Billy Graham, Paul Ryan, and Biblical Principles

Recently, Billy Graham’s organization purchased full-page ads in a number of major USA newspapers calling for a return to biblical principles. His ad was hailed by conservatives as a witness to the biblical values conservative Christians affirm. While Graham is entitled to his opinion, there is good reason to assert that his ad cherry-picked biblical principles, choosing minor biblical issues – indeed, issues not directly addressed in scripture – and omitted the most important and pervasive biblical values: care for the vulnerable.

Here is the text of the ad: “I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.”

This week, Paul Ryan made the case for helping the poor by cutting social safety nets, such as food stamps, whose primary beneficiaries are children and single parents. While defense spending must increase; if there is a choice between guns and butter, and bombs and bread, Ryan asserts that we must choose defense spending. Ryan’s approach reminds me of the employer who told a recently laid-off employee that he’ll be stronger as a result of facing the adversity of job loss!

Now, the issue of Israel is a moot point, since both President Obama and Governor Romney support Israel. Only the dishonest or naïve would say otherwise, given our strong political and military support under the current administration. Sadly, the President gives modest attention to Palestine, and it is not even on Romney’s geopolitical map.

Billy Graham’s advisors, and I suspect his son Franklin was the voice behind the ad, are proposing a bible full of holes, neglecting large principles to focus on lesser principles and assuming sanctity of life relates only to the issue of abortion and marriage equality, when in fact poverty and the gap between wealthy and poor is the primary ethical principle of scripture. Our relationship to God is dependent on our care for widows, orphans, persons with disabilities, and persons on the verge of foreclosure, according the prophetic tradition. How these men of faith could have neglected the prophets and Jesus, neither of whom discusses gay or lesbian marriage or abortion, would amaze any biblical Christian! Have they not read Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Joel? Have they not considered Jesus’ comment that it is as difficult for a wealthy person to enter God’s realm as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? Have they not studied the sabbatical and jubilee years of Hebraic scriptures, social and religious policies intended to erase the gap between the rich and the poor? While these are men of good faith, has their concern with private profits eclipsed their loyalty to biblical prophets? Let’s just let the bible speak. As we listen, we must remember that these prophetic words were primarily addressed to governments and wealthy business people not just private individuals.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Now, government can’t solve all our problems, but, as scripture proclaims, government’s task is to protect the vulnerable of body, mind, and spirit. In fact, our current social safety net was, in good measure, the result of biblically-inspired Christians, who saw care for workers, the poor, the aged, and children as an essential biblical mandate for governments and individuals alike.
Government’s task is to protect children, families, and persons with disabilities or poverty due to the accidents of birth or economic disaster and job loss as well as our nation’s borders. There is no equivocation here, nor is this a trickle in the biblical witness. The quest for justice is a mighty river and imperative on the wealthy and powerful, whether in government or private enterprise.

It is ironic that sanctity of life, according to some politicians, only seems to apply to fetuses, and not to infants who may be deprived of nourishment and health care by conservative, individualistic policies, and their pregnant mothers who may be denied necessary health care screening currently provided through Planned Parenthood and other government supported programs supporting women’s health. Sadly, Ryan who noted, “I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff,” places an individualistic, survival of the fittest philosophy, above the teachings of Jesus and the Hebraic prophets.

Biblical principles challenge all of us. They are pro-life but this means providing food, shelter, health care, and education for all of God’s children; requiring justice in business dealings and wealth production; putting the vulnerable ahead of the wealthy in government concern; reducing the gap between the rich and poor; and honoring marriage by supporting equal rights for all who seek loving relationships. Now, this is a holy bible, not a bible with holes in it!

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).

  • Frank

    If you value life you will first stop the killing of unborn children on demand. If you value God, you will trust that He knew best when creating us male and female for marriage and procreative purposes.

    You have seemed to simply dismiss the parts of the bible you disagree with. That’s a “holey” bible you have there.

    • Annah

      It’s funny, Frank. The same people who call pro choice people murderers also support wars, they hate it when people go on welfare (saying why should I pay out of my taxes to feed some person’s kids), etc.

      For a sect of Christianity who loves to push Bible quotes, Frank, you miss the most important one: to love your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

      • Frank

        I hope you are simply being stubborn over your untenable position because the alternative is not good.

        To love God is to love the things God loves, like life and then extend that to others. There is nothing loving about killing an innocent life.

        • Brooke

          If you really want to stop abortions, how about supporting social programs that offer financial assistance to mothers-to-be? How about supporting legislation that requires health insurance companies to cover pregnancy? Are you aware of the medical costs to have a child if you are uninsured or have a health plan that doesn’t cover pregnancy? It’s upwards of $5000, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have a normal, healthy pregnancy and baby.

