I think God has shown me something through the play I went to watch. It is called “XII angry men” and it was written by Sergal Sherman. For those not familiar with this play, as I was not, I shall include here the synopsis provided in the programme.
The defence and the prosecution have rested and the jury is filing into the the jury room to decide if a young Spanish-American is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open and shut case of murder soon becomes a mini-drama of each of the jurors' prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused and each other.
“12 angry men focuses” on the jury's deliberations in a capital murder case. A 12-person jury is sent to begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of an 18-year-old Latino accused in the stabbing death of his father, where a guilty verdict means an automatic death sentence. The case appears to be open and shut: the defendant has a weak alibi; a knife he claimed to have lost is found at the murder scene; and several witnesses either heard screaming, saw the killing or the boy fleeing the scene. Eleven of the jurors immediately vote guilty; only Juror No. 8 casts a not guilty vote. At first Juror No. 8 bases her vote (the play I saw featured both men and women, and Juror was a lady) more so for the sake of discussion, after all the jurors must believe beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. As the deliberations unfold, the story quickly becomes a study of the jurors' complex personalities (which range from wise, bright and empathetic to arrogant, prejudiced and merciless), preconceptions, backgrounds and interactions. That provides the backdrop to Juror 8's attempts in convincing the other jurors that a not guilty verdict might be appropriate.
So, as the synopsis says, it seemed like an open and shut case until they began to look at the evidence that was presented, I mean, really look at it. Eleven of the twelve had made made up their minds before their bums left their seats in the courtroom that the accused was 'guilty as charged'. To eleven of the jurors, this business of going into the jury room was a mere formality. It was plain as the noses on their faces that the boy was guilty, but Juror No. 8. wasn't about to just let it go like that. One of the jurors said to Juror No. 8, “What we need to do is convince you that we are right and you're wrong.” Gradually, as the deliberations went on, Jurors who were once convinced that the boy was definitely guilty begin to see that it is not so open and shut as they had originally thought, and start to change their vote. Then it is ten guilty – 2 not guilt, 8 – 4, 6 – 6.
Some of the jurors want to give up at this point and simply declare a hung jury – let there be another trial – make it someone else's problem. Some jurors think they've been in that room too long already. Of course, to begin with, all the abuse is hurled at Juror No. 8. There's the name calling, the accusations of a political agenda, then there is the accusation that she was behaving like a kid. It's hard thing to stand your ground, when everyone else seems to be singing from the same (but different to yours) hymn sheet. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor!!!!). Then the vote goes to 10 not guilty – 2 obstinate guilty votes. During the deliberations – it becomes clear that for some of the Jurors, the accused was not the only person in the dock. For one juror, the whole Latino community seemed to be on trial, for another, it was a son who defied his father and while he did not physically kill the father, his behaviour was such that it emotionally did.
Well, that was the story, it is fiction, a good yarn, but is it a parable? Am I not going a bit OTT here? Let me try and do a Juror No. 8 on you. When many of us come to the Bible, we have made up our minds about what it says before we even open the book or find the verses. We, especially coming from a Christian background, have heard it all before. It is, in that sense, 'an open and shut case' – open the Bible read the words, and shut the Bible. There are some who can quote lengthy portions verbatim and remember amazing details, that pass under the radar as far as rest of us are concerned. However, what came to me, as a result of seeing this play, was the understanding that when people read and understand things from the Bible, or whatever sacred text one may use, you usually read into it that which you expect to get out. It is a bit like when you proofread something that you've written, you tend to overlook some errors because you are reading what you think you wrote.
At the beginning of the play, eleven jurors were convinced and no doubt sincerely believed that it was proven, that the accused was guilty. As the story unfurled, they become less and less convinced. We may be sincerely reading the Bible but what we need to understand, is that we will read it with our own theological background guiding our reading. This is why an Anglican and a Baptist can read the same texts regarding baptism in the Bible and yet arrive at very different opinions. This is why a Presbyterian and a Pentecostal will read the same texts about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and come to diametrically opposed conclusions in regard to the matter of speaking in tongues. In both cases, the people who take up the particular stance are amazed that the other group can come up with such a 'wrong' answer. We may even go so far as to say that they are heretics, not-Christian, there to sow discord. We may, if we have that kind of authority – put the person under 'Church discipline' – or even excommunicate them.
I think it is important to ask the question, as if I were a Juror Number 8: When you read the Bible, do you take it all literally, or figuratively? Is the creation account, for instance, in Genesis 1-2, a literal account of how it happened or an analogy to explain a spiritual reality? I know most of you have answered this question in your head. What I don't know is how you answered it. I will leave my answer out for the time being. The point is, that on both sides of the discussion, you will be completely confident that you are right about this – even if you cannot explain why – you just know. For some of you – 'reason' is worldly and should be cast out if it is in 'contradiction' to what the Bible says. To others – this is such a fanciful story – the world coming into existence complete with all vegetation, and animal species and humanity in the space of six days that the WHOLE BOOK is a waste of time.
Forgive me for pointing out the obvious here but the Bible consists of 66 books – of varying length and from various earthly authors. And there are very many verses to read. Also, what we have in our hands today as “The Holy Bible” is not the original text – written by the hand of the author – there is not a single example of any of those original texts in any collection or museum anywhere. What we have are versions of the Bible. Versions in our own languages – thanks to wonderful people like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, but even within the English language Translation there are very many versions of the Bible. While rendering in most cases is pretty similar with inconsequential differences – sometimes the difference is very significant. Surely they were using the same texts to translate from the original language? Well, apparently not always.
