Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, most certainly isn't the first to make the claim that the "least of these" is actually a reference to Christians who face struggles in sharing their faith, but his stated view on the matter is the most recent proclamation to spark interpretive discussion. "This text is not about poor people generally. It's about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor," Burk wrote. "It's about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It's about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals."
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected scriptural debate over how to read one of the more widely known verses in the Christian Bible.
Matthew 25:40 includes a phrase that many have likely heard, regardless of their faith tradition: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." The phrasing is generally seen as championing the needs of the poor -- to turn your back on those struggling is to turn your back on God.
But my colleague Will Femia this week flagged an amazing report from Glenn Beck's conservative website, The Blaze, which put an incredible twist on Biblical interpretation.
I see. So, against the backdrop of the right-to-discriminate debate, conservatives want "the least of these" to refer to themselves.
No, really. As Ana Marie Cox joked that when conservatives see Matthew 25:40, they've effectively concluded it's "actually about Memories Pizza."
My suspicion is this interpretation may struggle to catch on among Christians in general, but I suppose it's something to keep an eye on.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A group of anti-Muslim conservatives scheduled an event to revel in their anti-Muslim bigotry: "Competing protests in Phoenix near a mosque where a group planned a controversial 'Muhammad cartoon contest' ended Friday after some yelling and arguing but no reports of violence."
* A lawsuit worth watching: "A Colorado teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district where he works, alleging the district's only high school illegally promotes Christianity in conjunction with a nearby evangelical church."
* This seems like a very bad idea: "Leaders of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in north London recently issued a statement to their community that bans women from driving."
* TV preacher Pat Robertson warned his followers this week that "like it or not, demons are real" and "they will possess and they will destroy" those who mess with them: Good to know.