A VIEW FROM THE PEW
Dubious Reading and Special Pleading – Bingo and the Bible
The Revd Bingo Allison was the invited speaker in a neighbouring Merseyside parish in September 2021. A video of the talk is available on YouTube. In it, the cleric peppered the biblical story of the woman caught in adultery with autobiographical details.
Bingo’s self-understanding was front and centre from the beginning: “I am an autistic, non-binary genderqueer person… I am not a he and I am not a she… I’m not a man and I’m not a woman, I’m something else.” Inevitably we are advised of preferred pronouns: they/them, but don’t worry if you slip up.
Bingo was ordained deacon in 2016 and is the third generation in the family admitted to holy orders. Dad and Grandad were both vicars. Father is described as a ‘super-conservative’ cleric, and alas, where he and Mother went wrong was that they arbitrarily decided that their eldest child was a boy. Self-evidently, this was a capricious whim on the part of the parents, but don’t be hard on them, advises Bingo, for they had limited evidence to inform this conclusion. Unto us a child is born but unto us a son is not given!
Bingo’s retelling of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) paints a dramatic scene. There is an assumption of the woman’s nakedness throughout. Maybe she was, if she had been caught in the act. However, it is possible also that she might have grabbed bedlinen to preserve some modesty. Either way, the gospel does not tell us; the author did not consider it a vital part of the story. Bingo takes a different approach; we are reminded of the woman’s nakedness at every opportunity, and then some. The relish with which her nakedness is stressed would make one wonder what would happen if Mark 14:51-52 were the chosen passage. Steady on, Bingo!
In the talk on John 8, we are reminded that Bingo is autistic, and admits to possessing a short attention span. Moreover, we are told that Jesus himself might have been autistic. The sole indication of this is that he wrote on the dust in the ground. This smacks of a cavalier approach to the text. One gets an overall impression that the Bible is to be read, not to find Christ at the centre, but to find personal affirmation of one’s own traits. Jesus is not so much the image of God, but the image of Bingo.
The curate describes the great revelation received whilst writing a theological essay at college. It appears that Genesis 1:27 – God made them male and female – might not be talking about two options only, but could mean ‘from maleness to femaleness’, two end points on a sliding scale of many identity choices. Distinction is thereby blurred within the phrase ‘maleness and femaleness’. Bingo said that this idea came from a study of the language used, but failed to demonstrate any personal knowledge of biblical Hebrew. One wonders how such an interpretation works elsewhere in Genesis, for example, when the animals, male and female, went into Noah’s Ark.
What a shame the Lord Jesus did not have Bingo as one of the twelve disciples, he could have avoided the terrible error made in Matthew 19:4-6. Here Jesus describes ‘male’ and ‘female’ as two entities, distinct and separate, that become one flesh in marriage, thereby rendering Bingo’s interpretation tenuous at best, if not impossible.
To reach an understanding of a biblical text that relies solely on an eccentric translation would indicate a highly individualistic reading, to say the least. That such an understanding is not countenanced by any substantial biblical scholar and has not found general acceptance in the wider Christian Church would surely raise a question mark for most people. To find the exact same text quoted by Jesus yet interpreted differently would give lesser mortals pause for thought – is this a responsible reading of Scripture? Not so with the irrepressible Bingo, who continues undaunted out onto this limb.
Indeed, this curious re-reading of Genesis 1 appears to be the foundation of the cleric’s self-understanding and theology. This is the key text in Bingo’s so-called epiphany. Would one not want to build one’s life on a better foundation than dubious readings and special pleadings on one proof text?
The climax of the story in John 8 is reached when Jesus says to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you.” This affirmation of who she is, Bingo pronounces, is a basis for inclusion and highlights the work of the whole Inclusive Church movement. With that the talk draws towards its conclusion. However, according to John, Jesus has something further to say to the woman – not so, according to Bingo.
Bingo’s eccentric way with biblical texts can be seen throughout this treatment of John 8. The approach majors on details not mentioned in the text (the nakedness of the woman, the alleged autism of Jesus), yet omits one major detail that is present, Jesus’ concluding words, “Go and sin no more.”
It is a typical example of so-called inclusive readings, which tend to exclude unpalatable truths like repentance and holiness. The only people who needed to change in the story told by Bingo were the nasty judgmental Pharisees. Once more Bingo and Jesus would appear to be at variance.