On Tom DeLay and the Book of Matthew
Tom DeLay stood before 109th Congressional Prayer Breakfast on January 5, 2005 and, without commenting, read the following passage from the book of Matthew.
Matthew 7:21 through 27:
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers.’"
Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock: The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand: The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined."
DeLay’s choice has been the topic of indignation and incredulity on blogs across the web. While other congress members commemorated the victims of the tsunami, was he really joining Rush Limbaugh in blaming them for their own trauma? Was he joining the fringe of religious leaders who have called the tsunami a sign of God’s wrath against evil heathens in an evil world—Muslims, Buddhists and Scandinavians in bikinis? Was he saying that his evangelical God (who cares about each person individually) selectively punished people based on nationality, location, age, and whether they were strong swimmers? Was he actually suggesting that God spared America because the predominant religion here is Christianity? Or, in his drive to promote theocracy at home, was he simply using the tsunami as a metaphor—crassly and insensitively chosen—to talk about the dangers he sees in a secular, pluralistic America.
Who knows. And, frankly, who cares. It doesn’t matter if he was speaking literally, or metaphorically. His renowned arrogance and soggy ethics, make it sheer hypocrisy for DeLay to suggest that anyone deserves calamities because of their moral failings, let alone for him to draw such implications from a disaster that selectively killed children, the elderly, and the weak. At the same time, his posture is hardly new or newsworthy.
But here is why his choice of passages is worth noting. Not only was it cruel, it was perfectly bad for another reason: it perfectly illustrates the way that the religious right slices and dices the Bible to promote what is, at its heart, an agenda that reflects their own base instincts rather than the character of Transcendent Goodness. They use a process called “proof-texting,” which means taking carefully chosen chunks of the Bible out of context in order to back up their beliefs and to justify their behavior. They are no followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
If DeLay bothered to read the rest of Matthew 7 and the remainder of the book, what he would find is regular and repeated condemnation of those who are publicly religious, doctrinally rigorous, and lacking in mercy and compassion. Bizarrely, even the verses he read aloud say as much: it is not those who call God by the right name, but those who do his will, who are saved from the wind and rains and flood. Elsewhere in Matthew, the will of God is spelled out like this:
Matthew 25: 31-46:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
"Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
”The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ "Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
"Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ "Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
You tell me. By this measure, and based on what he shows the world about his priorities, is DeLay a sheep or a goat? How about Rush? How about Ralph Reed or James Dobson? How about the growing host of evangelicals who follow their example rather than the example of Jesus Christ? The writer of Matthew had a Role Model who said that one commandment was “like unto loving God”: to love your neighbor as yourself. These two, He said, are the point of all the other commandments. (Matthew 22:35-40). If DeLay is going to quote the Bible, he should avoid the book of Matthew. But don’t let me proof-text you. Read the whole thing for yourself.
Seattle, January 12, 2005