We take care of our own — the Bible’s central message. And now of the Dems too

When I was in rabbinical school, many times people told me that religion and politics should be kept completely separate.

What were they talking about? Had they never opened a Bible? Had they never heard its prophetic message to pursue justice and to care for the helpless — the widow, the orphan and the stranger?

Joe Biden knows. In his victory speech, he referenced scripture prominently — employing the same lines from Kohelet that inspired Pete Seeger’s Turn! Turn! Turn!. He also concluded with a hymn — On Eagle’s Wings — inspired by Psalm 91 among other biblical passages. And he made reference to another great man who was never afraid to mix politics and religion — Martin Luther King — when he used an image King made so famous: the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice.

During the Civil Rights Movement and into the 1960s the forces of progressivism were not shy about using religious language and claiming kinship with the Bible’s prophetic call for social justice and care for the impoverished. But somehow with the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of forces like the so-called Moral Majority led by Jerry Falwell, the right-wing managed to convince America that only they heard the call of scripture. 

It’s time to take it back. I hope that Biden’s speech is only one step on the road to this transformation. It’s not always going to be easy of course. Scripture — whether we’re talking about the Christian or Hebrew bibles or the Koran and other great religious texts — is full of difficult images and stories that can be used to justify all sorts of twisted and violent behaviors, including religious wars. But those of us who have immersed ourselves in these scriptures know that the overall messages are ones of justice, love and peace. God has left it up to us to find that overwhelming message in the scripture that has been left to us and to choose to act on it. 

One of the very first stories in the Bible is a terrible one of a brother killing his brother. We could choose to hear a message here that this is normal behavior, that it is simply the nature of the human to hate other humans. Or, we could choose to hear this story as a powerful warning, a warning of the awful possible consequences of starting to hate another, that the inevitable consequence of hate is violence and exile.

Biden knows that we must not hate. That is not saying that we must not fight — even not that we should not feel anger at injustice — but rather that we should show great care in how we choose to fight so that we do not end up making the same mistake that Cain did.

When Biden came out on stage, they played a Bruce Springsteen song, We take care of our own. Echoing the sentiment of the Psalmist’s עד מתי/ad matei — how much longer!? — Springsteen sings:

Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea

Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea

And he answers:

Wherever this flag is flown

We take care of our own

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that wherever any nation’s flag is flown that the people of that nation will fulfill the biblical promise to take care of their own. Of every single person. May there never be another person hungry or homeless. May no one ever again die or be hurt at the hands of another. May no one be forced to live in indignity or fear. May it come speedily and in our time.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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