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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 160 – The Risk of an “Errant” Bible

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk about the ins and outs of biblical inerrancy and why people cling to it as they answer the following questions:

  • Has the Church always held the belief that the Bible is inerrant?
  • What is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy?
  • How are modern people different from people of the past?
  • What is apriori?
  • How does the theological system of biblical inerrancy mess with our self-worth and belonging?
  • How does power show up in the discussion of biblical inerrancy?
  • Why do people cling so hard to biblical inerrancy?
  • How do you separate God from God’s word?
  • Why are people afraid to let go of an inerrant Bible?
  • How has Christianity shrunk itself in the United States?
  • Where does death anxiety appear in the Bible?
  • What are some good places to start if you feel ready to start reading the Bible again?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete and Jared you can share. 

  • “Whenever you have a precommitment to a system, and then we have this data where people learn and then they fall away from that particular interpretation or system, rather than questioning the system, what we do is we have character attacks and we start questioning the motives and intentions of the people.” @jbyas
  • “So much of Protestant theology is rooted in things happening several hundred years ago.” @peteenns
  • “Historically in the church, the things that brought authority were diverse. We had tradition, we had experience, we had reason, and we had the Bible. We had all these things, and then the Reformation, they just, like, quadrupled down on the Bible.” @jbyas
  • “No matter how nice a person you might be, if you have a totalizing, theological narrative, a structure that just explains everything, you can’t let go of any of it and what do people do?” @peteenns
  • “It’s possible to say that God doesn’t change. You can still hold to that if that’s your framework. And yet, all you need to do is let go of the idea, though, that my opinions about God can’t change.” @jbyas
  • “I can’t make believe that these things are not, whether it’s evolution or whatever, it doesn’t matter, I cannot make believe those things don’t exist. I have to sort of account for them somehow.” @peteenns

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript

[Introduction]

0:00

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People – the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Pete: In Evangelicalism, the trained theologians too often, in my opinion, lean towards essentially being apologists. They’re protecting the theological system, they’re addressing the system, and this is how it hangs together

Jared: And trying to defend the system.

Pete: And trying to defend it.

Jared: It’s essentially like saying to someone, “Why do you think the Bible is inerrant?” and their answer is, “because it has to be.”

Pete: Right.

Jared: It’s like, well, that’s not an argument.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: They’re starting with the assumption that it has to be because God is X, Y, and Z.

Pete: Right.

[Music ends]

Jared: Today, we’re talking about inerrancy. At the end of the day, if we want to ask the questions what is the Bible and what do we do with it, it’s a topic we have to talk about.

Pete: Yeah, it keeps coming up and it’s not beating a dead horse, it’s a real, live issue for people. I think especially a lot of the people, Jared, who listen to our podcast. Not all of them, but I think a lot are still, they’re in that process maybe beginning that move from the orientation that biblical inerrancy gives them, a sense of things making sense, to that place where like, it’s, “I don’t know, I just don’t see it that much anymore and I’m a little afraid for thinking about it,” and moving to that disorientation phase before they move on to a, you know, reorientation phase. So, in other words, it keeps coming up! It’s like, probably, I don’t know, it may be the most common thing that people are bringing to the table. So, we just want to talk about it in our own little way here.

Jared: Yeah, so let’s start with some definitions.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Let’s bring some clarity to that, because maybe some people hadn’t ever heard of inerrancy. I asked this question on Instagram, you know, if you don’t hold to inerrancy, what was it that you were clinging to? And I had, there were some responses that said, “what’s inerrancy?” So –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Why don’t you give it a, we can, there’s different people who have defined it differently.

Pete: Right, right. And maybe just to back up a little bit before we get into that, just, you know the title of our episode, “The Risk of an ‘Errant’ Bible,” not an inerrant Bible, the risk of an errant Bible. What’s at risk for people? And just, you know, an errant Bible is sort of an interesting way of putting it because I remember, you know, a while back years ago in a discussion with someone about, you know, me seeing some contradictions in the Bible and things like that and sort of trying to put it rather gently, and he was rather strong inerrantist, a good guy, but a rather strong inerrantist and he said, “oh, so you’re an errantist.” And I said, no, I’m not an errantist, because I don’t even recognize the validity of the distinction, like these are the categories we should be living with. Because I don’t, I simply don’t see inerrancy as something that sort of flows from the pages of the Bible, so. That’s, I mean, that’s sort of what the whole idea of an errant Bible is just not helpful, but there’s risk for people and we want to get to that. But maybe, first, the definition, right? So, yeah, what, I mean, what do you have, Jared? I think there’s different ways of getting at it, but do you have one?

Jared: Yeah, well, I was looking up things because, and I’ll let you because you’ve interacted more with what we call the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which was

Pete: What’s that Jared?

Jared: This conference in 1978 –

Pete: A conference?

Jared: Of these top – okay, I probably shouldn’t put air quotes – I was gonna say, “scholars,” who came together –

Pete: He said air quotes!

[Laughter]

Let’s say prominent Evangelical scholars, many of them theologians, systematic theologians –

Jared: Right.

Pete: And biblical scholars as well.

Jared: Yeah. So, they have this long statement, that’s what they call it, on biblical inerrancy and you can look it up online and read it if you really want to get into the definition. But they say, “Holy scripture is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches,” which means, “being wholly and verbally God-given, scripture is without error or fault in all its teachings, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.” And I just want to make a nerdy comment about that – that last line about it matters what the Bible says about history and acts of creation, not just salvation, that’s a response to the Catholic version of this which came out in the early 60’s in the Second Vatican Council.

4:54

Because they say, the Catholics would say, “The books of scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error; that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” So, the Catholics sort of hedge their bets a little bit and narrowed it to matters of salvation, but the Chicago statement was like, forget that!

Pete: Yeah, it’s going right for the jugular.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And it’s not simply the Bible can be trusted to teach me about what God is like and things like that, which is itself a thing to be discussed, because there are a lot of funny things about God in the Bible, but that would be fine. But it really extends it to matters of science and history and that, I think, that’s the kind of thing that people struggle with. I know like, the Barna report that came out a few years ago about why Evangelicals leave the church, and one of which is like, yeah, they deny science! I’m like, I can’t deny some of that stuff. So, there’s, you know, there’s a lot of stuff happening and that statement, I think, summarizes well sort of this standard Evangelical statement on biblical inerrancy that some Evangelicals will quibble with, but not every person who says they’re an Evangelical will believe this right down the line.

Jared: Mm hmm. For instance, a lot of, most British Evangelicals –

Pete: Oh, right.

Jared: If would call themselves Evangelicals, wouldn’t hold to this.

Pete: This is a very American statement, there’s no question about that. I mean, I know British Evangelicals who study evolution. So, it’s just, you know, but I think the framers of this statement are giving a very tight non-negotiable sort of definition of inerrancy that may be strategically, they felt, I’m just conjecturing here, like we have to make it ultra-tight because people are gonna want to stray from this, so let’s make sure it’s really, really tight, it covers all our bases. So, I think there’s sort of an emotional, tactical dimension to this kind of a statement still.

Jared: Yeah, we definitely want to get to that emotional side, but –

Pete: Yes. Oh boy.

Jared: I think we need to root this, too, in some church history. Because I know, for me growing up, it was taught to me that, well, this is the way the church has always believed about the Bible and I would kind of say, you know, I forget who said it, maybe Tony Jones or Brian McLaren or someone at some point said, “you show me someone who calls someone a heretic and I’ll just show you someone who doesn’t know their church history.” The idea that modern American Evangelicalism is the faithful witness, the through-line that really Christians have believed for all time is just not historically true.

Pete: Yeah, I mean –

Jared: It’s just not accurate.

Pete: That really, it seems to be unaware of how theological constructs and theological language and concepts, the don’t stay the same over history because people change and you know, if you’re located in certain places in the world, you may think differently than other places. If your skin is white or your skin is Black or brown, you’re going to have different points of view. Not across the board, but just who we are as people and where we are socially located, economically located, all those kinds of things – that actually affects how we think about God and how we read the Bible. And it’s, it is rather unguarded a statement to suggest that, well, the church has always believed what we happened to believe, or the church has always rejected, you know, a non-literal reading of the Adam and Eve story. And, first of all, that’s not true. Second of all, we have other kinds of things before us today that maybe Calvin didn’t have or Thomas Aquinas or Augustine or Jesus, right? Anybody, they didn’t have things in front of them to deal with. So, the question is whether we’re going to engage scripture thoughtfully within the context that we live and breathe, or whether we’re going to simply look past all that and just sort of go back to some pristine time where everybody believed exactly the same thing about the Bible.

Jared: Well, and with that, I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of modernity, rationalism, the enlightenment, on.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: We can’t go to a pre-enlightenment way of thinking. And so, the categories that we’re going to place on ancient writers and thinkers about the Bible are always going to be anachronistic. It’s always going to be putting on to them categories that they wouldn’t have been dealing with.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And that’s hard for us, because within that framework, we now think about things like brute facts, or facts apart from community, or current relevancy. Like, we want standalone facts.

Pete: Just these facts, just the facts, right? Yeah.

Jared: Yeah. And that’s just, to put that on the ancient readers of scripture is, again, it, like you said at the very beginning – is it true or not true that they read it this way? You can’t really even answer that question because they didn’t have those categories.

Pete: They didn’t have those categories, right. And we do, and that’s, well actually, not all of us do, some people do. But, you know, I think part of what is going on here, too, the language of inerrancy equates a belief in inerrant bible, an inerrant Bible with faith in God.

