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CMI Special Report -- Rewriting the Bible: The Gospel According to Liberals

Journalists and academics reinterpret, alter holy book into ‘tool of progressive social change.’

Click here for the executive summary of this report.

When liberals and their media allies have an agenda to push, they’ll use any tool at hand. The left often rails against the presence of religion in civic life, mocking conservative Christians as “Taliban” agitating for theocracy. But other times, they find faith to be a handy weapon to bludgeon conservatives. And they’ll go so far as to reinterpret and rewrite the Bible to justify any liberal cause, no matter how outrageous.

In 2010, MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry summed up this strategy in her call for “re-imagining the Bible as a tool of progressive social change.” Huffington Post contributor Mike Lux embraced Harris-Perry’s advice, writing that the Bible embodies “all kinds” of “liberal, lefty, progressive values.”

The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute analyzed the various ways liberals and the media have used and abused the Bible to mock religion, attack conservatives and justify left-wing policy. 

Harris-Perry’s “re-imagining” of the Bible has become a favorite liberal tactic, as journalists and politicians have cited it to promote socialism, gay marriage, abortion and a host of other progressive policies. Washington Post “On Faith” contributor Anthony Stevens-Arroyo argued that the Bible was the inspiration for Karl Marx’s dictum “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Huffington Post contributor Kittredge Cherry claimed Jesus Christ was a homosexual: “Christ lives in every individual of every different shade of sexual orientation and gender identity.” Writer Nynia Chance proclaimed that the Bible supported abortion on RH Reality Check: “there’s times where the Bible states God commands that one [abortion] take place.” 

Academics and journalists have even actively changed the words and content of the Bible to further their ideology. Anonymous editors created a “Queen James Bible” that “resolves any homophobic interpretations of the Bible.” The media hyped a small papyrus fragment indiscreetly titled the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” which claimed Jesus had married and hid evidence that the fragment was a hoax. On “Good Morning America,” ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas even touted the fragment as a “real-life Da Vinci Code.”

The entertainment industry also delights in skewering the Christian holy book in order to mock it. The now-canceled show “GCB” carved its own set of 10 Commandments, inverting one Commandment to read: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s husband… Unless he’s really hot.” Rapper Lil’ Kim’s “10 Commandments” invented new commandments for women “to keep your man whipped.” The twisted cable series “True Blood” created its own Vampire bible with the phrase: “As their flesh shall nourish yours, their blood shall flow within you, for as the beetle nourishes the lark so shall human nourish vampire.” 

Writers, politicians and entertainers have made concerted effort to alter the content and message of the Bible, substituting the gospel of liberalism for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Thou Shalt Adopt Radical Economics

The Bible of liberalism condemns conservatives as uncaring, unfeeling oppressors of the poor, and exalts progressives as liberators of the downtrodden.

Democratic politicians have repeatedly used the Bible to condemn conservative economic principles and policies. President Barack Obama has been the most prominent practitioner of this tactic; he invoked the Biblical passage “I am my brother’s keeper” to justify government policies requiring redistribution of wealth in a March 30, 2012, campaign speech. Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky quoted 1 John 3:17-18 to condemn the GOP budget, saying, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” She then asked her Republican opponents, “Why does your budget resolution take away food from the poor?”

Progressive writers have joined Democratic politicians in citing the Bible to attack straw man arguments supposedly constituting conservative economics. Huffington Post contributor Mike Lux, in a Feb. 21, 2012, article titled “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” wrote that “Modern conservatives are far more faithful to Ayn Rand, who openly rejected Christianity because of its values of helping the poor and caring for others.” 

Lux said the Bible is clearly a progressive tome: “there is simply no way to read the Bible I read and not come to the conclusion that it is overwhelmingly supportive of helping the poor, showing mercy to the weak, refraining from judging, treating others as you would treat yourself, calling on the wealthy to give their money to the poor, and all kinds of other liberal, lefty, progressive values.”

But the Bible is not a policy paper. It is mostly silent on the role of government, and those who see it as a blueprint for a state that addresses every inequality and sin are lacking in moral imagination. Jesus’ admonition to “give unto Caesar” doesn’t set marginal tax rates, but “give unto God” does suggest that there is a range of human activity and morality properly outside the state.

Conservatives acknowledge a duty to help the poor, but they disagree that compulsory taxation for the welfare state is the best or only mechanism to fulfill it. A 2006 study by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, then a Syracuse University professor, found that conservatives give more of their personal income to charity than liberals. 

