People have always used the Bible to justify their actions, whether those actions were what we would consider good or evil. You can justify almost anything by taking a verse or several verses of scripture out of context. Things like slavery, genocide, racism, murder, suicide, or the separation of illegal immigrant families. This may not be accurate but it seems to me that there is more use and abuse of scripture used to justify political positions or policies in the last two years than in the past. That includes those on both sides of the abortion and homosexuality arguments. This post is not to take a position on those issues.
This post includes a guest editorial for Herald-Mail Media, written by Don Stevenson is an adjunct instructor of philosophy and ethics at Hagerstown Community College, Hagerstown, Maryland. It points to the use of scripture to justify the zero tolerance arrest and prosecution policy on those entering the United States illegally, specifically the separation of minor children from their parents, as an example of the abuse of scripture to do something that is opposition to the overall narrative of scripture which is the love of God for mankind.
The use and abuse of the Bible
When sacred stories of the Bible are harvested by those who have selfish, mean-spirited and cunning attitudes, then this great book becomes a victim of human abuse and degradation.
The Bible is an assemblage of faith stories and messages that hold themes of truth and goodness that a loving God bestows. It is not a history or science book, per se, though it may and does include some historical and scientific data. Specifically, the Bible is a spiritual book reflecting the faith quests of a people at certain stages of development, as they searched to understand holiness and their destiny.
The Bible also includes cultural taboos, desires and perspectives of the time in which it was written. Such is why we need to carefully study and discern what the Bible’s core message is and discard those obvious cultural bents that many parts of the Bible contain.
Admittedly, the Bible holds a number of rather weird admonitions that are not compatible with its larger message — the acts of a benevolent and loving God.
Exhortations like “Purchase slaves, sell your daughter as a slave, and make sure the slave submits to the master, even cruel ones” (Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21:7-8; and 1 Peter 2:18) are demeaning. And, “have rebellious children stoned to death” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) or “be pleased when little children are dashed upon the rock” (Psalm 137:9) are horrific statements, to say the least. Or, “Cut off the hand of a woman if she grabs the genitals of a man who is fighting with her husband” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) is a bizarre directive. Interestingly, some biblical passages would have us ban cheeseburgers, subs and ham sandwiches (Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 11:12 and 11:4). Also, “Women should not teach in houses of worship,” and “blind people, dwarves, and the lame are not allowed at the altar” (1 Timothy 2:12, Deuteronomy 23:1, Leviticus 21:17-23) are equally insane and insensitive injunctions. To repeat, passages like these reflect the culture of the time and not the essential message of the Good Book. Therefore, serious Bible study happens when the reader/interpreter understands that not every sentence of the Scriptures breathes the breath or holds the blessing of a loving God.
The attorney general of the United States recently used a piece of a Bible verse that he thought gave support to the government’s behavior regarding immigrants coming into America along the Mexican border. What Mr. Sessions did was what many people do with the Scriptures — “cherry-pick” to support personal purposes and/or a desired public policy. When this occurs, and it happens too frequently, the Bible can be used as a cherry tree, wherein one selects the fruit that savors their own taste bud, or is supportive of their own views or biases. And this selection process makes the sacred book so very vulnerable to skewed attitudes of every Tom, Dick and Sessions. Yes, to understand the central message of the Bible, all readers have the task of selecting or “cherry-picking” the Bible, as Mr. Sessions did. It just so happens, he picked the fruit that agreed with his stuff and not necessarily the universal message of goodness, truth and a loving God, which is the Bible’s dominant and greater message. Consequently, he forgot or chose not to use, many other verses of the Bible, which call for “a welcoming of strangers,” not a dispersing of them.
Often, humans lift and import words and phrases out of the Bible to support their cause. It is not that they use the source to enlighten their understanding of something but rather to support an understanding they already have or want. And this is a manipulative use and abuse of a book of faith. A better use of the Judeo-Christian Bible is that it be a spiritual guide and resource
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.