Does the Bible Belong In Congress?

Hemant Mehta posted a blog over at Friendly Atheist yesterday covering the story of the Assistant House Whip Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), a usabibleTea Party member elected in 2010, sending a Bible to every member of Congress this week. Along with a copy of the Bible, Palazzo sent the following note:

“Dear Colleague,

On a daily basis, we contemplate policy decisions that impact America’s future. Our staffs provide us with policy memos, statistics, and recommendations that help us make informed decisions. However, I find that the best advice comes through meditating on God’s Word.

Please find a copy of the Holy Bible to help guide you in your decision-making. This copy is provided as an inspirational and informational resource to you by Mr. J.B. Atchison, a constituent of mind from South Mississippi.

If there is ever anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

What a nice gesture, eh?

Well, maybe not actually. While I totally understand that for Rep. Palazzo, the Bible is a source of inspiration for his spiritual life (as it is to mine); I have some very serious reservations about this seemingly generous act of “encouragement”.

I firmly believe in the first amendment and the right of every American to practice their religion freely and to be able to speak freely on whatever beliefs or opinions they have. This is the foundation of our nation’s wonderful legacy. But for many decades, Christians have been working very hard to make our “Biblical values” mainstream through having them legislated through the government. Throughout much of America’s history, conservative Christians have worked hard to create legislation based on their interpretation of the Bible and have those values imposed upon every citizen in our non-Christian, pluralistic nation.

There are two major problems with that.

First, it is un-American. Our politicians should not be looking to the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, or any other sacred text as a source for new legislation. They should not be trying to legislate any morality that is based on their own religious convictions. That is not their job. They have been elected to represent the diverse peoples of the United States of America and though most Americans may identify as “Christian”, that doesn’t mean that the majority of Americans are interested in a fundamentalist interpretation of Biblical Morality being the law of the land. If any other religious groups were to attempt such a feat, our Christian politicians would be horrified. Can you imagine a Muslim Congressman sending a copy of the Quran to every member of Congress and asking for Sharia Law to be the basis of American law? Every Christian politician would plea the first amendment and be horribly offended by such a proposition. Why? Because our nation was founded, not on Judeo-Christian values, but on the principle of Freedom of Religion- that every one of every faith could practice in this land freely, without fear of persecution or condemnation from the government. What message is sent when our most powerful leaders are attempting to use one religions sacred text as the basis of their legislation? We have ceased to be a nation for all people. In fact, we have become the very thing that the earliest settlers of America fled from.

Second, it is un-Christian. It is far too easy for American Christians to lose sight of what we have been called to do when we live in a nation that gives so much privilege to our faith. But I think it is well worth remembering that we were never called to Christianize nations, legislate the Gospel, or impose Kingdom of God values on the Kingdoms of man. All of those things actually run quite contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the actions of the early Church. The Jewish people were expecting a political Messiah, but instead, they got Jesus. Jesus didn’t come attempting to restructure the Roman Government. He wasn’t interested in getting appointed to be King. He didn’t call his disciples to work to make his teachings the law of land. Instead, Jesus seemed to call his followers to live within whatever political or cultural system they found themselves in and to work to transform it from the bottom up. Christians were called to begin with the poorest of poor, the outcasts, and the marginalized. We were called to establish the Kingdom of God, not through Congress, but through one small subversive act of Love at a time.

I firmly believe that when Christians in leadership try to legislate their faith that they are actually doing more harm to the Kingdom of God than good. To use Biblical language, I believe they are placing “stumbling blocks” in front of our culture. Instead of inviting them into a relationship with the God who loves them just as they are, we instead communicate that unless they submit to our high standard of Biblical morality, they cannot be a follower of Jesus. Instead of inviting them into the radically counter-cultural way of Jesus, we demonstrate to the world that the Christian way is actually no better than the way of the world- we’re about power, money, position, and forcing others to adhere to our religion. That is the way of Constantine, not the way of Christ.