Even the parables of Jesus have been twisted into liberal agitprop by progressives. In a Dec. 6, 2011, article, Washington Post “On Faith” contributor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite implausibly mangled Jesus’ parable of the talents into a class warfare lesson. The parable of the talents (Luke 19:12-27) concerns a nobleman who entrusted his money to his servants to invest while he went on a long journey. Two servants obeyed their master and increased his wealth, while the third hid the money. When the master returned, he rewarded the two hardworking servants and punished the third for his laziness. 

Thistlethwaite turned the message of the parable on its head: “When the nobleman chastises the third servant, it is the nobleman and not the servant who is in violation of the laws of the Hebrew Bible,” because “The third servant is the one who refuses to participate in the game of increasing his lord’s financial wealth at the costs of the poor.”  

Dr. Michael Youssef, founder of the Christian outreach ministry Leading the Way, challenged Thistlethwaite’s interpretation in an interview with CMI: “This interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of 2 Thessalonians 3:10: ‘he who does not work should not eat.’ The master condemns the lazy servant for his inaction, and praised the faithful servants for their investment of his money. God rewards man for his intelligence and his efforts throughout the Bible.” 

But Thistlethwaite’s misinterpretation dovetailed nicely with the media’s progressive attitude towards the Bible, which MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry succinctly expressed in a February 2010, blog post for The Nation magazine as “re-imagining the Bible as a tool of progressive social change.” Politically-motivated liberals “re-imagine” a Bible that justifies radical economic policies, such as the Occupy movement and redistribution of wealth. 

By contrast, a Christian vision of the Bible emphasizes God and His message of salvation, as Dr. Youssef explained to CMI: “The Bible should be read primarily as God’s self-revelation, as His breath. If people read it as a justification for their own desires and own political positions, they are absolutely committing unpardonable sin.” 

But a spiritual understanding of the Bible contradicts the political gospel of the religious left. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Thistlethwaite claimed that “Jesus was an Occupier,” implausibly citing Jesus’ expulsion of the moneychangers from the Temple as proof that Jesus would support violent mass occupations of public places. “On Faith” contributor Lisa Miller concurred with Jackson and Thistlethwaite, asserting that the “Jesus of history” would embrace the Occupy movement.

In December 2011, another “On Faith” contributor, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, praised liberation theology (which emphasizes empowerment of the downtrodden at the expense of the powerful), and attempted to link the Bible to Marxism: “But the ideal ‘from each according to his ability; to each according to his need,’ doesn’t originate with Marx. It comes from the Acts of the Apostles (4:34-35; 1:44-45).” 

Again, Christian conservatives do not ignore the Biblical mandate to serve the poor. Christ commanded that his followers practice voluntary charity; he even exhorted a rich young man to “go your way, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) But the Bible is not a critique of capitalism or a call for economic equality, no matter how hard the left tries to make it so.

Thou Shalt Support Social Liberalism

In the liberal worldview, the Bible justifies more than enforced economic equality; it mandates the adoption of progressive social values. Homosexual activists argue that the Bible supports gay marriage, and claim that Jesus Christ had homosexual inclinations. Other writers hold that the Bible actively promotes abortion.

Some of these arguments for Biblically sanctioned social progressivism rely on heavy use of incoherent academic jargon. Wil Gafney, professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, argued in a Sept. 16, 2012, Huffington Post article: “RuPaul, the reigning Queen of Queens, is famous for saying that ‘wearing drag in a male dominated society is an act of treason.’ Ru knows that choosing any kind of female gender performance by intentionally surrendering and/or sabotaging male privilege is an act of treason – or resistance – against the androcentrism is this planet’s original sin, pervading the scriptures and on display in the Gospel, on the lips of Jesus, no less.”

Gafney’s display of convoluted theology was unsurprising, considering the fact that she cited drag queens as her “favorite” theologians: “Drag queens like RuPaul, Sharon Needles and Latrice Royale are some of my favorite critical gender theorists and theologians.” 

Other progressive writers posited similar bizarre claims about the Bible’s treatment of sexuality. Kittredge Cherry concocted an April 3, 2012, Huffington Post article “Queer Christ Arises to Liberate and Heal,” in which she claimed: “Christ lives in every individual of every different shade of sexual orientation and gender identity.” (The Huffington Post has also featured an image of Jesus on the cross with the word “faggot” replacing “INRI” (“King of the Jews” in Latin), so it’s a favorite theme there.) 

In an April 23, 2012, article posted on the far-left site Alternet, Paul Osterreicher echoed Cherry’s assertion: “Heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual: Jesus could have been any of these. The homosexual option simply seems the most likely.” 