9:56

And I think that is where people begin to really feel pressure because I’m starting to question some things about what I’ve been taught about the Bible, does that mean I’m also questioning God? The Chicago Statement is very clear, and the answer is “yes, you are.” God only speaks truth, which means God speaking in scripture is truth, and therefore, our job is to sort of just believe that and again, that’s, I don’t want to use sort of polarizing terms, but to me, that’s really leaning more towards a fundamentalist statement of the Bible, and I think Evangelicalism generally speaking is much more open to some of these conversations, although I think the ceiling is still pretty low.

Jared: Yeah, well, and that brings up something, I think, that’s worth, you know, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on it, but this assumption that the Bible is God’s word, I think conflates, it confuses those categories so that when we talk about the Bible, we’re making that synonymous with God.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, when we use the phrase that the Bible is God’s word, instead of what the Bible talks about, which is that Jesus is the word of God in some sense –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: The word made flesh, I do think that’s a big part, even in our language when we talk about, you know, God’s word. How do, you can’t separate God from God’s word. And so, basically, the Bible is God.

Pete: Right. You know, the Old Testament does talk about, you know, “my word is truth” and things like that. There’s a famous book we read in seminary, Jared. Well, not famous but within certain circles. But you know the notion that the prophets speak God’s word to the people, which is true.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Sometimes they don’t agree with each other. That’s one thing to think about. So, I guess, for me, you know, before we get to some of the why it’s attractive and why it’s so hard to process this stuff, but for me, one of the things that really gets to the heart of what I’d say is the problem with inerrancy is that the beginning is that, well listen, the Bible is the word of God. And that gets paired with all sorts of really philosophical assumptions like, well, if that’s the case, then it’s going to be accurate. It’s never going to give a falsehood about history. There will be, simply, no contradictions because God doesn’t do that sort of thing.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And then, you know, okay, that’s the Bible you have, but then, again, forgive me, you read it carefully and you just come up with, wait a minute, there are two creation stories. You know? Deuteronomy and Exodus don’t say these laws the same way, in fact, they say them very differently and they’re not really compatible.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: These are not secrets that are sort of hidden someplace, these are things that people have read and thought about for a very, very long time. So, now you have the problem of sort of, you know, I guess the technical term is apriori, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s something you start with that’s like, non-negotiable.

Jared: Well, another way of saying that is when you, it’s essentially like saying to someone, “Why do you think the Bible is inerrant?” And their answer is, “because it has to be.”

Pete: Right.

Jared: It’s like, well that’s not an argument.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And that’s kind of the assumption. They’re starting with the assumption it has to be –

Pete: It has to be.

Jared: Because God is X, Y, and Z –

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, when you ask, why is it you’re not looking at the evidence and data within the Bible itself, you start with the presumption, which is that apriori that it has to be. So, now I go find the evidence to support what has to be the case already.

Pete: And whatever evidence you find to the contrary is, again, I don’t want to be reductionistic, but it’s either ignored or cleverly maneuvered as a friend of mind says, sort of, it’s like alchemy. You’re creating things to sort of make things fit.

Jared: I always laugh because when I was growing up, you know, there was this book called, I think it’s Archer’s Book of Bible Difficulties?

Pete: Yeah, Gleason Archer, yeah, he’s a prominent Evangelical.

Jared: If you have to have an 800 page book –

Pete: Yeah, several volumes.

Jared: [Laughter]

To explain –

Pete: Wow! I didn’t know there was so many problems there! I never would’ve noticed this before!

Jared: [Continued laughter]

Right. At some point you’ve got to think, okay, well maybe my framework’s off if it takes 800 pages to get rid of the “problem.”

Pete: See, I would’ve, I would’ve written a book like that and I would’ve just made it as long as possible and said weird stuff the Bible does. No, weird stuff that our Bible does.

Jared: Right.

Pete: No, our Bible does these kinds of things.

Jared: But why do you pose it as difficulties or problems?

Pete: See, that’s just it – because the apriori is like, the Bible has to be a certain way, and, well here are Bible difficulties. Let’s solve them to sort of match our apriori commitment to what the Bible is rather than maybe more a bottom-up approach, which is like, I’m just reading these things and I’m noticing a tremendous amount of diversity. I’m noticing biblical authors who don’t agree with each other. I’m noticing an old-world perspective on things like whether the earth is flat or not, you know, things like that, or where rain comes from. I’m noticing stories that have such clear parallels in ancient near eastern literature, none of which we would say is historical or anything like that.

14:53

In other words, you know, I would want to start with a view of the Bible that God is not out of the picture, but I’m not going to presume what God can or can’t do, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: So, that’s the way of thinking about words like revelation or inspiration if you want to do that, but –

Jared: Yeah, and this is totally anecdotal, so I don’t mean to make an overgeneralization about these fields, but in my experience, my interactions with theologians, systematic theologians within the Evangelical tradition versus my interactions with biblical scholars, even within the Evangelical tradition, you have this, much more of a commitment to these kinds of inerrantist claims from the theology side –

Pete: Yes

Jared: Because they start with who is God, what kind of God is this – they already have these categories and then they go to the Bible and they try to make a coherent whole and the challenge with our Bible is it’s diverse. So, if you’re trying to make this unified whole out of it, you gotta do some editing and chopping up, whereas, for biblical scholars who just sit with the text, they see this diversity and then their view of God comes out of this eclectic, you know, set of texts that have different views of God.

Pete: I’ve sort of lived that. You know, I think it’s true, again, some people will be mad at us for saying this, but generally speaking, I’m going to, I agree with you that in Evangelicalism, the trained theologians, too often in my opinion, lean towards essentially being apologists. They’re protecting the theological system, they’re sort of what you would call in the Roman Catholic tradition, canon theologians. They’re theologians addressing the system and this is how it hangs together.


Jared: And trying to defend the system.

Pete: And trying to defend it, and then it’s the biblical scholars who, I mean, this has happened so often, Jared, in the history of Evangelicalism, and to, you know, it’s been difficult for people that you’re taught to think about scripture in an Evangelical setting whether a church or seminary or college or whatever, and then, you know, you’re the best and brightest in the group and they want to send you to graduate school to study Bible, and then you do. And you’re like, “Oh. Wait a minute. Oh, my goodness gracious!” And I’ve seen people, myself included, it took me about, I remember my first semester at Harvard, and I was in my kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts, staring at the refrigerator thinking, I’m not sure if Abraham is a real person anymore. You know? And it’s, nobody shoved it down my throat, just, I had the data and sort of ways of thinking, like, okay, I understand why people say the things that they say. And then you come back in an Evangelical or conservative context and people are like, what happened to you?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: You used to be so straight and narrow, and now you’ve got all these weird ideas. So, biblical scholarship can be the problem that theologians have to sort of correct and they write things about how, you know, I don’t know, it’s these young bright people, they go off to graduate school and they just, they’re not holding onto their faith, they come back liberal. Why does that keep happening? Every single generation, again and again, why do people keep losing their jobs? It’s because they’re seeing things, you know, this is the deconstruction thing we talk about

Jared: Right.

Pete: They’re seeing the cracks of the system from within.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Not outside attacks, but they’re seeing the problems. And, you know, I just, it’s causing a problem that keeps repeating itself generation after generation.

Jared: Well, and the insidious part of that for me is whenever you have a precommitment to a system, and then we have this data where people learn and then they fall away from that particular interpretation or system, rather than questioning the system, what we do is we have character attacks and we start questioning the motives and intentions of the people.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And that was hurtful, that’s what was hurtful for me.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Because I was warned and in my story is, I was warned in undergraduate about going to a particular seminary because there were particular professors there who weren’t towing the party line.

Pete: Oh.

[Light laughter]

Jared: But it was said, in terms of, basically, you know, the biblical studies part –

Pete: I think he’s talking about me, folks.

Jared: [Laughter]

Yeah, I didn’t know how much to say or not say, but yes. So, I was warned. I had professors who actually sat down with me and basically said you’re like, the brightest right? I won the Jonathan Edwards prize in my department in undergrad and blah, blah, blah.

Pete: You’re such a geek.

Jared: And, you know, but be careful. Maybe you should go to one of these seminaries because I hear that this particular seminary has started, basically, listening to the biblical scholars over the systematic theologians and that’s a dangerous path.

Pete: Yes.

Jared: And so, I, a good Enneagram 8, I completely ignored them and did whatever I wanted.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: And here we are.

Pete: Here we are. Here we are, The Bible for Normal People!

Jared: But the hurtful thing for me was as I went through that, how many people in my life couldn’t even touch the system of inerrancy. It had to be I had some sin in my life that I was no longer willing to sit under the authority of the Bible, so I needed to find a way out.

19:58

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Or you know, you’re just trying to be cool, or you’re just comprising with the world. Those were the arguments.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And that’s where it gets, for me, I get pretty animated about that because that starts messing with people’s feelings of self-worth and belonging.

Pete: That’s what screws people up, that’s right. It’s not the ideas, it’s all the manipulation afterwards.

Jared: In order to protect my own system –

Pete: Right.

Jared: I’m choosing this theological system because it makes me feel safe over the heart and soul of actual human beings.

Pete: Well, I mean, let me push that a little bit maybe, but bending it to the right a little bit, but the thing is that, you know, we all do have systems.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And I have them and I don’t, I’m not even aware of what my systems are, you know. They’re probably so deeply ingrained in me, I don’t know what they are. But we all have systems, but here’s the thing, some systems just are bad. They just don’t make sense, and it’s not, you know, a baseless attack, but some systems, I think, are better than others. But almost regardless, if we can hold those systems more gently than we do because we make the system, it really is equating the system with the mind of God.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: That’s a problem, and you can believe in a Bible. “I don’t think the Bible really just makes mistakes.” Fine with me! Can we talk about some of these other things when you’re ready?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: “Yeah, sure, we can talk about that.” Okay, that’s great, that’s not a problem, but when it becomes, I guess we’re talking about power now, aren’t we?

