Full disclosure: I was ready to give up on the Bible when I met Debbie Blue. But she taught me to read scripture again.
She grew up Evangelical, and like so many of us, was trained to read the Bible in all the problematic and patriarchal ways that Evangelicals so often do.
As a rule book, a science and history lesson, a weapon against women and minorities, a capitalist self help book…But Blue, who lives on a communal farm in northern Minnesota and pastors at House of Mercy Church in downtown St. Paul, unlearned and unpacked her Evangelical upbringing. And then she took a feminist pitchfork to the Bible.
Sometimes you might have to take a pitchfork to it to loosen the soil. Nothing grows in hard-packed, solid ground. Plus, using a pitchfork might just feel cathartic. Scripture has been used in so many destructive ways. It has had enormous influence throughout cultures all over the world. Bible stories are founding narratives for many people in the Jewish and Christian religions, as well as in Islam. Certain readings have produced some terrible, violently divisive theology—white supremacist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic theology.
Some readings have given rise to ideas about human exceptionalism that have contributed to the demise of the planet. If you want to strike the Bible with a pitchfork, I think the Merciful Lover of Creation would be okay with that.
Her new book Consider the Women: A Provacative Guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible reads like an episode of This American Life hosted by a Feminist Christian Pastor.
Blue unpacks the Biblical stories of Hagar, Esther, and Mary and then intersperses her feminist readings with stories of her encounters with Islamic, Jewish, and Christian women in holy and not so holy spaces. Showing us a feminine God who is sowing seeds of the revolution across our world.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from it:
I believe Scripture loses some of its capacity for revelation if we don’t enter it honestly as women weary of patriarchy or as people who have seen so much injustice go down that they will never stop questioning authority. The Bible loses some of its capacity for revelation if we don’t bring our questions to it.
One of the beautiful things about having a canon is that you can look back and see an endless matrix of interpretation unrolling over hundreds, even thousands, of years. The stories are told and retold, stretched, and excavated. They are read differently in every age—forever generating new meanings and new life for people in the times and places where they live.
Hagar starts out in Abraham’s Hebrew clan and goes on to become the matriarch of Islam, so the stories go. Esther doesn’t live like an observant Jew, but she saves her people from destruction. The official Christian story doesn’t exist without Mary, but she also gives birth to so much unorthodox imagination. Her story hums with traces of Indigenous fertility goddesses and ancient Egyptian female deities.
These are some wild and provocative women.
You can see traces of the feminine face of God throughout the text. God is imaged as a mother bear, a mother eagle, a woman who gives birth, a nursing mother, a midwife. El Shaddai, usually translated “Almighty God,” can also be translated “Breasted One.”
The women in the Bible generally don’t conform to the image of the virtuous woman I learned in Sunday school. They don’t look like good evangelicals. Or like the medieval Christian saints—women who, according to the men who wrote about them, were not interested in food, sex, or pleasure of any kind…Hagar weeps. Esther pleases her pagan king sexually. Mary gives birth.
The Bible is not a slick promotional tool for a nation, or an institution, or even a particular set of beliefs. It’s a witness to a God who is profoundly alive. This is a beautiful thing about monotheism: it keeps renouncing idolatry in favor of a lover who resists calculation, a lover who knows no bounds.
The Hebrew Bible often comes across as undermining its own plot. Like there’s a story it’s trying to tell, but it keeps interrupting itself, as if some prophet followed the official storytellers around—yelling out obfuscations to muddle the dominant narrative. It spins against the way it drives.
In the narrative of Genesis you don’t see God acting quite so mercifully and tenderly in response to humans until you see God with Hagar. This is not a mighty warrior god or a distant impassive creator. God disrupts the official patriarchal plot here.
We know the church placed its most important feasts on days that coincided with traditional religious practices: Epiphany on the day of the Isis festival, Christmas near the winter solstice—when people celebrated the birth of the sun god, Easter at the time of ancient spring festivities.
Instead of worrying about how the monotheistic meaning supplants all the lingering vestiges of Indigenous meaning, we might celebrate how the layering ties us to our ancient ancestors and the rhythms of the planet—the migration of birds, the flowering of trees, the amount of light in our days. It reminds us that we are earthly creatures and that God’s love is present in every layer—the rambunctious deity behind or underneath all.
If you feel like taking a pitchfork to the Bible…Blue’s book is sharpened to a feminist point.
If you want to hear more I had a great discussion with Debbie Blue on Feminism, Christianity and the Bible on Fox Radio with libertarian evangelical Walter Hudson.