          I have yet to hear anyone from the pro-life crowd address some of these common-sense solutions. Instead you choose to vilify women who choose abortion, often because they feel they have no other alternative. It seems to me you really don’t value life, you just value the feeling of superiority you get from criticizing others.

    • Kathy

      Frank, the bible says ONE thing about abortion and you can read it hear: The priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell. And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. …
      And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed. — Numbers 5:21-21, 27-28

      Also: Abortion is not murder. A fetus is not considered a human life.
      If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. — Exodus 21:22-23
      The Bible places no value on fetuses or infants less than one month old.
      And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. — Leviticus 27:6
      Fetuses and infants less than one month old are not considered persons.
      Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD. — Numbers 3:15-16 (http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/abortion.html)

      • Zach

        It also says in the Bible that I new you before you were concieved. It’s funny how everyone leaves that part out. This means you were planned and that it is life. You are taking scripture and spining it to work for your own benefit while not putting it in its hole context.

        • LivinginVA

          The rest of that passage goes “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” It is not just in general, it is specific.

  • John B

    Graham has espoused a right-leaning political ideology for decades — back to his entanglements with Nixon during VietNam. Such a leaning is consistent with his theology, as best I can tell, so that his support (or that of his son) of Romney-Ryan comes as no surprise at all to me.

  • WAG

    Billy Graham in no more pro-life than Mitt Romney and his VP candidate. They are just pro-birth. If they were truly pro-life, they would invest in the impoverished and marginalized instead of cutting the meager funds that remain.

  • Mary

    Thank you for this article. It sums up why I’m voting the way that I am, and my own personal view of this topic. Nicely written.

  • Lillian Iowa Dem

    If Billy Graham has such high principles, why did he accept money from Mitt Romney and suddenly back him for President, when up until that moment, Mr. Graham’s website opposed Mormonism as a cult? And for filthy lucre, he changed his website and suddenly found Romney entirely acceptable. (I do wish you supposed Christians would read what Jesus actually said, instead of making up any old hate-filled “principle” to spout.)

  • Eddie Cone

    Billy Graham was caught on tape with Richard Nixon lambasting Jews, saying they were the ruination of our country? So, what the heck is this?

  • Scarlet Syn

    I can’t help but wonder why certain Christians think that the summation of politics hangs entirely on abortion and marriage. I think the goal of the article is to point out that far too many people who profess to be Christians are majoring in the minors. The fact remains that the Bible says very little about abortion or homosexuality while it speaks volumes on how we are suppose to treat the poor and care for the people living on this planet. I think the frustration of the liberal Christian is the fact that so many pseudo-Christians don’t really give a rat’s ass about the people living on this planet. It’s selfish-driven motives, keeping as much money as you can, shunning those with less, having a reason to judge and vilify women of lower economical standing… all things for which they will have to answer when standing before the Lord.

    Please, stop ignoring the major message of the Bible.

    • Mary

      Scarlet, very well-said! Great comment, love it! :)

    • Liberal Christian

      Stop majoring in the minors. I couldn’t say it better myself. This is so true.

  • Kent McMillen

    The irony of this is that the Book of Mormon still has references to polygamy, and Willard Mitt Romney said little when Mormon polygamist, Warren Jeffs was convicted of raping and marrying 12 year old girls. Mitt’s grandfather was a Mormon polygamist bishop, who fled the US, to avoid prosecution for polygamy, AFTER THE CHURCH GAVE UP POLYGAMY, SO UTAH COULD GET STATEHOOD I wonder if he would pardon Warren Jeffs, and the Mormon polygamist, who abducted and raped Elizabeth Smart. Something to think about!

  • http://Lisamyers.org Lisa Myers

    I, too, suspect Rev. Graham’s comments were not entirely his own; however, the words have been spoken, and the political venom surges in our churches as a result. Not exactly what Jesus had in mind. See Red and Blue Biblical Values at Lisamyers.org.

  • http://hishealingnow.com/ Robert

    I could vote for Romney if he would fess up mormons and christians have differnet Gods.
    BUT SINCE HE HAS NOT PUBLICALY ADMITED THIS . i distrust him and his motives for not doing so.I dont want people to think christians beleive Jesus and satan are brothers that is the mormon God not the Christian God . Romny has freedom of speech since he can get that word out so easly to millions upon millions if he wanted.. On the other hand we Christians can’t. Not much freedom of speech for us

  • Cliff Williams

    I liked what you said, Bruce. For similar sentiments from two professors at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, see http://www.cliffordwilliams.net/valuesinpolitics


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