Apparently, in the days when the Dutch Reformed Church finally declared Apartheid a heresy – stating that any teaching supporting or defending this ideology would have to be regarded as heretical (in other words in conflict with the teaching of the Bible), the following question was asked of the moderator of the general synod, “What makes you so sure you are right about your interpretation of the Scriptures this time?”
Dr Coenie Burger, in a later speech admitted that, “The first mistake the DRC made was to think it could read and understand the Bible on its own.”
This was one of the stories René August shared at the deep dive session (navigated very intelligently and sensibly by René and Cobus (van Wyngaard), “Decolonising the text” and it highlighted so poignantly how reading Scripture in isolation is such a dangerous exercise – one that very often places at risk the marginalised in our society. When reading and interpreting our Christian text, the Bible, we need to ask questions such as,
“Who does our interpretation of the text serve?”
“Who benefits from reading the Scripture with this particular lens?”
“Does it validate our power and privilege or challenge it?”
“Does it serve our agendas or challenge it?”
(may I dare to add, “Does it validate our understanding of God or challenge it?”)
And there is no better way of revealing the answers to these questions than reading the text in community with a diversity of voices lead by the Spirit of God.
In other words, according to Rene and Cobus, decolonizing the text is a posture: A posture in which we commit ourselves to read our sacred text with others who are different from us – to say that, “In order for me to understand the depths of this sacred text, I need you – people who are different from me”. As we come to certain conclusions reading the Scripture with our particular lens (read more about this in my previous post), we hold these conclusions lightly and allow them to be in conversation with each other as we open ourselves to the Spirit to reveal, to remind and to teach us as we do this together.
I feel deeply challenged after this session to be more intentional about reading our text, our Bible, with people who are different from me. I have done this by reading interpretations of the text by a diversity of scholars and authors, but not as much in real life face-to-face conversational ways. A while ago I participated in a group lectio divina on Philippians 2 with people from one of our congregations. This was an incredibly moving experience for me personally, but I think we all (or most of us at least) left feeling challenged or enriched and touched by the Spirit of God.
How will you create space in your life to read the Bible with people who are different from you? Or perhaps if you have been doing this regularly, please share your ideas and experiences!