The Attorney General Can’t Use the Bible but Journalists Can

The Attorney General Can’t Use the Bible but Journalists Can July 6, 2018

File this one under the category of when journalists and professors appeal to the Bible the way pastors and (some) bishops do.

In case you missed it, Slate’s Ruth Bell tag teamed with a Baptist professor, Matthew Arbo, to correct a U.S. government official, Jeff Sessions, on the right use of the Bible. And here I thought the right response should have been the Jeffersonian one (think Independence Day afterglow) of building a wall between church and state, or keeping the government’s grimy hands off the holy book. But no.

Graham argues that Sessions should have used the Bible properly and let it inform U.S. immigration policy — which by implication means that the journalist and professor have a warm spot for America as a Christian nation. Instead of invoking Romans 13, Sessions should have applied both Leviticus and Jesus:

But the larger problem with Sessions’ argument is that it violates a much deeper and more frequent biblical injunction to care for strangers and the poor. “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong,” the book of Leviticus commands. In the New Testament, Jesus himself says that God’s eternal judgment will rest in part on whether one has “welcomed the stranger.” It’s even right there in Romans 13, just a few verses after the ones Sessions favors: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

In other words, Sessions used the Bible selectively.

And Graham and Arbo cited the Bible comprehensively? Consider that just before the verse in Leviticus 19 that the journalist and professor cherry pick, come a series of commands that I’m betting they would prefer Sessions ignore:

19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

20 “If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21 but he shall bring his compensation to the Lord, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed.

23 “When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God.

26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.

29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.

31 “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.

32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

If you start going to the Old Testament for social policy, you may have bitten off more than you can chew. I doubt in this #BLM moment Graham and Arbo really want to follow the Old Testament teaching on how to treat slaves.

And what do Graham and Arbo do with Exodus’ teaching on strangers (chapter 12)?

43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and hyou shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.

Again, God’s people have the option of holding slaves according to a wider (as opposed to selective) reading of the Old Testament. But aside from that contextual difficulty, to follow the Old Testament on how to treat strangers means setting up centers to inspect male immigrants and refugees to see if they have been circumcised. If not, then ICE needs to employ physicians to perform circumcisions.

Which is another reminder that when you pick up the Bible, handle with care.


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