Other activists read homosexual themes into artistic renderings of Biblical stories. Christopher Harrity, writing for the LGBT site Advocate.com, called artistic depictions of Biblical scenes “gay Bible porn” and claimed that there were “so many visual representations of Christ that are exquisitely sensual and detailed in a corporeal, sexual way.”

Other writers asserted that a “correctly” interpreted Bible favors homosexual activity – or at very least has nothing to say on the topic. Daniel Helminiak wrote on CNN’s Belief Blog on May 15, 2012, that “Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.” Huffington Post contributor Matthew Vines declared on March 26, 2012: “The Bible does not condemn loving gay relationships. It is not opposed to justice and equality for gay people, and in fact it supports their equal right to marry. Scripture can prove to be one of our greatest allies, if only we're reading it correctly.”

The conflation of love with erotic attraction is the root of this false assumption. Biblical expressions of love between two men or women are automatically and falsely equated with sexual relationships by homosexual activists.

It is certainly true that the Bible commands Christians to love “gay” and “straight” people alike. As St. Paul writes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) All men and women are children of God, and must therefore be treated with respect and dignity by Christians. 

But it is not “love” to practice or condone a lifestyle specifically forbidden by the Bible. Love is not affirmation of a harmful lifestyle; loving Christians do not condone their friends’ destructive behavior. 

Both the Old and New Testaments do condemn homosexual behavior on numerous occasions, despite the logical contortions of those that argue otherwise. Homosexual activists like anti-bullying bully and gay sex columnist Dan Savage, who rails against “bullshit in the Bible about gay people” display more intellectual honesty than their counterparts about the Bible’s negative stance on homosexuality (although Savage falsely equates disapproval of homosexual activity with hatred of gay people). 

Celebrating homosexual acts is not the only concern of the gospel of social liberalism; progressive writers also have used the Bible to justify abortion. 

Erin Gloria Ryan of the liberal site Jezebel likes abortion so much she recently wrote an article advising women of the ideal age to have one (her answer: 25). So it isn’t surprising that she enlisted the Bible to (tacitly) support her enthusiasm. In November 2012, Ryan wrote, “there are a lot more passages in the Bible that imply (or insist) that the big man upstairs doesn't consider a zygote to be the same sort of being with the same value as, say, a mailman or a trapeze artist than there are passages that mention abortion.” And because “there are zero Bible passages that mention abortion, as in ‘don't do it,’” the Bible must be pro-abortion. 

Nynia Chance, a self-proclaimed “devout reader of the Bible,” argued in a June 3, 2012, post on pro-abortion site RH Reality Check that the Bible was actually a pro-abortion tract, declaring: “The Bible never once specifically forbids abortions; it’s actually quite the opposite! Not only were methods of abortion well-known at the time, there’s times when the Bible states God commands that one take place.” 

Chance’s first “example,” taken from the Biblical narrative of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38), illustrates the failure of her argument. The story of Judah and Tamar is a graphic tale of the failure of a Biblical patriarch to live a moral life. Tamar, the widow of Judah’s oldest son Er, was given to Judah’s second son Onan in marriage, but Onan was killed by God for his sin. Judah indefinitely postponed the marriage of Tamar to his third son, Shelah. So Tamar dressed as a prostitute, and Judah saw her and asked to sleep with her (not knowing who she was), even giving her identifying marks as a pledge. When Judah found Tamar was pregnant, he sought to have her burned – until she showed him his identifying marks, proving that he was the father of her children. 

After recounting this story, Chance implausibly argued: “So in this story, I see the Bible saying that killing an unborn child is necessary when it’s not a child conceived in a way the mother’s society wants. Also, that a mother should die along with it, because of engaging in an act the sentencer had done.” Chance’s Biblical interpretation assumes that 1) pre-Mosaic law (the event took place in Genesis, before the establishment of the Law of Moses) was sanctioned by God, 2) that the Bible recounted Judah’s immoral behavior, and 3) that the Bible condones abortions because it related the story of a hypocritical man who threatened to kill a pregnant woman. All of these assumptions are nonsensical; Chance ignored the inconvenient facts that Tamar shamed Judah by exposing his complicity in her pregnancy and that the “abortion” Judah sought never happened. 

Conservative commentator Cal Thomas strongly rebuked ideologues who twist the Bible to advance liberal social causes: “People are free to accept or reject what Scripture says. What they are not free to do is to claim it says something it does not. In modern times that’s called ‘spin.’ In an earlier time it was called heresy.”

Call it spin, heresy, or lunacy – the practice of twisting Scripture to justify social progressivism is rampant among the religious left. 

The Gospel According to Hollywood

The Bible continues to be a rich source of inspiration and material for the entertainment industry. It’s just that now – as often as not – writers twist it, mock it and use it to further the ideological goals of the left and the irreligious.

