Virtual Voices

Politicians' favorite Scriptures

Campaign 2008

Benedicta Cippolla makes the observation that Democrats' favorite Scripture seems to be from the book of James: "Faith without works is dead."

In Kentucky, Obama mailed out a flier that featured him behind a pulpit with the words, "My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want. But I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work." According to Politico, Clinton's "standard church speech" used the line "Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is just too hard." When she spoke at Saddleback Church, she called it her favorite Scripture.

John Kerry and Al Gore quoted it when they ran against Bush. Even Daily Kos borrows this "faith without works" language with the headline, "Midwestern Flooding Responses: McCain Prays; Obama Grabs a Shovel!

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It's not the only Scripture politicians favor. Before the second anniversary of the Katrina disaster, Obama invoked the Sermon on the Mount, saying the disaster's aftermath was so devastating because America's foundation wasn't built on the rock of brotherhood. When a Democratic debate monitor asked candidates to tell their favorite Scriptures, Obama said the Sermon on the Mount, and Clinton named the Golden Rule. Obama also said the Golden Rule when he took a similar question at a townhall meeting.

No one seems to have asked John McCain the same question, and Jonathan Martin finds it hard to see him answering it (although Daily Intel hazards a guess). If anyone did ask, he'd probably come up with a similar verse --- an inoffensive one, reduced to a lowest-common-denominator interpretation palatable to both Christians and atheists.

As Cippolla notes, the book of James, with its focus on ethical living, is the perfect book for a politician: "Its scriptural authority speaks to Christians, but its emphasis on ethical action speaks to everyone." Ironically, though, these inoffensive Scriptures are the most radically impossible to put into action, apart from the "faith" that politicians necessarily dilute when they borrow it to "speak to everyone. "

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