Calvin Butts and Interpreting the Bible

Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, is Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and President of SUNY College at Old Westbury. Rev. Butts was one of the founders, and is the current Chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a comprehensive, community-based nonprofit responsible for over $500 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem. He was also instrumental in establishing the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public, state-of-the-art, intermediate and high school in Harlem. Dr. Butts earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; a Master of Divinity Degree in Church History from Union Theological Seminary; and a Doctorate of Ministry Degree in Church and Public Policy from Drew University. He has been an Urban Affairs instructor, and served as Adjunct Professor in the African Studies Department at City College, New York. He also taught Black Church History at Fordham University, and continues to give lectures and speeches to colleges, universities and various organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Rev. Butts is the recipient of the Man of the Year Award from Morehouse College Alumni Association; The Morehouse College Candle Award; The William M. Moss Distinguished Brotherhood Award; and The Louise Fisher Morris Humanitarian Award. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, The Prince Hall Masons (having received the 33rd final degree in Masonry), and was recognized as a "Living Treasure" by the New York City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How do you read the Bible?

Rev. Butts:       I think good religion and biblical interpretation goes best with some common sense.  I believe in a scripture enlightened conscience [under guarded] by prayer.  Every word in the Bible is not the word of God, but the Bible points for me to be word of God, which in my interpretation of my Christian faith is Jesus Christ.  Times dictate how people understand and see things.  I’ll give you an example, the Apostle Paul says slaves be obedient unto your masters with all fear and trembling.  Well, I understand what Paul was saying in his time based on his world view and his expectation that Jesus Christ would return soon and straightened everything out.  Well, of course, I could not apply that in terms of chattel slavery here in America.  Common sense would dictate that, the historical interpretation.  There was a time when we believe the sun was the center of the universe, not the sun, I mean, the earth was the center of the universe.  We know better now.  So, therefore, I would say that men and women are to read the Bible within the context of the knowledge that has been amassed and revealed by God to human kind.  At a time when men and women were first, there’s another one, women had little to say, you know, the Bible says that if a woman wants to know anything about what happens in the congregation, she should go home and ask her husband.  What if she doesn’t have a husband?  You know, the church in terms of the black church experience is filled with women.  How do you deny a woman, her rightful place in the midst of the congregation when we believe that women are as intelligent and as strong and as forthright as men are?  So, I think that we have to read the Bible within the confines at least of the knowledge that we have amassed across the years and understand that the Bible itself cannot be the end all and be all, because in my faith, the way I understand it, Jesus left us and he said I will send you a comforter.  Now, this [IB], this comforter, this Holy Spirit would be to teach us and to guide us and to comfort us.  So, the Holy Spirit is continually revealing new [truths] greater understanding.  When Jesus came empowered by the Holy Spirit, he said you have heard that you should love… hate your enemies, you know, and love those who love you, but I tell you to love your enemies.  That’s the leading of the Holy Spirit that gave Jesus this revelation that completely transformed our understanding.  I think the Holy Spirit still does that and I think men and women who let the Holy Spirit guide them will find the ability to cooperate, and those who have a narrow interpretation of the bible, those who are fundamentalist to the core, I think do a great disservice to the power of the Holy Spirit in many of our lives.  And moreover, the Bible teaches us things that help us to really lay the groundwork for greater cooperation among all men and women even those who have different faiths.  So, Jesus says those who are not against us are for us, and so, I argue that if I see a Muslim walking down the street and I don’t know that he’s a Muslim or she’s a Muslim and the most of them sees me as a Christian walking down the street and does not know my faith, if we are truly practices of our faith, we won’t be able to tell the difference and I would argue that for a number of religions.  And so, therefore, I go back to the initial answer, you take the Bible and all religions best with a little common sense and an appreciation for the reveal knowledge of God about the world in which we live and the evolutionary process of our understanding who we are as men and women.


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