What’s the story about Nancy Pelosi mis-quoting a Bible Verse?

Question & Answer


Q: By Ian M.

The right-wing media has been making a big “gotcha” deal out of the claim that Nancy Pelosi’s “favorite Bible verse” isn’t even in the Bible. What’s the story here?

A: By Rev. David M. Felten

Dear Ian,

Well, the story is that politically conservative pundits and news sources are engaging in the age-old practice of “misdirection” – and you’re right to suggest that it feels like a “gotcha” moment. It’s as though no one wants to miss out on accusing the Speaker of some nefarious and self-serving revision of the Bible – and as long as the right-wing media can gin-up the righteous fury of the sanctimonious Bible-thumpers, the base is distracted from the ways the system continues to be tilted in favor of the rich and privileged classes.

So let’s start off by being clear: the oft-quoted passage that Speaker Pelosi attributes to the Bible is NOT, in fact, a direct quote from the Bible. But here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1) She’s not the first person to misquote or mistakenly attribute an aphorism to the Bible. Pious anti-LGBTQ+ advocates are want to attribute “Hate the sin, love the sinner” to the Bible (not in there). John Wesley’s “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” will sometimes get credit for being in the Bible (it’s not), as does Ben Franklin’s take on the ancient Greek aphorism, “God helps those who help themselves” (when the Bible is actually pretty clear that the exact opposite is true). And who doesn’t love Jules Winnfield’s menacing ad-lib on an Ezekiel-esqe diatribe in Pulp Fiction? “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men!” (sadly, not in there).

2) BUT, when you come right down to it, the sentiment of the passage Pelosi often repeats is actually pretty darn Biblical (if not an exact quote).

The quote itself, “To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us,” sounds a lot like Proverbs 14.31, especially in the “Living Bible” paraphrase (Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God.) and the “Common English Bible” (Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.) Pelosi has actually expanded the focus of the verse from “the poor” to all of creation – not a bad thought in these days of accelerating Climate Change.

But Fundamentalists, be they political or theological, just can’t see the forest for the trees. A professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Claude Mariottini, declared the verse, “fictional,” and claimed, “There is nothing that even approximates that.” So much for grace (or taking the Bible seriously as poetry).

So, despite Pelosi’s passage embodying profoundly Biblical values, critics just can’t help themselves. Anything they think will sully the reputation of the opposition is fair game – even if the very mean-spirited “gotcha” kind of conduct betrays the Biblical principles they claim to defend.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Sarahbeth Caplin at “The Friendly Atheist,” writes,

“the FOX News crowd is blasting [Pelosi] for quoting “fake” verses, as if she’s a bad Catholic. Even if she screwed up the verse, the sentiment is undoubtedly biblical. Compare that to the Republicans who quote the Bible all the time while ignoring everything Jesus said.

Pelosi has admitted that she can’t find the quote anywhere in the Bible, but she keeps looking. Frankly, I wish more people would spend time poring over the Bible to find verses that challenge humanity to do better.

~ Rev. David M. Felten

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. David M. Felten is a full-time pastor at The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. David and fellow United Methodist Pastor, Jeff Procter-Murphy, are the creators of the DVD-based discussion series for Progressive Christians, “Living the Questions”.

A co-founder of the Arizona Foundation for Contemporary Theology and also a founding member of No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, David is an outspoken voice for LGBTQ rights both in the church and in the community at large. David is active in the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and tries to stay connected to his roots as a musician. You’ll find him playing saxophones in a variety of settings, including appearances with the Fountain Hills Saxophone Quartet. David and his wife Laura have three children.

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