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Let’s get to that. The power of this over people’s lives, it can be very, very destructive. People can believe what they want, right? And some may wind up having, let’s say, more traditional, or I’m not going to say because I don’t think inerrancy is a traditional view. I think it’s a more modernist conservative view of scripture.

Jared: Right.

Pete: But you know, people can have that with, and hold onto it with the sense of it not being, maybe, the full story, but the power thing comes into that doesn’t it?

Jared: Yeah, well, I just wanted to maybe articulate in a different way what you’re saying. It’s kind of there’s this matrix, because I also don’t want to miss what you said at first, which is some systems are just bad. So, we have kind of, if we have the X and Y axis, we have kind of on one side bad systems that just don’t hold up to the evidence and the data. And then we have good systems that try to make sense of the data that we have. But then on the other axis, we have how we hold to those systems.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: That’s for some people, it’s provisional. Like, I get it, my system could change at any time. My ego and identity and my sense of safety and connection to God isn’t dependent on this system, and for other people, all those things are tied up and they become kind of jerks when you start poking at it, they get really sore. And that’s where, I think, the power dynamic, for me, is, you know, I don’t think it’s malicious, and I don’t think it’s intentional in a lot of cases, but if you have the book that unlocks the mysteries of the universe, and then you go to school and learn how to unlock those mysteries and then you get to be in charge of people in this profound universal way who don’t have those keys, I feel like that’s just a recipe for abuse of power.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And people with power don’t like to give it up. And so, this is a system that is really hard to penetrate and question in some of these traditions.

Pete: And that abuse of power, I have seen be enacted very gently –

Jared: Mm hmm, yup.

Pete: And I don’t think, necessarily, deliberately by people.

Jared: Right.

Pete: I mean, that’s just it, isn’t that they’re not always bad people. Some people are just real bad, manipulative, power hungry people, but a lot of people aren’t. They just, they’re part of a system where, that values the people with knowledge who can defend a particular way of looking at things and they truly believe that this is true, and they simple cannot countenance the possibility that others would question it, and so, they go into hyper mode to sort of lock that down and not really entertaining the possibility that those others may have, they may have legitimate reasons for saying I just don’t believe X, Y, or Z anymore.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: That’s where, no matter how nice a person you might be, if you have a totalizing, theological narrative, a structure that just explains everything, you can’t let go of any of it and what do people do? Their options are, like, I’m not even a Christian anymore. That’s where people go with that.

Jared: Well, because, again, in my tradition, that was the scare tactic of basically, well, you can make a choice. You can either go down the slippery slope of questioning inerrancy and eventually be an atheist, or you can be an inerrantist.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: In an effort to keep people in the fold, they end up excluding people because once it’s black or white and black doesn’t make any sense anymore, we have to go to white.

Pete: Mm hmm.

24:52

Jared: Instead of seeing that there are many other variations within that journey. But I think that does bring up for me this question of why people cling to it so hard –

Pete: Yeah. Right, right.

Jared: Because you mention this. You know, I think one thing for me is that it’s a shortcut and it finally gave us what we’ve been searching for for about four hundred years in modernity, which is a feeling of certainty about our knowledge of God and how the world works.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: We spent from Descartes “I think therefore I am,” I’m going to question everything I think I know so I can have the surest foundation and build it from there, so we have these certainty blocks that just build and build and build. And oh my gosh, doesn’t that feel so good in this nasty and brutish world.

Pete: Mm hmm. Right.

Jared: And we tried that for four hundred years and it completely failed and we kind of split. Some people became questioning whether that’s even a pursuit worth happening. We might call those “post-modernists.”

Pete: Mm hmm, mm hmm.

Jared: And then we have people who double down, and we had a doctrine like inerrancy that allowed them to double down.

Pete: Right.

Jared: They got to say, “Oh, we have it. Finally. We don’t have to go through all that hard work of philosophy and science and metaphysics and figure… We just have a book! It was simple. It was there all along.”

Pete: Well, and I think along with that, this journey that the church has taken over the past few hundred years, some type of doctrine of inerrancy is, let’s say, more excusable in the wake of the Protestant Reformation because there’s just a lot of stuff happening that we didn’t really know about it in terms of the scientific world and whatnot. And so much of Protestant theology is rooted in things happening several hundred years ago. Then, when you get to, let’s say, the 18th century and geologists are saying the earth is really, really old. And then you have, not just Darwin, but others talking about common descent. And then we can throw Einstein in there and maybe, why not, quantum physics while we’re at it. But the scientific advances have shown the inadequacies of an older reformational way of looking at the Bible. But I think if your identity as a church, and I think this describes most Protestant churches, when your identity is rooted in a reformational paradigm, a way of thinking that’s really rooted in the Protestant Reformation, it’s hard to adapt and that’s exactly what people are saying. We need to adapt to changes that, you know, the framers of our tradition could not possibly have been aware of, right? So, what do you do in this situation like that? “Well, I don’t know. We’re not sure about that because that could make you be liberal.” Okay, I mean, I’m going to try and trust God. I don’t know where it’s going to go. All I know is I can’t make believe that these things are not, whether it’s evolution or whatever, it doesn’t matter, I cannot make believe those things don’t exist. I have to sort of account for them somehow.

Jared: Yeah. It makes me think of Rohr’s tricycle or Wesley’s quadrilateral where historically in the church, the things that brought authority were diverse. We had tradition, we had experience, we had reason, and we had the Bible. We had all these things, and then the Reformation, they just, like, quadrupled down on the Bible and they cut all those other legs off.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And they put all their money in that basket. It’s like, okay! And now, and it just, over time it just became this untenable thing.

Pete: This thing that just, yeah.

Jared: It had to hold everything because we couldn’t trust authority, I mean tradition. We couldn’t trust experience anymore. And so –

Pete: Or reason.

Jared: We just put pressure, too much pressure, on this book and for whatever reason it reminds me of the sociological studies that talk about how we’ve recently put so much pressure on married couples. Like, we used to have these diverse social networks and now it’s like your spouse has to be your best friend and your partner in raising kids and it just puts so much of a burden on this one relationship when we used to have this network, that’s kind of how I think about the Bible, it’s starting to buckle under the weight because of what it is.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: I mean the data is there to say it was never intended to be all that and it can’t do it.

Pete: And it’s hard to look at this buckling as good news. I’m telling you now, it is good news. It’s a good thing to have happened. Even if it’s painful, maybe because it’s painful, it’s a good thing. But the buckling is a good thing because it is showing the inadequacies of our mind to be able to capture all of this. And it’s fun to think about it. That’s why, you know, thinking about these things and holding onto them with an open hand instead of a closed fist, as they say, that’s a really good discipline because you can be open to change, but if you’ve learned your whole life the whole point of faith is never to change, to stay rock solid.

30:00

You know, I just, I mean, again not to be snarky, just read the Bible. Just see how people are changing and different views and how people at one point in time in the Old Testament don’t think the same way as people of previous times and that’s how the Bible actually works. It’s the book I wrote a couple of years ago. I talk a lot about that for good reason, the Bible itself is giving us permission to approach God with open hands instead of like a closed fist because our theology is so rooted in our context in who we are and what’s happening.

Jared: What you’re describing to me is having a deep humility.

Pete: Uh hmm.

Jared: It’s possible to say that God doesn’t change. You can still hold to that if that’s your framework. And yet, all you need to do is let go of the idea, though, that my opinions about God can’t change.

Pete: Or the Bible.

Jared: There’s some humility there to realize like, yeah, my views on the Bible and God as I grow up, surely they change. My views on all of the world change as I grow up, as I learn more, as I develop more. To think that all we need to know about God we learned in Sunday School when we’re in first grade, it just doesn’t match the rest of my experience about what it means to be human.

Pete: And so, I would say jumping off of that, I don’t, I would say this, inerrancy is not born out of humility. And I just made people mad, but I’m not saying it’s arrogance – I’m saying it’s not born out of humility. I think it’s born more out of fear.

Jared: Fear.

Pete: Right?

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Here, quick story, quick story here. A few years ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine who has been on our podcast, Kent Sparks, who is also a colleague of mine at Eastern. We were talking about inerrancy and why it’s so difficult for people to sort of, even though they sort of see it, it’s difficult for them to move outside of that orbit and like, what’s happening. I said something like, “Well, I think they’re afraid of just losing that thing that helps them make sense of the world that they live in.” And Kent said, “No, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s they’re afraid of what happens to them after they die. They won’t be sure of that anymore.” And I said at that point, this was fifteen years ago or so, I said, “No, that sounds too specific to me.” But the more I thought about it, I think Kent is right. I think he’s on to something. So, we need to go there. Like, what is really at stake for people in, what’s the risk of errant Bible? What is the risk of thinking differently about the Bible, not as a cosmic rulebook so to speak, but as something that is more complex and messy.

Jared: Yeah, I think that’s a good insight from Kent because if we think about the ways in which Christianity has shrunk in America, it’s really shrunk around, you know, we kind of trim the fat about how we live our lives, our justice, matters of this worldliness, and it’s really become “how do you get to heaven when you die?”

Pete: Uh hmm.

