages me to be critical of those in leadership, and careful with my support or endorsement.

I understand that Mr. Falwell and I may disagree on how we interpret passages in the Bible. I’m just tired of evangelicals claiming to have the Biblical high ground. It just isn’t so.


After Orlando: Driving out Darkness with Light

Here's a transcript of the sermon I preached in response to the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.  The gospel reading was Luke 8:26-39.

 

Another shooting.

50 people killed in Orlando in a gay nightclub, in a place that is supposed to be a safe haven.

Another shooting.

And then, hours later, here in Sacramento at Verity Baptist Church, a pastor preached a forty-five minute sermon applauding the horrific act and encouraging more death. This, almost to the day, one year after Dylann Roof went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people who were in the middle of Bible study.

Killing after killing. Shooting after shooting.

After every mass shooting we gather together as a church. After every mass shooting I stand in this pulpit and lament. But, for me, this time is a little different.

The constant repetition and drum beat of mass shooting after mass shooting is opening my eyes; I’m different because of last year’s shooting. I’m different because of the conversation we had after last year’s shooting, after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, went into an African American AME church and shot people during Bible study. This event that happened in the wake of protest after protest against violence perpetrated on African Americans by police.

We entered into a conversation at Trinity Cathedral during Lent; we listened to people of color; we had educational conversations about race. I began to realize how I had been lulled into the belief that racism really wasn’t that much of a problem; I drank the post-Obama-election Kool-Aid and believed that we were in the post-racial era.  As I participated in our programs on racism, I began to realize that the danger and corrosiveness we’re dealing with isn’t just outside our borders, it’s something that’s happening right here with us. I, and we, were becoming more and more sensitized to issues of race.

Continue reading "After Orlando: Driving out Darkness with Light" »


Sun Valley Wellness Festival 2016


I was invited to speak at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival. This was my second opportunity to speak at this remarkable event. Last year I spoke about Christian spirituality.  I believe it was the time first someone was invited to speak about Jesus and Christianity at this festival.  This year I spoke about my experiences at Burning Man.  It great a great experience.  Last year I spent much of the weekend visiting friends.  This year, I stayed at the Inn and participated in the festival.  



Friday night I listened to Jewell.  

Saturday was MC Yogi and David Whyte.  I had lunch with MC Yogi and his DJ Brandon.  That night they had an amazing concert and we danced for hours.  Sunday was my talk and Marianne Williamson.  There were so many other great speakers, but I needed to work on my own talk.  It was a very rich weekend.  

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Sun Valley Property News focused on the festival for their June issue and included an article on my talk using my own pictures.  It's the first time my photos were published in a magazine.  

The Wellness Festival folks published a couple of clips of my talk, including one of me blessing someone in the audience. 


Ashes to Go in Sacramento

For the third year, Trinity Cathedral had teams of people offering ashes and prayers to people passing by. We had teams at a light rail station, Caesar Chavez Park and in front of the Cathedral.  There was also a station in front of St. Paul's downtown. They prayed with over 150 people. It is always a moving experience. Here are some of my photos:

 

Ashes to Go 2016