Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Misusing Scripture for Political Purposes

Maybe you've seen it. It started circulating immediately after the Vice Presidential debate and has been appearing on blogs and websites and Twitter and Facebook in the days since. It is a verse of scripture from the Biblical book of Proverbs, chapter 29, verse 9: "When a wise person debates with a fool, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no peace and quiet." The quote is accompanied by a photo of or reference to Joe Biden, a professed devout Catholic and the Vice President of the United States. Clearly the intended message is that Biden is the fool who rages and laughs while Paul Ryan is the wise person.

As a Christian who seriously studies the Bible, my reaction to this Proverb-posting trend is one of disappointment. The folks using this verse of scripture to take a political cheap-shot are people who claim to hold the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God and the final authority in matters of faith and practice. These are texts that martyrs died for and that missionaries smuggled into Communist nations. The Apostle Paul urged his disciple Timothy to do his best to correctly handle the word of truth. I don't think correctly handling the word of truth includes prostituting it out to make partisan political potshots.

To make matters worse, what is often posted is not even an accurate quote of the scripture. In the 17 translations I checked (told you I was a serious student), including the most popular translations (King James, New King James, NIV, NRSV, NASB), Proverbs 29:9 does not say what the quote I have seen most posted says (perhaps someone can find me the translation that is being used in the quote, which is given above). For example, none of the 17 translations I checked use the word "debates"--most refer instead to going to court to litigate a matter (the key being the Hebrew word shaphat). In fairness, I have seen a few posts which don't use the bogus "debates" translation but quote accurately from a common translation (such as the NASB which uses the phrase "has a controversy" rather than the word "debates"), but they still misapply it to the 2012 Vice Presidential debate. It would be a dreadful thing if conservative Christians were publically misquoting and misapplying scripture (perhaps because they didn't check first?) in such a crass way in order to insult a politician.

The net result (and the reason I've taken the time to write something about this) is that misusing scripture for such a tawdry purpose discredits Christians, denigrates the Bible and, ultimately, disparages Christ. What I think those posting this text don't realize is that outside the circle of their own feedback loop they are coming across as smug and immature and not very knowledgeable of their own scripture. All for making a statement which isn't going to change anyone's mind about the debate or the upcoming election.

Of course, these are some of the same folks who thought they were striking a blow for religious freedom by consuming a chicken sandwich.

Here is an example of the Biden/Proverbs meme:


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