Jared: And I think that’s, it touches on that exact kind of death anxiety is that’s what people are focused on at the end of the day. So, it just gives credence, I think, to that theory that a lot of, all of Christianity has been narrowed down to how do you get to heaven when you die because that’s the most important, I mean that’s where you’re going to spend eternity, so that’s what we need to focus on and I’m so scared of death, and that’s just a very American thing to be scared of death. And then you kind of fuse it with our faith and it makes sense that our view of the Bible and God and what we focus on in our faith becomes fixated on that.

Pete: It’s a great story that you have if it explains what happens after you die and that you will see loved ones who have passed before you, right?

Jared: Yeah, and it gives you certainty about it in a realm that logically makes no sense to have certainty about.

Pete: Right. I mean, there are a couple things in the Bible, but again, see, it gets down back to the Bible, “to be with Christ is better by far,” Paul says. Although Paul, could you flesh that out a little bit, what you’re talking about? There isn’t a lot to go on. I mean the Old Testament has a place called Sheol, which is sort of like Hades in Greek mythology that clearly the New Testament writers don’t believe in. So, even notions of death and afterlife in the Bible change, which we can’t get into all that stuff. It’s not so much the Bible, it’s how people have been taught to think about the Bible and faith that leads them to connect the dots.

Jared: Exactly.

Pete: If the Bible is wrong about anything, if there is a single error, I cannot trust it to tell me about ultimate reality which is what happens to me after I die. And listeners here might be familiar with Ernest Becker, who I’m just starting to get into, but I know plenty of people who have read him very deeply, and critiques of him as well, because nobody is perfect.

34:50

But how much a fear of death really does motivate us to write narratives that claim to really explain all that. And I do wonder if, at the end of the day, I’m beginning to think that this is something that really might drive people. Even if they’re like, “well no, it’s not that,” it may be under the surface and you’re not feeling it or seeing it. It may be something, a deep-down factor of the human predicament so to speak, that we’re conscious of our demise. You know, okay, just, quick thing – in the Bible, here is inerrancy, in the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter 3. After that bird song, you know the Pete Seeger thing, “for everything there is a season,” which is always misunderstood, anyway. Right after that, it talks about how God has put eternity into our hearts, but we don’t know what will happen. And people sometimes say, “oh, God has put eternity in our hearts.” No! No! This is horrible!

Jared: It’s a frustrating –

Pete: We’re conscious of the passage of time and, you know, at the very beginning of the book, this is a great book for talking about death. At the beginning of Ecclesiastes in chapter 1, like I don’t know, verse 12ish or someplace in there, we don’t remember those who have passed before us and when we’re gone people will forget us the way we’ve forgotten everybody else. This is death anxiety right here in the Bible and he’s trying to work through it.

Jared: Well, there’s an explicit passage in Ecclesiastes where he says, “Who knows what happens to us when we die?”

Pete: Yes! Right.

Jared: Are we going to go up or are we going to go down like the animals?

Pete: Exactly, yeah. We don’t know that. Clearly, people are talking about it. But he’s like, yeah, we don’t know that. He’s really like an empiricist here, he’s like a rationalist, yeah.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: But that’s just it! I mean, that has all to do with maybe the setting of Ecclesiastes, but the thing is that death anxiety is I think there in the Bible itself, which is fascinating, but I think it’s people are living it and so you just hold on for dear life for the system that answers all those questions for you and it’s a real thing. It’s an existential terror.

Jared: Well, and I wouldn’t actually separate your response from that in that our fear of death seems to be just an amplified version of our fear of the regular everyday uncertainties of life. It just happens to be kind of the ultimate unknown and uncertainty. But I think it still ties to this idea that it satisfies a deep longing we have for control in an uncontrollable world, and for safety in a dangerous place. Our death anxiety, I feel, is just an amplified version of that.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, I don’t think they’re that different. I think we’re all looking for that, I know for me, as someone who likes to be in control, that’s what inerrancy did for me. It gave me, okay, if I can master this book, which is by my system’s admission, contains all that I need to know about the world and God and everything – if I can master that, I can get rid of this anxiety about the uncertainties we face every day.

Pete: Yeah. By the way, quick commercial here, if you guys have Netflix, the third season of “The Sinner,” which is a really good series, but the main character basically has all sorts of issues with death and death anxiety and it’s like they’ve read Ernest Becker or something. It’s really freaky how that’s happening at the same time. But I remember many years ago, a friend of mine gave me a CD, back when we did CDs, of Richard Rohr, some lecture that he gave. But he said something there that has stuck with me about this. He says, “Life is about learning to let go, like every day, so when you get to the real letting go at the end, you’re ready for it. You’ve been doing this your whole life.”

Jared: That’s perfect.

Pete: And to me, that is a way of facing the, maybe the death anxiety that is making the stronghold on inerrancy so appealing. It’s a way of facing, it’s saying maybe the way of Christ is to let go of that need for certainty and just let go of not just that, but everything that we hold onto to create meaning in our lives. Not leave your family and stop having hobbies, but you just, you don’t put your trust in those things. You just let go. If they’re there, they’re there. If they’re not, they’re not. You have a lot of money. If it goes, it goes; If it’s there, it’s there. So, when you die, you’re ready for it. “Ah yeah, I’ve been doing this my whole life. Not a problem.” You know? And, but you know that’s a very different way of looking, that’s so outside of this system that created inerrancy in the first place. And that’s why this isn’t just an academic exercise, like “inerrancy is logically wrong.” I think it is, but that’s not even the point. The point is how it affects people’s lives emotionally and spiritually.

Jared: And relationally.

Pete: Relationally, so true.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Maybe even physically.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Who knows?

39:55

Jared: Yeah, okay. Well, speaking of letting go. We’ll have to have a whole episode on –

Pete: Letting go?

Jared: On death anxiety and fear of death. I think it’d be great. But how does letting go of inerrancy change how we read the Bible? What’s this, you know you mentioned at the beginning, there are people who are stepping into this disorientation of, “What? The Bible is not inerrant?” I’m falling down the rabbit hole here, but what does changing and letting go of that do for how we read the Bible? I think that’s a good question to end on.

Pete: Which is hard. I think it’s hard because if it’s not doing what I always been used to it doing, what’s it good for?

Jared: Right. The thing I was going to it for isn’t there, it can’t deliver, so now what do we do with it?

Pete: Well, I mean, I think it’s really difficult and probably not wise to give sort of a formula for this, but what I would say is that instead of reading it for processing information to put into this certain slots of the system, I would, I tell people to think in terms of being curious. Like, think back in your, you know, some people can’t even read the Bible anymore. So, I say, okay listen, then don’t. Then leave it alone for a while. Just take a break, I mean, heaven’s sake. God’s fine with it. I know that for a fact.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: I know that inerrantly, so. No, but I do trust that it’s okay for us to sort of just be honest and say I just need a break from church, I needed a break from all this stuff. But to come back to the Bible and ask yourself, in my Bible reading days, was there anything that I was just really curious about? Anything that I want to learn more about? So, you approach the Bible with an attitude of curiosity to learn, not a sort of mandate to master it and to use it as some sort of, another brick, again, in that totalizing narrative that we’ve created for ourselves. And then you might begin asking questions and seeing things you haven’t seen before. And at that point, I’m like, you know, welcome to the history of Christian and Jewish interpretation. This is what’s been done. You know, so, I think it’s, there’s no formula, don’t read it if you don’t want to, but if you do, if you want to come back to it, don’t have an agenda other than, you know, I’ve never read a minor prophet before. I’m gonna read Amos. I’m gonna just not have anything on my plate, I just want to sort of read it and just see what happens. And if you are more curious, this sounds like really trite advice, but I suggest just get a good study Bible that maybe there are notes in there, maybe explaining when Amos lived or something and just, it gives a framework and to start reading the Bible from an angle other than a fundamentally apologetic angle. That’s the thing to get to. And, but if you’re not ready, I say don’t feel guilty about it.

Jared: Oh, yeah. And I think just to reiterate what you said is this is not, there’s no one step, two step, three step process here for what you do. You’re on your journey, do what you need to do. I think we’re just speaking from our experience

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: But, just to piggyback on what you said about the study Bible, I also think, you know, a lot of people who asked me what do I do? Every time I pick up the Bible, I just read it the same way I did. I said, well, don’t read the Bible, maybe get that other voices in there.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And that’s a lot of what we do in The Bible for Normal People, hopefully, is introduce people to say go read a Wil Gafney and read how she interprets the Bible. See how her framework works.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Read people who write about the Bible, don’t, maybe don’t read the Bible.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Read about the Bible for a while and you can start to imitate, like, “oh, well I want to read the Bible like Richard Rohr, that was pretty cool.”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And so, kind of familiarizing yourself with other ways –

Pete: Which makes sense because the reason people can get into a rut isn’t because of the Bible, it’s because of the way they’ve been taught to look at the Bible. Well, there are other people looking at it differently, and they’re not crazy people in the minority.

Jared: Right.

Pete: They’re actually just pretty mainstream and diverse. I mean, there isn’t just one way of reading the Bible.

Jared: Right.

Pete: That’s the whole thing. “You’re an errantist, aren’t you? Not an interrantist.” Like, I can’t describe any of the people we’ve ever had on the podcast as errantists. They’re just like, yeah, whatever. And they’re just looking at it from a different angle that has the weight of some tradition behind it or just, you know, very thoughtful people who have, you know, theologically or philosophically thought about this stuff.

Jared: Or even just like you said, thought about it from the fact that their skin color is different, or their socioeconomic status is different, and there’s value in just having different contexts.

