What Roy Moore Can Teach us about Reading the Bible
Like many small Christian people, my church gave me my first Bible in fourth grade. Our pastor made an earnest speech to us and we spent all year in Sunday school getting to know it as a source of life-giving wisdom. I’m not sure whether these exact words were used, but the message was loud and clear: the Bible is God’s love letter to me.
This is a good message. It’s a great message. I don’t know any fourth graders, but I would guess this is an age-appropriate message.
It’s also highly individualized and wildly self-assured. It’s reflective of my white, American, upper-class culture. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem—except that it is, because of the seductive power of white supremacy.
I don’t know whether Roy Moore got a Bible in fourth grade. I don’t know if he was told that it was God’s love letter to him. I do know that he refused to concede when he lost the election last Tuesday.
That night, Moore said, “We also know that God is always in control.” He quoted Psalm 40:1-3, waiting on the Lord to lift him up out of this “horrible pit” (he recited from the King James Version) and put a new song in his mouth.
But this passage actually sounds like it would be more fitting for the women Moore allegedly molested than for Moore himself. Last month, after decades of silence, Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debbie Wesson Gibson, Gloria Thacker Deason, Beverly Young Nelson, Tina Johnson, Gena Richardson, and Becky Gray began to speak out about harassment from Moore.
As the Washington Post reports on the first four women’s accounts, “All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore.”
Talk about waiting in a pit, finding solid ground, and singing a new song.
So how did Moore confuse this psalm to be about him? Easy. Moore lives at the intersection of American exceptionalism and Christian supersessionism. These two ideas combined make it incredibly difficult for a white American Christian to not believe that they are God’s chosen people. It’s the basis of American slavery, manifest destiny, and Moore’s belief that government should not only reflect but be subject to his faith. Secularized, it’s when things just work out. Something good always comes along. Believe in yourself!
Living in a racialized system that is set up to benefit you only confirms this bias. When Moore gets elected, it’s God’s blessing. When he loses, it’s confirmation of what he’s read in the Bible, “you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, NRSV).
Moore takes this to an extreme, but he and I have a lot in common. We are sure that God loves us and we have more privilege than we know what to do with. Left unchecked, we’re both in danger of forgetting that “blessed” in the context of the United States, is often synonymous with “white” and in his case “male.” His successes are a reflection of the demographic boxes he checks.
Moore believes in a God of justice, who is on the side of the oppressed. His problem is that the way we read the Bible always begins with our cultural location. And Moore’s cultural location makes him easily confused about who is actually oppressed.
Now, I don’t live in Alabama and I would never vote for Roy Moore, but if I distance myself too much from him and his worldview of being special or lucky or blessed or chosen in some way, I contribute to the cultural ethos that got him within a two percent margin of victory.
I’m not a judge who’s lost my job twice (TWICE) for breaking the law and then tried to get a new job as a federal lawmaker. And I believe very different things than he does, both about how government should function and what the Bible is actually for and about.
But something tells me that when I think about God and when I read the Bible or even just read the story of my life and how I expect to succeed in the world, Moore and I are probably thinking along really similar lines.
I know it’s not a classic Christmas message, but what if, to check my bias, I read the text not as God’s love letter to me, but to those who are oppressed by the systems that I benefit from?
What would it cost me to not celebrate Jesus living for me and giving his life for me, but for those who don’t have the privileges that I was born into? What would I learn and how might it change me?