When our President issued his executive order giving deportation relief to millions of undocumented people in our country, as part of his explanation he quoted Scripture: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9; also 22:21). This angered a number of conservative Christians who apparently felt they had a monopoly on the Bible.
Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a piece for the Religion News Service claiming that the President misused Scripture by running “roughshod over context.”
The irony of this is that the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2011 quoting this very Scripture as a basis for compassionate action. The resolution declared: “The Scriptures call us, in imitation of God Himself, to show compassion and justice for the sojourner and alien among us.” Following that declaration the Scripture the President quoted was listed along with several others.
Did Coppenger change his mind or did he never support the SBC resolution to begin with? My purpose here is not to critique Coppenger’s hypocritical hermeneutic. Mainline Biblical interpreters can easily tear his shoddy reasoning apart (see Mark Silk’s excellent critique at the same website).
The question I want to ask is: Could there be some bias at work behind the argument that the President misused Scripture? Could it be a general animosity toward our President? Could it be a commitment to a political ideology or party? Could it be the sort of bias that Dan Wilkinson just wrote about on a previous post on this website, which we are all complicit in? Or could there be some other bias or interest at work? I can’t make that judgment, but clearly some sort of bias is behind Coppenger’s argument.
Coppenger proves the point that I frequently make about our use and misuse of the Bible. Our biases (and we all have them) influence how we appropriate Scripture for good or ill.
So why not apply Scripture with a bias toward love? This is what Jesus seemed to do in his use of Scripture. And the most enlightened biblical texts suggest as much:
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us . . .” (Eph. 5:1-2).
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God: everyone who loves is from God . . . Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:7-8, 16).
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).
If Dr. Coppenger and all the other conservative Christians who are crying “foul” at the President’s use of Scripture would allow the above Scriptures to shape their hearts, then we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.
My principle is simple: Only love provides the context for appropriating Scripture rightly.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward.