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Abusive Use of the Bible – a la Speaker Mike Johnson – is Fraud. But Popular, & a Handy Weapon.

This abusive use of the Bible (“The New Small Bible” or “The Republican Small Bible”) is a long-standing American problem.  And it is not a small matter. It is truly dangerous.

I.  Here are public examples of abusive use of the Bible,

from very recently and several years ago. (We could, sadly, find the “New Small Bible” centuries back.)abusive use of the bible

A)  A commenter on this site was clearly using the “New Small Bible.”

From them I learned that “Liberals” beliefs range to

“all … unsupported and unchristian beliefs. Their views cannot be supported in any Bible I have ever studied.”

I didn’t know we were THAT bad!

But see, this commenter clearly has a copy of the Christian Republicans’ New Small Bible. It’s  a brilliant edition that makes holy thinking and holy living a lot simpler. It leaves out the vast majority of Biblical moral teaching, from the Pentateuch through Revelation, excluding especially the prophets and Jesus.

  • So the New Small Bible is much easier to carry around,
  • May have much larger print, good for us old folks,
  • and it is MUCH easier to understand and apply –
  • especially when it comes to applying it to other people, which is the point, after all.

It includes (depending on the particular version) one or two to five or so moral precepts. Some of them are not emphasized or even mentioned in the Old Big Bibles. But if a couple of priorities they wanted in their new Bible were not already there, they just added them in.

That was no real problem for the editors; the new priorities could be copied directly from Republican talking-point memos, Fox “News,” or Christian Coalition handouts, and they are really quite brief.

The new priorities could be copied directly from Republican talking-point memos, Fox “News,” or Christian Coalition handouts, and they are really quite brief … It’s a very easy Bible to study – extremely shallow.
Here’s another great advantage: it’s a very easy Bible to study – extremely shallow. And thus very easy to use to attack other people.

But it’s fake, and it’s deadly.

We can avoid abusive use of the Bible if we treat it with respect as it stands. And honor those many people around us who also try to treat it with respect instead of simple blatant deadly manipulation.

But there are prominent names using “The New Small Bible”  Here are additional serious cases:

B) I guess Jerry Falwell uses the New Small Bible.

Falwell, in a ‘conversation’ he had with (against, actually) Sojourners staff, as Jim Wallis recounted it,

“Tavis first asked Falwell to name a “short list” of the values issues that were important to him. It turned out to be a very short list indeed.
All the Religious Right leader could talk about was the gay marriage amendment. That was it.”

Now THAT’s a Short Bible! And so very handy, especially for Republican politicians.

C)  Mike Johnson, the new Speaker of the House (late 2023) seems clearly to be using the Christian Republicans’ New Small Bible, abusing the Bible and thus all his fellow Christian believers in the process. (Ideas he refers to are among the most abused Bible verses.)

According to the Associated Press news service:

Religious conservatives cheered Johnson’s election Wednesday, after which he brought his Bible to the rostrum before taking the oath of office. “The Bible is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority … each of you, all of us,” he said.

God “raising up” people to leadership does NOT prove one is worthy.

God sets up “the lowliest of people.” (Daniel 4:17)  Or as the King James Bible said, “the basest of men.” (Or Johnson may have been referencing Daniel 2:21 to the effect that the Most High “deposes kings and raises up others”. That verse also sheds no light on the morality, skill levels, or wisdom of those “kings”.)

And if he thinks it DOES show worthiness, then it includes people Mike Johnson is diametrically opposed to.

So, which one is the good one?  Biden et. al. might actually be the good ones in this pairing and Johnson et. al. the jesters or worse. Well doggone it – holding power is not the Biblical clue we’re searching for.

Maybe the clue is something else, maybe “by their fruit you will recognize them,” as Jesus emphasized. Not status, but character. Hmm. Worth thinking about.

In The Same Place the AP Also Quoted Johnson as Saying …

“Someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue?’” Johnson said Thursday in a Fox News interview.
“I said, ’Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.’”

That is so insulting to EVERYONE!  God included!

The purpose of the question is to learn about how he sees our actual world and what he’s likely to do in it. Nope. Instead he hands us a massive ancient book, of many varied interpretations, that gives us very little if any clear contemporary policy or procedure guidance – unless it is to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” etc. But that’s not, as we have seen, among wild-right Republicans’ major policy concerns.

