The Ballot and the Bible
How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and Where We Go from Here
★ Publishers Weekly starred review
"A nuanced look at America's legacy of scriptural language."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Christianity Today 2024 Book Award Finalist (Politics and Public Life)
How do Bible passages written thousands of years ago apply to politics today? What can we learn from America's history of using the Bible in politics? How can we converse with people whose views differ from our own?
In The Ballot and the Bible, Kaitlyn Schiess explores these questions and more. She unpacks examples of how Americans have connected the Bible to politics in the past, highlighting times it was applied well and times it was egregiously misused.
Schiess combines American political history and biblical interpretation to help readers faithfully read Scripture, talk with others about it, and apply it to contemporary political issues--and to their lives. Rather than prescribing what readers should think about specific hot-button issues, Schiess outlines core biblical themes around power, allegiance, national identity, and more.
Readers will be encouraged to pursue a biblical basis for their political engagement with compassion and confidence.
Introduction: Is That Your Bible?
1. A City on a Hill: An American Legacy of Puritan Biblical Interpretation
2. Submission and Revolution: Romans 13 and American Identity
3. "The Bible through Slave-Holding Spectacles": The Bible in the Civil War
4. Your Kingdom Come: Social Gospel Hermeneutics
5. A Stick of Dynamite: Civil Rights and Scripture
6. Magic of the Market: The Hermeneutics of Small Government
7. Late Great United States: Biblical Eschatology in the Cold War
8. Prayer, Politics, and Personal Faith: George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's Use of Scripture
9. "Give unto Caesar What Is Caesar's": Evangelicals and Trump
10. Seek the Peace and Prosperity of the City: Jeremiah 29 and Political Theology
Conclusion: The Promise and Peril of Biblical References in Politics
"It's not often that a book both challenges your fundamental beliefs and elevates them at the same time. The Ballot and the Bible is such a book. Schiess addresses foundational questions about the nature of our political life together and establishes the urgency of reevaluating our civic norms. This is a book about faith, politics, and the Bible that our churches and our democracy need."
Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism; professor of history, Simmons College of Kentucky
"This clever, judicious, and remarkably persuasive book challenges us to rethink how we apply Scripture to politics. It reminds us that while a 'plain and literal' interpretation of the Bible is not actually possible, a humble and faithful interpretation is. I'm so grateful for the wisdom Kaitlyn Schiess brings to this conversation. I pray that we listen to her."
Beth Allison Barr, bestselling author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth; James Vardaman Professor of History, Baylor University
"A wonderfully illuminating history of how Americans have reached for the Bible--for better or worse--to shape our shared political life. From John Winthrop's 'city on a hill' to Eisenhower's Cold War Christianity to the peculiar marriage of evangelicals and Donald Trump, Schiess takes us on a journey that allows any Christian to see how the Bible can shape our political engagement, or, if we aren't careful, our politics can shape our Bible. Highly recommended!"
Phil Vischer, VeggieTales creator; cohost of the Holy Post podcast
"We are formed in community, and, as Kaitlyn Schiess shows in her remarkably deft historical account and analysis, that community shapes not only how we view politics but also how we read and apply the Bible to our politics. Whether you lean left or lean right, whether you come from a red state, blue state, or a purple one, if you are a Christian who seeks to apply biblical principles to your political thinking, you will find something instructive, challenging, and enlightening in this book."
Karen Swallow Prior, author of The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis
"The Ballot and the Bible offers keen, level-headed, and perceptive insights into the use of Scripture in our political life that will empower readers without leaving them either complacently cynical or myopically gullible. Spend time with Kaitlyn Schiess by reading this book, and you'll gain confidence in your own ability to navigate political issues. Kaitlyn's combination of pastoral care with real pastoral wisdom is rarer than it ought to be, and it's part of what makes me confident in Kaitlyn's leadership, and our need for it, for years to come. The Ballot and the Bible is a wonderful contribution, and I highly recommend it."
Michael Wear, president and CEO, Center for Christianity and Public Life; author of The Spirit of Our Politics
"History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. That maxim is certainly on display in Schiess's compelling book about the use--and misuse--of the Bible in the political arena throughout US history. With accessible scholarship and wisdom, she reveals how the use of Scripture in today's polarized political environment echoes its use in previous eras. But Schiess is also careful to highlight and honor the unique contours of each generation's engagement with the Bible. This book is a must-read for every Christian who cares about the role of faith in the public square."
Skye Jethani, author of What If Jesus Was Serious?; cohost of the Holy Post podcast
"What a gift Kaitlyn Schiess is to the church. Somehow, Kaitlyn serves up rigorous academic research with illuminating insight and theologically rich wisdom, all perfectly peppered with wit. And in these pages, she is operating at the height of her powers. The Ballot and the Bible is brilliant and fascinating and about so much more than politics. This book should be required reading for hermeneutics classes, as well as anyone who teaches the Bible."
Sharon Hodde Miller, author of The Cost of Control: Why We Crave It, the Anxiety It Gives Us, and the Real Power God Promises
Christianity Today 2024 Book Award Finalist (Politics and Public Life)
"Schiess sets out a new vision for biblical language use: instead of 'plucking passages out of their context' and retrofitting them for predetermined political agendas, those combing the Bible for present-day insight should consider 'the larger context of God's redemptive story.' Buttressing her claims with impressive close analysis, Schiess sets out a nuanced look at America's legacy of scriptural language, and readers will find especially useful her guidelines for responsible biblical interpretation when engaging in political discourse. This is a boon for activists looking to the Bible for inspiration."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Schiess chose very ambitious categories and themes to tackle in one book. Her clear, concise writing and deep scholarship shows how passionate she is about guiding readers through a hard-to-navigate topic, in order to find a better theological and interpretive lens. She pulls from wide-ranging sources and does the biblical spadework to make her points. It struck me that in a book that talks about how little hermeneutical digging through the Scriptures happens in political life, Schiess has actually done what most politicians have refused to do--to look at the context of passages, wrestling with the historical significance of the text, considering the culture, etc. Her belief that we may miss the mark in our interpretations, but that God will not fail us, is an encouragement for pastors and church members who are exhausted by the weight of the American ballot these days."
Englewood Review of Books