Thursday, January 28, 2010
Bible-Quoting: What's Your Agenda?
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Top-down one-size fits all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best.
And no government program can replace the actions of caring Americans freely choosing to help one another. The Scriptures say To whom much is given, much will be required. As the most generous and prosperous nation on Earth, it is heartwarming to see Americans giving much time and money to the people of Haiti. Thank you for your ongoing compassion.
VA Gov. Bob McDonnell, January 27, 2010
...the Bible has always been read through the experience of the people holding it. The meaning they draw and the ethics they build are directly related to the kind of lives they lead.
Brian Blount, Then The Whisper Put On Flesh
Claremont scholar of religion Vincent Wimbush proposes that what is vital when it comes to the reading of Scriptures, is not what the Bible says, but instead, how the Bible is used. Brian Blount, a biblical scholar at Princeton, piggybacked Wimbush's brilliant thesis and wrote Then The Whisper Put On Flesh to highlight a biblical ethics through the perspective of the marginalized African-American Christian tradition. His point was that we cannot read the Bible as an encyclopedia of timeless truths and principles that apply to all peoples in all contexts in the exact same manner. Everyone reads through a lens that greatly affects the outcome of the reading.
Last night, Governor Bob McDonnell delivered the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union Address, where he highlighted key differences that separate the parties (like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats). He concluded (above) with a couple of paragraphs that really highlight the strengths of the Wimbush/Blount project. McDonnell quoted Luke's Gospel (12:48b), Jesus' punchline in a parable he told to his disciples after Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" It is a rather confusing block of teaching right in the middle of the Gospel of Luke, focusing on the disciples' posture to be a model, conscience and servant ("slave") in the world: a rejection of hypocrisy, fear, greed and anxiety, culminating in a call for alertness and preparedness for the ultimate fulfillment of God's Reign (or as MLK said, "the fierce urgency of now").
As Wimbush and Blount would advocate, EasyYolk asks the question, "How is McDonnell using this quote to serve his own agenda?" Or, put bluntly, how are Jesus' words transformed when quoted by a white-privileged, wealthy male with a free-market economic and American imperialist agenda, leading a Southern state in the American Empire in the 21st century? When Jesus' kingdom campaign is viewed through this prism (what Blount calls "space" and Walter Brueggemann calls "the zone of imagination"), Jesus' platform becomes a plaudit to charitable giving and paternalism during a Third World crisis.
Jesus mobilized an activist community of impoverished and marginalized Jewish fishermen, women, tax-collectors, farmers and nationalist zealots to repentance and resistance: a restructuring of what it means to be the people of God. Jesus' call to action--"from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required"--empowered his disciples to reorganize and confront the systemic injustice that plagued 1st century Palestine. He gave them the power to forgive and even break the Sabbath to heal and preserve, shifting power away from the powerful Temple priests. He modeled inclusive table fellowship, wiping out the false race and class distinctions that divided that society. He broke gender boundaries by accepting women disciples who helped fund his campaign. He overturned the tables of moneychangers who benefited by placing a burden of unjust taxes on the peasantry.
Meanwhile, McDonnell is moblizing a movement of the status-quo. For instance, he claimed last night that the US has "the best medical care system in the world," yet 47 million Americans do not have coverage and 45,000 die each year in the States because they do not have adequate coverage. He describes the GOP plan:
Republicans in Congress have offered legislation to reform healthcare, without shifting Medicaid costs to the states, without cutting Medicare, and without raising your taxes.
We will do that by implementing common sense reforms, like letting families and businesses buy health insurance policies across state lines, and ending frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up the cost of your healthcare.
Unfortunately, the Congressional Budget Office revealed that the GOP plan would add 5 million more Americans to the rolls of the uninsured. The US health care system is the best in the world...for him and a lot of other wealthy Americans.
In addition, McDonnell highlighted the need to beef up national security without giving rights to "suspected terrorists:"
We applaud President Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. We agree that victory there is a national security imperative. But we have serious concerns over recent steps the Administration has taken regarding suspected terrorists.
This same Jesus whom McDonnell quotes is the one who implores his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Contextually, love must mean the granting of habeas corpus, waterboard-free interrogation and fair, public trials to those only "suspected" of terror. The conclusion of Luke's story pronounces Jesus, the suspected terrorist, "innocent" (the Greek word dikaios) over and over as he is tortured, beaten and then killed. We Americans play the imperialist characters in the story (Herod, Pilate, Caiphas, the centurions) who beat injustice and violence into these "innocent" ones.
McDonnell quotes the Lukan passage at the conclusion of his speech, an affirmation of American exceptionalism in the context of Haitian disaster. "See," he seems to be saying, "the generosity of private donations trumps anything that the federal government can do for its people."
In the end, it doesn't matter what "the Scriptures say," it matters what we interpret them to mean in the very tangible situation we are in. The accountability of any reading of Luke 12:48 is, ultimately, to ask how that reading fits the agenda of the reader. Would Jesus have used these words to praise the charitable and paternalistic giving of "the most generous and prosperous nation on Earth" to aid the poorest nation in the Hemisphere? A reading of the whole Lukan narrative would answer in the negative. Ironically, the economic policies of the US have greatly influenced Haiti's #1 poverty ranking. Only a revolutionary restructuring of political and economic policies will bring peace, justice and compassion to the most vulnerable in the US, Haiti and the uttermost parts of the world. To those who have been given much, a whole new world is required.