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Jun  2011 06
Confronting the Outrageous

Like most media commentators, I was inclined to smile over Harold Camping‘s prediction that the Day of Judgment would be Saturday, May 21, 2011. And like them I burst out laughing when, in the face of the fact that judgment didn’t arrive, he moved the date to October 21.  

But the whole thing is really not all that funny—especially in light of the 2000-year-old history of mis-interpretation of the Bible. Throughout the Common Era numerous people have claimed to have some sort of special insight into the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings, or the gospels, or the Hebrew prophets, or other biblical books. Such claims to unique knowledge have too often resulted in disaster—and not only for the perpetrators themselves. 

For example, from 1850-1864 a civil war was being waged in China, begun by a man named Hong Xiuquan who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus. He was “inspired” to this identity upon reading a Protestant missionary pamphlet and arriving at his own distorted belief that he was sent by God to free China from the hated foreign Manchu rulers. People flocked to his cause. When he and his supporters were finally defeated, 20 million people had died as a direct result of this war. 

So I’m thinking that perhaps people who know better (and I’m talking to pastors, lay leaders and theological educators) ought to do better than simply laugh when people make outrageous claims about the Bible. Maybe we should at least say, “These claims are outrageous and here is why.” Maybe we should offer other ways of interpreting the Bible that accord with our understandings of God’s mercy and compassion for all creation. And maybe we should refuse to let Harold Camping and all the other folks who claim extraordinary knowledge about the Bible speak for all Christians, or even most of them.

Browse more posts by: Nancy Claire Pittman, Phillips Dean
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