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After a nice July 4th break, over which we all just watched 1776 on constant repeat, we’re back today with a piece from David Mislin.

The book of Proverbs, writes Yale Divinity School professor Joel S. Baden, “is probably the most Republican book of the entire Bible.”

The impetus for this declaration was Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio’s recent decision to regularly tweet passages from Proverbs. Baden argues that the “consistent view of the world” presented by Proverbs is very similar to the contemporary GOP mindset. “The righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished…everyone gets what is coming to them,” the Hebrew Bible scholar writes.

Baden suggests some other books that might be favored by Democrats: Ecclesiastes, any of the prophetic texts that demand social justice, and the sections of the Gospels that proclaim the goodness of the poor.

Some informal research of my own on Facebook and Twitter confirms this assessment. Progressives do indeed identify those books – along with the radical social arrangements of the early church presented in the Acts of the Apostles – as the “most Democratic” parts of the Bible.

We should obviously not read too much into one Politico article. But the suggestion that the Bible might be divided into “Republican books” and “Democratic books” indicates the potential of a troubling new battlefront in America’s Red-Blue divide.

Of course, arguments about the Bible are nothing new in the United States. At high points of anti-Catholic nativism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Protestants and Catholics argued over whose translation of the Bible should be used for the then-common scripture readings in public schools (Protestants nearly always won, a fact that contributed to the debates that led to the Poughkeepsie Plan I wrote about two weeks ago).

573px-Challoner_Douai_Bible_(1749)

A version of the Bible 19th century American Protestants certainly wouldn’t approve of: the Challoner revision of Douay-Rheims.

For much of the past century, American Protestants have engaged in heated debates about the inerrancy of scripture. Whether or not believers accepted scripture to be without error in its intended message – or, going a step further, that its most obvious meaning should be taken literally – has guided the position that Protestants have taken on a range of topics in the Culture Wars, ranging from evolutionary theory to marriage equality.

Arguments about the Bible shaped other historical political debates as well, especially those related to issues of race and slavery. In the antebellum period, both proponents and opponents of slavery drew on scripture to defend their position and, more significantly, to attack the moral position of their opponents. [1] A century later, leaders in the Civil Rights movement drew heavily on the message of the prophetic books of the Bible (not surprisingly, these are the same books that contemporary liberals in my informal survey cited as their favorite scriptures). At the same time, at least a few opponents of Civil Rights attempted to find scriptural justification for segregation. [2]

But while Americans have long argued about the Bible and emphasized elements of it that seemed to justify their personal positions on political and cultural issues, they have rarely, if ever, attempted to split the books of the Bible along partisan lines.

We would be well advised not to do so now.

It is plain to any observer that American society is enormously polarized and has been for several decades. We have red states and blue states.  We have red sex and blue sex. We have red TV shows and blue TV shows.

We do not need Red and Blue Bibles.

Despite the decline in religious commitment in the U.S. in recent years, the Bible still holds enormous sway as a moral text over large segments of the population. Despite disagreements about its message and how it should be read, it nevertheless remains a common text read and respected by many Americans, liberals and conservatives alike.

Dividing the Bible into Red Books and Blue Books, with the implied message that each side can discard the parts it disagrees with, threatens to undermine the power of one of the remaining texts shared across the spectrum of U.S. politics.

[1] See chapter five of Kathryn Gin Lum, Damned Nation: Hell in America from Revolution to Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[2] See David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Catolina Press, 2004).

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