Sacred Paths - What Did “The Word” Really Say?

Religious homophobia in our largely Christian culture derives from literalistic interpretations of the Bible enabled by a Kansan. Fundamentalism, which picked up force about 1900, has affected domestic concerns like education (think the Scopes Trial and the current Kansas Board of Education) and foreign affairs, especially in the Middle East, arousing Christians fascinated with tales of Armageddon and sinners “left behind” at “the Rapture,” the return of Christ to earth.
Those who see 9/11 as part of this unfolding cosmic drama have a widely influential edition of the Bible to help them interpret the horror of news like 9/11 as part of a world view in which abominations like homosexuality will be damned by eternal judgment.
How did this focus on the “end-times” originate?
While early Christians expected Christ to return before they died ( I Thess. 4:15), an interpretation was devised whereby these ancient texts applying to ancient peoples were molded into a forecast for our own time. The key doctrine is “dispensationalism,” a framework for viewing Biblical stories from Adam on into the future, as a historical process of preordained stages.
I asked Dr. Richard Childs, a retired psychiatrist who is expert in these matters, to describe its propagator. He says:
“The Scofield Reference Bible has had more influence on the religious beliefs of American Protestant fundamentalists than any other book, by far. Although it was first published in 1909, neither the extent of its influence nor the fraudulence of its author, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, ‘D.D.’ (1843-1921), are understood by most Christians.
“Scofield was a lawyer who served in the 1872 Kansas legislature; in 1873 he was appointed U.S. Attorney for Kansas by President Grant. He served only six months before resigning in an embezzlement scandal and absconding to Canada. Several years later he surfaced to practice law in St. Louis. In 1879, while serving a six-month jail sentence for forgery, he underwent a religious conversion. He began to practice as a Congregationalist minister and was ordained in 1883.
“An August 27, 1881, editorial in Topeka’s The Daily Capital referred to Scofield as a ‘late lawyer, politician, and shyster generally’ whose career was characterized by ‘many malicious acts.’ The editorial called him a ‘peer among scalawags.’
“A gifted con man, Scofield posed as a great Bible scholar, although he never attended a seminary and was never graduated from a recognized academic institution. His ‘D.D.’ is bogus.
“That such a man could achieve the profound influence that continues to this day is remarkable. . . . Scofield embraced the fundamentalist doctrines of biblical literalism and inerrancy. To these, he added the newly concocted theological notions of premillennial dispensationalism that purvey the controversial end-times ideas of the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Antichrist, the Millennium, and the Battle of Armageddon. Today’s best-selling Left Behind series of religious fiction is based on Scofield’s dispensationalism, as are many of the ideas of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others in the religious right.
“Scofield embedded these bizarre ideas in the voluminous notes printed alongside the biblical text in The Scofield Reference Bible. Many accept his notes as inspired by God. Too few understand the source of these beliefs that continue to distort the world-view of a strident minority of religious conservatives today.”
A different image of Christianity is presented by the movie, The Saint of 9/11, shown Sept. 11 at 7 at the Tivoli. It honors Father Mychal Judge, a homosexual priest who served as chaplain to the multifaith New York City Fire Department.
The memory of 9/11 reminds us that religion can be used to justify the violence of the “Rapture,” or it can live as compassion in the lives of those like Mychal Judge.

The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday. He speaks Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4 pm on “Same-Sex Relationships in the Religions of the World” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12, O’Hara Room.

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