Pete: Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that’s how it sort of, you know, this hopefully will change letting go of inerrancy will change how people approach the Bible. You won’t know what to do at first, I just say expect that. That’s like, normal. You have, you have no other model to work with and maybe watching or listening to other people, how they do it is probably a good step forward.

Jared: Yeah. And we, you know, we talked about this and we’ll leave it here as a broad statement, but treating the book, the Bible as a book of wisdom rather than a rule book is also helpful. Which for me, means I go to it with my own value set.

44:57

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: My own vision of the kind of person I want to be and how I want to live my life. And then I let the Bible challenge that or I let it encourage that. But I don’t go to the Bible for that, to find that framework.

Pete: Right.

Jared: I go to other books, mentors, experiences, my church community, my pastor, I have a lot of other people who help inform that. But ultimately, that’s my choice and then I go to the Bible as a wisdom tool for how I can live that out.

Pete: The Bible is not going to hand that to you.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s like, “Yeah, no. You’re going to have to work this one out and really be a human being here.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s okay to do that?”

Jared: Darn.

Pete: Yeah, not only is it okay, it’s like, pretty unavoidable if you think about it. But the Bible is there as, you know, the book of the church, speaking just of Christians at this point, and it’s, it’s that partner in the journey, so to speak. You know? And it’s, you know, it’s not the same as mirroring my experiences. The book of the church and has been around for a long time, but we partner with it and at times, we interrogate it, and other times, we are refreshed by it and we have a very, get used to having a complex relationship with the Bible, which should never be equated with a relationship with God. Those are two separate, they’re not the same thing.

Jared: Well, as we wrap up, I think it’s worth mentioning that we’re talking about this not to convince anyone or to debate this idea of inerrancy or not inerrancy, but really it’s for people who are reading the Bible, maybe again, for the first time, and it’s, like you said, it’s bubbling up.

Pete: Mm hmm. 

Jared: That this thing that they used to hold to just doesn’t make sense anymore, and hopefully this has been a helpful conversation for how to process that, and maybe how to navigate through it in some way.

Pete: I hope so too, I hope so too.

Jared: All right, thanks everyone.

Pete: See ya folks.

[Music begins]

Megan: All right everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show, we hope you enjoyed this episode. We also want to give a shout out to our producer’s group, who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople where for as little as $3 a month you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team, thanks for listening.

[Music ends]

[End of recorded material]

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The Bible and Intersex Believers with Megan DeFranza

Interview with Megan DeFranza: The Bible and Intersex Believers

September 11, 2017

On this episode of the Bible For Normal People, Pete and Jared talk with theologian Megan DeFranza (actually, Megan educates Pete and Jared) on a topic that affects deeply the lives of many, but that few Christians even know is a topic. And Megan might surprise you about what the Bible and church history have to say about it.

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00:00

Pete:  You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet.  Serious talk about the sacred book.  I’m Pete Enns.

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas. 

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Pete:  Hello everybody!  Welcome to the Bible for Normal People podcast.  Our topic today is the Bible and Intersex Believers and our guest is Megan DeFranza.  She is a theologian and she’s currently serving as a visiting researcher at Boston University School of Theology.  That’s pretty impressive, folks.  Don’t know if I have to tell you that, but it is.

She’s written a wonderful book to sex difference in Christian theology.  This topic, the Bible and Intersex Believers, what does that even mean?  Megan’s gonna help us understand that.  I know I can speak for myself and for Jared a little bit.  I’m 56 years old.  When I was in high school, this wasn’t even on the radar.

Last year, this wasn’t on my radar screen.  It wasn’t until Megan came to speak at Eastern University where I teach, where she’s talking and I was like, “Oh.  I didn’t know any of this.  It’s really interesting.  It affects people’s lives in ways that I can’t even imagine.”

Jared:  After she spoke at Eastern, Pete was telling me about it over dinner and I had to talk with her.  I got on the phone right after that and said, “What is this that you’re doing [laughter]?  I don’t understand.”  It is just very fascinating, so I was just really excited to have her on the podcast and just explain it, even for me to better understand.

Pete:  Right.  It’s one of these issues that is all around us in the sense that it can be somewhat unsettling and uncomfortable and even divisive among people because you have to engage the Bible at some point.  That’s exactly what Megan does.  All she does is engage the Bible and the history of the interpretation of the Bible and theology and all those—

Jared:  The ancient church.

Pete: —the ancient church and ancient readings of biblical text to show a rather surprising story that intersex is not a new issue.  People have been thinking about that and commenting on it for a long time. 

For us, today, people like me and Jared, for who it’s new, where we’ve been, we were never taught this in seminary.  I never really thought through it and never had to, because it wasn’t brought to my attention. 

This is an issue, like other issues (for example, gender equality or same-sex marriage), it’s so potentially volatile, it actually forces you to go back and re-examine your own thinking, your own theology and the biblical text.  You actually can’t get around that once you start listening to people who actually know the topic, how much there is in the Bible that can help us think through some of these kinds of issues that sometimes lay buried or sidelined, because it’s not where we are.

We come at the Bible with our questions already premade.  What these issues do is they force us to ask different kinds of questions we would never have thought up on our own.

Jared:  And unearths our assumptions.  I appreciate how when you look at the Bible through a particular lens, it helps you understand that you’ve been making assumptions all along that you didn’t even know.

Pete:  Right.  Right.

Jared:  Good.  Let’s have this conversation with Megan.

[Jaunty Music]

Megan:  We’ve done our theological reflection.  We’ve done our biblical study, only thinking about these idealized versions of male and female.  That’s not good enough.  We have to do our biblical study and our thinking theologically about what it means to be human and what it means to be a faithful Christian in a way that includes everyone in the community.

We haven’t done that yet.  Let’s start a new conversation.

Jared:  Welcome to the podcast, Megan.  It’s very nice to have you.

Megan:  Thanks so much for having me.

Jared:  The topic today is the Bible and the Intersex Believer.  This term, neither Pete nor I had ever really come into contact with that term before we met you, Megan, last year or a few years ago.

Bring us up to speed on what it is we’re talking about—

Pete:  If we don’t know what it is, nobody knows about this—

Jared:  Clearly.  Clearly—

Pete:  That’s the way I look at it.  Enlighten us all—

Megan:  That’s really common.  The reason it’s new is because it’s a fairly new term for a very old phenomenon.  Intersex is just a broad umbrella term that talk about bodies that don’t fit the medical definitions of male and female.  There’s a mix of male and female characteristics in the same body and that can happen in a lot of different ways.

Jared:  What would be some common things, just concrete examples of—

Megan:  Sure.

Jared:  —where this term might be appropriate for people?

05:00

Megan:  Yeah.  One of the most common kinds of intersex is something called androgen insensitivity.  You have a baby that’s born with XY chromosomes, which is your typical male pattern and they make the gonads, which are neutral in the first few weeks of gestation, go and become testes and starts secreting the typical level of male hormones.

But, at the cellular level, the cells can’t process those male hormones.  The body defaults to female.  On the inside, it looks like male anatomy and on the outside, it looks like female anatomy.  That’s a fairly common kind of intersex.

You can also have the opposite with XX chromosomes and ovaries, with extra production, or higher-than-typical production of androgens that can make a female body look more masculine or anywhere in-between.  Something called congenital adrenal hyperplasia.  All these fancy medical terms, which is why we use the generic “intersex” most of the time.

Pete:  Thank you.  [laughter] Yeah.

That’s very helpful to distinguish intersex from other terms that float around like—

Megan:  Yup.

Pete:  —the alphabet soup.  Right?

Megan:  Mm-hmm.

Pete:  This is something that is a new term that people are maybe beginning to see and maybe come to terms with, for the sake of a population that probably feels, I would imagine, rather isolated and misunderstood.

Megan:  An older term would be hermaphrodite or androgyne.  But those are mythological creatures that have full sets of male and female anatomy, which is humanly impossible, which is one of the reasons we’ve moved away from that language towards stuff that’s more precise, to the particular variations of individual people.

Pete:  You’ve written a wonderful and tremendously scholarly and well-researched book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology, and you have a website that is just very informative.  It’s a wonderful thing to visit if people—if you want to know anything, folks, that’s where you go.

To me, it raises a question of curiosity.  What is it in your life that is driving you to be passionate and supportive of the intersex community?

Megan:  I started this work because I grew up in a very conservative church, where being a woman with a mind was a problem.  I started studying gender and sex difference and biblical scholarship and history and all of that, to try and figure out how I could serve God and not sin, because I happened to have a female body.

That led me to research, to talk about, that there are not just male and female in the world, that there are all these intersex variations as well. 

It was hearing those stories, the stories of individuals, particularly recent medical history, where with our advanced technology, we here in the United States and Europe and elsewhere, have tried to fix intersex.  Doctors come in to a baby that is born with ambiguous genitalia.  They’ll say, “We can figure this out.”  They’ll do plastic surgery on the genitals of a child to make them look more typically male and female.

These surgeries have lasting harm, pain for life, for many many people.  Hearing their stories of physical pain, of feeling unsafe to share their stories in their own faith communities, pastors saying, “Thanks for telling me, but please don’t tell anybody else,” really drove me to realize that my questions about gender and my frustrations as a woman in the church were small in comparison with my intersex siblings in Christ, who had all of these added complications.

It was really hearing their stories that led me to say, “We’ve got to do something about this.”

Jared:  As we get into the topic, it’s just interesting to me the contrast that some of our listeners will have where you’re using lots of medical terms and you’re talking about the technology and the science of a lot of things here. 

