Sabrina Reyes-Peters

Culling and Keeping

Every time I move, I weed my books.

Actually, that's not true. I didn't start weeding my books until seminary, when I started collecting more books than ever, and I needed to pack everything I could into a compact car. That is, unless you count selling textbooks back to the college bookstore.

I started by leaving books in my childhood bedroom. Then, I started discarding a few here and there, and sold one or two back to a used bookstore. I didn't want to get rid of many books, so I didn't. I didn't see a need.

My first cross-country move, I left quite a few books behind, and I regret leaving a few in particular. I left the bulk of the rest with my mom, who sent them via USPS. If I remember correctly, most of the boxes were lost and I never saw them again. My collection had been weeded drastically, and I was sad to lose those books at the time.

As I collected more books (To be fair, I haven't been doing this myself. C is a definite enabler!), I also grew and changed in my understanding of the structures around me. There were some books in my collection written by authors with whom I had deep disagreements, but I hung onto them, thinking I would continue to spar mentally with them. I weeded sparingly for moves across town.

When we moved back to the Pacific Northwest, I culled quite a few books. I don't remember what they were or the criteria I used, so I probably made good choices.

Last year, I decided, in preparation for moving 45 minutes away, I would cull books I had thought I could keep for mental and intellectual sparring. My perspective had changed; so, I weeded out most of my books written by men who teach that women should be submissive. I also weeded out those who had recently sided with abusers or white supremacists, either by speaking out on behalf of them, or by their complicity in silence.

Most recently, I decided to weed to make some room on the shelves. I discovered that I hadn't been very thorough in my last round of weeding, but I still only ended up with a small stack of books to send elsewhere.

I think someone tried to tell me a few months ago that I was committing the logical fallacy of "poisoning the well". This fallacy is a form of Ad Hominem, wherein one argument is targeting the individual and not the opposing argument itself. Poisoning the well gets more specific, and presents negative information on an individual that has nothing to do with their argument at hand. To use a difficult example, Jonathan Edwards, a well-known theologian from the 18th century, was a slave owner, and an unapologetic one. Some people would say that it didn't matter, because it had nothing to do with the material he produced and his influence in the Great Awakening.

For the person I was arguing with, however, their argument was that it is "just books", meaning that words on a page are harmless. Engaging with opposing viewpoints never hurt anyone, right?

This is where context matters.

On Friday evening, I saw that the Spiritual Sounding Board had posted a blog about Beth Moore and John MacArthur. I clicked through, and discovered that MacArthur had been saying disparaging things about Beth, along with Phil Johnson. A few hours later, I attempted to listen to the seven-minute clip, which was a recording from a Truth Matters session, held at Grace Community Church.

I got through about three minutes of the audio excerpt, just enough to hear everyone in the audience laughing when MacArthur associates "Beth Moore" with "go home", and Johnson chiming in, talking about narcissism. They ended up telling on themselves, and I turned the recording off, unfinished.

This morning I finally finished the clip, to hear John MacArthur imply that people of color, and women, don't study ancient languages. I initially thought it was probably a misstep: a charitable way to interpret his comment would be that the first qualification for a bible translator would be knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, not being a minority. But, since knowledge of languages should be a given for any kind of translation work, what he's saying actually is: minority voices don't matter. (I have more thoughts on this, so maybe I'll save that for another blog post.)

I majored in Biblical Languages at The Master's College (John MacArthur's school, to remind you), where I was generally the only individual of feminine persuasion in a class, if not one of two or three; sometimes we got lucky and there was a small handful of us. My professors often commented on how much better their female students were at Hebrew and Greek than their male counterparts. I even knew someone in my (all-women) dorm who was studying to be a translator. So not only did MacArthur's off-the-cuff remarks have a general sting, but they had a very particular sting, as a woman and Latina, who studied at his school.

Context matters. If I were a white man, certain comments would not sting so much.

By indulging men who agree with John MacArthur in buying and reading their books, I am giving myself the narrative that it's possible to have a civil dialogue with someone who would not blink in oppressing me by restricting the things that I am allowed to do; in other words, I am telling myself it is possible to be in constant dialogue with people who dehumanize me. So, in order to avoid participating in my own subjugation, and thereby keep a sense of well-being, I choose to dialogue with them very sparingly and very deliberately. That's why I culled the books I did, and why I probably won't collect anymore like them.