This week, you’ll likely read and watch a lot of hot takes and deep parses on the conflict on Lincoln’s steps today. There’s a lot to say, and plenty of people to say it. The smartest ones will point out that the same commentators who condemned Trayvon Martin’s hoodie as provocative, have suddenly forgotten they think clothes communicate, and make a bevy of excuses for the way that folks react to MAGA hats, as if they symbolize nothing… But that hypocrisy will find no shortage of red-hatted adherents, nor critics to point it out. I’m occupied.
Y’see, I’m hung up on a phrase used in the NewYorkTimes, by member of the third faction present – the one that no one seems to be talking about for two reasons – one, because their message and identities are unclear and don’t map easily to the way this story wants to polarize, and two, because it’s an arcane minor point utterly tangental to the story itself, but deeply telling about the American religious landscape – so, y’know, just the kind of thing that interests me.
I’ll be honest, I don’t completely know what to make of a group of protestors shouting at both the indigenous activists and the anti-abortion march attending catholic school MAGA student group before most videos of the event begin, which catalyzed their interaction with each other at the start. I encourage readers to engage the article itself, but here’s the quote from it that stood out from the rest:
“I know we seem aggressive reading the Bible, but the Bible states for us to cry aloud and don’t spare anybody’s feelings,” he said.
Let’s take a look at that verse, in its context, then, and wonder at it being misappropriated in 2019:
Isaiah 58 King James Version (KJV)
58 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet,
Tell you what, let’s jump on over to the NIV. King James sounds poetic, but it’s also kind of an Opaque read. (which is one of the reasons fundamentalist sects prefer it, since the archaic inscrutable language is harder on the ear of modern english speakers, and since that leaves the meanings harder to parse, it’s easier to beg the case that it means whatever idea the party wants to push, so long as it includes some words that modern connotations push toward their goal.) Regardless – NIV from here, for reading ease:
Isaiah 58 New International Version (NIV)
58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
I think it’s especially emblematic of the state of religious discourse in America right now, taking a single line of this particular scripture and press it into service justifying a philosophy of Insensitivity and Aggressive Assignation of Blame – a meaning opposite its own. Few things reflect the modern church’s thorough co-optation by the values of political alliance, than someone using this verse this way.