Daily Archives: April 20, 2007

On Lectionaries, Texts of Terror and Clobber Verses

This is an update to the thoughts below on lectionary usage of troublesome biblical texts. Bls made some great observations over at Dr. Good’s comments. She and I have had this discussion before but I’m afraid it hadn’t quite sunk in entirely. Here’s another try.

I think what I was saying before about texts that we cut out of the lectionary holds true for most of what are referred to as “texts of
terror.” These texts, especially those identified by Phyllis Tribble in her book of the same name have, for the most part, been repressed and expunged by the mainline churches. In the intro class where I read Tribble’s book, most of us had never encountered these texts before and were shocked that they were in the Bible. These passages need to be heard and wrestled with so that we might formulate our understanding of God and who the people of God have been in relation to them.

“Clobber verses” present a different problem entirely. These are not problematic texts that have been repressed; rather they are–as bls points out–all too well known in their decontextualized, weaponized form. They include the Romans texts for queer folk, the 1 Cor texts for women, and the curse of the descendants of Ham in Genesis used for generations to justify slavery and apartheid. I definitely see her point that she could live just fine for a while without encountering these liturgically.

[As an aside, I feel the need to state that there is a difference between clobber verses and verses that make us feel uncomfortable. The Magnificat or Beatitudes may make a rich man feel uncomfortable–but that in no way allows him to claim it as a clobber verse. I’d define a clobber verse as an atomized text used for the purpose of dehumanizing a group of people to legitimate official oppression.]

In her comments bls mentioned “waiting a few years” before bringing them back in. That resonates with me in the sense that people who have been oppressed by a text may, as part of a healing process, need to encounter the text again–but how do we honor the different amount of time that it will take for each individual to encounter it in a public liturgy?

On a separate note, is there a way that reading these clobber verses in their Scriptural context and in the gathered liturgical community can be defused and redeemed? I focus specifically on context because their weaponized form depends largely–if not entirely–on their disconnection from the biblical texts from which they are drawn and the scope of the biblical narrative as a whole.

Liturgy is so important and so complex because it encompasses so many aspects of human and theological life. It draws together the Scriptures, moral and spiritual formation, pastoral needs, the handing on of tradition, and a host of other factors together. This is one of those intersections where the pastoral dimension comes to the fore and, to be honest, that’s a dimension of it that comes less naturally to me than others. So–what do we do with these; what should we do?