Originally, before there were printing presses, manuscripts were copied by hand by dedicated people who wanted to reproduce the document, the Word of God, so more and more Christians who were spread all over the then known world, and so the original was 'copied' a few times – but because different people did the copying, small differences would appear in the copies that were not in the original, and were not in the any of the others, well copies were made of the original, and then copies of the copies and so on. Even the compilation of the Bible has disputed as to what books and documents are part of it, and what are not. Catholics recognise what is called the 'Apocrypha' while protestants don't – rather like in a case where one juror will accept a witnesses testimony as accurate while another will doubt it.
Some of the original manuscripts omit whole sections that other manuscripts include. For example Mark 16:9-20, and John 7:73 – 8:11. If you look those texts up, you will find that it says that 'some early manuscripts' do not contain these verses. As you can imagine a great deal of discussion and debate – heated debate – has arisen as to whether or not these texts are originally from the author, or some forgery – later inserted. Again, depending on your theological background, you will either decide that of course it should be there – why would exist if it didn't, or, obvious it should not be there – can't you see that it obviously doesn't 'fit with the rest of the Bible? Again, I'm just doing a Juror No. 8 and drawing your attention to some things that might have escaped your notice.
So, I'm sure by now some of you are wondering, - am I doubting the veracity of the Word of God? No. A categorical no – but I am doubting my own ability to really understand it – and things that were plainly obvious before – are not as obvious any more. I am realising that previously I looked at certain parts of the Bible – in regard to certain matters and I allowed myself to think that that was ALL the Bible had to stay in that regard, but now, I am starting to realise that the WHOLE Bible might be saying something different to what I originally thought.
Does this mean that the Bible contradicts itself? No – but sometimes we read into what is said, a lot that is not being said, and then, we may find ourselves in a quandary.
Jesus shook people's cages on regular occasions:
- He did not hesitate to rebuke the religious elite and their pomposity and hypocrisy.
- He would fellowship with “drunkards and sinners”
- He would heal a man on the Sabbath.
- He spoke to the Samaritan women, and did not show the same disdain for Samaritans as did the Jewish men of his time.
- He healed lepers by laying hands on them. Lepers were regarded as unclean and had to live 'outside the camp'.
- He washed the disciples' feet. Peter said: no, you won't wash my feet. Jesus said, if I don't wash your feet, then you have no part of me.” Peter's ingrained ideas about Master-Servant Rabbi-Disciple relationships gets thoroughly challenged.
Peter firmly believed that it was anathema for him to step into the home of a Gentile, but God sent him a vision, and very 'controversial' vision at that, where God commanded him to eat all sorts of non-Kosher food. Oh no! Peter Protested: Lord forbid that I should do such a thing. God answered him, “Don't call anything impure that God has made clean” And so Peter responded by following God's commands and actually going to the house of Cornelius, the Roman Soldier and he and his household were saved.
Paul was livid with the Christians – he really had it in for them. He was ready to kill the lot of them, but Jesus met him on the road to Damascus – his ingrained ideas set aside in one fell swoop.
Martin Luther – he was a monk – a learned man – on his way up through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and then he gets it - “ The just shall live by faith” - He suddenly understands that indulgences and and a whole lot of Catholic traditions of that time were of no effect – that it was one's faith in Jesus Christ that saved you, nothing else – no bells or whistles – no incense or masses – only faith in Christ would save you. And he took his stand – at the Diet at Worms where he famously said “Here I stand, I can do no other.” And boy did they call him names.
Slavery was defended as being completely acceptable by ministers preaching from their pulpits, but gradually, more and more people began to understand that actually, Slavery is wrong. It took a few people to start to look at things differently move beyond the proof texts that they usually quoted by heart, and see that perhaps God was not saying what they had thought He was saying all along. If you haven't seen it, get out the DVD “Amazing Grace”.
Under the Third Reich – in Germany, most of the preachers supported the political moves of Adolph Hitler, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer took a stand and saw the wrong of what Hitler was doing. He said that the church must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself." (The idea of opposing a government was considered revolutionary at the time, and still is in many cases. When governments perceive that the Church, or individual people in line with their religious beliefs oppose what the government is doing, they can be very hostile and very nasty.) Read Dietrich's story on the Internet. It's very interesting. You can read of his shift from “phraseology to reality”. And other such things. For his pains, he was executed by the Germans just weeks before their defeat in the Second World War.
Apartheid was, according to the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, firmly based on biblical teaching. Every Afrikaner knew that they were superior to the black man. It was obvious to them that God wanted people not to integrate, but to develop separately, and so it would seem that the whole Constitution was built around this one premise in this “Christian Nation”. But there were Jurors No. 8 by the dozen, whose voices gradually got heard, saying, “Is that really so – is that what God is saying?”
So, here is the conclusion of the matter, just like in XII Angry Men – it took one person to say something different – to stand against the tide of traditional thinking – resist the pressure, and to ask the questions that no-one else was asking. When we come to the Word of God, we can often read into it what we want to read, and overlook the less palatable truths, regarding them as “irrelevant.” We may treat it as an “open and shut case” - not bothering to explore its meaning because the 'truth is plain to see' or we can linger a bit and ask the difficult questions, and see what comes out of it. You may take longer and ask all the questions and still come up with the same answers, but at least you have opened your mind to the possibility that there are other answers. In fact, if you have come back to the same answers, after asking those awkward questions, you should find that you are firmer in your faith than you were before.