Understanding the Bible Cover to Cover 

by Brad Cotton

(published 18 July 2012 Circleville Herald)

Strange thing: If the American Founding Fathers were such devout evangelical Christians; how did they manage to exclude God and Jesus from our founding documents,  including  only one reference to a “Creator” ( a Deist-associated term) in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence? Jefferson also edited his Bible with scissors to remove all claims of Jesus’ divinity, miracles and what he regarded as silliness. The only references to religion in the Constitution are clear declarations that no religious test would be required for office and that Congress was to make no laws establishing, respecting or prohibiting any faith practice. Strange behavior for men alleged to have intended on establishing a “Christian Nation”. Rather the Founders were more influenced by the rational Age of Enlightenment ideas of liberal Englishman John Locke and French atheist Voltaire.

My neighbor is free to believe as he chooses, as Jefferson said “… it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket not breaks my leg”. The problem with the current right-wing distortion of the history of our nation’s founding is it does pick my pocket and break my leg. There is an inseparable association of the “Christian Founding” myth with right-wing authoritarian politics. If one is poor, a minority, a non-evangelical believer, gay, a scientist, a questioner, a Democrat, an Iraq War protester, or, despite the attempt to re-write the history of the 1960’s civil rights movement, which the “Bible Belt” condemned from the pulpit; if one was ( or currently is, see Gov. Rick Scott, Florida) a voter-disenfranchised African-American in the South,  then many “Christian Nation” fundamentalists  are not your friends.

If, as has been suggested in the Herald , we are to understand the Bible” from cover to  cover”, then let’s look at the unmistakable, clear, undeniable theme on every single page of God’s concern for the poor and oppressed. Strange, one just doesn’t hear the Bible spoken of as such by the same folks insisting that the Founding Fathers were government-hating evangelical Christians.  For much of the inspiration for the material herein I credit Shane Claiborne’s book “Economy of Love”.

The nation of Israel began after all in a labor dispute. The Jewish people endured forced labor to enrich the ruling class. Their pleas for better working conditions, social and economic justice went nowhere. There was no chance of a better life for their children, no upward mobility. God interceded and delivered His people from economic injustice. On the trek to the Promised Land, to combat the sinful tendency to hoard goods, the Lord forbid collecting more manna than that day’s requirements.

God warned the newly land-rich Israelites “There shall be no poor among you.”(Deuteronomy 15:4)) The people were commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields and not to pick over the land twice—the corners and leavings were for the poor. ( Leviticus 19 9-10 and 23:22 ) Furthermore, and radically redistributionist, way beyond any plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, God commanded that periodically all debts were to forgiven and all land was to returned to those from whom it had been foreclosed. ( Leviticus 25), God will tolerate no lasting  great wealth injustice.

Ezekiel tells us that God’s destruction of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality, it was because they were “ arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy.” ( 16:49) Isaiah condemns “ you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor.” ( Isaiah 2)  Every word of Amos rails at Israel’s unjust distribution of wealth, condemning Israel’s “job creators”: “ They hate the man who teaches justice at the city gate and detest anyone who declares the truth. For trampling on the poor man and extorting levies on his wheat: although you have built houses of dressed stone, you will not live in them…. For I know many your crimes are and how outrageous your sins, you oppressors of the upright, who hold people to ransom and thrust the poor aside at the gates.” ( Amos 5: 10-13) Jeremiah again, one of hundreds of warnings from all the Prophets, warns the Wall Streeters of his time “ if you do not exploit the stranger, the orphan and the widow….  Then I shall let you stay in this place [the Temple]… Do you look on this Temple that bears my name as a den of bandits?” ( Jeremiah 7) Jesus chooses these very words of Jeremiah to recite as he overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. Moneychangers?  Think of the health insurers, and their Republican protectors.

The New Testament clearly places Jesus’ birth in a stable, announced to shepherds—the very bottom of the social order. Born today, He would be born in a flophouse on West Broad Street, Columbus and His birth announced to prostitutes and the homeless down by the Scioto. Jesus entire ministry was among the poorest and outcast, inviting them to God’s Great Banquet. (Luke 14). Jesus had little good to say of Goldman-Sachs, Bain Capital or the health insurers. Jesus rather said that Lazarus would be barred from bringing them a drop of water to cool their tongue. The Bible cover to cover is filled with God’s passion for justice for all. Jefferson himself, one of our Founders twisted by today’s “Christian Nation” right-wingers said “ I tremble for my Country when I reflect that God is just.”