I can’t write about LGBT issues today like I normally do. I will get back to that injustice soon, but I can’t right now. I’m too concerned for anyone in this country who isn’t a White European.

But I haven’t known what to say. I’ve written two different posts addressing bigotry and White Supremacy, and nothing feels right.

I finally realized that the last thing I want to talk about is exactly what needs to be said.

I am beginning to understand how deep inequality goes, how much it persists to today in the lives of Black Americans especially, but to all POC. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to begin to see.

This knowledge is painful. It makes me think of my country differently. I certainly don’t feel the same way about America as I once did, and there is sadness there. I wish I could believe this to be the best country in the world. I wish I could believe the dream of America was more than a dream. But I’ve learned too much.

Sometimes I have to consciously mourn the view the death of the beautiful vision of my country and the accomplishments of those who came before me. If I don’t recognize that need, and accept the reality of it, I might end up trying to deny it. Instead I want to see the shame of it all, the violence done to native people, Black people, LGBT people, and every single new wave of immigrants.

I’m tempted to explain it away, say we weren’t that bad. Didn’t we fight a war to end slavery? Yes, but we followed it up with Jim Crow. Didn’t we make dramatic changes after the Civil Rights movement? Yes, but we followed that up with mass incarceration in a prison system with ingrained racial inequalities which effectively strip civil rights from poor Black people.

I love America, and love requires no dishonesty. When it comes to POC, we have always taken with the left hand what was given with the right.

Since I won’t deny it anymore, I’m tempted to do what come natural in White culture and try to fix this. I want to understand it, come to the right solution, implement that solution, do it with excellence, fix the problem, restore the image of a whole and beautiful America, erase our shame, correct our injustice. But I don’t know how. Even an attempt at this point, with wounds so fresh, would be wrong.

In White culture we are uncomfortable with our imperfections. It’s not okay for us to be broken, to have shame in our history, to not have the answers, and to be less than perfect. But we are far, far less than perfect. White washing our history only brings more pain.

For my part, I’m learning to sit with the reality of White Supremacy in my family tree, in the people who came before me and set-up the country in the way they did, a way that favors me.

I’m learning to sit in the reality that there are two Americas: The one I get to live in, and the one POC live in.

Owning the shame of my history may open the possibility of a brighter future. Because if I own the shame of White America, I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t have to pretend our country is better than it is.

If we own the shame of our past, there is no need to pretend that the people who tried to tear this nation apart in order to keep race-based chattel slavery intact were good people who deserve monuments. We can learn to be honest about our past, and build monuments to the right people, those who resisted and survived slavery.

I’m also free to believe that our future can be better than our past. I’m free to see that in order to be better, we don’t need to return to the past, we need to transcend it.

In the past, power was kept in the hands of one ethnicity. It’s tempting for us as White people to think that it is our responsibility to solve the racial problems in our society, but we aren’t the ones with the solutions.

People of color have been fighting this fight for centuries. They have been and continue to be my teachers, in person and through the books I read. They are in mourning right now, and I want to mourn, too.

If I am to learn to be any part of the solution, perhaps now is the time for me to enter into sadness. Perhaps this is a time for lament.

I will figure out how to do more. I will keep my eyes open. I will continue to have difficult discussions online and in person. I will look for opportunities not only to search for helpful ideas, but to lift up the voices of POC that we so desperately need.

The solution to White Supremacy won’t come from White people. I increasingly believe that the voices of oppressed people are the moral soul of this country, and if we are ever to learn to be good and just, we will learn it from them.

So let me share first this Jewish Lament, Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

And let me share with you a voice truly capable of inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCenwgheIBs

After a helpful message from one of my readers, I want to add this caveat: I still don’t think the real solutions will come from White people, but I do think we need to take responsibility, learn solutions from POC, and get out of the way. What needs to happen is to turn over real power and give a real voice to POC. We need to listen to and implement what we learn from POC, yes, but that’s ultimately just a patriarchal way of offering help on our terms unless we learn to actually give up power, give up a voice, give up privilege so that POC can have real influence in ways that are not under our control or our supervision. Solutions offered by those who are privileged tend not to go far enough and not to go deep enough. The first reaction of people like myself to events like this is usually to explain, to say what needs to happen, and solve it, if only intellectually. What White people need is to sit with the gravity and the enormity of this problem that is about much more than one rally, but about a history in this country and in European countries that goes back many centuries. We need to sit with that reality before we act. Trying to come up with solutions in the aftermath is disrespectful, there needs to be a period of mourning, of allowing the gravity to sink in, of feeling the sadness, not of rushing to solutions based on our own discomfort, solutions which will inevitably be superficial.

Hermeneutics is the study of how we interpret the Bible. I love hermeneutics. For a long time I believed good hermeneutics would save us in the end. That hope has had a slow and painful death. We have lofty ideas of how we can learn to interpret scripture and clear up all our controversy, but that isn’t the way it happens historically. In the real world, hermeneutics are usually the way the church justifies itself after the fact.

Revolutionary Telescope

Take for example the telescope that changed the world. When Galileo looked at the solar system through the telescope he invented, what he saw demanded a new understanding of the universe and our own part in it. It’s easy to forget now, but at the time Galileo’s claim that the earth rotated around the sun and not the other way around was an existential crisis for the church. At least they thought so.

