Thursday, January 06, 2005

Is there a charitable reading of this?

In the wake of last week's tragedy in Asia and the on-going assistance being offered to those who have suffered so greatly, Tom DeLay spoke these words from Matthew 7:21-27 at a Congressional Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday:

A reading of the Gospel, in Matthew 7:21 through 27.

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?"

Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers."

Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined.

And then he sat down.

I have been thinking about this since I first saw it posted by Atrios. DeLay is a shrewd politician. Why would he say this?

What do you make of this? Is there a more charitable interpretation of it than what I immediately feel, which is appalled at the use of this scripture and imagery at this moment? I will be consulting with those who know more than I about various Biblical interpretations, but I am curious about your thoughts.

Please, serious and respectful posts only.


  • The most charitable reading is that DeLay might have been following a lectionary. If so, the reading for the day was spelled out long ago and it wasn't a choice that he made.

    Even if that's so, there's no excuse for simply reading it and sitting down, without somehow adding a word of compassion for those whose houses have in fact been washed away and not because of a failure to follow the
    word of the Lord.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:13 PM  

  • One important question that Atrios doesn't address is whether the CPB operates from a lectionary. If it does, and it was DeLay's turn to give the Gospel reading then DeLay was caught between a rock and a hard place.

    On the other hand, if it doesn't operate from a lectionary and DeLay chose that Gospel reading I don't think there is a charitable reading. Except, perhaps note another bit of scripture from the same Bible chapter -- Matthew 7:3 (NIV, a favorite source for evangelicals)

    "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank that is in your own eye?"

    The answer of course, is that it is far easier to see the iniquities and problems of others even under the best circumstances. Being convinced of your own self-righteousness and believing that your cause justifies any means at all are hardly the best circumstances for honest self-reflection.


    By Blogger Dennis, at 4:20 PM  

  • It would appear that Mr. DeLay's comment stems from a Republican religio/political belief in a rigid predestination; that those upon whom misfortune falls are not among the elect, and therefore are fully deserving of their misfortune. This belief implies that providing assistance to the unfortunate damned is, in fact, acting contrary to the will of God, and therefore charity equals blasphemy. In line with this, I think that finding a charitable reading could equally be considered blasphemous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 PM  

  • Off topic, but I wanted to thank you for your excellent blog which shines a needed spotlight on Delay's nefarious doings. Great work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:23 PM  

  • Mr Delay infers that God sent a Tsunami to punish these people because they're wicked.

    Delay sure was singing a different tune this past summer when the hurricanes in Florida devastated republican counties almost exclusively, while consistently sparing democratic precincts and counties that were sometimes only miles or even a few blocks away.

    If we follow Mr Delay's logic then we would have to assume that God is very displeased with and punished Florida republicans because they are wicked, while being very pleased with and sparing Florida democrats.

    And, because this happened right before the presidential election one has to also assume that God was warning the Florida republicans, vote for Bush again and you ain't seen nothin' yet . . .

    . . . the rain will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will blow, buffeting your house until it collapses and is completely ruined.

    Delay couldn't have said it better.

    Dr Smith
    Austin Texas

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:00 PM  

  • I can think of two interpretations that would be charitable to Mr. Delay. My own biblical interpretation is based upon Episcopal by way of Roman Catholic training.

    1. The passage is not referring to actual houses but to a spiritual house. If you have firm faith in God then natural disasters or other shocks to your faith cannot shake the foundation of your faith. Mr. Delay could be saying that despite the tsunami, if the people hit with this disaster are firm in faith then the tsunami cannot truly destroy them. They will rebuild and continue.

    2. Mr. Delay didn't really pay attention to the text but it mentions floods and houses falling down so it seemed applicable to him.

    Since other far less charitable interpretations are possible, he should have commented on the text or invited discussion on it to clarify. Because he did not clarify his intention, I think he meant to leave it open to various interpretations.

    A.M. Diamond
    New Jersey

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:31 AM  

  • Based on the assumption that Mr. DeLay is too shrewd of a politician to make an unplanned public performance, I would suggest that it's possible that he intended the vagueness of the passage work both ways in his favor. It just depends on what the audience wants to make of it. His supporters are probably getting the message they want to hear. Those that suspect his intent will find it difficult to prove their suspicions. Those who are unsure would not find enough substance to the negative interpretations and award him the benefit of the doubt.

    As the shrewd politician the he is, I would imagine he would find this interpretation flattering rather than uncharitable, but would deny it.

    By Blogger Tito Zevallos, at 4:32 PM  

  • Sadly, I am one of Tom's constituents. I have been following his career for about ten years and know people who knew him when he was referred to as "Hot Tub Tom" in the Texas legislature. DeLay's comments in the past bring out two salient points about his belief system: 1. Those in God's favor prosper; those not in his favor (Democrats, liberals, non-Christians) do not and should not. 2. Anyone not believing in Jesus Christ as the sole means of salvation is doomed to hell.

    Much of DeLays support in this area comes from those who believe in this health and wealth-Christianity only doctrine. As long as he can keep this base happy he really doesn't care what the rest of the nation, or the world for that matter, cares about what he says or does. He has accumulated so much power that he has absolutely no fear about the consequences of his actions.

    Sam in Pearland, TX

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:46 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Leslie, at 6:48 PM  

  • A. Who cares what Tom Delay says at a prayer breakfast?

    B. Writing that cannot be readily understood doesn't deserve a second look.

    C. Attempts to find meaning in mysterious writing is what allowed the tax code to survive a gallon of gasoline and a lit match.

    By Blogger Mark Yannone, at 7:18 PM  

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