bio

I’m a scholar of ancient Israel and the Near East, specializing in Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, and intercultural contact and exchange (especially of religious phenomena) in the later first millennium B.C.E.  I hold a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University, and my first book, Predicting the Past in the Ancient Near East, was published in Brown University’s Judaic Studies series in 2012.

I’m currently Visiting Assistant Professor in the Theology Department at Marquette University.

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On the Petition regarding SBL association with Olivet Nazarene University

So, I’ve gotten a fair bit of feedback regarding the petition I circulated urging the SBL to take a stand on issues of academic freedom and tolerance and inclusiveness of LGBT persons.  Most of it has been enthusiastically positive.  But some of it has been quite negative.  A number of people reported being completely baffled that I should see a problem with Olivet Nazarene hosting the SBL Midwest Region Meeting.  Some said the petition was wrong-headed. The SBL Executive Director and the current VP of the Midwest region went to great lengths to tell me my position was born of ignorance. So I thought I’d just respond briefly to those who oppose the very idea of the petition.

Let’s be clear. This is not about trying to control what individual people think.

It’s about policies that institutions enact, policies founded upon and that further bigotry against LGBT persons. It’s about whether the SBL or its Regions should publicly ally themselves with such institutions.

Olivet Nazarene is known to deny LGBT students the housing they were assigned as well as to deny LGBT students the counseling resources that are offered to all other students.

Now, the argument of some is that this is not bigotry because it is founded upon religious teaching. And in order to be truly “inclusive,” the SBL must include adherents (and apparently institutions) of religious groups that enact such institutionalized discrimination.

However, let’s play a little game.  Let’s replace “LGBT” with “Jewish” or “black.”

A college denies black students access to counseling resources; it denies them the freedom of living in whatever housing they are assigned to, once it is discovered they are black.

Or:

A college denies Jewish students access to counseling resources. It denies them the freedom of living in whatever housing they are assigned to once it is discovered they are Jewish.

I rather suspect that most people who dismiss the petition would be outraged if black or Jewish students were treated this way.

For those who oppose the petition: Would you continue to oppose the petition if it were about black students? About Jews? There are three ways to respond.

  • “Yes, I’d oppose that petition. It’s fine for schools to deny resources to blacks and Jews (so long as their religion commanded it).” If this is your answer then in all probability you’re a liar. A dirty filthy liar. I don’t believe you for a second. That or you should have the decency to wear your Klan hood at the next Annual Meeting.
  • “Oh no, I’d withdraw my opposition! There’s no excuse for an institution doing that.” Good. Then you agree that the protection of an individual’s dignity and rights is paramount; clothing bigotry in religiosity does not make it palatable or acceptable.
  • “Well, that’s not a fair comparison, because Christianity doesn’t say anything about blacks and Jews and how they should be treated.”

Response 3 is of course, absolutely laughable and logically unsustainable. The persecution and slaughter of Jews in the name of Christianity is so tragically prevalent in European history as to be a running joke.  Have we forgotten the biblically based defense of segregation so soon? And by no means is this a relic of the past: white supremacists routinely clothe their racist ideals in terms of Christian identity and rhetoric.

So can we accept institutional persecution and exclusion of LGBT persons while rejecting institutional persecution and rejection of racial or religious groups? No. Anti-Jewish and anti-black groups likewise claim biblical authority and theological foundation for their positions. That does not make their actions acceptable.

If  the SBL rejects the hyper-racist Christian Identity movement but accepts Olivet Nazarene’s treatment of LGBT students, then the SBL has taken an active position as adjudicators of Christian theological stances, labeling some “truly Christian” and others “falsely Christian.”

Do we really want the SBL to officially pronounce which theological stances are legitimate and which are not? The SBL deems it legitimate to associate with institutions that deny services to LGBT persons for what the institution claims are religious reasons, but illegitimate to associate with those that deny services to blacks or Jews for what the institution claims are religious reasons?  Or is the SBL all-knowing such that it can tell that Christian Identity groups don’t really believe the religious grounds for discrimination they tout, but Olivet Nazarene does? And therefore it’s ok?

No.  This is ludicrous.  But opposing the petition, opposing urging the SBL to dissociate from institutions like Olivet Nazarene amounts to exactly such a position.

Well, that or you’re ok with discriminating against any and all minority groups.

So what to do going forward? The SBL must adopt a policy that it (and affiliated Regions) will not host meetings at or otherwise officially associate with institutions that enact overtly discriminatory policies against any class of person, OR that have been conclusively shown to actively restrict academic freedom. The SBL should continue to robustly support the right of any individual regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or political belief to attend academic conferences at the national and regional level free of hostility and restriction of speech.

A word of welcome…

 

Welcome to A Better Brand of Biblical Studies.  While this space is devoted to biblical studies, this perhaps needs a word of explanation.  The primary purpose of this blog is not to reflect on the interpretation of the Bible or the study of the ancient Near Eastern world.

Rather, this is primarily a space for reflecting upon the field of biblical studies (hereafter BS),how it is practiced, what it encompasses, and what I would like to see the field strive to be.

All scholars are odd beasts, and their habitats strange places. We’re intellectual urchins, each of us, feeling out others’ ideas with prideful spines surrounding almost uniformly fragile and outsized egos.  Our ecosystem is one of intellectual interdependencies and awkward interactions, interwoven yet fractious. And sometimes, well, sometimes the circularity and insularity and fresh tilling of centuries-barren bedrock just makes me wish the whole enterprise, all our precious bailiwicks of BS, would burn to the ground.

Or, perhaps, we could work toward an altogether better brand of BS.