These new theories about the universe were contradicted several passages of scripture. Making way for Galileo’s theory meant making way for new ways of understanding scripture. In other words, new hermeneutics.

Galileo was a deeply religious man and advocated for new approaches. He suggested that passages speaking about the sun standing still in the sky could be understood figuratively instead of literally. The church rejected this idea as undermining the authority of scripture.

They didn’t reject it because of strict literalism, but because for many centuries the church taught a cosmology that conflicted with the heliocentric model.

They believed in concentric circles above and below our world, traveling deeper into hell below and higher into heaven above. The sun was in one of the heavenly levels. If you’re familiar with Dante’s inferno, you’ll recognize his description of levels leading deeper into hell. They believed the universe was best represented by layers, not orbiting planets, and they believed the Bible taught this. And taken literally, they have a pretty good point.

Changing cosmology seemed like a threat to more than just their current way of doing things. It was a threat to scripture itself. If they were to accept that the earth rotates around the sun, where would it all end? Would all credibility be stripped from the Bible?

But they were wrong. Christianity and the Bible turned out to be more resilient than they thought. Their attempts to protect and defend the scripture did more damage in the end when the church lost credibility.

History On Repeat

Again and again this pattern repeated through history. Political ideas about the equality of all people lead to freedom for slaves. Women were given the right to vote as the understanding that they are equal to men in intelligence and capacity as human beings became undeniable. All these changes were hailed by traditionalists as threats to the authority of scripture. They were wrong, though.

It continues in our day. There is a steady erosion of patriarchy and some traditional churches are try desperately to maintain some vestige of the fading system. They say that men are still the leaders, and women are still the followers. They claim the Bible teaches this, and that if we stop believing it, we will no longer have any trust in the Bible. But are they right? Have these claims ever been right?

We must stop this destructive pattern. It is unacceptable for the church of God to continue standing in the way of the work of God in the world.

Things Change, and the Bible Remains

When it comes to specifics, the Bible has shown itself to be more flexible than we realize. After history marches on, God’s people accept new revelations. Then scholars come and explain why these changes were also hermeneutically sound. But hermeneutics don’t drive change.

Living as we do, confined to a moment in history, it’s hard to see it without looking back. And when we look back, we tend to look back from our point of view, and not understand theirs. We shake our heads at those silly Catholics, most of whom didn’t even look through Galileo’s telescope to see the obvious. We don’t do them justice. They were afraid these new understandings would undermine the faith itself. What looks tertiary to us seemed central to them.

By taking a compassionate view towards those who resisted change, we quickly learn the most important lesson there is to learn about hermeneutics: Hermeneutics are better at making room for the past than they are at making room for the future.

Stepping out of our time, and seeing through another vantage point shows us that what seems unchangeable isn’t. Things can change. Things must change. It will be okay.

It isn’t until after their inevitable changes occur that theologians look back, the quintessential armchair quarterbacks, and explain to us how the real problem all along was our interpretation of scripture. So they devise new hermenetics. They teach us new ways of interpreting the scriptures that make way for the changes that have already happened without undermining the authority of the scripture.

But did Galileo do what he did because his interpretive strategy was better? Or because of his insatiable desire to see and understand God’s creation? Did abolitionists in America work to free the slaves because they had a superior hermeneutic? Or because they excelled in compassion? Was any of this really a theological debate at all? Obviously not.

Real Faithfulness to Scripture

Traditionalists are concerned with loyalty to what the church has always taught and believed. They focus on protecting these beliefs against any change that might be threatening. New ways of living and thinking pose a threat to the system, so they defend the old ways. But by defending against these fresh invasions that seem so central at the time, they miss out on what really is central in the teachings of scripture.

In all these cases, the church in its fear of change allowed a rigid understanding of a few Bible verses to undermine the most important principles of scripture. They lost their way. They lost their heart. In their desire to defend the scriptures, they ignored them.

The only reason we have a church to defend is because of people like Galileo, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, MLK, and so many others who were heretics and radicals in their day. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that though they venerate the prophets now, they would have killed them, and nothing has changed.

The radicals and reformers harmonized with the Bible all along. Motivating these social changes was a deeper understanding of the true principles and values of scripture. Love. Justice. Compassion. Hope. Truth. The creation of all people in the image of God. What are our petty fears in the face of such as these?

Hermeneutics can’t save us from our fears. Only love can. Because love is the true heart of the Bible. A biblical approach to any topic must be drenched in the uncompromising love of God.

If you’re paying attention, you might realize that I just pulled a switch on you, because what I’m proposing is not no hermeneutics, but new hermeneutics. What motivates our understanding of scripture shouldn’t be a desire to defend it’s credibility, but a desire to live out it’s core principles. Religious leaders of old should not be our models in understanding scripture. Prophets, radicals, and reformers should be.

How do we keep from using hermeneutics to serve the status quo, ignoring the pain our theology causes and stubbornly insisting that our rigid interpretations are correct?

We reorder our hermeneutical priorities around compassion and justice. We think long and hard about the lives of people who will be impacted by our theology. We stop getting caught up in the weeds of literalism and reach instead for the principles of scripture that were prioritized by Jesus. This is biblical hermeneutics. We get so caught up in love, compassion, grace, and truth that we forget we were ever afraid.