Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Response to Bible Series Sermons

[Update: Their final response to which I will not respond further.]

I have been responding to the History Channel's The Bible mini-series. Much of that response has been in the form of critique here and on twitter. One series of tweets and my most recent blog post generated a response from Rodney Sampson, Executive Producer of Bible Series Word, which produces sermons to accompany the series. I was critical of the apparent corporate sponsorship of sermons, particularly by a black male preacher given the racialized treatment of the biblical narrative by the series.

As is so often the case on twitter, we exchanged a couple of tweets with escalating rhetoric. Bishop Sampson has posted a blog addressing me directly and my response follows:

You are correct that "[a]uthentic relationships are built over time." I understand this quote was in reference to the Burnett-Downey team and not to me, but it is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree and is the spirit of my response to you.

I encourage you and your production in the pursuit of "truth, open and transparent dialog regarding Biblical antiquity." The viewing public, whether religious or not, Christian or not would benefit from such an approach to the Bible and its narratives. As for the rest of your post, you claim that I made a false statement but do not clarify what it is or offer any evidence to counter it. You then begin to assail me. That is not dialog. I won't respond in that vein. You claim, "ignorance and verbal abuse will not be tolerated at all," however your letter belies that.  

I will address one aspect of the tortuous logic in your piece, that because I critiqued your production I should resign as a priest in order to fund an alternate vision. No. Such an assertion is quite frankly bizarre. 

However, after the verbal assault and creative thinking you made an interesting claim that was new to me:

Now, rather than to simply ignore the lack of color and representation of women in the mini-series, we created the conversation and dialog directly with the executive producers (Roma Downey and Mark Burnett). We also sought permission to create an official sermon series inspired by the mini-series in order to create an opportunity for faith leaders of color and beyond to add a complimentary voice to the epic mini-series that millions have watched to date and will potentially engage for decades to come.

I appreciate your awareness of the limitations of this series. This is the first time I'm hearing anyone associated with the project make this acknowledgement. 

I appreciate your sharing your understanding of the scripture and its interpretation in the following portion of your missive. We share a concern for the liberating aspect of the scripture but in very different ways, with very different assumptions and interpretive practices. Lastly, I want to affirm your final words, "we welcome intelligent and meaningful dialog and conversation." If that is indeed the case, then I invite you to respond in a meaningful way to my blog post, Black Samson & White Women on the History Channel. I have chosen to look beyond the personal attack on me in the response that you entitled "dialogue". But I will not tolerate any further disrespect. I am willing to have an actual dialog with you.

Grace and peace to you.

5 Responses

  1. Boohyah!

    12 March 2013 at 8:22 pm

  2. Excellent response/rebuttal, Dr. Gafney. It was difficult to understand just what the good reverend was trying to say in his essay, and he never engaged the content of your blog, so I don’t know what kind of dialogue can/will come of this engagement. I’ve enjoyed your commentary on the series, and am sharing it with as many as are interested in exploring the lack of depth in The Bible series.

    12 March 2013 at 10:02 pm

  3. You may have heard the legend of how lawyers are trained:
    1) If you have a good case, present it compellingly.
    2) If you have a shaky case, raise your voice.
    3) If you have no case, bang the table and shout OBJECTION!

    Perhaps the Reverend was trained as a lawyer? 😉

    19 March 2013 at 11:18 pm

  4. Romeye

    Another “Biblical” TV-series that I’ll be happy not to continue to watch. History Channel’s version of “history” frequently misinforms and disappoints their viewers, and this series is no exception.

    20 March 2013 at 3:55 am

  5. Ken McCaslin

    With two evening seminary classes, full time job in healthcare standards, and a part-time gig at Christ Church Pottstown as their deacon I have zero face time with TV. I have TiVo it with the hope I can find some time to watch.

    20 March 2013 at 3:37 pm

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