|Cheryl B. Anderson teaches Old Testament at Garrett|
Dr. Anderson: Basically, literal interpretations reflect the perspectives and realities of a small percentage of the human population—certain privileged white heterosexual men who define what is Christian. As a result, they can focus on doctrines and policies that harm all of these other groups but it doesn’t matter because their position is “the” Christian one. Basically, the harm that results to these other groups can be ignored.
Q. Why do so many people interpret Scripture based on what you call “textual agency” --the idea that the Bible speaks without needing interpretation-- when such an understanding contributes to their own oppression if they are, for example, women or LGBTQ? What is the attraction?
Dr. Anderson: Good question. The attraction is that it’s our tradition, it’s what we know. We’ve been told that these readings of Scripture are the only way to read Scripture—and we believe it. We need to learn that any living faith tradition changes over time and it’s consistent with our Christian tradition to change to meet the needs of believers today—especially those that don’t fit the traditional norm based on relatively few privileged white heterosexual men.
Q. You portray both Jesus and the Apostle Paul as progressives. Why?
Dr. Anderson: Both Jesus and Paul rejected or changed some of the traditional religious practices of their day. Unfortunately, as Christians, we tend to think that Jesus and Paul were Christians and that they were rejecting aspects of Judaism. So we mistakenly see this conflict as one of different faiths—Christianity versus Judaism. However, that’s not the case. Both Jesus and Paul were Jews. Their conflict with the Pharisees of their day was a conflict within one faith—Judaism—and the issue was whether to follow the letter (Pharisees) or the spirit of the law (Jesus and Paul). The same is true today where Christians disagree over whether to follow the letter of particular passages (conservatives) versus those who want to emphasize the spirit of those and other passages (progressives).
Q. Even though you wrote your book with many academic references, you wrote it to be accessible to ordinary Christians in the pews. You advise us to just skip the footnotes unless we really want to pursue something further. What kind of reception has your book and teaching received from the people in the pews?
Dr. Anderson: When people in the pews understand the concepts in the book, they really like it. Very often I hear that the book helps those of us who are progressive to see the Bible as an ally rather than an enemy. The book, however, explains information that biblical scholars like me often take for granted—for example, that the Bible reflects the perspectives of different writers at different points of time. For those who think that, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he didn’t just have the Ten Commandments—but the whole Bible—that kind of information can be a shock. I would hope that readers would see that God’s word to us is always formed to meet the needs in our time and place. We don’t have to be frozen in the past.
Q. You’ve taught the material in your book in Africa. What kinds of groups have you taught there and how did they respond?
Dr. Ansderson: I have spent more time in South Africa than any other country in Africa. I’ve spent time with and learning from faculty colleagues who are working on the responses of churches to the HIV and AIDS pandemic. When I work with material from the book in universities and churches, it’s to show that Jesus and Paul changed religious practices to meet the needs of the excluded. In a context where there is stigma and discrimination for those who are HIV positive, that message is welcomed. We need to change traditional church practices to meet the needs of those who are excluded today, such as those who are HIV positive.
Q. You entered seminary and ordained ministry when you were a member of Foundry. Can you tell us something about your spiritual journey in those days and your sense of call?
Dr. Anderson: I was a practicing attorney with the federal government then and I knew something was missing. Joining a church filled a void. It’s where I found a loving community and a deeper sense of purpose. Foundry was a perfect fit for me—a church with commitments around both spirituality and social justice. My call into the ordained ministry developed from those commitments I’d seen in The United Methodist Church, in general, and Foundry, in particular. My desire all along has been to share those commitments in broader circles. Over the years, I’ve been extremely proud to be a daughter of Foundry, an example of what Foundry represents.
Read more about Dr. Anderson and her work on biblical studies and the church's response to HIV-AIDS at her website http://www.cherylbanderson.com/. Find out more about Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where she teaches at http://www.garrett.edu/.
Dr. Anderson will preach at Foundry on Martin Luther King Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 9:30 and 11 a.m. as part of a preaching series "Daughters and Son of Foundry" continuing through June, 2014.