The Bible has been a key text in the Tennessee Governers race. (Photo: MyfanwyX, Flickr.)

August 2. is primary Election Day in Tennessee.

Primaries always feel like a political scrimmage to me, a kind of helmets-only, half-contact step-through in prep for the Big Game that is the following November’s general election. Candidates, and particularly voters, move through the process of primary election lackadaisically, marking their tangible political efforts at about ¼ speed. But of course, since the entire country has been buzzing about November 2018’s midterms since precisely January 20, 2017, the August 2 primaries have demanded the attention of we the electorate in ways that are about as intense as any general election (save Obama’s and Trump’s) in recent memory.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who want to be governor of Tennessee. It’s come to the point where it feels like everybody with a Tennessee driver’s license is also running for governor. Hell, I’m prepping myself to see my own name on the ballot. Can you imagine? “Excuse me, but evidently I’m running for governor. Can I count on your vote? No? That’s probably a wise decision.”


Anyway, at least according to the amount of airtime their ads have received, it appears the three leading Republican candidates are: Diane Black, Randy Boyd and Bill Lee.

I think all three of them are the exact same person. Of the ads I’ve seen, each candidate discusses the critical personal importance of his/her faith in Jesus Christ. I think at least one of them (Bill Lee, maybe?) is holding a Bible in one of his commercials. Black, Boyd and Lee’s faith in Jesus, passed down to them from their parents and their parents’ parents as a kind of legacy, guides all they’ve ever done — so they each say or at least imply — all they do now and, if elected, all they will do once they get to Nashville.

Their ads then zip to the “no sanctuary cities on my watch” rhetoric. “Sanctuary cities” is an enormously loaded term no matter how you feel about immigration. For Black, Boyd and Lee, the use of the term conveys a much broader meaning, mostly through implication, than the ostensible, “I just mean I plan to enforce the law.” In a nation where — let’s call it like it is — both overt and covert racism from the White House, especially regarding the southern border, has become the norm, “sanctuary cities” in the mouths of Black, Boyd and Lee takes on the same gussied up xenophobia as it does in the mouths of Donald Trump and other alt-righters.

Here’s where a great irony gnashes its teeth, at least at me. You see, I was also raised in the Christian faith. My familial Christian heritage goes back at least as many generations as Black, Boyd and Lee’s. The Bible they wheel out and troop around the hyper-conservative political stage like it’s some kind of dancing monkey is the same Bible I read. But when I hear ads in which they describe their Christian values and then immediately wave their keep-out signs, well, it’s like they’ve sledgehammered two discordant notes on a piano keyboard.

In that Bible, the one tucked into these would-be governors’ thin rhetoric, is this verse from the Book of Leviticus (Lev. 19:34, NIV translation): “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” For a little more punch and irony, here’s the New American Standard Bible translation of the same verse: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” Ironic because the New American Standard Bible (italics mine) commands its readers (e.g. Diane Black, Randy Boyd, Bill Lee) to love the “aliens.” “Aliens,” of course, has become the preferred pejorative in hyper-conservative camps to refer to people in the United States or on its borders who are not US citizens.

I think there are waaaaaaay more verses in the Bible that support (even command, as in that verse from Leviticus) a posture of loving compassion and acceptance of migrants and asylum-seekers than there are verses that could be manipulated by wannabe govs to suggest that the Bible says, “God says I can suggest we keep foreigners out of Tennessee.”

When it comes to accepting the stranger, (the site I’m looking at as I type this and from where I pulled the above translations of Leviticus 19:34) cross-references verses from Exodus, Deuteronomy and the book of Psalms. And don’t read Isaiah or the words of Christ Himself if you don’t want to find out it’s true. We’ll recall that Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to justify the White House’s wrongheaded Zero Tolerance policy with a verse from Romans 13. It blew up in their faces. I think they figured we, the general public, weren’t smart enough to discover that the same Romans verse has been perversely twisted to justify slavery and other nasty business.

I can’t trust Diane Black, Randy Boyd or Bill Lee because of the glaring contradictions in their own campaign ads. They hawk their Biblical convictions and then, with no justification or even a segue, hawk their anti-Biblical stances. It’s much too wide of a credibility gap. Maybe they don’t see the obvious discrepancies, but my guess is they do. They’re trying to pull one over on us using the Bible. I think it’s their attempt to disguise all else they believe, especially in the blatant, mean-spirited exclusion of the stranger, as Biblical. As if that sentiment could possibly come from God. According to Black, Boyd and Lee it does. According to the Bible, it doesn’t.

There is one Bible verse that seems to apply. Matthew 18:7 (NIV, again from “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” I wonder if Black, Boyd and Lee are familiar with it.

Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.