Southern Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, founder and president of Vision America, has been in the news quite a lot lately. A couple of weeks ago his organization hosted the “War on Christians and the Values Voter” conference. Embattled Republican politician Tom DeLay spoke at the event before announcing his retirement from Congress a few days later.
Scarborough, the unsuccessful fundamentalist candidate for the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1996, and other conservative Christian leaders were quick to offer their support for DeLay following his indictment in September of 2005. On Sunday, April 9, Scarborough appeared on the C-SPAN show “Washington Journal” to continue his defense of DeLay.
When asked how he felt about DeLay’s departure from Congress, Scarborough answered: “It’s a heartache to me personally.… I’m going to miss him greatly. He was a consistent, faithful congressman.” He added, “I have seen nothing that has convinced me that Tom DeLay is guilty.”
Throughout the program Scarborough lavished praise on DeLay, calling him a “hero,” “a champion of righteous values,” “a gracious, kind, and good man,” and “a profile in courage.” He added, “He’s welcome to join us anywhere, anytime and take a leadership role.… In fact, I would love to mix church and state with Tom DeLay.”
During the interview he repeated a remark he made at the recent conference where he compared DeLay to Jesus: “God does his best work after a crucifixion.” Such a comment is not only blasphemous but poor theology about the work of God. Where does he get such ideas? How does he remain blindly faithful to DeLay? Perhaps the answer came in the C-SPAN interview.
While talking about the importance of rallying Christians to head to the polls and vote for conservative candidates, Scarborough stated, “He who has the most votes wins. That’s not a Scripture, that’s—I call that the RSV, the Rick Scarborough Version—but it’s the fact of life.”
Perhaps that is where some of his unexplainable theology is found. His quest for a political and powerful savior may sound more like DeLay than the biblical Jesus, unless we check out his personal “Rick Scarborough Version” bible.
Perhaps his RSV account of the “Sermon on the Mount” goes something like this: “Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the kingdom of Washington. Blessed are the powerful, for they have taken over the earth. Blessed are the Republicans, for they are pure in heart. Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are conservatives, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Scarborough’s RSV has likely removed much of the teachings of Jesus and the prophets about helping the poor, the widows, and the orphans, and instead added numerous more passages condemning abortion, homosexuality and the welfare system.
Perhaps his RSV text of Matthew 25 now reads: “For I was out of office and you voted for me, I was campaigning and you gave me money, I was indicted and you invited me to your conference, I needed more votes and you gerrymandered my district, I was running behind and you funneled funds to me, I was about to go to prison and you attacked my accusers.”
An insightful understanding of this new RSV bible came during the C-SPAN interview. While arguing that Christians should vote, Scarborough called political apathy a “sin.” To defend the statement he quoted James 4:17. He stated, “‘He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not,’ Scripture says, ‘to him it is a sin.'”
Apparently, in addition to sounding a lot like the King’s James Version, Scarborough’s RSV text of James 4 only includes that one verse. Otherwise it would be painfully obvious that he is taking it out of context. The passage is actually warning against pride. So how could the text be used to justify associating with arrogant, power-seeking politicians?
With the new RSV, however, Scarborough can use only James 4:17 and thus continue to support DeLay. Scarborough’s version frees him to seek political power and attempt to build an earthly kingdom.
Other statements during the C-SPAN may have been quotations of new RSV verses that are slightly edited versions of traditional Scripture passages. At point he seemed to be quoting his RSV take on Romans 1:16: “I’m not afraid or ashamed to be identified with Tom DeLay.”
One final comment from Scarborough during the interview helped shed some light on his personal translation. “Washington Journal” host Paul Orgel referenced a New York Times column by Gary Wills arguing, “There is no such thing as a ‘Christian politics.'”
Scarborough argued with the claims of Wills, whom he inaccurately referred to as George Willis. He explained that his faith drives him to take certain political stands. He added: “I don’t have to pray about a lot of these decisions. I don’t have to weigh the polls, or find the opinions, or read George Willis to decide what I’m going to say or believe.”
While it may seem quite reasonable and biblical to avoid polls or columns to discover what one should believe, why does he also discount prayer? Is he afraid God will tell him he has been saying the wrong things?
Such a comment suggests a number of verses have been edited out of his RSV bible. Gone are Paul’s admonitions in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually” and in Colossians 4:12 to “devote yourselves to prayer.”
This is not the first time a RSV text has created controversy. Bruce Metzger tells the story of a pastor burning a copy of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) Bible and mailing the ashes to one of the leaders of the translation’s committee. The text was attacked for supposed communist influence.
Today, a new RSV text has emerged and includes major flaws and dangerous theology. Perhaps the only thing the Rick Scarborough version of the gospel is good for is being tossed into the flames.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.