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I know a severely retarded child
who was told, one year, that he wasn't
welcome at Thanksgiving dinner.


The child's name is Larson Demming and he couldn't speak for himself. But when Aunt Lucy said, "Let's not bring Larson to the table. He just brings up bad memories...", Larson's mother knew exactly what was being said. It had nothing to do with bad memories. It had to do with Larson's retardation, his slightly out-of-whack proportions, his odd sounds and smiles. He wasn't like Aunt Lucy. Not quite as human.

Samantha, Larson's Mom, got up from her chair, pushed Larson away from the table in his "perambulator", and kept on going right out the door. Larson's Dad, shocked stupid by the scene, soon followed.

When I heard about it, the incident boggled my mind. Larson? Turned away from the family table by a "good Christian woman"? How could Aunt Lucy display such ignorance, such unbelief about her nephew's God-given dignity?

Then I remembered something my good friend, Richard Albright, once said: "Remember Lint," Rich told me. "People are stupid."

Something bad had happened. Someone's kneejerk reaction had left me out in the cold. Rich's words, meant to comfort, were pretty far removed from "There, there. There, there." But they worked. "Remember, Lint. People are stupid." We all have biases, prejudices, blind spots, even mean streaks that get in the way. Sometimes, we just don't get it.

And to make matters worse, our bias - prejudice - blind spot - mean streak tells us, "Oh, you get it. You get it just fine."

This became more grist for my mill.

Bible-only Christians sometimes say, "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." Gradually, as I wrestled with the problem of "many Christians, many interpretations", it seemed that a more accurate phrase would be "The Bible says it. That settles it. But I interpret it by my own light ­ and let the Scripture Memory Cards fall where they may."

In the end, I took this direction: We all have a sizeable chunk of Aunt Lucy in us. How could the hypothesis "everyone should interpret the Bible for himself" stand up to the likes of that?

"People are stupid" is just another way of saying we all, like sheep, have a tendency to go astray. It's not that we are completely deaf to God. Certainly, the Holy Spirit guides us in truth. But layer upon layer of sin, bias, prejudice, and just plain poor aptitude do get in the way. Besides, isn't it the Bible-only Christian who emphasizes our brokenness and inadequacy before God? To suggest the Holy Spirit cuts through all this to protect the individual from interpretive error is to make each man his own pope. To say the opposite, that the teachings of Christ cannot be known fully and accurately, is... well, it seemed to me that there lay the road to unbelief, moral relativism, despair. Would Christ tell us to base our lives on his teachings, yet fail to make a way for us to know, with certainty, what he had taught?

Something ceased to exist for me -- something formerly as natural and unquestioned as gravity. I no longer believed "each man ought to interpret the Bible for himself". I was no longer a Protestant.