Friday, June 17, 2011

Textual Harassment (1 Timothy 6:1-2a)

Those who are under the yoke of domination (slaves) should consider their superiors as worthy of full respect, so that the Name of God and our teachings may not be brought into disrepute. If their overseers are believers, those who are in subjection should show their overseers (slave owners) even greater respect, for they are members of the same family. Indeed they should be even more diligent in their work, because those who benefit from the work are believers, and they are beloved.                                                                                                                                                                
1 Timothy 6:1-2a

Sometimes the scriptures get it wrong. Take for example the issue of slavery. Instead of mirroring the freedom and equality which the Sacred extends the scriptures have a long and tortuous affirmation of slavery.

Here in the writings associated with Paul (his authorship is debated) is a somewhat glaring error to encourage slaves to work harder for the master who profits from their sweat. One commentator, in an awkward defense of scriptures odd affirmation, argues that the bible does “not emphasize individual rights, but individual responsibilities.” The same commentator goes as far as to state that the chief concern for scripture is the glory of God and not “manumission of the slaves.” Funny, it strikes me that freeing those laden with oppression adds to the glory of God. I think we can safely assume that this commentator is male, white, and heterosexual – a person insulated from any real threat of subjugation.

Another less stringent commentator, tried to rescue the passage by defining it as a spiritual care issue. Slaves must have taken great comfort in being afforded admittance to a faith community that treated them as equals. Nevertheless, slaves needed to pay appropriate respect for the “legally designated master.” Again I think we can safely assume that this commentator is removed from the threat of any genuine tyranny.

Interestingly, I agree with both commentators, who in one way or another protect the integrity of the text. We cannot make it say “Rebel!” For clearly it says, “Serve harder!”

The resolution of our dilemma as to the harassment of this text can never be resolved in the passage itself. It reflects attitudes and thinking which horrify us. To resolve the terror of this text and others like it we must look at scripture from a larger lens, moving from a couple of verses to the entire flow of the sacred stories.

As a christian, the teachings, actions, and resurrection of Jesus forms the lens through which I read and critic any sacred text. How does his love for humanity inform how I receive these instructions? Jesus tells me that the attitude of this particular text is naïve of human deprivation, void of authentic compassion, and ignorant of the damage to personhood done by slavery.

I cannot phantom the One who hung on the cross endorsing the sentiment that is shared in this passage. Therefore I know the text to be ugly, brutish, and ungodly. I simply refuse to take part in the exploitation of others, even if I can justify it from scripture.

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