The progressive Christian impulse to draw inspiration for justice and mercy from the Bible is a failed and dangerously counter-productive tactic. Citing the Bible as a source of moral authority to do good only serves to reinforce the idea that the Bible can and should rightfully be used as a source of moral authority to enact harm.
What a time to be alive.
On November 9, 2016, American self-proclaimed “Bible-believers,” overwhelmingly white evangelical Christians, voted as a block to install a vile mad man to command the most powerful military in the world. Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump because he promised to advance their Biblically-referenced agenda of depriving girls and women the right to terminate unwanted and unsafe pregnancies; gays and lesbians the right to marry; people of color the right to equal protection under the law; and citizens the right to shop at Target without encountering open-carrying “good guys with guns.”
Bible-believers did not elect Donald Trump to improve our quality of life as Americans, but to bring our country under the sovereign rule of the Biblical God. As Trump becomes increasingly unstable and unmoored from the basic principles of civility, he directs his crass tweets to his reliable base of support — the Bible-believers. Predictably, for anyone familiar with Bible-believers, they perceive his madness, cruelty, lying, willful ignorance, and false bravado as proof positive he is an agent of divine providence, even a messianic figure.
In response, progressive Christians pull out their Bibles to cite chapter and verse supporting justice and mercy. Bishop Dr. William Barber, John Pavlovitz, Rachel Held Evans, and countless other thoughtful Christian leaders valiantly and eloquently persist in elevating the Bible as a superlative source of moral authority to create the beloved community. Progressive “social justice warrior” Christians call Trump’s Bible-believers fake Christians, even as those Christians faithfully attend church and Bible study and justify nearly every utterance with a Bible verse or passage.
When Bible-believers argue that 10-year-old girls should be forced to endure pregnancies and childbirth subsequent to incest, they cite inerrant scripture — not medical literature. This is why we should leave them to their own devices. Every time we try to rescue the Bible from them, we impede the ability of all decent Americans to see their pre-modern patriarchal agenda with optimal clarity.
It is indisputable that many of our most cherished American institutions, political movements, and documents were inspired by Biblical passages calling for humane treatment of all God’s children. It is also indisputable that American Christian church backed Native American genocide, slavery, disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, and…. Donald Trump. Much of our best and most of our worst history drew inspiration from the Bible. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Liberty, Bob Jones, and Union Universities were all founded by Christians. Today, we are being ruled by Biblical literalists. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, we would not need to boycott the Bible. But here we are.
All of our American history is real and Christianity has been the dominant religion in the history of our country. Many thought leaders in politics and the media want to believe only the highest expressions of Christianity truly represent the religion. However, the hard truth is that no single Christian denomination, sect, or movement is any more “real” than the other, especially for children raised in those churches. The Christian religion taught to children is the only Christianity they know. The worst expressions of American Biblical Christianity are on display right now in America for the world to see — and it’s a terribly grotesque picture. If any good can come from this moment, we will expose and oppose the spiritual and sexual abuse running rampant in Evangelical churches.
It is not at all difficult to argue a moral case for feeding the hungry, healing the sick, protecting the widow, and nurturing children absent the Bible. When evaluating the merits of proposed legislation, ask whether or not the policy
· promotes public health & safety
· improves access to education
· supports national security
· protects our most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly, the sick, veterans, and the poor
· advances human equality.
By contrast, it is nearly impossible to morally justify harming people and the planet without an assist from some form of religious scripture. With the Bible as a source of inerrant authority, Bible-believers have proven it is possible to enact an inhumane, destructive, ignorant, abusive agenda.
Thanks to those who cite the Bible as their primary source of moral authority, we are presently under grave threat of nuclear war, financial collapse, irreversible environmental damage, forced pregnancy and childbirth, preventable crimes, injuries, and illnesses, the gutting of our public schools, and many more horrific outcomes. The Bible-believers agenda, Donald Trump’s agenda, cannot advance without the Bible. We need to start depriving them of oxygen, and that means letting them have the Bible — all of it. Let them own the entirety of scripture, including their embrace of Biblical sanctions of slavery, infanticide, rape, and genocide. Let Bible believers own everything Jesus reportedly said, including Luke 12:47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows;” Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and yes, even their own life, such a person cannot be my disciple;” and Luke 19:27 “ But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me.”
If we must choose between rescuing the Bible or our country and world from Christians, let’s please choose the latter. We are living in a time when we more urgently need to be saved from Jesus than by him. The progressive Christian agenda can advance without the Bible. Therefore in this moment of grave peril, I implore all good and decent Americans, including those who embrace the most exemplary Biblical ethics to #BoycottTheBible.
Sarah Woods is a feminist scholar, theologian, hospital chaplain, and previously ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She holds a BA in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Masters of Divinity from Howard University.