Recently, the Rev. Billy Graham’s organization bought full-page ads in major newspapers – including the Review-Journal – encouraging people to vote for “biblical principles.”
“I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms,” reads one ad, signed by the famous preacher. “The Bible speaks clearly on these critical issues.”
Typically, my reply would be to remind Graham that our country was founded more on the principles of the Enlightenment than on those of the Bible, and that our Constitution specifically forbids establishing any particular religion, for very good reasons.
But given Graham’s long and distinguished career, his respect in the United States and around the world, and the fact that it’s a good subject for a Sunday, let’s indulge the good reverend for a few moments.
First, we must admit the biblical definition of marriage is somewhat fluid. In the Old Testament, we often see marriage between a man and multiple women. Abraham, the father of Israel, Solomon, king over Israel and David, Solomon’s father, all had more than one wife. It’s only in the New Testament where believers are instructed to take only one wife.
And while biblical law condemns gayness, the subject is touched on lightly compared to, say, the responsibilities of followers of God toward the poor, dispossessed and immigrants.
Whether they’re commanded to leave grapes for the poor and the aliens in their vineyards, told that God rescues the poor from the powerful, or exhorted not to exploit the poor, the Hebrew scriptures are littered with references to poverty and the obligations to those suffering from it.
“He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their maker,” reads the Proverb. (Now what was Gov. Mitt Romney saying about the 47 percent, again?) The prophet Isaiah quotes the Lord: “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”
The prophet Ezekiel condemns the wayward hypothetical son of a righteous man, listing among his sins oppression of the poor and needy, concluding, “Will such a man live? He will not!”
The prophet Amos inveighed against the nation of Israel, saying “they trample on the heads of the poor, as upon the dust of the ground, and deny justice to the oppressed.”
In the gospels, we find Jesus saying nothing about gay marriage or abortion, but a great deal about wealth and its corrupting effects. “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” he tells a young, rich man, who was depressed at the thought. “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
And again, speaking in parable, says Christ: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Of course, it would be hypocritical for a person to suggest that the United States government should fulfill the social agenda of the Bible while ignoring the social issues so important to religious conservatives. I’m certainly not doing that – I think it’s important to leave no one in our society behind for humanitarian as well as religious reasons.
But if anybody is considering Graham’s admonition of voting based on “biblical principles,” it’s important to understand just what those might be, and how many of them we may be overlooking.
The plain truth is the God of the Bible cannot be shoehorned into either political party.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or email@example.com.