How does that connect with the Bible for Normal People?  Say more about how your story coincides as you became aware of all of this within the church community.  When did you start thinking about how the Bible fits into all this?

09:49

Megan:  For me, the Bible was the place I started.  Reading scriptures about women’s place in the church led me to go back and look at history and realize that in Christian history, we’ve thought about gender differences very differently over the last 2,000 years, since the birth of Christ. 

Getting into that history, the history of biblical interpretation, really was the thing that moved me to say, “Wait a minute.  If we’ve thought about this differently in the past, that gives us opportunity to think differently and maybe in fresh ways in the present about differences that, actually, the ancient church was quite familiar with, but we’ve lost that language and knowledge, even though our science is more sophisticated.”

Pete:  Can you give an example or two?  I can imagine people listening, saying, “What are you talking about [laughter]—

Megan:  Sure.

Pete:  —we’re just having this conversation about gender and we thought what we think today is what people have always thought,” which is a typical response, “what I think is what the church has always thought.”

You’re saying it’s more diverse and very early on—

Megan:  St. Augustine, in the City of God, talks about hermaphrodites.  He says, “As for hermaphrodites, also called androgynes, they’re certain very rare, but every culture has people that they don’t know how to classify as male or female.  In our culture, we call them by the better sex.  We call them men.”

Pete:  Hmm.

Megan:  Here’s Augustine saying, “Oh yeah.  Everybody knows about hermaphrodites.  We assign them on the masculine side.”  In the ancient world in Rome and Greece, there were laws for men and laws for women and laws for hermaphrodites and laws for other categories of people that we’ll talk about as we continue here.

Pete:  With Augustine, for example, he lived around when?

Megan:  He lives in the third, fourth century in the Christian Era.

Pete:  That’s a long time ago, right—

Megan:  It is.

Pete:  Was there a tone of judgment in reading Augustine about what we call intersex or was he just matter-of-fact about it?

Megan:  In that passage, he’s very matter-of-fact, actually—

Pete:  Okay.

Megan:  —just stating a fact that everyone’s aware of.

Pete:  Not freaked about it.

Megan:  Not freaked out.  He’s much more concerned about castrated eunuchs and their place and pagan religious cults.  He speaks very harshly of them.  But he’s very matter-of-fact and fairly neutral when it comes to hermaphrodites—

Jared:  You say “neutral.”  It’s interesting to me—what I heard you say and maybe I misheard—“we have this category of people and we as a community assign them to the male side of things.”  Actually, it seems like there’s some social consequences to that.  It would be a more of a place of privilege at that point.

Megan:  Right. For hermaphrodites, Augustine is giving them the male privilege, whereas, it’s interesting—castrated men, men who had their testes or crushed or cut off or birth and who developed differently or who maybe did that later on in life, he says of them, that they are “no longer men,” even though they were born whole.

Pete:  That’s confusing.

Megan:  Yeah.  Sure is.  [laughter]

Pete:  Just to fill things out for the benefit of people listening, can you point to something else that might be instructive for us, another example or two from this ancient church period or from other cultures, perhaps?

Megan:  Certainly, in the Jewish culture, there was a recognition of more than male or female.  The ancient rabbis came up with four additional categories between male and female.

One was a naturally-born eunuch, which they classified more on the masculine side, but not all the way over to the male.

They have another term, called the ilonite (SP?), which was toward the feminine side, but not always to the edge.

They also used the term androgenos for someone whose right in the middle.  They didn’t know how to classify them one way or the other.

They had a fourth term, which was really something they said, “We’re not sure what we’re dealing with now, but we’re pretty sure their sex will become clear over time.”

They developed laws and rituals, religious laws to govern these various persons and would debate those throughout the centuries.

Jared:  Tying it to the Bible itself; we have the ancient church and we have this Jewish tradition, where Augustine and the rabbis recognized different categories, often the argument or the conversation when it comes to the Bible goes back to Genesis.

Megan:  Right.

14:59

Jared:  It is “God created them male and female.” 

Megan:  Right.

Jared:  How does that square with this conversation?

Megan:  That’s where we all start, right?  This is where it’s important to recognize that the Bible’s a big book and that Genesis is not the whole of the story. 

Certainly, we have the beginning.  God creates them male and female in God’s image and blesses them that way.  But does that mean that’s all God created or all God intended?

Now that we have this other language that I just mentioned from the ancient rabbis, we can look for other language in Scripture and that’s what I was so delighted to find in my research is actually none other than Jesus speaks about intersex people with one of these categories that the rabbis mention in Matthew Chapter 19, verse 12, where he’s being asked about whether or not, you can divorce your wife if she burns the toast. 

He’s being asked to weigh in on this ancient debate about how bad does the infraction have to be for you to divorce your wife.

Jesus quotes Genesis 1.  He says, “Don’t you remember God made them male and female.”  He quotes Genesis 2, “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Then his disciples say, “Well, if we can’t get out of marriage, maybe we shouldn’t get into it, since our parents are typically choosing a spouse for us.”

Jesus says, “No.  No.  No.  You’re not understanding what I’m saying.  There are those who’ve been eunuchs from birth.  There are those who’ve been made eunuchs by others.  There are those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Let anyone accept this who can.”

I like to say, “Let anyone accept this who has any idea what Jesus is talking about.”  [laughter]

The church has debated, “What does this mean?  What did it mean to make oneself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom?”

We know a lot about the second category.  That’s the castrated men that I just mentioned, very common slaves and very expensive slaves, luxury items, status symbols and sometimes even sex slaves in the ancient world.  Castrati were very very common.  We know a lot about that.

This first category, the eunuch from birth, Jesus’ is drawing on this ancient rabbinic of the eunuch, of the sun as it is in Hebrew, from the day the sun first shone upon the child, we knew this one is different.

Here’s Jesus, in the context of talking about divorce and certainly affirming Genesis, he throws in these other categories and he doesn’t do it with any criticism and he doesn’t say, “But God didn’t mean for it to be this way.”  He just lays it out there.

That pushed me to think, “How do we take Genesis and give it its place in the cannon at the beginning, but also recognize that we have to find a way to read Genesis in a way that fits with these words of Jesus?”  So how do we do that?

That’s what I was—

Pete:  This is beyond, then, that all parts of the Bible are equally ultimate and we read verses and they tell you what to think.  You’re actually describing a dynamism in the Bible that we have to take all this into account somehow and make, not to put words in your mouth, but to make theological decisions on the basis of this grand conversation that’s happening in the Bible.  Is that a fair way of putting it?

Megan:  The theological decisions are how to interpret the description that God made male and female.  It doesn’t say, “God made male and female and anything else is a result of the fall.”  Yet, that’s a very quick theological move that many Christians make.  “If there’s not male and female, then anything else must be a result of sin.” 

Jesus doesn’t do that in Matthew Chapter 19.  The text doesn’t tell us that.  That’s a theological reading we’re bringing to the passage.  Does it say that?

I asked, “Are there ways that we can read Genesis that make it fit with the words of Jesus and with the larger canon all together?”  I think that there are ways that we can.  We could read Adam and Eve as the parents at the beginning of the story, rather than the pattern for all people.

We could read them as the statistical majority.  Most people are clearly male or clearly female.  But just because they are the statistical majority doesn’t mean they are the exclusive model or the only way that God allows humans to be born.

20:13

When we look at other parts of Genesis 1, we recognize that there are all sorts of things that aren’t named in the creation account.  There are three different types of animals.  There are the “fish of the sea, the birds of the air and the creatures that crawl upon the earth.”

These are the three categories of animals that God creates.  But we all know that there are creatures that don’t fit into those categories.  Penguins are birds that don’t fly.  There are other things in the sea other than fish.  There are things that crawl, but they live in the water.  There are amphibians that are both water and land animals.

But I’ve never heard an Old Testament scholar like yourself, Pete, say, “Hey look.  Frogs.  They’re proof of the fall,”  [laughter] because they don’t fit into the three categories of creatures—

Pete:  Hey.  That’s my next blog post.  That’s my next blog post.  [unintelligible]—

Megan:  You’re welcome.

Pete:  What you’re saying is exactly right.  I think the response would be, “In the Old Testament, in the Pentateuch, when you have clean and unclean animals, some of these in-between things, “You don’t eat lobster.”  They’re sea animals, but they also have legs.  They don’t fit.  They’re unclean.  You don’t eat them.

This is something I can imagine people, as sort of a counterpoint to what you’re saying, to draw on that.  How might you navigate that particular issue?

Megan:  The canon gives us the way to do that too.  Even if we see them as outsiders.  Lobsters are outsiders.  Bees are outsiders.  Frogs are outsiders.  Maybe this other category of people who don’t fit into male and female.  Certainly, in the Old Testament, we have, laws for men and laws for women and it doesn’t leave a lot of place for anyone who doesn’t fit those categories.

But fast-forward up to the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 56, he talks about two categories of outsiders, one being the eunuch and the other being foreigners, Gentiles.  They’re complaining, “Hey God, it’s not all that easy to be a eunuch or a Gentile and live in ancient Israel.  The system isn’t set up for us.” 

God says, through the prophet Isaiah to them, in Isaiah 56, “Don’t let the eunuchs complain that I’m only a dry tree.  For to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath and obey me,” and there’s a long list of things, “I will give to them within my house a name, an everlasting name that’s better than sons and daughters, a name that will not be cutoff.” 

Then he speaks to the foreigners and says that they’re offerings will be accepted on his altar for “my house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples, “ (Isaiah 56:8), which we’re much more familiar with.  That’s in the context of God folding in outsiders, who didn’t fit in earlier chapters of the story.

