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The Bible: Chapters and verses aren’t always convenient

Rich Mayfield

There is a perhaps apocryphal story about a former U.S. president who, although quite popular among religious folks, didn’t choose to mingle with them on Sunday mornings.

 One Sunday, however, his presidential duties had him sitting with his wife in the front pew of one of America’s most traditional cathedrals.

As the time neared for him to move to the altar to receive the Holy Sacrament, he leaned over to his wife and asked about the proper procedure.

She replied, “Just do what I do.” They moved forward and knelt as the priest brought by the sacred bread followed by the chalice filled with wine. 

The president’s wife received the wafer in her hand and proceeded to dip it into the proffered cup. Unfortunately, the bread accidentally slipped from her fingers and fell into the chalice.

Embarrassed looks by all parties followed but their discomfit was dramatically increased when the president, following his wife’s previous orders, dropped his wafer into the cup as well.

I remembered that story while reading another account of religious embarrassment. I refer, of course, to Howard Dean’s recent declaration that his favorite book in the New Testament was Job, a book that is part of the Hebrew Scriptures or what Christianity calls, somewhat pejoratively, the Old Testament.

Dr. Dean can be excused for his theological gaffe if only because so many others make equally and Biblically illiterate claims.

Not too long ago, I heard a confident young man declare: “The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves” – which God may very well do but it doesn’t say so anywhere in the Bible.

Indeed, there is much that is publicly assumed about the Bible by people who probably don’t know any better. 

Particularly dangerous is when these sure and certain spokespersons begin their declarations with: “The Bible clearly says Š”

Such an introduction has been used with some frequency lately by folks who want to make sure we know just whose side God is on.

The fact God generally turns up cheering on American, heterosexual Christians doesn’t seem to phase their confidence. As the “Church Lady” is often quoted as saying, “How convenient!”

Another quote from a different church lady is this reminder from author Anne LaMott: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Of course, the Bible is clear about some things. It’s just that some of those things even the Bible’s biggest boosters would probably choose to ignore.

For instance, the Bible is very clear that eating bacon is a no-no, mortgages that charge more than zero percent are forbidden and wages are to be paid out on the day that they are earned.

I suspect none of those clarifications will make hog farmers, bankers or employers, no matter how religious they might be, happy.

The Bible is as plain as day that women are unclean for 41 days after giving birth to a boy but only two weeks if it is a girl. As for men, it is clearly stated that we guys must never cut our sideburns or shave our chins and if we have even a teeny tattoo hidden in the most secret of places we are in big trouble with the big guy.

According to Paul (one of the New Testament’s more prolific authors) slavery isn’t such a bad deal but women who talk in church are. 

In fact, in one of his letters to Timothy, Paul says, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men.”

Maybe somebody should warn Condoleezza Rice – or, come to think of it, my wife.

Howard Dean acknowledged his blunder shortly after making it. Wouldn’t it be nice if others would follow suit?

Rich Mayfield, a Lutheran pastor, writes a Saturday column for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at

pastormayfield@earthlink.net.


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