I realized recently that my relationship with the Bible is changing. That revelation scared me.
In the formative years of my evangelical faith, I was taught to think of Jesus as my boyfriend. “Quiet times” were my dates with my boyfriend, Jesus. They were the most basic component of my evangelical Christian discipleship; incorporating journaling, prayer and Bible Study every day. Quiet times build a relationship with God that is characterized by devotion.
It makes sense that quiet is structured into evangelical discipleship. Richard Foster explains in his book, Prayer, that connection with God happens in the silence. Cleared space for God to speak is not unique to evangelicalism. In Beloved, Toni Morrison speaks of “the Clearing” as space cleared in the middle of the woods where Baby Suggs, holy, prays and calls the community to come from the trees and connect with God and self and each other in raw human truth. Likewise, Islam calls the entire community to devoted communal prayer several times per day. Within evangelicalism an industry of books, called “Devotionals,” guides evangelicals into their own communal, but individualized, clearing space each morning. In this space evangelicals hear from the elders of European-descended evangelical faith—white men (and some women) whose reflections and worldviews shape how evangelicals see … everything.
My first devotional book was My Utmost for His Highest (1924), a compilation of lectures by Scottish missionary, Oswald Chambers. I still have it; underlined, dog-eared and double dog-eared pages mark moments in my teens and twenties when my earliest and most basic understanding of Jesus and Christian faith and the meaning of life, itself, was internalized and formed.
In those early years, I looked forward to my quiet times. Reading my devotional and writing in my prayer journal on my dates with Jesus was the way I felt the love of God. I didn’t know how to study the scripture yet, but when I learned I incorporated Bible study into my dates with Jesus, too. And my understanding of what I read was shaped by those devotionals.
But recently, I had a moment that shook me to my core. I thought about the Bible and I felt repulsed. I had no desire to come close. None at all.
Disturbed, I saw for the first time that layered on top of the Bible text is a thick pillowed layer of whiteness. Even though I know it is not true, in my Christian imagination Mary is white. Jesus is white. Moses is white. Peter is definitely white. Paul is most definitely white. David is white. Everybody is white. God is white—and male.
In a flash, dots connected: White Evangelical politics has revealed itself to be white nationalist at its core. This revelation has made such a deep imprint on my soul that my feelings toward them have transferred to The Bible, itself. Whiteness was lain over the sacred text in my Evangelical Christian formation and my soul is now rejecting the poison.
But something in me is not allowing myself to let go of The Bible without first correcting my view of it. So, I am making it practice to lean into the text; to push through the white illusion lain atop the brown and black text. On the other side, I am finding physically brown, politically black Jesus and physically brown, politically black Mary and physically brown, politically black Moses and David and Nehemiah and Ruth and Esther and Peter and Paul and Junia. And I am drawn in…again.
My relationship to the Bible is not dead. It is changing. No longer is Jesus my boyfriend. He is my liberator.