I was raised Pentecostal and learned very early that the Bible was everything to folks around me. I always struggled with that. The Bible seems to say much about a lot of things. Problem is, if you have a belief you’d like to support with scripture, there’s a good chance you can do that. Do you believe slavery is morally wrong? So did my ancestors, who found inspiration in the Exodus story. Do you believe slavery is okay? Exodus 21 is a quick fix: you can own and beat the hell out of a slave, so long as they recover within a couple of days. No worries! In the aftermath of the Pope’s visit, I’m again wrestling with how religion and public policy intersect and if they should in the first place.
Democrats and other “lefties” were thrilled with the Pope’s visit to the states. Rather than the traditional talking points on abortion and gay marriage, this Pope offered something different: a pro-life ethic that condemned the death penalty, rebuke of unfettered capitalism, strong stance on climate change and lunch dates with the homeless. This Pope presented
a not so subtle snub to much of the Republican platform of the day. Ultimately, many on the left are hoping that Francis, as a religious leader, can influence conservatives to shift some of their policy positions. But why should they? Francis also opposes abortion and contraception, which 86% of Catholics find “morally acceptable. Those contraception supporters in the Catholic church are not much different than the Democrats who are gushing over Francis: all are selective hearers.
We tend to consult religion when convenient. Most of us are the same, in this respect. Those who oppose and support gay marriage can find comfort in the same Bible. The Bible Jeremiah Wright used to condemn
American imperialism is the same Bible many early settlers leaned on to justify their genocidal path toward “Manifest Destiny
.” Yes, the scriptures teach the sanctity of life and yet the Apostle Paul, echoing the Old Testament, argues the validity of the death penalty
(not to mention the mandate given to the Hebrews to commit genocide
as they entered into Canaan). If you’d like to advocate urgent action on the environment and climate change, various texts encouraging environmental stewardship are helpful. If, however, you wish to fight against any such action, the same Bible can give assurance that God is ultimately in control of nature. You get the point.
While in seminary, a professor at the university said, “Theology is the discipline of finding scriptures to support what you already believe.” There is no truer statement. I propose that we just be honest about this. We all hold beliefs and presuppositions that could be supported or condemned by the same Bible. So why not simply agree to lay religion aside in the pursuit of good public policy? At best, these beliefs merely cancel each other out, at some point. Yes, the Pope has some great things to say that support beliefs held on the left. He does have other beliefs, however. Since we are all merely reinforcing our ideas with religion when convenient, let’s just check it at the door. Let’s make reasoned, policy arguments and then go to church.