Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hijacking the Bible

I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore by the ways people use the Bible for their own purposes, even when they isolate certain verses or passages and twist them beyond the context in which they appear, and even when they go against the core message of the Bible.

(Yes, I'm making interpretive choices about what context and core message are. We all have to do that to arrive at any conclusions about the text.)

But I'm very saddened to see the latest hijacking of the Bible. Some group has started producing T-shirts and other products that say "Pray for Obama; Psalm 109:8"

The quoted verse (in the KJV) says "let his days be few and let another take his office". The following verse, Psalm 109:9 (again, in the KJV), says "let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow".

(sidenote- this is the best, most concise video on the subject I could find. Rachel Maddow and her guest, Frank Schaeffer, are very far to the left, but the interview is very thought provoking, regardless of your political affiliation.)

Laying aside for a moment how awful it is that someone would pray for a person in an opposing political party to be killed, this Psalm 109 fad shows just how dangerous indiscriminate proof-texting really is.

The Psalms are the prayer/hymn book of ancient Israel. They express the full range of human emotions, including anger and even rage against others, as we can see from Psalm 109. This particular Psalm is a prayer of a righteous man who is frustrated at those who are trying to bring him down.

Anger and frustration are certainly party of the human experience. But does the Psalm really tell us to pray for God to strike down the people we don't like? Absolutely not! The Psalm ends with the man having gotten out his feelings of anger and frustration and proclaiming his faith that God will carry him through any situation. It's an example of how we can work out our frustrations in prayer so we can be in a better place to deal with conflict.

Interpretive quarrels aside, this whole Psalm 109 fad is another example of how the decline of Christianity in America is our own fault. People are turning away from the church not because Satan is doing such a great job, but because we Christians are doing such a good job at twisting Jesus to fit the mold of our religious and political idols. And the problem is that everyone else can see it but us. People read the Bible and think Jesus is a pretty great guy, but they look at his followers and want nothing to do with us. When questioned about his faith, Ghandi said he would follow Christ if it were not for all the Christians he encountered.

What if the folks who were producing these T-shirts changed the verse to Matthew 5:44- "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (rightly or wrongly, some folks are feeling persecuted). It probably wouldn't get noticed on the cable "news" shows, and it might not even sell as many T-shirts, but it would more accurately reflect the true message of the Bible and the loving God to whom it points.


Sarah Lindsey Anderson said...

Well said, Matt. These kinds of things make our jobs much harder.

Matt Lipan said...

agreed. with stuff like this we certainly don't make it any easier for ourselves or any Christians anywhere for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Hijacking of the Bible has been the favorite tool of the religious left for decades.
Where are you hypocrites when the scriptures are being hijacked for immigration reform and government run health care?

Your imagined sense of outrage just confirms that our clergy are morally corrupt. Using the pulpit to further your personal political agenda is one of the primary reasons our pews are empty!

Ken Summerlin said...

I, too, was appalled by the Psalm 109:8 campaign! That kind of thing undermines the witness of every Christian.

Well said.