Friday, September 1, 2023

Misappropriating Scripture for Partisan Purposes

I recently saw the following image shared by two Facebook friends on the same day (both of whom I knew growing up in church).

I've written before (here and here) about the importance of making sure we look at the actual context of a verse of Scripture before trying to take it and apply it to our own situations.

Notice how this image selects and highlights just one isolated verse from an entire chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses is reminding the new generation of Israelites who will occupy the Promised Land concerning what God requires of them as people who bear his name. If we go back to the beginning of Deuteronomy 28, we see that Moses is laying out the blessings they will experience if they keep the terms of the covenant (vv. 1-14), and the judgments or curses that will befall them if they break the covenant (vv. 15-68).

The first mistake of the meme creator (and repeated by those passing it around on social media) is ripping this verse from the broader context of the entire discourse of Moses to the people of Israel. Knowing the political leanings of the individuals among my friends who posted this meme (many of which I share, though I reject the extremism that has taken over the major party that more closely aligns with my own thinking), I'm fairly certain that they are using this verse to complain about the current immigration situation in the United States. But if we look back at verse 15 of this chapter in the final book of Moses, we see that this isn't a prediction of certian demographic trends in 21st-century America, but rather one of many negative consequences Israel can expect to suffer for being unfaithful to the covenant with YHWH.

The first interpretive mistake points us to the seconds one: the blessings and curses of Deutoronomy 28 are related to God's covenant with His chosen people Israel, not with any modern geopolitical nation-state. The closest analog in our day to the people of Israelthose who bore YHWH's name under the first covenant—is not any country with physical borders, but the church, those who bear the name of Christ. Jesus does promise blessings to those who are faithful to His new covenant, but those promises apply to Christians, individually and collectively, not to political nation-states.

As Professor John Walton says, "The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us." Deuteronomy 28—and the rest of the Mosaic law—is useful to present-day believers for understanding God's character and what He expects from those who claim to be His, but no part of it should ever be ripped from its literary, historical, and cultural context to try to score points in contemporary political debates. 

As political theologian Kaitlyn Schiess says in her book The Ballot and the Bible: How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics, and Where We Go from Here:

Before we rush into pulling passages from Scripture and applying them to our own political context, we need to have a hermeneutic that can prevent us from misapplication and misunderstanding. (pp. 9-10)

To those who would like to use Deut. 28:43 to make commentary on American politics, I have just one question: how are you doing personally with all the covenant requirements to which this chapter refers in verses 1, 15, and 58?

UPDATE: I encourage everyone to watch this video where Kaitlyn Schiess discusses ways the Bible has been misused and abused in politics


No comments:

Post a Comment