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“The Bible says that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to heal, …and a time to build up.’ That time is now. In the midst of a global pandemic, economic hardship for millions of Americans, and the tragic events of January 6th, now is the time for us to come together, now is the time to heal.” (Mike Pence)

I am so tired of having Scripture used as a tool of manipulation.

I recognize that this letter from Mike Pence really isn’t about Scripture as much as it’s about politics. I realize that it isn’t directed to me as much as it’s intended to placate the angry mobs who are trying to hang Pence from actual gallows they have erected on the Capitol steps. (They would have to lay down their “Jesus Saves” posters first, so I can understand his impulse to quote Scripture to them, however imprecisely.)

But it all just feels so very familiar to me, this move to open the “good book” as a way to close the book on whatever emotion, question, impulse, challenge has become inconvenient to the guy in charge.

The words Mike Pence is using to try to smother our trauma—“a time to heal”—come from Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is not a book of the Bible that intends to comfort. The book of Ecclesiastes is about uncertainties and anxieties, about meaninglessness and doubts. If you’re going to read it, you have to be willing to lock eyes with your fears of conflict, of helplessness, of darkness, of pain. Really, apart from the ten words Pence plucked from the third chapter, there isn’t much light-and-bright about the book at all.

Pence’s impulse to plead for calm is unsurprising, but his opportunistic cherry-picking of Scripture should bother us. The Bible is not a tool that does the bidding of the powerful; it is the good news that sets the oppressed free. For far too long, the Evangelical patriarchy has abused Scripture in this way, normalizing its being used as a tool to intimidate the vulnerable and suppress the victim. It feels familiar because it is familiar. 

Also: Pence’s plea makes absolutely no sense. A wound can’t be healed when it’s still being inflicted. What Pence wants is not healing. He wants absolution. 

If I were to dress up my own hopes in the trappings of holy language, I’d say it like this: There is a time to speak the truth. There is a time to refuse to pretend. There is a time to grieve, a time to be furious, a time to cuss at the television. There is a time to demand accountability. And sure, maybe one day there will be a time to come together. I hope so. But that will require that all the weapons be laid aside. Even the weapons that look like a Bible.

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

21 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Thank you.

  • Gary VanHouten says:

    Thank you, Kate. Absolution NOT granted!

  • mstair says:

    “I am so tired of having Scripture used as a tool of manipulation.”
    Me too; and it extends to all written material from news (& fake news), to the Constitution and SCOTUS decisions.
    A flagrant use of postmodern imprecision re: the unreliability of language and epistemology.
    When one believes like that, truth is truly relative and open to interpretation.

  • Nolan Palsma says:

    I wonder sometimes whether the use of scripture in politics will take away from the power of the Word of God in worship. Even though we may think that we understand God’s Word, it’s still new in its hearing and not to be used for our own benefit.

  • Helen P says:

    So well said Kate. Thank you!

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Kate, for your input for resolving our political and national problems. Of course, the question for many is, who more than Christians use the Bible to point out the error of our ways nationally and the solution to our problems. It’s Christians (of whatever stripe). Whose interpretation of Scripture is right (say of Ecclesiastes), yours, mine, Pence’s? There are only thousands of Christian denominations vying for their own interpretations. I think your last paragraph makes some sense. Forget all the sanctimonious Scripture references and just address our problems using common sense and reason. Obviously, the use of Scripture by leaders and novices has only gotten our nation in a deep hole. In this post Christian era (for our Western civilization), good sound reasoning makes a lot more sense than using the weapons of religion, including the Bible, as you suggest. Thanks, Kate, for shedding some light on our national and international problems.

  • Well said. To me, so much of the problem creating division among Christians is that they work from different assumptions about the Bible they are using as their authority. If purity and obedience are all the Scriptures are for, a lot of ink could have been saved writing all those stories, songs, etc. If they are understood as a story of God loving us out of our deadly ways, then using such a beautiful narrative as a weapon is less of a temptation. It is painful to see the Bible used in such careless ways. All the more reason for those of us who preach and teach to encourage probing its depths instead of trolling for sound bites. Thank you, Kate!

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks, Kate. It reminds me of how some played Bible text bingo regarding women in office

  • Shannon Jammal-Hollemans says:

    “There is a time to speak the truth. There is a time to refuse to pretend. There is a time to grieve, a time to be furious, a time to cuss at the television. There is a time to demand accountability. ” This is a biblical call to repentance, lament, righteousness and holiness. Well said, my friend.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Partisanship is on pretty clear display here. I’ve seen an abundance of CRC (OSJ) references to biblical quotes to be used as, well, “persuading tools” (what some might call “manipulation”). For example, I’ve seen “welcome the stranger” used to oppose or support any number of particular immigration policies or perspectives; and I’ve seen “let justice roll down like waters” used oppose or support for an even wider array of political policies.

    Hmm. Biblical quotes for me but not for thee?