So while I believe that all of the members of Congress can indeed find great strength, motivation, and Truth through meditating on the Bible, I ultimately don’t believe it’s a very American or Christian thing to do to suggest that our leaders should base their decisions on the sacred texts of one religion in a spiritually diverse nation. Instead, we, the Church, should seek to transform our communities, nations, and world in ways that are much more difficult but much more effective- loving God, our neighbor, and our enemy tangibly every day. Forgiving those who offend us. Feeding the hungry and healing the sick. Living self-sacrificially as disciples of Jesus to everyone we encounter. That’s how the Kingdom of God is established. That is how the world is transformed. The radically subversive way of Jesus that is foolishness to man. That’s the Christian way.

So, while I can sympathize with Rep. Steven Palazzo’s gesture, I also think it’s important that the mindset behind his action is really quite damaging both to America’s strong commitment of religious diversity and liberty and more importantly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a time where our nation is more divided than ever and the Church seems to constantly be in crisis, I think we would be wise to heed the wisdom of the early Church Fathers Origen and Tertullian:

“Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God…And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God–for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all–of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.”


“I owe no duty to forum, campaign, or senate. I stay awake for no public function. I make no effort to occupy a platform. I am no office seeker. I have no desire to smell out political corruption. I shun the voter’s booth, the juryman’s bench. I break no laws and push no lawsuits; I will not serve as a magistrate or judge. I refuse to do military service. I desire to rule over no one – I have withdrawn from worldly politics! Now my only politics is spiritual – how that I might be anxious for nothing except to root out all worldly anxieties and care.”

- Tertullian

May our focus be on transforming the world through love, justice, and the Gospel of peace and not through power, conquest, and legislation. For our hope is not in congress or the President, but in Jesus Christ and him alone. So let’s keep our Bible’s out of congress and instead use the power of the word to transform the hearts of our nation through our embodying it’s truth in everything we think, say, and do. It’s the harder way by far, but it is the only path of true and lasting transformation.

Are you with me?


  • Curt Day

    I think the question deserves a more nuanced answer than the one given above. In addition, I believe that Origen and Tertullian.

    The more nuanced answer is that there is a certain degree to which the Bible belongs in our laws. It is the same degree to which the Quran belongs there too. They belong there not in the specifics so as to give one religion or another or one denomination or the other privilege over others in society, but they belong in the abstract so as to act as a guide for what is just. Martin Luther King Jr.’s view of Civil Rights were at least partially guided by the Bible. There were general principles King advocated that benefitted all equally rather than some in excess. His view of Civil Rights could be easily embraced by those who were from other religions or were without one. And yet, these Civil Rights could at least partially be founded on the Bible.

    As for Origen and Tertullian’s view of abstaining from public service, I think of it this way. If a Christian could serve as a sanitation worker and glorify God in the process, then he/she could also be a politician as long as they did not compromise their Christian values while in office. And, in fact, a Christian politician could glorify God as much as a Christian Sanitation Worker or a Minister.

    • Otto Tellick

      Curt: If you examine your “more nuanced answer” in a little more carefully, you’ll see that it depends on people in a society having a basis for discerning which parts of this or that religious text belong in the laws of their society. Clearly, when the society comprises a plurality of faiths that follow a mutually exclusive set of scriptures, this basis for discernment cannot be founded on the principles or dogma of any one faith or sect.

      This has to be worked out among the people themselves – they must be the judges of what to establish, and they must bear responsibility for their choices, including abiding by the laws they choose to establish, and accepting change when one or another law is shown to be a bad idea, and new laws are deemed necessary. This needs to be a secular process, and that is exactly what the Constitution was meant to establish.

      I submit that when the process works, the end result is better than what any single religion could accomplish.

      • Curt Day

        We’re not that far a part. My only point is that religion can contribute provided the level of abstraction used in their contributions. I could also add religion’s contribution also depends on its advocates refusing to support legislation that would give them a privileged place in society. Provided those two conditions are met, we should not be afraid of contributions to legislation made by religious folk like me.

