Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Keller Independent School District gave the Bible a boost this month. Not that the Bible needed it. It’s already the bestselling book of all time.
On Aug. 4, Patrick ended his address to CPAC Dallas with a call to action using 2 Chronicles 7:14. Then on Aug. 16, Keller ISD removed the Bible and 40 other books from school shelves.
Both sparked controversy, putting the Bible in the political spotlight.
Patrick calls for repentance
“I feel we are at a time in our country … where we can lose this great nation,” Patrick said. He believes the survival of the United States depends on 2022 and 2024, federal election years. Biden and the Democrats are to blame for the ruination of the nation, he asserted.
Patrick said he wanted to focus on “where we are as a nation of believers.” He cited a Gallup poll stating, “95 percent of conservatives believe in God … 72 percent of Democrats … 67 percent of liberals … and sadly, only 60-some percent of young people.”
His next words sparked the controversy: “We were a nation founded upon, not the words of our founders, but the words of God, because he wrote the Constitution. He empowered them. We were a Christian state.”
Those who oppose Christian nationalism pounced on these words. These words deserve examination, but my focus here is the end of Patrick’s speech.
Patrick then delivered a routine evangelical testimony about moving God from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat in his life. Stripped from their context in a patently political speech, his words about following God’s plan, Jesus’ promises in the New Testament and the words of the Old Testament could be delivered in any Texas Baptist church and rightfully receive an “Amen.”
But this wasn’t an honest-to-goodness sermon during a Sunday morning worship service. This was a political speech on the stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
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Patrick spiritualized the 2022 and 2024 political contests, quoting Proverbs 21:31 and calling conservatives to be ready for battle. It’s not a fight between “Republicans and Democrats of the old days. We’re in a fight of lightness and darkness … powers and principalities,” he said, referencing Ephesians 6:12.
He placed conservatives on God’s path and Democrats on the path of darkness. Never mind that many Democrats are faithful Christians. By demonizing political rivals, such rhetoric has set the stage for political violence in the past and is doing so in the present.
The speech reached its climax with Patrick’s recitation of 2 Chronicles 7:14, his exposition of it, and his call to action using it.
“If my people who are called by my name,” Patrick recited. He stopped to make clear “my people” is not “all Americans” as he used to think, but Christians—presumably American Christians.
“Will humble themselves and pray, turn their face to me, ask for forgiveness and promise to turn from their wickedness, and ask me to heal their land, I will hear them from heaven, I will forgive them for their sin, and I will heal their land,” Patrick continued.
Patrick concluded by asking his audience—“all faiths, all denominations, all religions, we’re all God’s people”—to stand with him in prayer and repeat after him words from 2 Chronicles 7:14. It was just like an evangelical altar call. Except it was a political rally. The suddenly expanded definition of “God’s people” gives it away.
When Republican politicians use Scripture this way, we should not be surprised if people ask if the Bible is a Republican manifesto. We can substitute the modifier when politicians from other parties do the same thing.
Not to worry, though. We only need to point to Jesus’ response to the Pharisees—recorded in the Bible—to answer the question. No, the Bible is not a political manifesto.
Meanwhile, in Keller
Yes, the Bible is a troubling book, so troubling it was challenged twice in Keller ISD for its sexual and violent content—Nov. 16, 2021, and Feb. 11, 2022.
Rape, incest, mutilation, genocide, dismemberment, exploitation, murder and other R- and X-rated content is scattered throughout the holy book. Song of Solomon gives animated movies a run for their money with sexual innuendo, and Braveheart pales in comparison to the books of Joshua and Judges.
No wonder the Bible was challenged alongside novels and memoirs with sexually explicit and violent content. That’s the kind of thing that’s bound to happen when sacred Scripture is not off limits to scrutiny.
To our knowledge, Keller ISD is the only Texas school district in which the Bible has been challenged. After committee review, the Bible and most of the remaining challenged books were returned to circulation. Access to some titles was limited to upper grades.
But that all changed Aug. 16, just before Keller ISD’s first day of school, when principals received an administrative email instructing them to remove from libraries and classrooms all books challenged during the previous year, including the Bible.
Public backlash spurred Superintendent Rick Westfall to issue the following statement days later: “I want to assure you that Keller ISD is not banning the Bible … as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media, but I want to explain where this miscommunication came from.”
“Under the new [policy], … Previously challenged books are also being removed to a parental consent area to determine if those books meet the new standards in the policy and the guidelines that will soon be considered by the [school] Board.”
It’s ironic that a book screening effort championed by Patrick and his political allies would snag the Bible in its net.
Scripture’s proper light
I have been critical of the political use of Scripture and religious language, not just by American conservatives, but also Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and President Joe Biden. I will continue to be critical of such political uses of Scripture.
It is a misuse of Scripture to wield it under a political spotlight for purposes of achieving political ends. What Scripture calls for—its proper use—is for God’s people—biblically defined—to live the commands of Christ, letting thatlight shine and be a lamp unto our feet.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed are those solely of the author.