Open Letter to Legislators: Should You Legislate the Bible?
This post is addressed primarily to Oklahoma legislators or other office-holders in my poor, dysfunctional state. Since most of them won’t openly admit they read this blog obsessively – although obviously they must – loyal readers should feel free to send it to them or ask them these questions when calling or visiting their offices. I suspect some of our colleagues in neighboring states might find it relevant as well.
Ask not for whom the blog posts; it posts for thee.
Any Oklahoma politician – current, previous, or aspiring – who wishes to respond is welcome. The comment section is always open, but if you have more than a few hundred words, I welcome you as a Guest Blogger - whether I agree with you or not.
Should you legislate the Bible?
I ask because it seems every time we read about something controversial being pushed through the legislature, the story is accompanied by a quote from the bill’s sponsor blaming God.
We’ve been told that Jesus is against handgun registration, that the Bible frowns on people of different genders using neighboring bathroom stalls, and that while God doesn’t want young ladies to know where babies COME from, He DOES insist they know how magical and special the little critters are up until they’re born, at which point He loses complete interest in them.
Jesus never did like children, as I recall.
Just last year we were assured that God wanted us to fudge our own history in order to play Him up – that He’d overlook our failings if we’d only brag about our national infallibility a bit more boldly. As it says in His Word, “Pride cometh before even more things to be proud of.”
He’s apparently uninterested in our tax policies, health care, or how we treat widows and orphans, but was QUITE worked up about Common Core for fear that someone at some point might read a dirty book – something inconceivable under existing guidelines. There’s simply no good reason to write about lust, rape, family dysfunction, or other perversion; such things suggest we are a fallen people in need of redemption. Better we stick to wholesome, happy stories like those in the Bible.
Our Legislators seem to have difficulty distinguishing between Yahweh, the "I Am", and Tinkerbell, whose very existence hangs by the thread of our applause. Other times they treat the Lord Their God as a sort of corporate sponsor, demanding more patches and stickers pushing His brand or He’ll withdraw His funding. Neither makes sense to me based on the Bible I remember from my days of faith, so I’m hoping you can help me clarify.
Should you legislate the Bible?
If not, would you maybe briefly address what role faith should play for public office-holders in an intensely religious state such as ours? After that, thank you for your time – we’re good.
If so, would you please explain how this is consistent with the First Amendment and established Case Law regarding separation of church and state? How do you justify citing the Holy Book of one specific faith – one whose meaning is regularly debated even by those who accept it as divine – to make secular law?
How do you reconcile your Oath of Office ("I… do solemnly swear… that I will support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma…") with elevating your personal theology above either constitution? Did you lie when you took the oath, or do you consider yourself above keeping your word? If you believe the Bible is a higher authority than secular law, shouldn’t you have objected to taking this oath as a matter of principle?
If you support legislating the Bible, could you give us an idea of which parts you believe are appropriate to be written into secular law?
There’s been quite an obsession lately with having the Ten Commandments posted at the Capitol. Maybe we could start there.
One - “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Should this be secular law? No ‘gods’ before the Jewish god? How might we enforce that?
Two - “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”
This one’s tricky. God isn’t apparently opposed to statues in general, only those which become objects of such obsession that the symbol takes focus off relationship with the divine – ceremony over substance, as it –
Oh! Um… guess I answered my own question there.
Three - “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” For some reason this is commonly interpreted as exclusively about swearing. Sounds to me it pretty clearly includes those who claim to be acting in God’s name for selfish ends.
Four - “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns…”
Why is this not law? This one would be so easy. And obviously it’s important to God – he made sure this was one of the TOP TEN, while stuff like homosexuality or handgun regulation didn’t even make the list. I assume you’re working on a bill of some sort…?
Five - “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” I’m open to suggestions on this one.
Six - “You shall not murder.” Hey, this is a good one! This is already against the law, right? Score one for the Commandments!
Seven - “You shall not commit adultery.” Biblically this includes divorce and remarriage. How many of your peers in the legislature are on their second spouse? How many have had pre- or extra-marital sex? I’m asking because, as with stores being closed on Saturdays, God obviously considered this one WAY more important than some of the stuff being legislated in His name. I just wondered why this one keeps getting skipped.
Eight - “You shall not steal.” Too many easy jokes to be made here when the state is involved. Instead, we’ll count this one as another win for Commandments as Secular Statute. That’s what, two?
Nine - “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” So… lying about someone else? Like, how you get elected, I guess? Or the various political games which are considered the norm ‘round those parts? Or the way various demographics or professions are caricaturized across the state and the nation, not because it’s true but in order to justify mistreating them?
Ten - “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Coveting is like desiring, or lusting, yes? But in a negative way? I’m not sure how you legislate away want. We seem intent on creating it, actually.
There are entire books in the Old Testament dedicated to rules and laws – would you clarify which you believe should be enforced today? Incest is in there, and still a ‘no-no’ all these years later. Eating shrimp is also a severe offense – why are we letting that slide? Homosexuality is arguably frowned on in the Old Testament, as is wearing mixed fabrics or allowing women to go about their business in the community while they’re on their period. Should we pick and choose, or just put all three into one bill?
Finally – and please, pardon my ignorance – why is it that nothing from the New Testament ever seems to be cited as justification for state legislation? Do we not believe the New Testament any longer, or is there something else I’m missing?
Liberals love to talk about Jesus’ treatment of children and the poor and such when it’s time to make public policy, at which point we’re firmly assured by those in power that such issues are best left to the church, the home, and private agencies. Could you help me understand why the ‘Thou Shalt Not’s are so essential, while anything helpful to the hungry, thirsty, foreign, poor, or sick – are clearly off-limits?
I wish there’d been professional law-makers and interpreters around while Jesus was physically walking the earth. They could have had these sorts of conversations and – assuming someone was willing to devote some papyrus and ink to recording them – we’d have a MUCH clearer understanding of how this whole law/grace balance is supposed to work.
Forgive my not being more up-to-date on my Bible scholarship. I’m sure there are good reasons to ignore Matthew 25:31-46 while focusing on the extensive time Jesus spent worrying about bathrooms, sexual immorality, handgun restrictions, and inadequate border patrol. That’s why I’m asking.
The most likely explanation is that I’m missing something obvious to you and your legislative peers. Otherwise, the rhetoric coming for OKC over the past several years would be nothing but a stream of self-serving cynicism, glaring contradictions, and rampant hypocrisy.
I look forward to better understanding this complex and emotional issue. Thank you for your time.