        • Otto Tellick

          I would agree with that, Curt – thanks. I’d suggest one other condition (maybe this is a restatement or elaboration of your first condition): when putting forth a contribution to the social order that is drawn explicitly from one’s own preferred scripture, there must be some objective benefit, observable and verifiable by means of evidence, to establish its value to society at large.

          On that same basis, it should be clear that many constraints on behavior imposed by one or another religion are not amenable to empirical support (and may even be contradicted by valid evidence); such constraints are not suitable or sustainable as public policy.

    • 0-e^(i*pi)

      Curt Day wrote “they belong in the abstract so as to act as a guide for what is just.”

      You have obviously not read either book — or you have no concept of justice. How can any sane person assert that the Bible is a credible guide for justice when it mandates the death penalty for disobedient children, and genocide for people who don’t worship the Hebrew god, Jehovah?

      • Curt Day

        What location is to real estate so context is to reading religious books such as the Bible.

  • DC Rambler

    The problem with this gesture is that it is a gesture..It is yet another stunt to let everyone know that he is a Christian and not just any Christian but a super duper in your face fill the room with my cologne Christian. People like him cannot pass up on an opportunity to inject their beliefs on others whether they like it or not because their sense of manners and respect have been replaced by hubris and self appointed oracles of truth and morality. What is truly sad about this book peddler and those that receive one is that most of the books will never be opened and used as paper weights and props. Peace

  • Otto Tellick

    Thank you very much. I truly appreciate and strongly agree with your position on this. I would go further: it would be worthwhile to examine how Rep. Palazzo acquired the quantity of bibles needed for this stunt. If it was paid for out of public funds allocated to him as a member of Congress, then I expect (hope) that this would be recognized as an actionable violation of rules – indeed, a violation of his oath of office – and he should be held accountable for it.

    • Pixie5

      I wonder if that would make things worse. That will feed into their persecution complex. You have to choose your battles.

  • John McCready

    Maybe FFRF can “counter-balance” this by sending 535 free copies of: “Losing Faith In Faith” or “Godless”, or better yet, perhaps the estate of the great Christopher Hitchens can send “God Is Not Great”, or the RDF can send “The God Delusion”. If sending books is going to be a source of “inspiration”, members of Congress should at least ones that MAKE SENSE! On the other hand, Penn Jillette did note: “America needs more atheists, so read your Bible, because nothing will get you to atheism faster then a damned Bible”!

  • Frank6548

    The bible should be in everyone hands as their moral authority and guidebook.

    • John Lev

      So I have to ask: Is it moral to force a woman to marry her rapist as required by the bible?

    • 0-e^(i*pi)

      The Bible is a horrible book that, among other things, condones genocide, rape, and murder. Here’s an example from Numbers 31 (verses 13-18) in which Moses justifies the murder of women and children for the “sin” of following gods other than the Hebrew god, Jehovah. Notice how, in keeping with standard rape and plunder philosophy, Moses told them they could “keep” the virgin girls.

      “Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” [Numbers 31: 13-18]

      BSC Bible-thumping Congressmen are a curse on America.

  • Mike Ward

    I guess we should all just be Christians from 10:00 to noon on Sundays and live by the standards of the world the rest of the time so we don’t violate someone else’s Constitutional right to never have to deal with someone who is outwardly following Christ.

    • Pixie5

      Did you actually read the article? He said nothing resembling what you just said!

  • Dan Bruce

    A Christian (citizen of the kingdom of God) is to be guided in all things by the Bible as understood through the work of the Holy Spirit within. A Congressman (as a citizen of the USA) takes an oath to be guided by the Constitution of the United States when legislating. The Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion for state purposes. As long as the Constitution is upheld by a Congressman when he votes, I see no problem with his or her conscience being guided by the teachings of the Bible. As a Christian, I would prefer that every elected official have a working knowledge of the Bible and the Constitution.