The music industry has singled the Bible out for special mockery. Rapper Lil’ Kim created her own set of 10 commandments for girls “to keep your man whipped,” advising women to “never move in unless he tell you.” Rapper Pusha T appropriated Biblical themes, releasing an expletive-laden song titled “Exodus 23:1” in 2012 that took aim at a fellow rapper. 

In her music video “Judas,” pop artist Lady Gaga used Biblical imagery to celebrate the betrayer of Jesus. The lyrics of “Judas” include these lines: 

When he calls to me, I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times, he betrays me

Her song inverted two Biblical incidents: Peter’s betrayal of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72) and a woman pouring ointment over Jesus’ feet and washing His feet with her hair. (Luke 7:36-50) Lady Gaga substituted Jesus’ betrayer for Jesus as an object of veneration. 

But intentional Biblical confusion in the entertainment industry is not confined to the music world. Dan Brown, author of the best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code,” cherry-picked segments of the Bible to help construct a tale about the Catholic Church covering up a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene for centuries. It served the twin purposes of making the Church a villain and suggesting that the true, modern feminist messages of the Bible were expunged in the interest of a male power structure. Brown then claimed in an interview on CNN that “99 percent of it is true.” 

Ignoring Brown’s numerous Biblical distortions, Thistlethwaite actually celebrated “The Da Vinci Code” as instrumental in rehabilitating the reputation of Mary Magdalene, writing that the “fictional account by Dan Brown does add some non-Biblical innovations, as readers and film-goers know, but the counter-narrative on Mary Magdalene has been effective.” (Thistlethwaite ignored the fact that Catholics have venerated Mary Magdalene as a saint for centuries.) 

Television shows and films also carelessly mangle the Bible. During the musical “Glee,” one of the characters of the show’s self-proclaimed “God Squad” speculated that one of Jesus’ apostles was gay: “They say one out of every 10 people are gay. And if that's true, that means one of the 12 apostles might have been gay. My guess is Simon, because that name's the gayest.” 

HBO’s gory, overtly anti-conservative vampire series, “True Blood,” created its own Vampire Bible that supposedly predated the Christian Bible. This Vampire Bible declared that a vampire called Lilith was made in the image of God, and specifically stated that human beings were created to nourish vampires: “As their flesh shall nourish yours, their blood shall flow within you, for as the beetle nourishes the lark so shall human nourish vampire.” The show features an unsavory group of vampires who interpret their Bible literally, mocks Christian sacraments and Catholic institutions, and includes a “deranged theocrat” that producer Allan Ball said was inspired by former Pennsylvania Senator and GOP presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum.

The now-canceled show “GCB,” formerly titled “Good Christian Bitches,” existed to portray Christians as materialistic hypocrites who lie, cheat, betray friendships and confidences – essentially, they live like their Hollywood creators. A sampling of “GCB’s” mocking version of the 10 Commandments includes: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s husband… Unless he’s really hot.” “Thou shalt love a “C” cup, unless you fit into a “D” cup.” “Thou shalt know it’s wrong to expose your thong.” “Thou shalt add bling to everything.” “Thou shall not wear it if it’s under a carat.” and “Thou shalt match the volume of thy hair to the size of thy handbag.”

Thou Shalt Remake the Bible in Thine Own Image

Liberals see the U.S. Constitution is a “living document,” they can “change with the times.” The Bible, it seems, is no safer from their whims.

Daily Beast and Post contributor Lisa Miller, a religious liberal, specifically called it “a living document,” by which she meant that the Bible and its teachings (especially the unpleasant ones) are changeable. CNN’s Piers Morgan expressed this attitude when he rhetorically asked Jeff Foxworthy on his Aug. 22, 2012, show: “How literally should people take the Bible? And should the Bible be an evolutionary thing, rather like the Constitution was amended a few times?” 

Ideological leftists are attracted to the idea of a mutable Bible. And some even go ahead and rewrite it according to their desires and politics. A group of anonymous editors created the “Queen James Bible” to challenge traditional Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality. Their stated purpose was quite clear: “The Queen James Bible resolves any homophobic interpretations of the Bible.” The authors boasted in their editor’s note: “We wanted to make a book filled with the word of God that nobody could use to incorrectly condemn God’s LGBT children, and we succeeded.” 

The quality of their scholarship leaves something to be desired. The editors of the “Queen James Bible” made only eight edits to the Bible (predictably, eight verses dealing with homosexuality) and expressly stated that they “didn’t change anything else to create this edition of the Queen James Bible.” The editors also asserted in their editor’s note: “Yes, things like Leviticus are horribly outdated,” and claimed that “the Bible is still filled with inequality and even contradiction that we have not addressed. This leaves the question of why they bothered “editing” a work which they have little respect for in the first place; after all, they claim that “No Bible is perfect, including this one.” 

