When I first learned of reports that certain high level government reports from soon after 9/11 had been framed using Judeao-Christian scripture, I was neither surprised nor outraged. Perhaps I have become desensitized, but it is little more than I have come to expect from that time in our nation’s history.
Perhaps it was not the brightest public relations move, but the attitude behind it was deeply imbued in our government during the last administration. It might not have been within a strict understanding of the separation of church and state, but the prior administration were not “strict constructionists” on that particular issue. It might have been contrary to the interests of our nation if we were perceived as “crusaders”, but I’m not certain that our top government officials of the day would have agreed with me on that. They might have thought there was a benefit to our being perceived in such a way.
One of the many things I have learned in seminary is that I can, if I wished to, find a section of biblical scripture and use it out of context to imply just about anything I wish. I can make the bible seem to support modern polygamy, slavery, hatred, homophobia, violence against women, violence against the other, and yes… even crusades against those who believe other than I do. Out of context, biblical scripture can be used to justify just about any atrocity or prejudice I might wish.
And we humans are great at justifying things.
Yet when such out of context uses of scripture are placed against the overall context of the message of Jesus of Nazareth, they often fail to live up to what it means to be Christian. When I place the “scriptures of hate” as John Spong put it, up against the overall message of honoring God, loving your neighbors, loving engagement with the other, and redress of hypocrisy… such out of context, small text uses of scripture seem what they are… disingenuous at best, and maliciously misleading at worst. They portray a caricature of the Christian Faith that is disconnected from the root teachings of Jesus.
To put it another way, such groups that use out of context biblical references to justify crusade, hatred, and atrocity are doing to Christianity the exact same thing that radical Islamacists are doing to Islam… portraying religions of peace and love as religions of war and hatred. This is the danger of a biblical or scriptural literalism that does not understand historical, societal, cultural, or even textural contexts for the religions themselves. This is the danger of believing that either the Bible or the Koran is the “Perfectly infallible Word of God”.
Even if that were true… even if any scripture were the perfectly infallible Word of God… that does not mean that we humans would always understand it perfectly nor does it take into account the continuing human tendency to seek justification for our baser selves. Even if God is perfect and unlimited, we humans certainly are neither.
As to the government administration that misused out of context scriptural references to justify a sense of “Crusade” they were already feeling, in the end the responsibility for that comes down upon the American People who elected them. And I don’t want to hear about the Supreme Court and Bush v. Gore… the American People, including myself, still bear responsibility for letting it even get that close. We elected individuals willing to misuse scripture and mislead millions of earnest Conservative Christians into believing that Jesus would have supported a political agenda involving fear and war instead of hope and peace… and that’s just not the Jesus I know. We knew that when we elected them the first time, and we certainly knew it when we elected them the second time. We can not now pretend outrage and shock at something so in character.
We can only remember the lesson, and commit ourselves to electing only those who will not misuse religion in such a way.
Yours in Faith,