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Biblical Literalism Is No Blueprint for U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel is entitled to the West Bank, according to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., “because God said so.”

Speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Inhofe gave seven reasons why <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Israel has the right to its land. The first six reasons were a mix of religion and politics. The seventh was based on the Bible.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“No. 7, I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land. This is the most important reason: Because God said so,” Inhofe said. “Look it up in the book of Genesis.”
After reading portions of Genesis 13:14-17, he said, “That is God talking.”
Then Inhofe interpreted the passage, saying that Hebron referred to the West Bank which God had given Abram.
“This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true,” Inhofe said.
Frankly, Inhofe’s approach to the Bible and politics is flawed. The “contest” is certainly not about the truthfulness of the Bible. The conflict is a political battle driven by religious history, divergent worldviews and a host of other issues.
His first mistake is a faulty paradigm. He assumes an either/or approach. One either sides with God about the West Bank or opposes God. One either believes the Bible is true or thinks the Bible is false.
The Middle East conflict may be understood and argued without trying to trump disagreement with a claim to know divine will or a biblical citation.
Such false choices are based on an inerrant view of one’s own perspective, instead of a humble understanding of human fallibility.
Inhofe’s second mistake is that he reads the Bible literally and selectively. Consequently, he dishonors the biblical witness’ richness and abandons it to a ghetto of political ideology.
In seeking to make the Bible justify his agenda, Inhofe overlooks other promises of God. God promised Abram the land between the Nile and the Euphrates (Gen 15:18-21). God promised Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, that he would so multiple her descendants that they could not be numbered (Gen 16:10) and that their son Ishmael would become a “great nation” (Gen 17:20 and 21:18).
Inhofe also disregards Jesus’ clear teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). Jesus said, “Do not resist one who is evil”; turn the other cheek; walk the second mile; and love your neighbor. Yet these teachings receive no attention in Inhofe’s speech about peace in the Middle East.
Rather than reading the Bible and listening to what the biblical witness might say to him, Inhofe uses the Bible as a political proof-text. And proof-text without context is pretext.
The Bible is relevant for all of life. The Bible offers us moral rules and principles. The Bible teaches us about moral character and the consequences of moral failure. But the Bible is not a literal blueprint for foreign policy.
Herein is the danger of a holy text in the hands of fundamentalists—whether Christian, Islamic or Jewish.
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.