A woman in Indianapolis beat her seven year old son with a coat hanger, severely enough to leave thirty-six dark purple bruises striped across his back and a hook-shaped bruise on his cheek. The abuse happened in February 2016. Her kids are safe now. (Story here.)
Legal documents filed in her defense quote Scripture to justify her actions.
Yes, please go back and read that again …
Her lawyer is arguing that something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” gives this child abuser permission to abuse children. The child abuser said, “I was worried for my son's salvation with God after he dies,” and “I decided to punish my son to prevent him from hurting my daughter and to help him learn how to behave as God would want him to.” Even leaving aside the completely illogical and ignorant statement that hurting a child will teach them not to hurt another child, the horribly twisted theology ought to appall and anger every person of faith everywhere in the world.
And then, the second layer of the defense plan is to argue that cultural differences caused her to misunderstand the law, since harsh physical abuse is common in the woman’s culture of origin. Which is bullshit. Child abuse is child abuse in Myanmar as well as Indiana. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard,” and that standard is “something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quite definitely real.”
And so, I will confess that a whole lot of emotion came to the surface for me when I read this story this morning. I’ve been working through a lot of that emotion in the back of my head all day as I’ve been working on other stuff. As both a foster dad and also a pastor, this story has kind of captured my attention.
Look, I know that interpreting Scripture to justify horrible things isn’t anything new. It is as old as Scripture itself, actually. As long as the Bible has been around, people have misused it to wage war, keep slaves, oppress women, commit genocide, discriminate against entire categories of people, and on and on.
So if it’s all the same to you, I’d really, really like us to stop doing that. In fact, here’s a list of simple steps that I think we ought to take, that will hopefully help us stop abusing the Bible.
1) If it is hurts another person, don’t do it, even if you believe the Bible says it’s okay.
2) Admit that you do not know everything there is to know about the Bible, much less about God.
3) Stop saying “The Bible says…” and start saying “I understand the Bible to say…”
4) Interpret difficult, ambiguous, or obscure passages in the light of the Bible’s central themes, like love, grace, justice, and peace.
5) And finally, if it hurts another person, even if you believe the Bible says it’s okay, don’t do it.
The divinely inspired authors of the Holy Book of the church, the scribes who copied their words, the interpreters who took it from Hebrew and Greek and brought it to the world, the editors who so diligently pulled everything together – I’m pretty sure they weren’t doing what they did so that Indiana mom could do what she did.
And by the way, nor so that invading armies could eradicate native populations. Nor so that governments could deny equal rights for people of color. Nor so that husbands could consider wives to be personal property.
And while we're at it, nor so that bakers of cakes could discriminate against gay people. Nor so that a town in Midwestern America could call their event a Christmas parade. Nor so an employer could refuse to pay for healthcare for women employees. And so on.
Let's call it what it is. It is Bible abuse masquerading as religious freedom. It is incompatible with the Gospel. It's wrong, and it needs to stop.
So can we just stop please? It’s hurting people. And so we need to stop.