As a 6th grader, I got into an argument about whether a class-five tornado could move a pencil on the ground a mile away.
I insisted it wouldn’t budge. My friend said it would be sucked into the vortex. Our data-free arguments hinged on the methods peculiar to 6th-grade argumentation: My older brother, a man at the sagely age of 22, agreed with me. My friend, not to be outdone, quickly countered saying his father agreed with him.
Neither of us changed our minds.
Most of us eventually learn this lesson: When in argument, don’t appeal to an authority. In an economics paper, students cite an economist’s data, not the economist himself.
Basic logic says that appealing to authority is a fallacy, but the frequency of Christian politicians citing scripture to justify legislation implies that this lesson might not be as widely disseminated as I first thought.
Just last week, Rep. Jodey Arrington, a Texas Republican, cited scripture to support work requirements for welfare recipients. He said, “The Scripture tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, ‘for even when we were with you we gave you this rule: if a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”
Last year, Rep. Rick Allen from Georgia’s 12th District argued against gay marriage by citing Romans 1:18-32, which lists homosexuality among a collection of sins that are “worthy of death.”
In 2010, Rep. Lamar Smith, another Texas Republican, cited scripture to support a crackdown on illegal immigration. He pointed to Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to governing authorities.”
And in 2009, Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, brushed aside climate change by citing Bible verses in Genesis and Matthew and saying, “the Earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth — this Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”
Each of these arguments is just like a 6th grader squealing, “my daddy told me.”
When Christians appeal to God’s authority in politics, they imply that there are no statistics or data to support their claims. But the Bible makes an assertion about the world, and if Christian lawmakers really believe that assertion is true, then they should have the courage to argue with facts, not Bible verses.
Here are the facts: Americans are less successful when they don’t get married; children perform worse when born out of wedlock or raised by single or homosexual parents; and poor people are less likely to look for better jobs when on welfare.
Instead of citing scripture to uphold the sanctity of marriage, Christians should cite statistics like those from the Heritage Foundation showing that in the United States, marriage drops the probability of child poverty by 82 percent, and that more than 80 percent of high-income families are headed by monogamous, heterosexual parents. Meanwhile, less than seven percent of poor families have two married parents. Christians shouldn’t advocate for the biblical view of marriage simply because it is biblical, they should advocate it because it is best.
Similarly, welfare work requirements don’t need to be supported by 2 Thessalonians, as Rep. Arrington seems to believe. Congress implemented work requirements in 1996 for recipients of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The program required half of all able-bodied recipients to work. The results speak for themselves: Between 1996 and 2002, the number of families on welfare dropped from 4.3 million to 2 million, and today only 1.6 million use the program. Welfare work requirements work, no Bibles needed.
Appealing to scriptural authority not only makes Christians seem weak, it also distracts from the actual evidence. Any reference to scripture in political debate ensures a slew of mocking headlines. No click-hungry news outlet will pay attention to a lawmaker’s statistics when he also says that Noah’s flood proves climate change isn’t man-made, as Rep. Shimkus did.
Politicians have reduced the Bible to a prop. If Christians want scripture to have weight, then they need to stop using it where it has no recognized authority. Christians can point to scripture as an authority among Christians, but they need to stop citing Dad in politics and start proving that He’s right. The evidence is there.
Mr. Hagstrom is a senior studying politics and journalism.