from our partnerLightWorkers Guest
written byJerry A. Pattengale, Ph.D.
I suppose there is something about bizarre behavior that attracts attention, at least based on the wave of radio interviews, TV and social media interest in my book, Is the Bible at Fault?. Even the popular Out of the Shadows podcast is launching In the Name of the Father based on this book’s chapters.
Why all the fuss?
Perhaps part of the answer is in the book’s opening:
Some people do weird things. Other people are just plain strange—perpetually odd. Unfortunately, some people are sinister, and a few are all the above. From the curious to the criminal, whether acting in isolation or as instigators of revolutions and institutions, many have claimed biblical authority for their actions. They have hitched their ideological wagons to inept interpretations of biblical statements. Throughout history, this hodgepodge of public figures has prompted people to ask, Is the Bible at fault?
For example, did you know that the Ku Klux Klan based its racist views on scripture misrepresented by Bishop Alma Bridwell White.
The [KKK] pastor would begin unpacking the ‘real’ meaning of Jonah and the whale: instead of Jonah protesting the Assyrians in Nineveh, the preacher would contend with intense emotion, the real point is that the Jew was so foul in the whale’s mouth that even a fish couldn’t stomach him. That’s why the whale spat him out. Semites, according to this fellow, make even fish vomit.
This seems ludicrous, but it fueled the inhumane acts of throngs of KKK followers.
The first of the twelve case studies is the Israelite House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan—a colorful cult of around 1,000 people that had won the favor and applause of its neighbors. What was not to like? They had an iconic baseball team (long hair, following the Nazarite vow) that traveled the country playing semi-professional teams, including over 200 against the great Satchel Page. A zoo. The first waffle cones. A popular open market. Stunning properties built from the donation of their personal property and current profits. However, there were some oddities. No sex, even for couples. Full allegiance to their messianic leader. The belief that if you died you were not a true believer (and he would have the bodies discarded without ceremonies). Not surprising, only two elderly members remain, though another reason surfaced—his abuse of young female initiates via his one-on-one spiritual ceremony:
Anticipating the [police] raid, the mysterious and magnetic cult founder had whisked away a group of adolescent girls to High Island, the House of David’s own remote island in northern Lake Michigan. Thirteen girls would eventually come forward with claims of sexual exploitation.
Another of the twelve cases of misguided followers is the troubling chapter on self-maiming. Brace yourself:
While discussing some archaic church practice, my friend commented, ‘Self-maiming isn’t just something out of early church history. I know a blind pastor who followed Origen’s lead and took the Bible literally. He had struggled with lust, and one night while still a young man he gouged out his eyes with a spoon.’
There are the snake handlers in Appalachia. Although down from its peak of 2,000 churches to around 200, they have surfaced often in recent news stories. They base their identity on a suspect interpretation of the end of the controversial ending of Mark:
Pastor Coots survived nine snakebites up through 2013, each one garnering him credibility among his small circle. Every time he raised his right hand in praise, they saw evidence of his journey: a snakebite had cost him his middle finger… His wife had collected it from their front yard, saying, ‘I’ll always have a piece of you no matter where you go.’
One chapter highlights Prophet Jones (d. 1971) from Detroit, or “The Messiah in Mink” as The Saturday Evening Post dubbed him for his $12,900 coat purchased on credit by two school teachers:
[He] owned more than four hundred suits, accepted generous gifts from his followers (that they charged on credit). Many parishioners lived on the brink of poverty while he strutted in his white mink overcoat, ate off gold plates, had a full-time seamstress and traveled in a fleet of five Cadillacs—each with a chauffeur. It is indeed a bizarre-but-true tale with a tragic ending [charges of sexual misconduct with minors].
We see in his case practices that unfortunately have a myriad of similar lifestyle examples devoid of biblical standards:
Pastor Jones would ask for $20, $10 or $5 bills to be placed on a tarp in front of his throne, with the obedient ones stepping forward then allowed to leave. At last resort, he asked for $3 at minimum, ordering his citizens at least to offer support for the three parts of the Trinity. ‘Now, I know the rest of you can at least afford $3. I’m asking for $3—one for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Ghost.’
We don’t have space here to introduce all twelve chapters, from the Munster massacre to apocalyptic followings, Crusader crimes and the priest who convinced his congregation to pay for his actual marriage to a statue of Mary.
However, let me end with an excerpt from the last chapter about Australia. I cried a few times while doing this research about what the Europeans, in the name of a “biblical” dominion mandate, did to the Aborigines. An eyewitness to this, a selfless humanitarian missionary, begged for an end. He notes that those who were:
…simply shot were fortunate. Many were cruelly tortured, maimed, blinded, burnt and castrated. The evidence in official documents is horrifying enough without guessing at that which was never divulged. They were shot for dogs’ meat. Women were chained to the huts of white settlers, used by the men, then tortured to death, with some being forced to wear the heads of their murdered husbands.
The Europeans nearly annihilated one of the oldest cultures in the world, ostensibly to make way for those smart enough to share the Gospel. Yes, it makes me sick. We need to and can do better.
Little has changed since the earliest known stories from the ancient Near East, including stories of wayward characters in the Bible. People have made bizarre or dangerous claims in the name of God. They continue to do so, often citing biblical passages—out of context or inappropriately—as proof texts.
Is the Bible at Fault? No. And in this book, we show you clear answers to that very question about these diverse cases. Some, almost unbelievable—like promoting the Serpent in the Garden of Eden as the hero for “telling humans the truth.”
Well, the Bible actually has quite a different message than that of these misguided messengers. It’s not enough to hold a Bible in the face of crisis and opportunities, but to hold onto its actual message.
You can purchase Is the Bible at Fault here.