As most everyone I have watched with alarm the brutalizing violence inflicted on grieving masses over the last several days. I cannot speak to the experience of my black brothers and sisters, because I am not black. I am white, with all the relative privilege that entails, so I will listen instead. Something I can speak to is the disgraceful blasphemy our President demonstrated with his nakedly exploitative display of fascistic religion.
If he ever opened the Bible he held up as a cheap placeholder for piety he might find passages like this one.
…O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.1
The Bible is a complex book, full of subtext, cultural context, flawed heroes, contradictions, poetry, allegory, and calls to live life in a new way. Those who love it and revere it as a vessel for, and connection to, the divine will read it, absorb it, wrestle with it, and be changed by it. You will see them “by their fruits”.2 Opportunists, on the other hand, will abuse it for their own ends, as we have seen this week.
Biblical language and symbolism has been a tool of American politicians and public figures since our founding. The Bible contains the lexicon of our civil religion. Addresses by figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, JR, as well as our Declaration of Independence (written by the irreligious Thomas Jefferson) are awash in Biblical language. This rhetoric is rightly seen as a timeless and sacred ideal that persuades, invigorates, and unifies generations later, even if half of the figures I named owned human beings as property.
However, there are examples of shameful co-option of scripture in our history. Particularly relevant now are appeals to Biblical curses to justify the enslavement of blacks and their subsequent systemic oppression through Jim Crow. The recent prosperity gospel fad’s scriptural basis will likewise become discredited. Our President’s cynical and disingenuous display falls squarely in this camp.
There is a Biblical theme that is particularly appropriate in this case. It runs from cover to cover, from Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide in the Garden,3 to Cain’s shrugging denial,4 to David’s duplicitous house wrecking and murder,5 to Ananias’ dishonest hoarding of resources.6 You cannot hide your true intentions and inner-self from God, no matter what displays of shallow religiosity you undertake “to be seen of men”.7 Jesus taught:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.8
To those who would hold up a Bible while doubling down on oppressive violence, I would say be careful. You may not hold any genuine belief in the Being you seek to exploit for political advantage, but if you’re wrong He may not like what you have done in His name.