KOH2RVA: Day 241

domestic violenceYesterday morning I had the fun of going to Glen Lea Elementary School with the church staff and surprising the teachers with a show of appreciation. We knocked on the doors of the classrooms and when the teacher opened the door we would burst in, say “Surprise!” and then tell the class we were from First Baptist Church where we had been trying to be good to Glen Lea all year long, but on that day, especially, we wanted to be good to their teachers. And then we presented each teacher with a rose, a huge Hershey bar, and a poem of appreciation. Each presentation took about two minutes, the teachers seemed grateful, and for the staff, as I said, it was fun.

But yesterday afternoon I went to police headquarters for the monthly faith leaders’ meeting, and that was no fun at all. I learned that in some of the same neighborhoods where those bright, beautiful children from Glen Lea live, there is an ongoing epidemic of domestic violence.

The place was packed, and Chief Ray Tarasovic began by saying, “The house is full today because we’re on a mission. We have some folks here who are in the business of saving lives.”

He said that when it comes to domestic violence we always know who did it. It’s not a stranger; it’s someone who lives in your own home. And so he asked us as faith leaders to “preach about it, pray about it, identify it, and refer it.”

Sergeant Carol Adams talked about her own efforts to rescue a Nigerian woman from abuse. Her husband had been keeping her locked up in a house on the south side of Richmond with the windows boarded up so she couldn’t see out or get out. He threatened and abused her almost daily. Carol talked about her efforts to get that woman out of that situation, including taking a day off from work to drive her to New York where she had family. Carol’s passion was evident; I got the feeling she knew exactly what she was talking about when it came to domestic abuse.

But Chief Tarasovic wanted to make sure that we knew, as well. He told us that simple assault involves slaps, kicks, punches, and threats. Aggravated assault is when a weapon is used or serious injury results. He said that so far this year there have been 39 instances of aggravated assault in Richmond.

I thought about the difference between what we had done that morning—surprising school teachers with flowers and chocolate—and the kind of surprises some people face in their own homes, when someone who has promised to love them turns against them in anger, even violence. I said a silent prayer for those 39 people who had been victims of aggravated assault, and for the hundreds more who have been slapped, kicked, punched, or threatened in their own homes.

Sergeant Adams said, “A lot of these situations never get reported because people are too ashamed to talk about them. But we ought to be able to talk about them. We ought to be able to talk about them in church,” she added. “If it happened in the first family (referring to the story of Cain and Abel), we shouldn’t be surprised that it happens in ours, too.”

No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and dismiss it, either. We should do everything in our power to stop it. And if we know of a situation where domestic violence is going on we should report it to the police.

We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, on this year-long, every-member mission trip. Yesterday I was reminded that there are some places in Richmond that are much more like hell.

KOH2RVA: Day 235

cats and dogsThe conversation on this blog over the past two days has been fascinating and yesterday, especially, it had the feel of a lively roundtable discussion among people with very different views, but very respectful attitudes. I want to thank Anne especially, for hanging in there when many disagreed with her views. She was unflappable, and never appeared to get angry. Near the end of the day she was almost cheerfully suggesting reading material to her new friends Don and Daniel.

I admire that.

I do have more to say on this topic, but I’m not going to say it today. Today I’m going hiking with my brother Greg who has been working as a missionary in North Africa for the past year. We’re going to huff and puff our way to the top of Old Rag Mountain, pausing from time to time for long, thoughtful conversations (and a chance to catch our breath). I won’t have a cell signal for most of that hike, and therefore won’t be able to moderate discussion on my blog (nor should I, when I have the chance to walk and talk with my brother). So, I’m going to make a suggestion:

Do something today that brings heaven a little closer to earth, and at the end of the day tell me what it was.

I appreciated Melissa Ansley Brooks’ comment on my Facebook page when I mentioned that I’d had 1,588 views on my blog on Tuesday. She wrote: “Could you give my contact information to all of those people who viewed your blog…because I’ve got some Kingdom work that needs doin’….poor kids to feed, motherless babies to rock, middle schoolers to tutor, widows to comfort, sick people to visit…and I need some help!”

For those who have ears to hear it, it could be the voice of Jesus himself.

Who Gets to Decide?

huge_90_451227Yesterday I preached on submission.

I’m sure there are churches where that’s not a controversial subject, where the pastor simply tells women they have to submit and they all nod their heads dutifully.  But Richmond’s First Baptist Church is not like that.  If you put us all on one pew you would find the full spectrum of theological views represented, from very conservative to not very conservative at all.   To preach on something like submission is to risk half the church getting up and walking out. 

But it’s in the Bible, and I’m a biblical preacher.  I wouldn’t want to ignore something like submission just because it’s controversial.  In fact I find that those kinds of subjects force me to study harder, to dig deeper, and when I did that with this subject I turned up some interesting results.

In the New International Version (the one in the pew racks at First Baptist Church), Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”  That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?  And a lot of preachers preach it just that way.  But when I’m dealing with a controversial subject I want to get as close to the source as possible, and so I looked this one up in the Greek New Testament.  There Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives to their husbands as to the Lord.”  The word submit  isn’t even in that verse, it’s in the verse above—Ephesians 5:21—which says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

And here’s where it gets interesting:

In my Greek New Testament there is an English subtitle just before verse 21 that says, “Wives and Husbands.”  If the Greek were translated into English it would look like this:

Wives and Husbands
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ

In the New International Version that same subtitle comes just before verse 22, like this:

Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

In the NIV that verse about submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ comes above the subtitle, as if it were unrelated to a discussion of husbands and wives.  So, if I were only reading the NIV I might assume that the teaching on mutual submission belonged to the previous passage, that Christians in general should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ but when it comes to husbands and wives, wives should submit to their husbands.  I think a lot of people have made that assumption, and I can’t blame them for it.

But I can blame whoever decided that the subtitle—“Wives and Husbands”—should go below verse 21 instead of above it.  Look it up for yourself.  It’s not in the original manuscript.  It’s supposed to be a helpful way of identifying the subject matter that follows.  But whoever put that subtitle in the Greek New Testament thought it should go before verse 21 and whoever put it in the NIV thought it should go after it, and it makes a difference—an enormous difference—in how you understand the passage.  In one version you end up thinking that husbands and wives should submit to one another while in another version you end up thinking that only wives have to submit.

So I wonder: was it a group of men who made that decision?  Was the placement of that subtitle related in any way to the idea of “keeping women in their place”?  Where would the subtitle have gone if it had been a group of women making the decision?  And how much difference does it make who gets to decide?