Pete Sabey: Religion columnist gets it |

Pete Sabey: Religion columnist gets it

I would love to have a beer with Norris Burkes. He is my kind of religion columnist and I commend The Union for having someone of his qualities.

In recent years, press coverage of American religion has given too much ink to the religious right — fundamentalists and misnamed evangelicals who are hardly bearers of good news, such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and many others. They have given Christianity a really bad name. If I may borrow a memorable phrase from “The Catcher In the Rye“: ”Jesus would puke!”

Burkes’ column, “Did you just quote the bible?” (Feb. 5), was timely and friendly in its way of showing how much biblical language and teachings pervade our culture mostly in positive ways.

I do want to comment on one quote. A careful reading of the context Burkes sets up “wolves in sheep’s clothing” makes clear that Burkes’ quote of Romans 13:1 is meant to show its misuse. A quick read could leave the mistaken impression that Paul meant 13:1 to be taken literally: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

This is a favorite quote of the religious right, weaponized to bludgeon people into submission to government suppression of disfavored minorities and obedience to literalist religious authorities like those mentioned earlier.

For the first seven verses of Rom.13, Paul goes on in this vein, praising government and the powers that be. But here is what Paul is really doing: He is setting up the table elaborately only to pull out the tablecloth and dump everything he has said in the first seven verses on the floor.

If you read on to verses 8-10, everything is reversed. You hear a message not of submission, but of liberation from authoritarianism: “Be under obligation to no one — the only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the law. The commandments, ’Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal’ … all these, and any others besides, are summed up in this one command, ’Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ … to love, then, is to obey the whole law.”

These three verses undermine all religious legalism based on the Bible. Romans 13:1-7 cannot be used to oppose LGBTQI rights and same-sex marriage, to support the death penalty and justify war. If you want one of the most concise summaries of the entire Bible, Romans 13:8-10 would be pretty good.

One word of caution: This simplification of the Bible should not be mistaken for the sloppy insincerity of many Republicans in Congress who now just want to move on and all get along, as if the life-threatening violence in the capital can simply be left behind.

Nope. Doesn’t meet the love litmus test that Paul gave us in Romans 13.

When pandemic restrictions can be relaxed, I hope Chaplain Burkes will have a beer with me. I’m buying.

Pete Sabey lives in Grass Valley.

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