The Ballot and the Bible

How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and Where We Go from Here

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Pub Date 22 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 15 Sep 2023

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Publishers Weekly starred review

"A nuanced look at America's legacy of scriptural language."--
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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.
Publishers Weekly starred review

"A nuanced look at America's legacy of scriptural language."--
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

How do Bible passages written thousands of years ago apply to...

Advance Praise

“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 needs.”—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 and 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

“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...

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Featured Reviews

Kaitlyn's dive into the political history of the US was insightful and informative for our current political/religious climate. In addition, her faithfulness to Scripture is evident as she shows the themes that are relevant to the American Christian's modern life. Her book is thought-provoking and challenging and offered me some clarity on how to think about being a faithful Christian.

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I appreciate that she gives historical context to how Americans specifically have interpreted scripture and how it's evolved with the times and generations - and guidance for how we can look at our own scripture interpretations and readings with a little more insight and awareness. Fascinating read!

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The Ballot and the Bible is an excellent primer on political theology and the use of the Bible in political contexts. Schiess surveys a variety of examples throughout history to demonstrate both good and bad Biblical hermeneutics. She encourages readers to learn from the examples provided in order to avoid similar mistakes. My favorite chapter was the one on seeking the peace and prosperity of the city, based on Jeremiah 29. This book is a great resource for anyone who seeks to apply the Bible faithfully.

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An excellent book that explored how the Bible has been used in American politics. This book challenged me and my understanding of American history and how the Bible has been used both correctly and incorrectly. I highly recommend it!

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Schiess has developed a strong following based on her depth of knowledge, keen insight, and integrating her personality and passion into her work. The Ballot and the Bible is her second book. Like her first, this title is a must read in the current political world.

Establishing how the Bible has been used and misused in the past, Schiess discusses the roots of discussing politics in biblical interpretation since the Puritan era. Heavily end-noted, Schiess looks at multiple perspectives on how people have interpreted the Bible for their own purposes to prove their own points. Where a group has had the cart driving the horse, Schiess has pointed out the error. While it can be difficult to separate one’s worldview from one’s biblical interpretations, it is a necessary process. Sadly, the process has been subverted often.

After reading Schiess, I plan on going back to read Mark Noll’s In the Beginning Was The Word and starting America’s Book. The Ballot and the Bible reads well with Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon’s Does Scripture Speak for Itself: The Museum of the Bible and the Politics of Interpretation.

Schiess helps to open eyes to the need to see one’s beliefs in the context of culture, to see where culture has oversaturated religion, and establishes a better path for biblical interpretation.

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Kaitlyn Schiess has written an excellent look at the way politics and the Bible have intersected in American politics. The Ballot and the Bible explores how religion has been used to influence politics, similar to how Jesus and John Wayne and The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Kristen Kobes du Mez and Beth Allison Barr.

The book begins with the Puritans laying the groundwork for much of American biblical interpretation and thought. I believe the influence of the Puritans still influences much of our public discourse as we see those influences, even within those who reject the idea of God. The subsequent chapters deal with how the Bible has been used throughout the history of the United States, showing how different viewpoints and ideologies used the same Bible to advance their cause. Topics include the American Revolution, chattel slavery, the social Gospel, Civil Rights, the place of the market economy in evangelical interpretation, eschatological ideologies using fear as a motivator, and the use of faith by more contemporary presidents.

Schiess does good work showing ways that political ideology often colors our biblical hermeneutical lenses. She shines a light upon the subtle ways that interpretive lens has become the very ideal of orthodoxy for some. The book has points which will make any reader uncomfortable in a good way. For it is in the discomfort of realizations that we may have allowed things other than genuine attempts to understand God to color our biblical claims. The final chapter gives practical frameworks for recognizing how politics has shaped theological intent so that we can build out more deeply theologies of politics in which the theological drives our political choices rather than the other way round. Using an exegetical look at Jeremiah 29 and the idea of exile, Schiess reminds us that “we will be more faithful readers of Scripture if we understand how the church in our immediate context has read it. We also will be more faithful readers of Scripture if we understand that our contemporary reading are not universal or neutral but conditioned by our time and place.” (emphasis mine from Chapter 10)

The Ballot and the Bible does do an excellent job of showing how extremes often keep us from seeing a better way of interpretation of the theology of politics. Those of us in the Wesleyan traditions would do well to read this and find a renewed emphasis of our via media (middle way) of interpretation. In an increasingly post-Christian society the middle way may be one path to tell better stories of who God is. In that path we may also find a better way to shape our political imagination such that we are one to new moves and ways to impact humanity outside of our current polarized milieu.

