Oh. My. Word.
To the long list of 21st century expectations of journalists, the Washington Post apparently has piled on another: biblical exegesis by reporters.
Talk about the media version of a train wreck. This will be painful. I apologize in advance.
The story at issue involves a "mostly male" transgender refused service by a barber who says he doesn't cut women's hair:
The Post's lede sets the scene:
Kendall Oliver’s hair looked just like that of the man who was comfortably seated in the next chair over at the barbershop. Closely trimmed on the sides, a little longer on top — and ready for a trim.
Oliver asked for the same cut. Yet the owner of the barbershop turned Oliver away — telling Oliver, an Army veteran, that he won’t cut women’s hair because he believes the Bible forbids it.
Oliver is transgender. And with that, the Army reservist in the Los Angeles area became the latest citizen at the center of a recurring American debate: Where does freedom of religion end and discrimination begin?
Down a little deeper in the story, the Post attempts ("to make an effort at; try; undertake; seek") to explain the Bible.
Oh. My. Word:
Staff at The Barbershop in Rancho Cucomonga declined to comment on Monday, and the owner, Richard Hernandez, could not be reached on his personal phone.
But he told CBS News in Los Angeles that his religion forbids cutting women’s hair. “The Bible teaches us that a woman’s hair is given to her for her glory, and I would not want to take away any of her glory from her.”
Hernandez told CBS that he is Christian, but did not specify whether he belongs to one of the few small denominations that tell women never to cut their hair. The Bible includes several stories such as that of Samson, whose strength came from his uncut hair. But this particular idea comes from Chapter 11 of First Corinthians, which also seems to repeat several times that men are superior to women, and women are meant to gratify men. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering,” the verses say.
A quick aside: Ever since Donald Trump's "1 Corinthians" boo-boo, I keep seeing media write "First Corinthians" in stories as if they don't want to be accused of being as biblically challenged as the Republican presidential frontrunner. But "1 Corinthians" is actually the proper Associated Press style. From the AP Stylebook entry on "Bible":
The books of the New Testament, in order: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.
But I digress.
Back to the Post's exegesis: Anybody else's mouth drop wide open at the newspaper's proclamation that the Bible says men are superior to women and that women are meant to gratify men?
These were the responses of a few ministers I queried on Facebook:
Reading WAY too much into it. Scholars can't agree whether the words here refer to "woman" only or "wife" specifically, or "hair" or "head covering." The passage has to do with an unspecified authority, and refers obliquely to angels. There's so much unknown stuff going on here, drawing the conclusions the writer has drawn here are as unwarranted as drawing some that religious folks have staked out as a hill to die on.
Women are meant to gratify men? Must be a different translation of 1 Corinthians 11. And the verse saying that men are superior to women is ____?
To your question, I think the reporter doesn't understand 1 Corinthians 11.
I'm gonna go with America's youth on this one (so be sure to read with proper vocal inflection): Oh. My. Word. I. Cannot. EVE.N. UH.
(At this point, I should probably give Christine credit for my opening statement.)
My friend David Duncan preaches for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston and has a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree from the Houston Graduate School of Theology.
This is his take on the Post's exegesis:
Wow. I can't do all this in a text but here is a quick answer ... I don't think it has anything to do with superiority. The hair was a sign of role. In the First Century biblical world all respectable women, Christian or non-Christian, covered their hair in public. To not have long hair was the equivalent of not being fully clothed. Sometimes women caught in adultery would have the heads shaved in order to shame them.
So the Bible isn't saying women are inferior to men or meant to gratify them? Duncan's reply:
I'm saying they are equal with different roles. Men and women bring honor and joy to each other through biblical relationships which are meant to be an honor to God. I don't know of any scholar who would say men are superior in the way that sentence came off!
Hey, that's an idea!
When writing about what the Bible says, the Post could contact theologians and quote them rather than attempting to interpret Scripture itself. Such an exercise would — excitingly enough — fall squarely under the heading of "journalism."
In the meantime, the Post didn't limit its own brand of theology to the middle of the story. The piece ends this way:
The dispute seems bound for a fight in court — despite the warning offered by the very next verse in First Corinthians, right after the one about hairstyles. It reads, “But if anyone is disposed to be contentious — we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.”
Oh. My. Word.