Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Science, Social Justice, and Bible Study

Oh how I love your Word!
It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser, for it is always with me.
I have more understanding, for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more by following your way.
How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;

therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:97-105

For secularists, as well as for many Christians, the stereotype is that people who engage in frequent Bible study tend to be judgmental, rigid, narrow, and anti-intellectual.

Those of us who interpret the biblical message as a promise of grace and a call to social justice sometimes feel like we are in the minority.

Turns out, the stereotype may be wrong. My colleague Cheryl Meachen posted a link to an article in the Huffington Post about a study by Baylor University researcher Aaron Franzen, which contains some results that may surprise you.

True to expectations, people who read the Bible frequently are more likely to be against gay marriage and against abortion.

But other findings run against the tide of stereotypes.

Those who read the Bible regularly are more concerned about social and economic justice, and generally more concerned about poor people and the issues of poverty. Within that group, liberals and conservatives differ on what needs to be done, and they differ on how they understand the role of government in eliminating poverty, but they agree that we need to help poor people and we need to reduce poverty.

Frequent Bible readers are also more likely to be against the death penalty and concerned with more humane treatment of prisoners.

Perhaps most surprising, those who read and study the Bible regularly are less likely to see a conflict between faith and science. They come to see all truth as God’s truth and they value scientific understanding.

Even biblical literalists, who tend to be the most rigid, find their thinking expands as their Bible study increases.

We know that Bible study ought to be transformative. It ought to open us to the world and to one another. It ought to make us more concerned about our fellow human beings. It should open us to a vision of the Kingdom of God and make us committed to economic and social justice.

The amazing thing is that this apparently tends to happen whether we want it to or not.

This brings us back to an old truth. There are lots of people who will tell you that they believe every word in the Bible. And they will not be shy about telling you what it all means. But a great many of those people don’t actually read the book they claim to believe with such fervor.

There are plenty of rigid and narrow-minded Christians in the world, but they are that way in spite of the Bible, not because of it.

The Word really is alive. If we are willing to listen, it will speak to us. And if we pay attention, it will change us.

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