Ties That Bind: Protestants in Conversation
As Christians we share a common holy book in the Bible. Of course, the Bible just isn’t one book, it’s many books and those books have been edited and compiled into many different versions and numerous languages. Today there are literally hundreds of versions with names like the King James Bible, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the American Standard Version, the Revised American Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and Eugene Peterson’s The Message. To go along with the various versions of the Bible are various commentaries and study Bibles. Intended to streamline our reading of the Bible, these commentaries and study Bibles often offer contradictory opinions on what the scripture has meant to scholars at various points in history. A religion that began with a common book has divulged into many denominational subdivisions that argue about which version of that common book is acceptable and which scholar’s interpretations are most relevant for use in each particular church.
On Sunday, Interfaith Winston Salem hosted its quarterly “Ties that Bind” Conference, a conference designed to bring together Protestants in conversation about scriptures. Christians from across the denominational spectrum ranging from right-wing fundamentalists to left-wing progressive liberals gathered on Sunday to discuss Luke 4:11-30. The two-hour event was sponsored in part by the Wake Forest School of Divinity and moderated by the school’s own Dr. Bill Leonard, a professor who specializes in Historical Studies. Dr. Leonard introduced each of the guest speakers and laid out the ground rules for discussion. He gently reminded the audience to converse rather than lecture, joking that as a Baptist he sometimes forgets which is which. His humor was a referee reminding each of us to “keep it a clean fight.”
After the Gospel text was read, Diane Lipsett, a professor of religious studies at Salem College, offered her historical analysis of the text before giving way to the evening’s guest lectures. Rev. Kia Hood, a Baptist youth pastor, was moved by a story of a Jesus who “drops the mic and exits stage left.” She emphasized the power the piece embodies for young people in their ability to use the authority God has given us. Reverend Hood was followed by Alfredo Miranda, a Hispanic pastor who jokingly quipped he’d only have a few words to share because he “doesn’t know so many English words.” Miranda then presented how the text speaks to him in his ministry to immigrants who recognize the power of the scripture in helping to liberate the oppressed. The lecture was capped off by Reverend Alan Wright, an Evangelical minister who announced to the audience that in his view the Bible is more than a collection of stories, it’s one great, wonderful narrative of Jesus, our glorious redeemed.
After the guest lectures, Dr. Leonard divided the group into small table discussion groups and the dialogue ensued. As expected, the groups offered a myriad of different interpretations on the texts and on the process of scriptural interpretation but in general agreed that the text had an aura of liberating power highlighting our need as Christians to be on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. In his closing remarks, Dr. Leonard referenced a recent student’s paper on Martin Luther King’s Stride Toward Freedom. “She began her paper with ‘This is not your seat,’ the very words spoken to Rosa Parks. As Christians,” he said, “we have to remind ourselves who we might be denying a seat at the table.” Dr. Leonard’s words capped the perfect end to a conference intended to do just that.
Gabriel Sifuentes received a degree in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in 2014. Currently he is pursuing his Masters in Divinity at Wake Forest University. After completion of his Master’s, Gabriel plans to pursue a degree in Biblical Theology with an emphasis on theologies of the abused.