The most extensive media attempt to promote a mutable Bible involved a fragment of papyrus rashly dubbed the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The fragment, “about the size of a small cell phone,” referenced Jesus using the words “my wife.” In September 2012, print and television media wildly speculated about the fragment’s potential impact on Christianity.

On Sept. 19, ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas breathlessly touted the fragment: “Real-life ‘Da Vinci Code.’ Christianity’s biggest mysteries about to be solved. The tiny scrap of paper that could prove Jesus had a wife. Why this faded fragment might solve an age old question.” Her colleague Diane Sawyer cooed that it was an “ancient clue … right out of the ‘Da Vinci Code.’” All three broadcast networks hyped the fragment relentlessly on both their morning and evening news programs. 

What they didn’t say was that many academics were skeptical of the authenticity of the fragment and that it was first translated and popularized by a self-proclaimed expert in “feminist theology” with an interest in promoting extra-Biblical texts. When sources like The Washington Post, The New York Times and even NBC News online reported that the Vatican and a Coptic scholar declared the fragment “fake,” no broadcast network covered it. The same fragment of papyrus that was hyped with such excitement when it may have subverted traditional readings of the New Testament disappeared entirely from the networks when it didn’t turn out like they’d hoped. 

The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” wasn’t the only instance of journalists placing questionable texts on par with the Bible. Thistlethwaite promoted one of the Gnostic gospels – writings about Jesus rejected by the early Church, which include stories of Jesus killing people. She touted the Gnostic Gospel of Mary as a “long lost Gospel” in a March 5, 2012, rant against Rush Limbaugh, grandiosely titled: “Mary Magdalene to Rush Limbaugh: Your apology is too little, too late.”

Journalists are also notorious for citing academics seeking to stretch the boundaries of the Bible. On March 31, 2012, CNN Belief Blogger John Blake quoted Princeton professor and expert in Gnosticism Elaine Pagels, saying “The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today.” Dwight Garner of The New York Times praised Pagels’ efforts to mangle the book of Revelation, gushing that her work “drifts above the issues like an intellectual satellite.” 

University of North Carolina professor Bart Ehrman, a self-professed non-Church going agnostic, claimed on the Huffington Post in March 2011: “Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle – Peter, Paul or James – knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.” Other scholars dispute Ehrman’s claims; one noted that his work “comes across as more autobiographical than academic; more polemical than historical.” 

Ehrman has not been shy about slamming the historical accuracy of the Bible. In the Dec. 17, 2012, print edition of Newsweek, Ehrman took aim at the Bible’s accuracy, claiming that “the accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament have never been called histories”; instead, they have always been known as “Gospels” – that is, “proclamations of the good news.” These are books that meant to declare religious truths, not historical facts.” As Baptist scholar Alfred Mohler, Jr. noted in a takedown of Ehrman’s piece: “So, in the waning days of Newsweek as a print magazine, the editors decided to take on the New Testament. Readers should note carefully that it is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.” 

Conclusion 

Modern liberals regularly dismiss the Bible as repressive and irrelevant to modernity, and excoriate Christian conservatives for believing, in Dan Savage’s words, “bullshit in the Bible.” But the left is nothing if not opportunistic. Just as liberals become federalists when it’s constitutionally convenient, they become Bible scholars when they believe it can be used as a “tool of progressive social change.”

“They don’t believe the Bible in the same way Christians do,” Youssef explained to CMI. “They don’t read the Bible sacredly. They read it as something you can use, something you can abuse. So they quote it out of context.” 

That utilitarian reading of the Bible, along with the left’s inability to long disguise its contempt for traditional Christianity, is why liberal arguments based on scripture are rarely, if ever, convincing. 

Recommendations:

  • Treat the Bible as a Holy Book, Not a Punching Bag: Journalists should stop treating the Bible as an archaic book of outdated customs. Entertainers should stop using Christianity’s holy book as a set-up for sex jokes.
  • Treat Christianity, Other Religions the Same: Journalists would never target the Koran, the holy book of Islam for mockery – and would immediately be censored if they did. They should strive to treat the Bible with the same respect that they treat the texts of other faiths.
  • Context, Context, Context: Journalists should examine the context of each Bible passage before cherry-picking quotes to support their ideological position.
  • Stop Citing Bible-bashers: Journalists should cease citing scholars as authoritative who have a vested interest in altering or discrediting the Bible – or at least make clear their leanings.