Scripture Forum

Providing a space for clergy, educators, scholars, and the public to consider and discuss issues  pertaining to our religious traditions and modern life.

The Scripture Forum brings together clergy, educators, scholars, and interested lay people throughout the academic year for study of classical and contemporary texts on topics both central to our religious traditions and relevant to modern society. It provides a space for lively, intense, and informative learning, where participants can grapple with our traditions and consider how they speak to our lives and communities. It includes both presentations and time for small-group study so that participants have a chance to develop their own interpretations and share them with others. One of the virtues of the Scripture Forum is that it provides clergy the opportunity to study with outstanding scholars, to explore cutting-edge issues in the Jewish-Christian encounter, to learn from one another, and to forge ongoing relationships in the process.

“Preaching Difficult Texts in Difficult Times:” A Report

On February 6, the ICJS hosted a clergy retreat to honor its founding director Chris Leighton’s service to the greater Baltimore community. Entitled “Preaching Difficult Texts in Difficult Times,” clergy met for a day to engage three contentious biblical texts: Numbers 25:1-10; Jeremiah 34:8-22; and Matthew 15:21-28). Each session featured an introduction, exegesis (presented by a clergy member), two mini-sermons (from Jewish and Christian clergy respectively); and group study.

The selected narratives were challenging, not just because they are troublesome in their own right, but also because they speak to political and cultural issues that continue to unsettle our respective communities. The hope was that clergy would leave this gathering with some helpful guidance and some grand ideas for future sermons.

The morning was spent ruminating on the nature of violence. In particular, how do religious leaders interpret a text like Numbers 25—when God condones executing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman for sexual relations—in light of a contemporary, progressive culture that is wary of violence and tribalism? Does tribalism perforce lead to violence? Do we think about violence differently within our own religious communities? Do we apply different ethical standards and commitments to people inside and outside of our communities?  The group found no easy answers.

After numerous animated discussions during lunch, the group returned to explore the nature of violence in the context of language and politics. The texts in Jeremiah and Matthew provided the opportunity to think about how ideologically privileged access to truth can create the conditions for emotional and physical violence. In the case of the Matthew passage in particular, the clergy confronted how misogyny operates in this textual space. How do we grapple with a text where Jesus seemingly calls a woman a dog and also heals her child? 

The staff and participants also discussed what it means to be “political” in our contemporary moment where differences in political points of view are far more tumultuous than theological differences. How can our sacred texts provide a platform for understanding division; addressing it, and possibly bridging it? Again, the group found no easy answers. However, the retreat concluded with a feeling that while our religious traditions still have much work to do in grappling with own attitudes toward violence, religious communities have a moral imperative to continue working together to finds ways past the violence and hate that continues to bedevil our culture and society.