PART I: SERIOUSLY – BUT NOT LITERALLY

bible

The date was 28 November 2007.

The place was Saint Petersburg, Florida.

The occasion was the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential candidate’s debate before the 2008 election.

“I’m Joe,” the 24 year-old Joseph Dearing began. “I’m from Dallas, Texas. And how you answer this question will tell us everything that we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically this book that I am holding in my hand. Do you believe this book?”

The book Dearing was holding was an apparently well-worn Bible. Dearing took great care to show that it was specifically the King James Version because apparently that was a crucial part of the question from his point of view. None of the three candidates invited to respond appeared to catch the particular reference to the King James Version, however.

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York and a Roman Catholic, took the first stab at the question. “The reality is, I believe it, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily literally true in every single respect,” he said. “I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context. So, yes, I believe it. I think it’s the greatest book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I’ve gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith,” Giuliani said. “But I don’t believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.”

Dearing described Giuliani’s response “a cop-out.”

Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, former pastor and former Governor of Arkansas gave the next and perhaps the most polished response. “Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It’s the word of revelation to us from God himself,” Huckabee said to applause. “And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don’t believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says ‘Go and pluck out your eye,’ well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye,” Huckabee continued. “That obviously is allegorical. But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘as much as you’ve done it to the least of these brethren, you’ve done it unto me.’ Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I’m not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated. And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don’t fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite God, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.”

Huckabee’s answer also did not satisfy Dearing, who advocates the use of only the King James Version of the Bible. “I think Mike Huckabee is a typical liberal pastor, because I heard in a previous debate that he didn’t think it matters whether or not you believe the creation in Genesis was six literal days.”

Finally, it was Mitt Romney’s turn to answer. Romney, whose Mormon faith had been a sensitive issue for evangelical voters from the start of his campaign, stumbled on his answer. “I believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely,” he said. “And I try … (Applause) … I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it’s a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.”

“Does that mean you believe every word?” pressed Anderson Cooper, the debate moderator for the evening. “You know,” Romney paused, “yes, I believe it’s the word of God, the Bible is the word of God. The Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don’t disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.”

Dearing’s response to Romney’s answer was: “It was very telling that he wouldn’t give a yes or no to the question,” he said. “His entire religion is in direct contradiction with the Bible.”

And just who is Joe Dearing? “I was saved from eternity in a literal fiery hell in 2003 by the only means possible – grace through faith in the blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross,” Dearing has written about himself. “He died as a sacrifice to pay for my sins and then rose from the dead,” Dearing continues. “Since then, I’ve grown a lot spiritually, thanks to the influence of the infallible word of God, which today is found in the Authorized (King James) Bible. The King James Version is not just a translation of the word of God,” Dearing says. “It is literally the supernatural word of God, just as much as the original autographs were the word of God. The main reason I’m saved now is what I learned from Bible-believers showing me the differences between the Bible versions. You can’t get saved until you understand the gospel, and I didn’t understand the gospel until I read the King James verses,” Dearing said.

There are so many things I want to say with regards to Mr. Dearing’s statement and those three politician’s pandering answers (in the political sense), but I will confine my remarks to just two things. I am not sure I follow Mr. Dearing’s logic – such as it is – but I have two main problems with what he says.

The first problem has to do with his claim that a specific question about religious doctrine, so specific that it apparently includes an insistence that candidates endorse a particular biblical translation, can tell us “everything that we need to know” about a person. No one that evening in Saint Petersburg seemed to object to this line of questioning or to say that we need to know more about presidential candidates than whether or not they believe in “this book.” Even more importantly, no one apparently remembered that pesky Article VI, paragraph 3 in the Constitution of the United States. You know, the one that states: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (bold text is for emphasis).

The fact that no one raised the issue greatly troubles me and it should trouble you as well.

Apparently, Mr. Dearing has never heard of the No Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause has been interpreted to mean that no federal employee, whether elected or appointed, career or political, can be required to adhere to or accept any religion or belief and is cited by advocates of separation of church and state as an example of “original intent” of the Framers of the Constitution of avoiding any entanglement between church and state, or involving the government in any way as a determiner of religious beliefs or practices.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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