But God is saying, “Don’t worry.  I’m going to give you a place.”  He doesn’t say to the eunuch, “I’m going to heal you and make you into the categories I intended, either male and female.”  He says, “I’m going to give you something better than sons and daughters.  I’m going to bless you in a way that a Jewish man or a Jewish woman could ever imagine being blessed.  I’m going to give you an everlasting name.”

Pete:  No talk about eunuchs being a product of the fall any more than foreigners would be—

Megan:  Right.

Pete:  —a product of the fall.  There’s nothing in Isaiah—I’m just curious now because I haven’t studied this as closely as you have—but there’s no indication there of how they came to be eunuchs.

Megan:  Nope.

Pete:  Okay.

Megan:  That’s the challenge is that intersex is this broad umbrella term for many different bodily variations. This term eunuch was an umbrella term for many different things.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.  Does this mean a castrated eunuch?  Does this mean a natural eunuch?  Is this a position in the court?  We have to do careful scholarship to see what they’re talking about.  It’s not particularly clear in Isaiah and yet, [MUSIC STARTS] there is this idea that however these people came to be eunuchs, God’s blessing them as they are, not requiring them to become something they’re not and healing them into some creational category that we find in Genesis Chapter One and Two.

Jared:  That’s a really good point.  One thing I’m thinking as you guys are talking about the categories and we keep coming back to the words and how that there’s different variations—I want to make sure that we’re being clear—how is intersex different than say transgender which is becoming more and more a conversation, politically and otherwise?  What’s the difference and where does that fit in this conversation?

Megan:  Sure.  Right now, the only difference between intersex and transgender people is that transgender people cannot point to a medical diagnosis.  I know trans people who have said, “I wish I were intersex, because then people wouldn’t think I’m crazy.”  They would be able to say, “Oh no.  Some of their cells are XY.  Some of their cells have just one X.  No wonder they’re body is developing differently or their gender identity is developing differently.”  They don’t have that luxury.

There are some intersex people whose experience is like that of a trans person.  I work with LeeAnn Simon, who’s a wonderful Christian woman and author and she has what I just described.  Some of her cells are XY.  Some have just one X.  Her gonads are part ovarian tissue, part testicular tissue.

At puberty, she didn’t develop one way or the other and chose to, though she was identified as a boy at birth, it wasn’t a fit for her, as an adult, chose to identify as female and to live, to transition.  Her experience is intersex, but it also could be understood as transgender.  That’s not the majority of intersex experiences. 

Sometimes, these terms overlap and sometimes, they don’t.  We have to be [unintelligible]—

Jared:  Where they don’t, what I hear you saying is there’s not a chromosomal or biological thing that you can pinpoint.

Megan:  At this point, where our science is.  It may be that as neuroscience advances, we will be able to pinpoint other things, but we can’t at this point.

Jared:  Good.  I think that’s an important piece of the conversation, that we don’t—

Megan:  Sure.

Jared:  [unintelligible] It’s kind of a Venn Diagram overlap.

Megan:  Yup.

Pete:  Megan, you’ve thought so much about this.  We’ve talked about Augustine a little bit and rabbis and Jesus’ own words.  And Genesis and how that all fits into this.  And Isaiah.   People still come back to Genesis.  Because it’s first, it’s therefore determinative of everything else.

Megan:  Sure.

Pete:  You don’t think that.  Help people walk through why it’s okay not to think that.  It’s at the beginning of the Bible.


Megan:  Sure.

Pete:  You get this wrong, you get everything else wrong.  Plus, it’s all good.

Megan:  Right.  Exactly.  It is important and it does set the stage for the beginning of God’s great redemptive story.  But it’s not the whole of the story.  I see its pride of place is as the opening chapters.  But, at the end of the story, we find a vision of heaven in the book of Revelation where people are included in the worshipping community who don’t fit in the garden.

Here I’m thinking of Revelation Chapter 7, where there’s a great multitude worshipping before the Lamb from every tribe, and nation and language, people group.  If we think about Genesis, we don’t have multiple tribes.  We don’t have racial difference in the Garden of Eden.  We don’t have different languages represented at the beginning.  There are many ways in which this story that starts with these two ends up in full, moving through Adam and Noah and Abraham and all the way through and then folding in the Gentiles and folding in others.

It’s a story that gets bigger and wider and God’s redemptive love goes out.  He blesses the Israelites so that they could be a blessing to all the nations.  It’s this narrow story through these few for the benefit of all, which is why I think we see many things in the book of Revelation that echo things in the Garden. 

There are trees in the beginning and at the end.  But they are not the same trees.  It’s important that we don’t think that we’re trying to get back to the Garden of Eden.  Yes.  It has pride of place at the beginning of God’s story.  But it seems like God’s story gets bigger and more complicated, but also more beautiful and more welcoming than what it is in the first chapters.

Pete:  It’s like the Garden reimagined at the end of the Bible—

Megan:  Yeah.  It is.

Pete:  You’re not actually returning to the Garden.  It’s metaphorical language anyway.

Megan:  Right.

30:04

Pete:  It’s something that is meant to evoke those memories, but then also to go beyond that to something that—

Megan:  It’s called new, right?  It’s called new creation—

Pete:   It’s new.  Right.  Right.

Megan:  It’s not paradise lost and regained, like we’re trying to get back.  It’s a new—God is doing something new at the end of this grand story that is going to have some continuity with what came before and some differences.

Jared:  I appreciate, Megan, what you said about the—you talk about Isaiah and as the story unfolds, it’s interesting that we may start with a garden, but this narrative of inclusivity, of folding more and more people in, really starts just a few chapters later with the start of Israel, with Abraham’s story.

Megan:  Right.

Jared:  Then, from there, we just start including more.  I just appreciated the point about how Israel was then adopted to be a blessing.  Through that, the blessing is this inclusivity.  It’s interesting, in this conversation, that early on in the prophetic literature of Isaiah, that the eunuchs are included pretty early in on that conversation before even—

Megan:  You know what’s even more radical than that?  If we look at Acts Chapter 8, at the first foreigner whose baptized?

Pete:  You took the words right out of my mouth.  Go ahead.  [laughter] Let’s talk about the Ethiopian eunuch—

Megan:  Yeah.  Exactly.  This is the Ethiopian who is a eunuch, who is the very fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah, that as the gospel is going out from Judea, through Samaria to the utter ends of the earth, as Jesus said to His disciples at the end of the book of Matthew, and we see these significant baptisms in the book of Acts.  The first foreigner whose baptized is an Ethiopian eunuch, whose made this many-hundred-mile trek to Jerusalem to worship.  Even though he’s an outsider on many levels, he knows there’s only so close he can get to God. 

There’s the Holy of Holies.  There’s the Court of Men.  Outside of that is the Court of Women.  Outside of that, is the Court of Gentiles.  There’s only so close you can get to God as a Gentile and as a eunuch.  He knows that, but he goes anyway.

As he’s reading the prophet, Isaiah, God sends Phillip to him to interpret the Scriptures, to open them and to share with them the good news of Jesus.  This Ethiopian eunuch says to Phillip, “Look, here’s water.  Is there anything preventing me from being baptized?”

I have read that passage my whole life, but until I studied the place of eunuchs in the ancient world, I never understood the significance of that question.

Pete:  Right.  Right.

Megan:  Here he’s asking, “What’s my place gonna be if I follow this rabbi Jesus?

Pete:  Right.

Megan:  Am I gonna be a second-class citizen like I am as a non-Jewish believer?

Pete:  Mm-hmm.

Megan:  Is there a place for me in this new community?  I’m just so frustrated that we don’t have the answer given to Acts.  [laughter] We don’t know what Phillip said.  But we know that one of them commanded the chariot to stop.  They both got out of the chariot and Phillip baptized him.

Pete:  I’ve always read that instinctively, “Is anything preventing me from getting baptized?” as “We’ve got some time on our hands.  Let’s just do this now.”  Not like they’re actually socio-cultural-religious—there’s a matrix there of this. 

Maybe the Bible’s surprisingly not uptight.  [laughter] Go figure.

Megan:  God does tend to surprise us at every turn.

Jared:  I’m wondering—I was just thinking about this connection, this phrase of “foreigners and eunuchs” and how that goes throughout the Bible.  In some ways, do you feel like “foreigners” is clearly throughout the Bible representative of the marginalized throughout, as we get to the Gentiles and others.  Is “eunuchs” also—I’m channeling my upbringing where I want to take that literally, “I’m willing to—you raise some good points, Megan—I’m gonna allow for eunuchs as part of this, but now, I’m going to still exclude others, because it doesn’t say it literally and specifically.

Is there a case to be made in terms of reading and how we read the Bible for taking foreigners and eunuchs as almost representative of this is a narrative of inclusion.  You can’t really accept the eunuchs and exclude transgender people.  You can’t really take this group and exclude that group, because it’s really representative of this radical inclusion. 

What would you say?

35:16

Megan:  First, I would say that in some ways, Gentle or foreigner is not category of the marginalized, if you think just statistically. 

Jared:  Right.  Right.

Megan:  Everyone who’s not a Jew is a foreigner.

Jared:  They’re usually the majority. 

Megan:  Right.  Throughout Israel’s history, they were oppressed by these majority—

Jared:  Yeah.

Megan: —communities, so they were the minority.  You could really read that two different ways.  But definitely, with the eunuchs, we’re talking about people who have been oppressed in many different ways and excluded in many different ways.

