When Politicians Quote Scripture
A while back one of our political leaders justified an issue of immigration policy by quoting from the Bible. As our nation seems increasingly inclined to polarization, people were either encouraged or horrified, depending on their politics and/or theology.
I am always nervous when political leaders begin quoting scripture as they form policy. How confident would you be if you went to the emergency room with some ailment and the physician pulled out an ancient book — more than 2,000 years old — and said, “What you have is exactly what is described right here in chapter 7, verse 19. And look, you're in luck. The remedy is spelled out in verses 20-24!” Yet there are leaders who think the Bible is a sound basis for law, science and public policy for the 21st century!
Please don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the church. Reading the Bible, listening to, puzzling over and praying about the scriptures remain central to my practice of faith. For my church tradition, the scriptures are a holy, sacred and mystical testimony to the history and nature of the relationship between God and creation (including us). Though many consider the Bible to be written by God, I find it more helpful to understand it a collection of stories written by men about our human experience of God through the ages. In an odd development around the third century CE, Christian church leaders decided that scriptural revelation had ceased! The Bible hasn’t been added to since then. Yet I continue to love the faith stories in scripture. Though we do not worship the Bible, my church embraces scripture for the spiritual encouragement, truth-telling, revelation, challenge and mystery we find there. We rely on the Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding of these testimonies of faith.
But when the Judeo-Christian scriptures are taken out of the context of a worshiping community, they can be used to justify many things that are unholy. There are occasions when women and children are objectified and treated as property. Slavery is condoned (Colossians 3:22). Genocide is mandated at times (Deuteronomy 2: 24) Women who are not virgins at the time of marriage may be put to death (Deuteronomy 22: 21). Those who blaspheme (curse God’s name) shall be put to death (Leviticus 24: 13-16). So when a government leader asserts “Whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2), does that mean all who are in a position of authority are appointed by God? Does that include tyrannical dictators and terrorists who are the de facto rulers in some provinces? Do they enjoy God’s “appointment”? Did not Jesus resist the religious authority of King Herod and the Roman governmental authority of Pontius Pilate?
It is nothing short of perversion to use scripture as justification for inhumane public policies. As a Christian person, I simply cannot conceive of Jesus standing among children who have been removed from their parents and saying, “Behold, this is what God’s Kingdom looks like!” Rather, I can only envision Jesus in tears.
As of this writing an executive order has just been issued that should prevent the separation of migrant children from their parents. The complexities of a coherent, compassionate and just immigration policy yield no simple solution. But I would offer one more verse of scripture to this mix. It’s the judgment spoken by the prophet Ezekiel (16: 49) — a commentary on the ancient, infamous, condemned and doomed city of Sodom: “This was the guilt of . . . Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Rev. Nathan Miller, Minister-Head of Staff
First Congregational Church of Greeley
An Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