releasing "biblical" from its hijackers' grip

blog releasing the word biblical from hijackers gripyesterday, when i was flying home from the east coast after a visit with my oldest-son-who-is-in-college, i was reading USA today when a full-page ad with billy graham’s picture caught my eye.  here’s what it says:

vote biblical values tuesday november 6th.  the legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial.  as i approach my 94th birthday, i realize this election could be my last.  i believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of israel.  i urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.  vote for biblical values this november 6th, and pray with me that america will remain one nation under God. – billy graham, montreat, NC (paid for by the billy graham evangelistic association). 

my friend steve knight has already written about how jacked up that is, especially since billy graham has remained bipartisan for his entire life, advising liberal and conservative presidents alike.  his son is now controlling his communication.

a friend of mine shared this quote from billy graham with me yesterday, from 1979, when he opposed the “moral majority”: “i’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice…evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. we have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left.”

but the point here about the ad is the word biblical sells.  and tricks. and confuses.

yeah, the word biblical is such a loaded one! i can unequivocally say that i dislike it (much more more than the word “missional”, ha ha, and even though i love & value the bible) because of how it has been utterly mis-represented. it’s been hijacked & twisted so people who vote or believe in a certain direction are considered “unbiblical” while a certain other select group of people have the market cornered on what that means and have “God on their side.”

it also strikes another personal chord because i am sometimes criticized for not being “biblical” enough.  as someone who is pretty into Jesus, it feels insulting, and it’s mainly because i don’t quote a lot of bible verses & support certain conservative views.  really, on the whole, when used in the context of this advertisement, “biblical” is about two primary areas: being against-homosexuality, especially gay marriage, and remaining against abortion.  these then get tangled up in “family values” that has the most to do with a God-centered america.

the last i read, these things were not the central tenets of the Bible.  they are not things Jesus talked about.  in fact, what he was railing against was people who had hijacked religion and were focused on the law instead of love.  who used the law to burden people.  who proudly professed they had the market cornered on God when really they had strayed far from what he had in mind.

when i think of the word “biblical”, these are some thoughts that come to mind:

caring for the poor, the lepers, the widows, the orphans, the marginalized.

equality and freedom for all–men & women, rich & poor, sick & healthy

worrying about our own sin instead of the sins of others.

sacrificing our lives, comfort, hearts, time, money, pride, and energy on behalf of others. 

radical forgiveness and loving our enemies.

justice, mercy, humility.   

how come we don’t seem to associate these things with being biblical when they are the far bigger message in scripture?

my take is that it’s because these things are way harder than talking about abortion, gay marriage, and a God-centered america.

i respect that we all have different views on biblical interpretation, some more conservative or liberal than others.  i love that part.  it’s interesting & challenging & we’re supposed to live with that tension.  but it makes me sad that “biblical” has become a way to say to others–“we’re with the real God and you’re not”. and that’s not fair.

i’d love for us to be more honest about how the word “biblical” has been misused for political and church-marketing gain.

i’d love to have more honest conversations about how we slap the word “biblical” on things and hide behind it instead of wrestling with the reality that people see the scriptures differently from us (and still love God).

i’d love to unhook the word from being associated with conservative politics & worldviews and have it more readily attached to Jesus’ crazy-upside-down-ways of love & hope & freedom & equality & mercy & compassion & justice.

i’d love to have the focus shift from picking apart particular bible passages as a great distraction to actively, tangibly, passionately living the principles Jesus modeled for us in the Bible because that’s the work of our lives.

yeah, i’d really love to release the word biblical from its hijackers’ grip.  it deserves better!







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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I agree with you that “biblical” is often misused to manipulate a situation or group of people, Kathy. But I have to disagree with this part: “last i read, these things were not the central tenets of the Bible. they are not things Jesus talked about….”

    In fact, Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

    I vote for LIFE. If you don’t have LIFE you can’t have issues.

    Randy Alcorn says this: So, does God care about who his children vote for? In many cases, with not much difference between them, I doubt it. But here’s what he says
    about the needy and afflicted who have no one to help them and are on
    the brink of death:

    “For God will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and
    the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from
    oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12-14)

    The blood of weak and needy unborn children is precious in God’s sight.
    Please don’t tell me abortion isn’t the only issue. Of course it isn’t.
    Treatment of the Jews wasn’t the only issue in 1940 Germany. Buying, selling and owning black people wasn’t
    the only issue in the United States of 1850. Nonetheless, both were the
    dominant moral issues of their day. Make no mistake about it. In our
    own day if we support a candidate who defends abortion, who is dedicated
    to that cause, we are supporting the killing of children. Yes, even if
    he’s the coolest candidate to come along in decades.

