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 firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.