While conservative evangelicals claim to take the Bible literally, there are many, many, many instances where they don’t. And it can get very very strange. Let’s have a quick look at one example.
Andre Henry, formerly of Relevant Magazine, frequently takes on white evangelicals—including those he has worked alongside or among—for their racial insensitivity, both within the workplace (something he has experienced) and in how they interpret the Bible.
Have a look at this tweet, for instance:
Someone had the audacity to tell Paul commanded early Christians to pray for Caesar.
Paul also said slaves obey your masters and I wouldn’t have stayed on anyone’s plantation just cause Paul said so.
Miss me with that slaveholder religion.
— andre is writing a book. (@andrehenry) October 4, 2020
Someone told him that Paul commanded early Christians to pray for Caesar. Interestingly, this is actually not true. Paul nowhere commands this. Paul told the early Christians to obey the government, yes, but even that was in a specific context: they were members of a small new religious movement living under a non-democratically elected authoritarian government. Obeying the government was the best way to stay out of trouble. Paul nowhere tells early Christians to pray for Caesar.
Now, the Bible does sometimes command people to pray for their leaders. This seems to be what conservatives are drawing on to argue that all Christians must pray for the president’s recovery. However, as Henry notes in an article for Religion News Service, the Bible also sometimes commands the exact opposite:
The Bible at times encourages us not to intercede for others. “How long will you mourn for Saul,” God asks the prophet Samuel, referring to the deposed king of Israel, “seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” As the Israelites await deportation by Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial forces, God tells the prophets not to pray for Israel’s king or people because it won’t make a difference: “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen.” It was time for them to face the consequences of their actions.
Perhaps the best example of this is Psalm 109, which I think is worth looking at at length:
1 Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
4 For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
5 And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
That’s … harsh. But it is in the Bible!
Whether this psalm was written by David or by some other early Israelite leader, the import is clear: the author is calling down God’s wrath on his enemies, in stark terms. Phrases like “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” were written down much later, by the authors of the gospels.
If evangelicals spent more time grappling with the contradictions between these various passages, I would have more respect for their scholarship, but as it is, they rarely even acknowledge that there are contradictions. Instead, they choose whatever passage or interpretation is most convenient for them at the time, and then throw that one out there as though it is unchanging truth.
And frankly, I’m tired of it.
White evangelicals and other conservatives need to take a step back and realize that the Bible offers many different models for approaching one’s enemies or one’s leaders. People can decide for themselves how and whether they want to pray for President Trump, but if one person refuses to pray for his healing or another prays for him to actually suffer, their words are completely in line with the traditions laid out in the Bible.
Personally, I’d rather follow my own moral compass, which does not center on deciphering an ancient text. But that is neither here nor there.
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