    We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ for our decisions, and a vote
    is a decision in which we assume responsibility for the known beliefs
    and moral positions of the candidate. (from

    And like Mother Teresa said:”But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,
    because it is a war against the child – a direct killing of the innocent
    child – murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother
    can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one
    another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we
    must persuade her with love, and we
    remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.
    Jesus gave even his life to love us.
    So the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love – that
    is, to give until it hurts her
    plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of
    that child, whoever he is, must
    also give until it hurts. By abortion, the mother does not learn to love,
    but kills even her own child to
    solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not
    have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into
    the world. That father is likely to put other
    women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any
    country that accepts
    abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to
    get what they want. That is
    why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion. ”

    I will do what I can to defend innocent life and I believe with every ounce of faith in my body that *THAT* is what Jesus wants *me* to do.

    I imagine writing all of this out won’t change anyone’s mind about abortion, it usually doesn’t. But I’ll always be praying that the Holy Spirit will whisper this truth into the hearts and minds of women everywhere.

    • thanks, marilee, i definitely hear your passion and understand that it is so necessary for people to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. i also have trouble when that is the only issue on the table and it’s assumed if people vote for a candidate who is pro-life that we are somehow against God. it’s a very complicated and painful issue and unfortunately i know from firsthand experience. i think we do need to wrestle with and listen to each other on it and respect our differences about it, trusting that God’s at work in all of our hearts and lives and convicts people in different ways about different things. peace.

  • Kathy, thank-you for the blog post. I just stepped out of my office at the campus religious center because it is the day before the election and more conversation arose about the marriage amendment on the ballot in Minnesota. I am getting a little tired, wore out and exhausted of the conversations and heaing the phrase “it is our biblical mandate to …….”
    The six sentences / phrases that you gave our very challenging. I think that they are too tough to chew on and grasp or maybe not “sexy” enough to take on. I am meeting with two students at 4 pm about ministry and living life on campus and what we might do to live life together ?? I think that this article may now be the springboard that I will use for the discussion.
    Thanks for all of your words and pushing our minds to think.

    • i’d love to hear how those conversations went! let me know. i saw those comments on fb and just had to smile. no matter what i do or say to build bridges to holding both views, it so often gets pointed in that direction. oh well.

      • Well, unfortunately, the words that you saw on facebook were calm, cool and collective compared to what I have seen and witnessed on campus this week and the insults that have been thrown at me. One of my favorites: “how can a man of the cloth believe those things”
        But, in a sense, that is besides the point of the reply. In the end, the conversation that I had ended up coming to the conclusion (really trying to have a lot of things college-student driven) that we are going to do a Monday morning Gospel study on John and each week, we are going to throw out one of the six (rotate) and see what we can do or where we have seen God in that area.

        • oh goodness gracious, these things get so tricky. it is so fascinating to me, really, and also so hard. praying for you as you facilitate these conversations. will be really interested to know how they go and hope that it stirs up some good stuff. i do think these particular ones are under-rated in terms of attention and conversation and there’s so much in there to consider so i look forward to hearing how they go. peace and hope (and courage) from colorado.

  • I like this article and agree with you. I heard a blurb on the local Christian station from Franklin Graham that we need to vote Biblical values and restore America back to the founding principles of the founding Fathers. The issues he raised were the biblical definition of marriage, the sanctity of life and the support of Israel. I thought it amusing, because NONE of these issues our founding fathers had anything to do with. (BTW, I am pro-life and liberty too).

  • The amazing thing is that some of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. We see no dichotomy in protecting the unborn and affirm marriage integrity – while also helping the poor, living sacrificially and redemptively, and promoting justice and acknowledging our own fallen nature while coming beside others who are fallen.

    Interestingly, those who refuse to make it an either/or seem to be having, in my experience, more impact at transforming lives and communities. They are no longer stuck in the trap of postmodern sensibilities, but are more authentically biblical because they have radically submitted not simply to His internal presence, but also His external precepts. By seeking the fulness of Christ, and not just some fractured perception of Him or what He is about, they are more fully expressing the dynamic authority of the King and His Kingdom to their communities.

    Here’s an alternative perspective, borne of actual engagement in messy lives with resulting transformation and authentic fellowship:

    • thanks for sharing your perspective, jim. i am glad you are seeing God work in people’s lives, that’s awesome. but other people are seeing him work in theirs, too, in different ways. that’s the beautiful part about the kingdom of God.

  • “but it makes me sad that “biblical” has become a way to say to
    others–”we’re with the real God and you’re not”. and that’s not fair.” fills me with sadness too!

  • I’m in sync with the substance of your post, Kathy, but somewhat less enthusiastic about the possible consequences.

    There’s no doubt that the Civil-religion of the “Religious Right” has hijacked the word “Biblical” and narrowed it’s focus to the point that the world is almost unrecognizable. My hesitation comes with the consequences of dulling the word. In my view the result of the counter-argument is the idea that no one can use the scripture as a standard because, after all, who really knows what it means? The Right is surely guilty of co-opting the word “biblical” for their own purposes, but the push-back from center and left believers tends to diminish the authority of the scripture altogether.

