Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Misuse

It should come as no surprise that I tend to get a bit annoyed when Scripture is misquoted or misused. When the misuse is by a politician, that's actually par for the course, and so not worthy of comment... even if it is still annoying. But in the case of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former minister, he really should know better.

Now, let me be clear. I'm not talking about the use of Scripture in a transparently self-serving political speech, and calling that misuse. I suppose one could go there if they wanted to, but I don't. I'm talking about taking a passage and using it in a way completely at variance with what the passage means, instead using the well-known words themselves as a kind of "Pavlov's bell" to signal to voters that "hey! I know Scripture!"

Last night, at the end of the "Super Tuesday" primaries, Huckabee gave an example of both "the right way" and "the wrong way" to use Scripture passages politically (assuming that a political use is a "right way." But I actually think this can be perfectly acceptable in the right context, so I'm not going there). Here is an example of "the right way":
Tonight, we are making sure America understands that sometimes one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor.
Here, by comparing himself to David (vs. his opponents' Goliath), Huckabee is using the well-known story to illustrate how he is able to compete despite his apparent disadvantages thus far in the campaign. The passage being alluded to retains its original meaning in the new context.

But then, in the very next line, Huckabee uses a reference "the wrong way":
And we've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world.
"Widow's mite" is a clear allusion to Mark 12:41-44 (or, if you prefer, the same story is found in Luke 21:1-4). But despite Jesus' praise of the widow, telling his disciples that she has put in more than anyone else, this is not a statement of effectiveness. The widow's mite doesn't buy any more--or do any more--than any of the other, larger, amounts of money given. It really doesn't do anything to anyone besides the widow herself. Jesus is praising the widow's sacrificial gift. She gave everything she had to live on! Huckabee is here taking a reference and making it mean something that is a variance with the way the reference is used in Scripture itself. I find this annoying.

Of course, like I said, Huckabee is a politician, and politicians actually do this kind of thing all the time. And, let's be fair, even though Huckabee was also a pastor, it's not like pastor's don't do this kind of thing all the time, too. You probably know what I'm talking about: the pastor is preaching on a certain topic. He (normally in this context, I'd say "he/she," but I can't think of any women pastors, who are relatively few, who've done this in my presence. I'm sure they're out there, though) wants to use Scripture to make his point, and so he finds a passage that, at least on the surface, "sounds" about right, so he tosses it in. The fact that the passage was really about something else becomes only a minor inconvenience. It "sounds" right, so it gets used. If more lay people commented about such sloppy uses of Scripture (or more voters commented against politicians doing the same), perhaps pastors (or candidates) would misuse such passages less often... but I'm not holding my breath.

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