    And “cussing at the television”? If one starts doing that, one ought to do a serious self-evaluation.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      Can you make a case that the OSJ used words from Scripture out of context, or used it to meet a personal end-goal? I believe that Scripture is relevant to policy-making for Christians, and it has a place in conversations about policy. I think “welcome the stranger” is 100% relevant to a conversation about immigration. I have no problem with politicians quoting Scripture. What I’m against is quoting it selectively (e.g. the use of ellipses by Pence in this quote), out of context (e.g. Ecclesiastes being used as a “let’s look forward to a rosier future” text), for the goal of obfuscating the truth (e.g. “let’s come together, see Scripture says you should” within hours of the same administration inciting division), and to allow the powerful to silence victims (e.g. “now is the time for healing” when there has been no repair of the harm done).

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Partisanship is also on display in this way: Pence could just as well have been said to be quoting Biden as quoting scripture. Biden, shortly post- election: “‘To everything there is a season: a time to build, a time to reap, and a time to sow and a time to heal.’ This is the time to heal in America.” Religious scrutiny seems to often flow in only one direction on this blog, yet it never seems to change despite attention being called to it with some regularity. It’s almost as if all the calls to listen that regularly emanate from this site are not really practiced. I’m personally tempted to cuss more when I read The Twelve than when I watch the news. I expect the news to be slanted. I don’t expect so much slant from an ostensibly Reformed Christian blog. Yet I keep reading, and I also do learn.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Thanks for this. “The Bible is Not a Weapon” got me to thinking about Ephesians 6 where the Word of God is presented as a weapon. But it’s to be used in a struggle that is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Using the Bible to shore up one’s political position seems to be a lot like Israel using the Ark of the Covenant to win military victory. God will not be used. Our spiritual battles are not against the human beings on the right or on the left, all of whom are called by the Word of God to be rescued from and to oppose the spiritual darkness that threatens every person and every party.

  • RH says:

    Like Doug, wondering if your righteous indignation is bipartisan? Many times politicians use scripture to make a point, at times citing verses less acurately than Vice President Pence. (https://www.businessinsider.com/nancy-pelosi-quotes-a-bible-verse-that-doesnt-exist-isnt-in-bible-2019-2, https://theweek.com/speedreads/440665/obama-quotes-nonexistent-bible-verse-immigration-speech) And the VP’s motivation? Well, I hope this is an accurate citation: Matt 7:1 “”Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

  • RH says:

    You censor comments as well??

  • Betsy Hansen says:

    I am very proud of Mike Pence using scripture to encourage people to do the right thing. The Bible is a living active word of God. God has used scripture in my life to guide me in His ways. I praise God for Mike Pence’s living testimony of faith in our government!

  • David E Timmer says:

    Scripture should never be “used” as moral guidance without a process of discernment which asks “How does this passage help us hear God’s call for us today?” Pence has apparently decided that this moment is a time to heal rather than to kill, a time to build up rather than to break down. But how did he arrive at this discernment? Merely by excising the unwanted option in his selective quotation? A better discernment, in my view, would look seriously (if metaphorically) at both options before choosing the warm fuzzy one. How can it be time to heal and build up when there has been no accountability, no repentance, on the part of those who killed and broke down?

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    Doug, it is rare when we agree, so I have to take note. I think you and i are pretty much in agreement on the “proof text” approach. I think we probably both also agree that the Biblical command for justice is clear and unequivocal, not based on one text but on a great many. I know we disagree on the role of how justice is to be carried out in society but that’s another discussion.

    But, I am not so sure about the cussing at the TV. I am afraid that I have used profane language at my TV on multiple occasions in the last week. I am not sure what other recourse I have (except not to listen at all) when politicians and various talking heads offer sophomoric logic, sophistry, and downright prevarication.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Tom, well thanks for that affirmation (of sorts). There’s always common ground out there, eh? 🙂

    Maybe its cuz I’ve been a lawyer so long, but I’ve never been tempted to cuss at my TV, or even yell. My wife doesn’t cuss (ever), but she is more inclined than I am to “be upset and direct that to the TV show/news” than I am. She’s a recently retired special education teacher — don’t know what that may mean, or say. 🙂

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    Pence should read Ps 72 about how God wants a leader with justice and righteousness and Ps 85 about righteousness/justice and peace kissing too

  • Jeffrey Carpenter says:

    I had less of an issue with VP Pence (and many others) using ” a time to heal” reference, as that passage from Ecclesiastes has been a classic balm and call for peace throughout western history, not just our own. Beyond peace though, the passage also shows the ebb and flow of all human spirit and activity, and to see it only as positive and peaceable makes its invocation trite. Aka “vanity”–?
    I hope we haven’t forgotten, however, Pence’s mashup of 2 Cor. 3:17 / Hebrews 12: 1-2 at the RNC in Aug 2020:
    “Let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents. Let’s fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom and never forget that where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom — and that means freedom always wins.”
    Now that was icky and weird.

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