It's autumn in Ohio which means that the leaves are falling and my mailbox is filling up with political postcards from parties of all stripes. My time-honored practice is to treat both the leaves and the postcards in the same manner. I put them at the curb so the city can pick them up.
It is not unusual for politicians to begin attending church during the election season and to quote the Bible. These are both sometimes met with unfortunate results. Since these people are not usually regular readers of the Bible they often have no clue what it says. Sometimes they know some "famous" verses, but have no clue what they mean.
I remember one particularly embarrassing scene that took place when an important and much debated bill was making its way through congress. The bill was intended to help children in the USA, but was being held up due to the normal, ugly processes of sausage making in Washington. During an interview one leader decided to throw out a Bible verse to support the need to pass the bill. The politician quoted the KJV translation of Mark 10:14a which reads "suffer the little children to come unto me." The politician then insisted that the children had suffered enough and therefore the bill should be passed! I take it this individual had never actually read the verse, but was familiar with it nonetheless.
Another symptom of the clash of politics and the Bible is the oft-asserted claim that politician "X" will support "biblical family values." But as Michael Coogan points out in an Op-Ed piece this week, the Bible can have some very strange family values. Here is a bit of what Coogan has to say.
According to biblical law, a father could sell his daughter as a slave, and the last of the Ten Commandments lists as off-limits a neighbor's possessions -- his house, wife, slaves, and livestock. But the majority of modern Jews and Christians no longer accept the biblical view of women as men's property and hence subordinate to them, as they have also abandoned the biblical practice of polygamy.
In addition to the above I can think of other examples of family values that I would not want to replicate simply because they are in the Bible. Abraham denies that Sarah is his wife (twice) and later forces his eldest son and mother to leave home (Hagar/Ishmael). Jacob's daughter Dinah is raped and he says nothing since he is more concerned with what the surrounding people will think. David does a similar thing when Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. And I know of no one who suggests that we should execute a rebellious teenager, although I am sure that thought may have passed through the mind of a few parents.
Coogan's point is well taken. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is something that should be followed. And when we throw around such phrases like "biblical family values" we leave a lot open to interpretation. We often know what we have in mind, but those who hear us do not. The uninformed would be justifiably shocked if they went to research the Bible's family values and came across some of the above examples.
As Coogan points out, we would be better off looking for and communicating the underlying message of the need to love and respect one another. And the best way to do that is not to tell people about our biblical values, but to actually live them out.