What Words Do We Listen to?
I was baptized on March 13, 1977 during my first year in college. As I look back on my almost forty-two years of discipleship, I am acutely aware of how important the Bible has been every step of the way. I am convinced that the enduring importance of the Bible in my life goes back to my conversion. My initial encounter with God came through reading The Gospel of John at the suggestion of a woman in my dorm. One night I read the entire Gospel. The Roger Greene who started reading was not the same Roger Greene after I was finished. My eyes were opened to a whole new world. In the words of John’s Gospel, I had been born anew (John 3: 1-16). I also had the good fortune to be baptized in a church with a preacher who believed that the preacher’s job is to proclaim the Word of God, not the latest therapeutic approach to life. Every Sunday I looked forward to a sermon that would open my eyes to a whole new way of seeing. In the words of the psalmist, God’s Word was indeed “a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path” (119: 105).”
Words matter. We only need to look at the divisions in our society. The enormous divide in our politics is driven by whether we listen to the words of Fox News or MSNBC. The tragedy for the church is not so much which news outlet has our ear. The tragedy is that we have allowed our lives to be governed by these words and not the ones in the Bible. As a result, we see the issues of the day through the lens of one of the media outlets and not the Word of God.
Let’s take for example the ongoing discussion on immigration. The views of many Christians on immigration are primarily informed by the conservative or liberal news media. Those voices set the agenda, and we then discuss the issue on their terms. For example, we debate whether immigrants are good for the economy and well-being of our society. President Trump and some of his supporters in the media constantly focus on the threat of the vast hoard of dangerous people trying to get into our country illegally, and the threat it poses. Therefore, we need a wall. Many on the other side of the aisle dispute the President’s account. They say that those coming to our borders are not anymore dangerous than the rest of humanity, and throughout our history immigrants have always been a gift to our socio-economic well-being. Although these two sides disagree about the need for a wall, both groups have at least one thing in common: they agree that one of the lenses—not the only one—through which this issue should be viewed is the cost-benefit analysis.
Enter the Word of God: The Bible tells us that Israel’s response to displaced persons is not based primarily on whether the admission of strangers into the neighborhood will be beneficial or costly for the hometown folks. No. God says that Israel’s response to the stranger should be informed by their own experience of being liberated from living in a society where they weren’t included. Israel is warned time and again not to mistreat the “resident alien. Why? “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21; Lev 19:33). Israel is reminded that they know what is to be on the run from an oppressive situation, and at the mercy of others, therefore they should be the first to know how important it is to “love the alien as yourself” (Lev. 19:34). The biblical argument is not about economics, but about a community’s experience of God. The biblical view is not based primarily on whether immigrants are good for the local economy. The biblical argument is based on God’s command to respond to the vulnerable and disenfranchised because this is the way God responded to us when we were desperate.
Amidst the onslaught of words from all sources of media, we need to know what the Bible says. There is no substitute for these words. The Episcopal Church believes that the “Old and New Testaments, not the talking heads, “contain all things necessary to salvation (The Book of Common Prayer, p.526). These words are truly “a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path.”