Thursday, March 25, 2021

Senator Hyde-Smith Used the Bible to Defend Voter Suppression

White evangelical Christians have a long history in this country of using the Bible to defend their racism and sexism. So it should come as no surprise that during Wednesday's hearing on the For the People Act, which would protect and expand voting rights, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) used the Bible to defend Republican voter suppression in Georgia.  

Nevermind that Hyde-Smith was lecturing a Jewish senator about how to observe the Sabbath as outlined in Hebrew scripture. She pulled up a passage from the Old Testament book of Exodus saying, "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." What she failed to mention is that the law being considered in Georgia is specifically designed to end the "Souls to the Polls" movement in which African American Christians exercise their right to vote after attending church services on Sunday. Senator Hyde-Smith takes it upon herself to judge that effort as unbiblical. 

If the senator from Mississippi thinks it's appropriate to base U.S. laws on how she interprets the Bible, I would suggest that she take a look at a passage from the New Testament where Jesus clarifies the meaning of the Sabbath. Here's Mark 2:23-27 (emphasis mine). 

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

In context, what Jesus was saying is that observing the Sabbath was intended to remind people to take a day of rest. The Pharisees had turned it into a whole series of rules based on what one can/cannot do on the Sabbath. 

I grew up mostly in the south and was always a bit confused about the rules that governed what we were not allowed to do on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath). While it was hailed as a day of rest, I noticed that it was the opposite for my mother. Her tasks that day included getting Sunday dinner in the oven while overseeing four children get dressed for church. After services, she got the meal on the table and then cleaned up the kitchen. Her "rest" didn't start until about mid-afternoon. 

The other confusing rule, given that water sports were our family's form of recreation, was that we were not allowed to swim or go water skiing on Sunday. But we could go for a boat ride. Somehow observation of the Sabbath meant that we couldn't be in the water, but we could ride on top of it.

Those are the kinds of things that happen when humans take an ancient guideline and turn it into rules to govern the activities we engage in today. In other words, it's what happens when we believe that man was made for the Sabbath. In the process, we forget that the whole idea was to remind us to rest at least one day a week.

But let's be honest. None of that addresses what Senator Hyde-Smith wants to promote with her twisting of scripture. She had to dig deep to find a justification in the Bible for suppressing the votes of African Americans. If not the Sabbath, she would have found something else. 


  1. The Bible was used to justify slavery. And, the Torah's commandment regarding the Sabbath is for the seventh day of the week - not the first.

  2. I know that Nancy draws inspiration from her faith, and I have no quarrel with that. But I keep repeating that she breaches the wall between church and state, in effect upholding an establishment of religion, every time she cites it as a justification, the sole legitimate justification at that, for virtue and insists that those no the right are not true Christians.

    Do we, much less myself as a Jew, really need to hear how grateful we should be that Christianity gets us over all that law stuff? Especially, I should add, when so many on the right really do justify their beliefs in almost exactly the same way. For the record, no one of any faith or lack of faith can reasonably object to keeping the polls open longer, no matter what day of the weak. The only valid objection is if voting could only take place in a way that excludes some Americans. And the insistence of Hyde-Smith that everyone observe her faith's rules is the problem. That's the establishment of religion. It's what Jews for sure would object to, and it's what we all should object to as supporters of basic American freedoms.

    1. "I know that Nancy draws inspiration from her faith"

      I would simply caution you not to make assumptions about another person's faith...or lack thereof. I don't tend to state what my own faith convictions are at this point in my life because that is my own personal business. I can, however, speak to how evangelical Christians see the world because I considered myself one earlier in my life.

    2. Well, you can help us understand how they see the world, but you shouldn't then tell us that the only real solution is to know that right-thinking people, not they, are the "real" Christians.

      Bigotry notwithstanding, Christianity can mean all sorts of things. Speaking of laws, Matthew has "Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." I'm not saying that's a higher truth either.

  3. It is so interesting (and sometimes very disappointing) to hear people try to justify whatever actions they may wish to take based on their (usually corrupted) version of Scripture. Two comments: one year at a reunion of members of a graduating class of Lutheran School of Theology-Chicago, the class T-shirt was printed: "LSTC-Where all your answers are questioned." Wonderful. Another favorite of the politicization of Scripture is seen in a scene from 'West Wing': Love it; remember "to stand"

  4. the Wall that needs to be built, is the wall of separation between the State, and any religion...the republicans have breach that wall, and the result is looking like the First Amendment is falling as well...the Voting rights that they want to take away, is part of the continuing effort on their part, to overthrow our secular republic...Not going to happen as long as we can still vote...that is the key to maintaining our democratic republic...

  5. Frankly, why in this day and age, is anybody letting the words of an iron-age fictional character influence what they say and do?


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