    By all means, speak up for the poor, the disenfranchised, and every other area that has been ignored. But beware the Law of Unintended Consequences. We are (all of us) engaged in weakening the Spirit-inspired word that is such a great–and necessary–gift to God’s people and the world at large. Peace to you!

    • thanks, ray, i appreciate your thoughts and i definitely am not interested in diminishing the bible in any way. in fact, i hope we can redeem parts of it that have been sorely ignored and wrestle with our differences in interpretation in more healthy & loving ways. i’d love to see the bible redeemed, especially for folks who have had it so misused against them that it is too painful to even wrestle with anymore.

  • This is spot on, Kathy. Thank you for your bravery in posting this. It gets really hurtful to be labeled ‘anti-biblical’ simply when one’s interpretation differs. And in the end, it is so much better not to argue about these things, but learn to truly listen

    A little side note, we had a ballot party in our community last week and it was wonderful. We have the full spectrum of political viewpoints in our group and we were able to listen to one another, learn from each other, sometimes change our minds, sometimes choose to disagree and still respect, and it was a lot of fun too!

      • Has everything to do with how we’ve built a relationship with each other where we can disagree passionately, but walk away knowing we’re loved and accepted. I definitely recommend giving it a try next time! Everything changes when you can sit in the room with different points of view and have those discussions and share those stories. I learned so much more than I would have from the voting guide!

  • When I’m in my mid 90’s, I certainly hope some group, even if it is run by my son, doesn’t buy ads just before the election that presumably state my opinion on the hot-button topic of the day. I am very suspicious that Billy Graham would not have done that when he was younger. You may need to read between the lines here.

    I read dull and dusty tomes, including some that include opinions from certain churchmen regarding what they thought was the “biblical” view on various topics in days gone by. Some of their ideas seem to have passed the test of time, while others would no longer be set forth by almost anyone.

    Will our progeny recognize us as authorities on what the Bible says, or as political enthusiasts who tried to use the Bible to support our views?

    • I just read Steve Knight’s post and some of the comments, especially from those who know and who worked with Billy Graham. I was hesitant to say that I know someone who worked with Billy for many years, and these political statements and campaign ads we’re seeing are obviously being written by someone with a political agenda who is basically putting words in Billy’s mouth that he never would have said when in full possession of his abilities.

      If I had a well-known evangelist dad, I could state my opinions, say they’re Biblical and sign my dad’s name to it and expect you to accept what I said pretty much as straight from the mouth of God. How can anyone argue against my opinions? Am I getting this straight?

  • Good concepts, Kathy.

    Folks who are convinced that getting us back to the Bible (being more biblical) are as out of touch as folks who imagine that “getting America back to the Constitution” will cause everything to go correctly. Being a proponent of either of those ideas is dangerous ground.

    The problem is interpretation. Folks who promote those “get back to it” ideals somehow imagine that getting back to “their interpretation” of the Bible and/or the Constitution will somehow fix our problems. And, it’s that nuance that they ignore.

    Millions of Christians over thousands of years haven’t been able to agree about what the Bible really says, really means, or what its level of authority should be. That’s why we have thousands of denominations. Similarly, millions of Americans (US) over hundreds of years haven’t been able to agree as to what the Constitution really meant. That’s why we have a Supreme Court and a judicial system.

    We need to realize that we’re all in this together, and that – while we’re all entitled to our interpretation – my interpretation is ultimately no better or more correct than anyone else’s. Only then will we begin to work together and make progress.

    • thanks, ed. i agree and i always want to say that i am not saying my interpretation of scripture is 100% right and that i have anything cornered.. i know i can sound like that sometimes to make a point, ha ha. i have so much room for totally different thinking from mine and don’t have trouble with very conservative views on things even though i disagree. i just am trying to put out on the table that we need to own that all of these perspectives are our own interpretations based on our experiences. i love your last paragraph especially. thanks.

  • thanks for sharing. goodness gracious, the comments on that blog post! yikes. that’s an awesome line “they say so much about what God says so little and so little about what God says so much….” i am going to be thinking about that for a long time. thanks.

  • I know this is an older post, but I have just discovered your blog today, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for this. This post resonates with me so much, I can’t even put it in words really…like, I’m on the verge of tears right now. So many times I have felt like I was on the other side of the”biblical” line drawn in the sand, (despite the fact I am a Christian, and have been since I was a child) simply because my views don’t align with the purported conservative position. I believe Christianity, while anchored in our salvation provided through Jesus Christ, can be lived out in unique and various ways. So many hide behind the label of “biblical” to support claims and personal agendas that are anything but! Another phrase that creates a similar response with me is the label of “a strong Christian,” or “strong Christian values.” Who gets to decide these things? I could go on forever, but again, my main purpose in commenting (after reading numerous posts!) was to simply say thank you. Thank you for being a distinct voice set apart in a sea of sameness.


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