Even though the rabbis made space for naturally-born eunuchs, castrated eunuchs couldn’t go to worship in ancient Israel.  Naturally-born eunuchs could.  But they, in some ways, had a double religious duty, because the rabbis are pulling from the laws for men and the laws for women and wanting to make sure all of their bases are covered.

They are this minority group has more to do and it’s harder for them.  I do think that category is one that certainly stands for the outside and the marginalized and those have been excluded, whose voices haven’t been heard, who’ve been considered unclean and not welcome in the worshipping community.

Pete:  Let me ask you a question here, Megan.  I want to try to articulate this clearly.  Following on what Jared just said about eunuchs and the poor and the oppressed, marginalized peoples, you see in Isaiah and then in the New Testament in Matthew 19 and Acts 8, you see a hint, a trajectory of—

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  I want to ask you if you agree with this.  If yes, great.  If not, fine.  Tell me why.  It seems like the New Testament itself is not the end of the story.  It’s trajectories.  That’s an important thing to talk about for people who take the Bible seriously.

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  The Bible, even the New Testament, does not settle all these questions for us, but is itself part of a moment—

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  —that is also moving, right?  And so—

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  I gather you’re agreeing with that, so regalias on your opinion [laughter].

Megan:  It’s not—I was helped in this regard.  I remember in seminary reading N.T. Wright’s book, The New Testament and the People of God, where he likens the Bible to five acts in a Shakespearean play, where the fifth act is unfinished.  He sees creation as Act One; the fall as Act Two; Israel, Act Three; Jesus is Act Four; and the Act Five is the Church.

We have only the first few pages of the script in the New Testament, but we are not—we are called to finish the story.  We’re called to live our parts.  We’re not called to be First Century Christians in Rome or in Corinth or in Ephesus.  We’re called to be 21st Century Christians living where we live.

We’re not trying to get back to Ancient Israel.  He keeps saying, “If we’re going to put on this play,” back to the analogy with Shakespeare, “we’re not just going to repeat lines from an earlier part of the story.  We’re going to study the whole story.  We’re going to see the direction it’s going.  We’re going to pick up on those hints that you just mentioned.  If we’re going to put on this play, we’re going to have to improv.”  He uses this term, “faithful improvisation,” where we’re trying to see where the story is going and how do we live in—

Pete:  Right.

Megan:  —our part faithfully, yet without a script.

Pete:  I would add to that Fifth Act, analogously, is that you see that in the Bible anyway because people are winging it.  [laughter]

That’s not a bad way of putting it.  In the Old Testament, you have shifts and changes and new perspectives on things.  It seems inescapable.  To help people to say, “It’s okay to think responsibly and theologically and biblically today about an issue that maybe we have to address in different ways than previous generations.”

39:57

Megan:  We’re so afraid of doing something wrong that oftentimes, we do nothing.  We give the apostles permission to think creatively.  We give Calvin and Luther permission to think creatively, to do something different.  But we rarely give ourselves permission—

Pete:  Why is that?  What are we afraid of—

Megan:  —to do what they did.

Pete:  We should get a therapist [laughter].  What do you think?  You’ve experienced these things.  What—

Jared:  [unintelligible]

Pete:  —are people afraid of?

Jared:  In the congregations that you’re teaching and educating people—

Pete:  Yeah.

Jared:  —what are fears that you find?

Megan:  There’s so much censure in our communities, right?  If you put a toe out of line, there’s shame that’s brought on by the community.  There’s exclusion.  All of these things.  We don’t want that.  We don’t want to put on the outside.  We don’t want to be cast out like these outsiders.  We better keep in line.  We better follow the script.  We better recite the confession in whatever version it’s in and dare not think differently lest we become an outsider.  I think we’re afraid of becoming outsiders ourselves to our very community—

Pete:  Yeah.  Maybe you’re putting the nail on the head there.  The head on the nail rather.  [laughter] Who wants to be an outsider?

Megan:  It’s hard.

Pete:  Yeah—

Jared:  I was going to say—and not to be too theological, but it seems like that’s exactly what solidarity is about, right, is taking that step in saying, “I’m willing to risk becoming an outsider in order to be in community with the outsiders.”

Megan:  Yeah.  It’s hard.  You don’t get to have it both ways.  You don’t get to have solidarity with the marginalized and popularity with the powerful.  It doesn’t work like that.

Jared:  That’s a good phrase—

Pete:  Which brings me to the entire New Testament—

Megan:  [laughter] That’s a good place to go.

Pete:  —which has a thing or two to say and we could throw the prophets in there as well.  It strikes me, Megan, that this issue is one of several issues that the Church is either dealing with or going to have to deal with that really raises to the forefront—I don’t want to put it negatively, but the complexity even in the ambiguity sometimes of theological decisions.

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  It’s not easy—

Megan:  It’s not.

Pete:  Living life is hard enough.  [laughter] To think you have to have all the right answers all the time makes it that much harder, but the life of faith may be not as clear as we think and we’re doing the best that we can, and for some people, and you’re one of them, and I think Jared and I are the same, if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of people and lives and their experiences and not a system that we think is immovable and unchanging, because oddly enough, the system, which comes from the Bible, is itself a changing, moving thing—

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  —which is a good model for us.  It’s not going to give us the answers to any particular question, but it is going to drive us to think about—you don’t get off the hook by quoting Bible passages.  Life ain’t like that—

Megan:  But you do have to study them and see where they’re pointing—

Pete:  Yup.  Right.  Exactly right—

Jared:  Which is that faithful improvisation, which is a nice connecting.  The faithful is that rootedness—

Megan:  Yeah.

Jared:  —within the text, which your articulation today—I appreciate this conversation of rooting it in these texts and then still saying—but there is still some creativity that has to happen, some improvisation.  That fifth act is up to us on how we’re going to be faithful to that.

Megan:  I don’t have it all figured out, but what I’m trying to do in my book and in my work is to say, “Okay.  We’ve done our theological reflection.  We’ve done our biblical study only thinking about these idealized versions of male and female.  That’s not good enough.  We have to do our biblical study and our thinking theologically about what it means to be human and what it means to be a faithful Christian in a way that includes everyone in the community.”  We haven’t done that yet.  Let’s start a new conversation where we let more voices come and be at the table and it means voices that have been at the table need to be quiet for a while and listen and see if there’s something new to be learned, new perspectives to be had.

Pete:  Right.  Being quiet.  That’s hard.

Megan:  It is hard. 

Pete:  [laughter] Megan, I appreciate the way you put that.  That’s very well put.  Unfortunately, we could talk for hours about all this.  [laughter] So much stuff.  We’re just handling the Bible.  That always comes up in these kinds of conversations.  We’re coming to the end of our time.

In closing, tell us where people can people find you on the worldwide interwebs.  What projects are you involved in, if you are writing another book?  Make sure you tell us about the book that you have written and make sure people know what that is.

45:21

Megan:  Thanks.  You can find me at www.megandefranza.com, pretty easy to find.  You can see the books that I’ve written there, chapters, and other books.  The main one we’ve been talking about today is Sex Difference in Christian Theology.  The subtitle is Male, Female and Intersex in the Image of God, where we spend lot more time talking about all these things. 

You can find me there.  One of the things I’m most passionate about is that I just started a non-profit with my colleague, Leann Simon, who I mentioned earlier and we have a website, www.intersexandfaith.org, where we’re working to educate faith communities about intersex, provide support for intersex people of faith and advocate for the inclusion of all God’s people.

One of the things we’re doing, what I’m really excited about, is we’re in the process of making a documentary film, which right now is entitled Stories of Intersex and Faith, where people of faith—right now, we have Christians and Jews sharing their stories about being intersex and being people of faith and the good parts of that, the helpful parts of that and the difficult parts of being intersex and in a faith community. 

We’re hoping to create that as a full-length documentary.  But I’d also like to use that footage to create a series for churches that will be an educational curriculum, that’s video interviews and others, so that we can have better conversations in our communities.  Because as you said, if we’re not already having these conversations in our churches, you will be next year, or the year after that.

Pete:  Or your kids will force them.

Megan:  Right.

Pete:  Right.

Megan:  I want to help provide some resources for churches having these conversations. 

Pete:  Some video clips are on your website, already, of—

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  —you hope to have the longer documentary eventually.

Megan:  Yeah.

Pete:  Okay.  That’s good.

Megan:  Thanks.

Pete:  Listen, Megan, thank you so much.  We had a great time talking to you.  Very informative.  Let’s do this again sometime.

Megan:  Thanks for doing what you do.  Appreciate you inviting me.

Jared:  Absolutely.  Bye.

Megan:  Take care.

[Jaunty Exit Music]

Jared:  You’ve spent another chunk of time with us here on the Bible for Normal People and we’re grateful for that.  Again, if this conversation with Megan DeFranza was meaningful for you, please Google her, look at her website, the subtitle for which is “theology, identity and faithfulness in a changing world.”  That’s at www.megandefranza.com

She’s doing work as a researcher with Boston University School of Theology.

Just look at all the things that she’s doing and support her in the work that she’s doing if this is a topic that connects with you.

We also want to thank everyone who has supported us on Patreon and highlight that there is a growing community there:  www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople where we have the ability to connect on Slack which is an app, really kind of a chatboard.

One of the subtopics connecting here with Megan is sexuality.  There’s also “talking to your kids about the Bible.”  There’s “science and faith.”  There are all kinds of people there talking about these topics.

We really want to create a safe place where you can explore your questions, your doubts, topics, get advice, get recommendations, share your stories.   You can check that out and more at www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople.

Thanks again for everyone who has supported us so far.