A Tonic for Biblical Scurvy

15 01 2012

Since I teach in Kansas, I pay attentions to issues that pop up in Kansas.  Here is an example of the abuse of the Bible and what I call the disease of biblical scurvy.  The Kansas House Speaker, Mike O’Neal, forwarded an email to his Republican colleagues related to a “Prayer for Obama” based on Psalm 109:8, “May his days be few; may another seize his position” (NRSV).  O’Neal added to the email, “At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!”  See a fuller description here:  Prayer for Obama.

The biblical scurvy of the Speaker is that he passed along one isolated verse out of context.  The next verse, 109:9, (this is Hebrew parallelism where the next verse helps clarify and explain the previous statement) says, “May his children be orphans, and his wife be a widow” (NRSV).  The entire section (vv. 6-20) is the longest and most severe curse in all the Hebrew Scripture.  The curse ends with these words, “May he be clothed in a curse like a garment; may it enter his body like water, his bones like oil.  Let it be like the cloak he wraps around him, like the belt he always wears” (Tanakh Translation, 109:18-19).  Politicians use the Bible politically and not theologically.

I do not know who Speaker O’Neal’s pastor is, but I would encourage him or her to make an effort to visit with him and provide some enlightenment about the use and abuse of the Bible.  If anyone is the caretaker, preserver, and teacher of the Bible, it should be the pastor. He or she has the moral authority, and sacred responsibility, to let the Speaker know this is misusing Bible.  Of course, some will say that is easy for me to write these words because I do not have the Speaker in my congregation.  However, I understand the situation of proof texting and picking and choosing verses all too well. Under another distant administration, I was asked to read in a very important public venue a section of Scripture that represented a similar situation of cutting and pasting a passage together so that its original point was totally lost.  I asked not to read the passage in its current eclectic form but to read the passage’s whole context.  I was told to forget about reading, and they would get someone else to read it.  Later I was called into a private meeting with the powers that be and upbraided for not being a “team player” and for being “an elitist.”  I said I would not model in public what I teach my students not to do in their own ministry.

Ministers with politicians in their congregations should think about how to hold them accountable when they begin to display symptoms of biblical scurvy.  Provide them some tonic, or as Paul the Apostle suggested to the Galatians, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”  Paul thoughtfully adds in the same verse, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (Gal 6:1).




2 responses

15 01 2012
Harold Washington

Hey David, I enjoy reading your blog.

I rarely comment on blogs, but I just have to say thank you for this post. As a Kansan, I am tempted to write to Speaker O’Neal. I’m inclined to tell him, as a Christian and as one who has devoted my life to teaching the Bible, how sorrowed and offended I am by his misuse of scripture.

But then I think, “Answer not a fool according to his folly…”

15 01 2012
Leroy Seat

David, thanks for this timely post. Yesterday my wife joined others on Facebook calling on O’Neal to resign because of this. But it seems that he is not the first to use this verse; this use of Ps. 109:8 has been around since 2009, according to what I found on the Internet.

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