What people mean when they say something like that:

– “read your Bible … that’s my worldview”.  In my long and unpleasant experience, what it means is ugly. It means:

  • they do not honor the Bible as the massive, complex, spiritually profound and diverse (and therefore very valuable) historical collection that it is.
  • They are not seeing it as it is, nor interested to helping us see it as it is, or they would not say such a simplistic superficial thing.
  • They see themselves as superior in insight and not needing to condescend to actually explain themselves or the Bible.

This is one of the common ways of misusing the Bible –

just tell people you got your beliefs from the Bible and assume they will be awed and you will not be asked how that works. How did you get those ideas from the Bible? No discussion. “I’m right. And I expect to force you to comply if necessary.”

THEY are really wise. They have the Bible by the collar.  Generally they

  1. can show you “proof texts” to support their favorite obsessions – i.e. they remember, or have bookmarked, a few short Bible quotations.
  2. Or if they can’t even do that they can sort-of quote some preacher(s) whom they assume, with little examination, is teaching a true Biblical worldview.
  3. Or they can just bluster through.

It’s truly sad.  But it’s also fraudulent.  And it is very insulting.
It is a fake Bible.  It’s a version of “The New Small Bible” I’ve written about here before. You’d think “religious conservatives” would have more concern for “conserving” things, like respect for their ancient documents.

D)  An experience of my own with their abusive use of the Bible

I had a direct experience of that. We went to church with some relatives in another state. Afterwards one asked me what I thought of their pastor’s sermon.  I said he quoted Jesus, but went on to ignore what the quotation actually said. In fact, he taught nearly the opposite.

The relative said I should write the the pastor – he would appreciate the input from an older pastor.  But no, in fact he insisted I was ignoring, deliberately resisting, the words of Jesus and he hoped I would become more humble and see things more accurately.

I was not resisting the words of Jesus. I was reading and honoring them. I was resisting the temptation he fell for, from his religious context, to take a high percentage of Bible exhortations to mean only that we should be tough to obey our local and denominational (and presumeably some political) leaders.

But Jesus was warning us precisely against following the teachings and life of the religious leaders, like the words of this uninformed pastor parroting right-wing dishonest, authoritative patterns of interpretation. (Matthew 5:20 and context)

  • His interpretation? Being courageous and bossy in submitting to your local teachers IS WHAT IT MEANS to have a Biblical perspective. Seriously. That’s what he preached.
  • My interpretation? Be humble enough to listen to the actual Jesus himself. That, not surprisingly, is what Jesus taught us to do, and what most Christians claim to do. I think my take on the verses is more likely.

Those ARE two different things.

E)  Super-Pastor Rick Warren, famous pastor, wealthy author of The Purpose-Driven Life, also uses a Republican Small Bible.

“For those who accept the Bible as God’s Word … there are five issues that are non-negotiable,” wrote Warren, a Southern Baptist, to fellow pastors across the country. “To me, they’re not even debatable, because God’s Word is clear on these issues.

  1. “Abortion,
  2. stem-cell harvesting,
  3. homosexual marriage,
  4. human cloning and
  5. euthanasia”

These were non-negotiable issues about which Warren said the Bible was clear.

Warren offered no evidence from the biblical witness to support his assertions…. Nor did he bother to explain how he came up with a list that ignores the teachings of Jesus, the Hebrew prophets, and the Mosaic code….

How is it that a Baptist pastor’s language and list are identical to those of a rightwing Catholic? [Karl Keating, President of “Catholic Answers”] …. Warren’s position is really Keating’s position. The only difference is that Warren did not credit Catholic moral tradition for his argument. Instead, he claimed that he got it from the Bible, something that Keating doesn’t claim.

(These are some excerpts from an editorial at EthicsDaily.com in which Robert Parham discussed Warren’s very narrow focus. That web location seems no longer to exist.)

II.  I admit that the Old Big Bible is notoriously difficult to deal with.

But unlike The New Small Bible, it has advantages, even according to those very people who dismiss it in practice, advantages like

  • strong Divine influence,
  • very long-standing repute,
  • being often stunningly wise,
  • and being a strong nourisher of spiritual life if handled as it deserves to be handled.

You’d think people who want to be known as Bible experts would be concerned about those Big Bible advantages.

Since the New Small Bible is none of those good things, I’m going to stick with the Old Big Bible. I want to hear from prophets of God, not the Word of Trump or Fox. Sadly, that leaves many Republican preachers (and politicians) without a whole lot to say to me.

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See Also:
What If Christians Don’t Listen to Jesus? See 5 Very Short, Very Important Stories from Matthew 7
6 Ways to Believe in Jesus Without Taking Him Seriously
How Do You Know? – 2 Usually Fun, Always Indispensable Strategies.
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