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Biblical Bias

by Berry Friesen (October 31, 2016)

This website focuses on one of the Bible’s most obvious biases:  opposition to empire.

We see this bias in one of the earliest texts—the story of how YHWH used Moses to deliver the Hebrews from the oppression of the Egyptian empire.  It continues via the tale of the tower of Babel and is carried along by the Bible’s leading characters:  Abraham, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, Mary, Jesus, Peter and Paul.

As we slog through the final week of the election campaign here in the US, this biblical bias serves as a warning against becoming preoccupied by Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Because YHWH is against the empire, their contest over who will be the next President loses its luster.

Of course, the Bible is chock full of judgments about the way to live.  Many other examples could be cited. The Bible values

  --honest business practices;

  --profit-sharing with laborers and wealth broadly distributed throughout society;

  --fidelity to commitments, even when those hold us back;

  --sexual activity within the context of male-female marriage;

  --social practices that protect vulnerable members (e.g., widows, orphans, aliens);

  --forgiveness of those who wrong us and reconciliation with our enemies;

  --hospitality extended to strangers, to those who are different.

Popular discomfort with the Bible’s many value judgments accounts for the eagerness to spiritualize the Bible’s message, reduce its authority to a simple teaching about god’s love, or ignore it entirely.

It’s not that people turned off by biblical bias lack morality or moral sensitivity.  Indeed, secular society reflects many moral judgments, just as the Bible does.

No, what’s commonly objectionable about biblical bias is the so-called sacred authority with which the Bible claims to speak.  In other words, it’s the god language that is the problem, not the moral voice.

So where does this leave us?

In If Not Empire, What? my co-author and I never insist that in the biases of the Bible we hear the voice of a universal god.  Instead, we make the more modest claim that those biases reflect the authors’ witness to the wisdom of the god of the Hebrews.   “This is our story, our testimony to what we have experienced and learned about this god,” biblical authors seemed to say; “take it or leave it.”

Which brings us back to the biblical view that we should regard the grandiose claims of the empire with skepticism and the election of its leaders with detachment.  Among the many biblical biases, this one receives comparatively little attention from Christian preachers and teachers here in the US. Most are more inclined to follow the script of Ezra and Nehemiah and leverage alignment with imperial officials into personal power and success.

Still, bias against empire endures as the wisdom of Scripture, delivered to us by faithful witnesses who envisioned a world changed from the bottom up, not the top down.  Take it or leave it, as you will.  But there it remains, an invitation to all who seek a better way.