When Presidential Politicians Quote Scripture Part 2

Last week I commented on President Obama’s use of Psalm 46 at the memorial at ground zero. But sitting presidents aren’t the only ones who want to use scripture and theology. Wanna Be presidents do as well. So this week we look at two different quotes by Rick Perry, the GOP saint or a cross between a knuckle-dragging ape and the prince of darkness depending on who you ask. Perry has caused a bit of a stir when he proffered a of C.S. Lewis’ “Lord-Liar-Lunatic” argument when he said:

Many want to recognize Jesus as a good teacher, but nothing more. But why call him ‘good’ if he has lied about his claims of deity?”

Well, this got all the blogs atwitter (pardon the pun). Would Perry alienate Jews, secular humanists, good teachers? One columnist for the Kansas City Star thought Perry’s biggest crime was he had no idea that Jesus never claimed to be God.

The greater problem here is that Perry doesn’t know didley-squat about the Bible. His argument is based on a common misconception that Jesus claimed to be “The Messiah.” Current biblical modernizations (rewrites in colloquial English) aside, in its original form that simply isn’t the case in any of the four canonical gospels that constitute the New Testament.

As end-game neared, Jesus was forced to stand before Pilate, who asked: “Are you the son of God?”

“I am the son of man,” Jesus responded, tantamount to denying divinity.

In the words of a great Jewish scholar, “Oy Vey.” Its hard to know where to start. Well, it wasn’t Pilate for starters. It was the high priest. Second, “Son of Man” is not the equivalent of denying deity as any several articles at MCOI (like ”Should You Believe in the Watchtower or Is Jesus Christ Almighty God?” and ”Answering JW Objections to the Deity of Christ”) will elaborate on. It gets really bad when the author proceeds to do impression of the Jesus Seminar:

As for its relevance today, any understanding of the true genius of Jesus reveals it to have favored the opposite of that alliance between religion and politics that Perry and like-minded Christian conservatives endorse. In fact, Jesus invented the then-radical concept of separating church and state.

Many citizens of occupied Israel, Zealots, wanted to fight to the death in hopes of driving out the Romans. Jesus preached the reverse. Unlike previous conquerors, the Romans granted Jews freedom of religion, insisting only on payment of taxes. Despite the irony of Jesus being tried for treason, he preached acceptance of Roman domination: “Render unto Caesar that which art Caesar’s” (financial obligations) “and unto Yahweh that which art Yahweh’s” (spiritual devotion).

I’m not sure what’s worse, twisting scripture to pander to religious people or twisting scripture to shore up one’s pet liberal principle. No wait, there pretty much the same aren’t they? I really appreciate how one Evangelical Presbyterian pastor put it: “Lots of people are guilty of seeing their own pet ideological concerns in Jesus. I’ve done it, many conservative Christians have done it, secularists have done it. Here [the columnist] does it. Jesus no more “invented” the concept of church-state separation in His “render to Caesar” statement than He invented romance novels when He cried at the death of Lazarus.” A snarky comment after my own heart.
However, I wish I could say Rick Perry didn’t engage in any eisegesis of his own. Sadly no. Perry decided to shoehorn his economic policy into the narrative of Genesis.

I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of you know, you don’t spend all the money. You work hard for those six years and you put up that seventh year in the warehouse to take you through the hard times. And not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it’s slavery. We become slaves to government.

Okay, this isn’t as bad as the columnist totally not getting Jesus’ claims about his divinity but its still way out there. Perry’s commentary on Genesis 41 is bad. As some have noted, Perry seems to have the Joseph Story and the idea of Sabbath’s rest for the land mixed up. Honest mistake I suppose. Its a hazard when Politicians are speaking without their teleprompter that they will make these kinds of mistakes. Fair Enough. Its sad though because there are so many scripture verses he could have referenced that would have proved his point without trying to shoehorn the Joseph story into a lesson in saving. I’m mean there are all those Proverbs:

Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
Prepares her food in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest. (6:8)
The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. (22:7)

So much easier and less apt to get two different sections of the Torah mixed up. However, those who have lambasted Perry seem to be guilty of the same crime:

So the actual Biblical story isn’t about the virtue of thrift or of rugged independence. Instead, the government, in the person of Pharaoh, has information (in the form of a dream) and wisdom (in the form of Joseph) both provided directly by God. And the resulting wise action – resembling, for example, a carbon tax to prevent global warming – saves the lives of not only the Egyptians but also their neighbors (for example, Jacob’s family back in Canaan).

Yes, the result is that Pharaoh winds up taking 20% of GDP in taxes. But the Egyptians, not being Tea Partiers, are willing to notice that the government has saved their lives. Everything that happens is presented as the Will of God. If there’s any policy advice here, it’s that the government should have taken over the financial sector after its managers ran it into the ground, rather than bailing it out with TARP.

Allow me to say again. Oy Vey. Now in the middle of chastising Perry for shoehorning Genesis, this blogger is going to turn the story around to show that its really a lesson in government welfare. Please in the name of all that’s holy,j ust stop! Preparing for a famine is not the same thing as a carbon tax. And Egypt did not give anything away. Egypt sold the grain Joseph stored to anyone who would buy it. Probably at a profit. What economic lesson can we take from this story. Ummm. How about none! This story is about God and his provision not economic policy. Some of this abuse of scripture I’m convinced, is the result of an over emphasis on application without doing good interpretation. In our Sunday schools and small group Bible studies we spend the most time asking “What does this text mean to me?” rather than “what does this text tell us about God?” There is this pressure to make every text in scripture apply directly to our situation. It is difficult for people to hear that not every text in the Bible applies directly to them. People don’t like it when I say that. It seems somehow wrong even if it is true.  However, EVERY story, command, proverb, poem, and speech tells us something about God. The more we know about God the better we can relate to God and arrange our lives around Him instead of arranging the text around our lives.That’s good application.

But here’s a final thought. Why do politicians think that the best way to get their point across is to use some Bible story or quote? Because we expect them? Because we reward them for it? This is not an objection to the use of scripture in political debate but rather a question about why Rick Perry (and his staff) think that quoting scripture and giving us this ham-fisted exegesis will somehow convince us that Perry is the best choice? I’ll leave that question for you to discuss. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.


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