What is truth? This is an urgent question at the current time. What is the truth about the coronavirus? What is the truth about political candidates? In this age of multiple, widely divergent new sources and social media, it’s often hard to discern truth.
But this is not a new question. When Jesus said “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
The phrase “Fake News” has become widespread. Rev. Elizabeth Geitz makes creative use of this phrase in her book Spiritual Truth in the Age of Fake News, demonstrating that Fake News is not new. She asserts: “Fake News began when people first interpreted the Bible to advance their own agenda, and much of that interpretation was not questioned until women were allowed to study in seminaries and rabbinical schools.”
Geitz states that whether or not we are religious, we all live in a world shaped by patriarchal biblical views, based on the false belief that the Bible says some people are second-class citizens. I agree with her that the best way to counter this Fake News is with the truth of what the Bible really says.
Fake News about the Bible can be deadly. Fake News has destroyed and continues to destroy lives. Geitz cites examples of violence from the resurgence of many “isms”—sexism, racism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism—that many people support with misinterpretations of the Bible. “It is time to set the record straight on what the Bible actually says regarding the many ‘isms’ alive and well today,” she writes. “It is time for the Fake News about the Bible to come to a screeching halt. It is time for us to claim our inheritance of spiritual truth for all people.”
In this concise, compelling book Geitz sets “the record straight,” illuminating biblical and spiritual truth. Among the topics she addresses are divine images, sexism, racism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and women leaders.
Understanding that divine images are foundational to our worldview, Geitz begins her book by countering the Fake News that the Bible represents God as exclusively or predominantly male. This representation “perpetuates the Fake News that God is male,” resulting in a patriarchal worldview” that supports gender inequality and many other intersecting injustices. The belief that God is male is “Fake News of the worst sort.” The truth of female images of the Divine in the Bible, she writes, “will change not only us, but the world in which we live.”
Geitz elucidates numerous biblical female images of the Divine, and she practices what she believes about the importance of these images by referring to “Divine Mother.” One of my favorite biblical divine female images is the comforting Mother: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13). After her reflection on this image, Geitz invites us to experience this truth: “Your Divine Mother can comfort you now, and more, much more than you can even ask or imagine. What would it feel like to put yourself in the presence of our Divine Mother?” Here are some of the many other biblical divine female images included in Spiritual Truth in the Age of Fake News: woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14); Mother Eagle (Exodus 19:3-4); Mother Rock (Deuteronomy 32:18); Midwife (Psalm 22:9-10); Mother Bear (Hosea 13:14); Mother Hen (Luke 13:34); woman with lost coin (Luke 15:8-9).
Countering the biblical misinterpretations that support sexism, Geitz points to Genesis 1:27 on the creation of male and female as equals in the image of God: “The fullness, the beauty, the equality of male and female inherent in this passage have been ignored throughout history, perpetuating the Fake News that women are inferior to men.” She lifts up Jesus’ words (Mark 10:5-6) and actions (Luke 8:1-3, Mark 16:9-10) to underscore the truth of male and female as equals. Also, she points to distortions of some of Paul’s teaching as “Fake News of the worst sort,” and illustrates the True News with Paul’s naming Junia as an apostle (Romans 16:7) and working with Phoebe and Prisca as equal partners in spreading the gospel. (Romans 16:1-3).
Misuse of the Bible has also resulted in terrible abuses from white supremacy and racism. Geitz writes: “Separation of the races based on the belief that ‘this is what God has ordained’ is Fake News that has led to the existence of slavery in the United States and the ongoing unequal treatment of people based on race.” To illustrate, she cites statistics of the “appalling economic reality in the U.S. today for African Americans and Hispanics.” The median net worth of African American households is one-thirteenth and the median net worth of Latinx households is one-tenth that of white households. She draws from Romans 8:22-23 to image “our Divine Mother…groaning in the birth pangs of labor,” longing to free us “from the bonds of the Fake News” that “white skin” makes people “superior to those of other races.” Seeing the importance of inclusive racial, as well as gender, images of God, Geitz asks, “What if our Creator were depicted as an immigrant, an African American, Hispanic, or Native American? What if our Creator were depicted wearing a Star of David or a hijab? Would this change your image of that group of people? Your actions toward them?”
Fake News of what the Bible says about LGBTQ people has led to violence and discrimination against them. In Spiritual Truth in the Age of Fake News, Geitz refutes misinterpretations of biblical passages used to oppress LGBTQ people, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-11). On the two occasions when Jesus speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, he doesn’t mention homosexuality; instead Jesus refers to the sin of inhospitality (Matthew 10:11-15, Luke 10:8-12). “The barrage of negative statements about gays and lesbians, touted as the word of God, is Fake News of the highest order,” Geitz writes. “Jesus did not utter one word about homosexuality. Are you called to share this True News with others?”
Distorted readings of the Bible, for instance that Jews killed Jesus, have led to centuries of anti-Semitism and still lead to anti-Semitic hate crimes. Geitz gives an accurate biblical interpretation that Jesus was killed by Roman power. She also reminds us that Jesus was Jewish and was addressed throughout the New Testament as “Rabbi” (Mark 9:2-5). Centuries of artistic portrayals of Jesus as a light haired, blue-eyed European have contributed to anti-Semitic beliefs that continue to flourish, as witnessed in the 2017 march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, West Virginia. Geitz invites us to contribute to change by spreading the foundational biblical truth that all people are equal (Galatians 3:28).
Xenophobia, fear of the “other,” is often at the root of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Fake News about those who are perceived as “other” or “foreign” has led to the deaths of countless innocent people. Geitz cites the examples of the El Paso Walmart gun massacre, the Pulse nightclub shooting, and the Charleston church massacre. She calls for a stop to the abuse of Scripture to support a white patriarchal system, and points to Jesus’ words about welcoming strangers. (Matthew 25:35-36).
Spiritual Truth in the Age of Fake News lifts up numerous women leaders in the Bible to counter biblical misinterpretations that promote a patriarchal agenda. Underlying the often-repeated statement that America may not be ready for a female president is the biblical misinterpretation that leads people to believe that women should not be leaders. Geitz shines the truth about women leaders in Scripture, citing numerous examples, including Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-17); Miriam (Micah 6:1-4); Rahab (Joshua 2:4-5); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14); Esther (Esther 4:15-16); Anna (Luke 2:36-38); Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-2); Phoebe (Romans 16:1); Junia (Romans 16:7); Prisca (Romans 16:3-5); Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:1-3).
I highly recommend Spiritual Truth in the Age of Fake News to all who want to join in bringing the liberating truth to church and society. The “Reader’s Guide” at the beginning gives helpful suggestions of many ways the book can be used for personal reflection, in Bible study groups, and in other group settings. Written in a clear, accessible style from a pastor’s heart, this book inspires and invites us to spread the truth that sets people free to become all we’re created to be in the divine image.
Elizabeth Geitz is an Episcopal priest, award-winning author, and nonprofit entrepreneur whose books have been hailed by New York Times bestselling authors Desmond Tutu, Helen Prejean, and John Berendt. Focusing on spirituality and justice issues, her writings speak to people of passion who want to make a difference in the world. She is the author of seven books including I Am That Child, Soul Satisfaction, and Gender and the Nicene Creed. Visit her at ElizabethGeitz.com.