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This quote from the starred Publishers Weekly review nailed it: "A nuanced look at America's legacy of scriptural language."

The Ballot and the Bible is accessible and academic (Schiess comes with pages of receipts - just see the Notes section). No matter where you fall politically, this look at how the Bible is used in politics is an informative read, particularly for Christians.

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This was an awesome book! It was a fascinating survey through American history that gave a really balanced look at how the Bible has been used responsibly and irresponsibly to justify certain positions, postures, and policies. You can tell that Kaitlyn put in a ton of research for this project. I was very impressed with her ability to stay balanced and fair with each use of scripture that she examined, whether she agreed with it or not. As a pastor, I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially as we approach another election year. But this is also a great tool for pastors as we walk people through these tough, political, polarizing times.

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In The Ballot and the Bible, Kaitlyn Schiess traces the use of the Bible from the country’s founding to today. From the Revolution and Civil War to the Cold War and 2020, she explores how the Bible is used, sometimes correctly, but many times incorrectly, to bolster sides of a political debate. With real life examples and scriptures to back up the discussion, this is an important read for today in 2023.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

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In her book The Ballot and the Bible, Kaitlyn Schiess approaches the topic of politics for Christians with a balanced approach. She does an amazing job using history to show how Christians have approached the Bible over the years. I found it challenging to read because she points out how both conservatives and progressives often have used the Bible to prove their points instead of reading to be directed by God. This is a must read during this politically divisive time.

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In The Ballot and the Bible, Kaitlyn Schiess has provided a phenomenal resource to Christians as they seek to navigate our polarized political climate. She traces the history of how the Bible has been used to advance and defend political causes during similarly polarized time periods throughout American history. In so doing, she adeptly combines historical analysis, biblical exegesis, and political insights to show how we should (and shouldn't) employ the Bible in our political debates. I highly recommend this to anyone who's interested in faith and politics, even if you, like me, aren't American, because so may of the principles are relevant regardless of social context and we are all exposed to American thinking on the topic in our Information Age.

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Comprehensive, well-written history of the Bible in American politics. Scheiss doesn't stop at history, however, as she offers helpful tools for interpreting Scripture as Christians and citizens of this country.

This mix makes it a great read for learning about the past, but also means it is extremely applicable to our future. Don't miss it.

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The second effort from Kaitlyn Schiess does not disappoint. Her careful and well research book shows how the Bible has been used in different periods in American history by groups who were at "opposite" ends of a political situation. I was particularly struck by the differences between how former Presidents Bush and Obama displayed their faith and used (or didn't!) Christian language in their various speeches. Schiess invites us to consider our motives, hermeneutics, and assumptions as we study scripture. This is a profound and important text as American Christians faithfully consider how to vote.

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Through historical analysis and theological care, Kaitlyn Schiess offers a glimpse into American political life from the Revolutionary War era to the present, and how justifying ones political motives with Scripture is a tale as old as time.

With each chapter tackling a different cultural and political context - chattel slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Reaganomics, Trump, and more - Schiess unpacks the prevalent theological arguments of the day, illuminating the fact that appealing to Scripture has been a consistent priority for the American church and can either be utilized to shape our political outlook or, for better or worse, be abused to justify our political ideals.

This book isn't meant to be a prescriptive, "here's the Bible's position on this issue," bullet-point outline to keep in your back pocket. Rather, these chapters call attention to the fact that, if we are dismayed by the current state of evangelical political affairs, we must understand the long and complicated American history of wrestling with Scripture while desiring certain political outcomes.

"Whatever our motives, our political conversations will never go anywhere so long as we pit verse against verse, stacking up references like tally points against one another. We need to learn how to integrate biblical truths across the canon, think about how passages help interpret each other, and refuse to base an entire political position on select verses."

If you're already dreading the upcoming election cycle (like me), this book provides a comforting perspective for Christians feeling conflicted between their Bibles and the current political landscape. In choosing to be shaped by Scripture, we can be a faithful witness of Jesus while navigating these politically divided times with conviction, wisdom, and humility.

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This book is well-researched and theologically dense. While it was short in pages, it took me some time to thoughtfully work my way through. An excellent work very relevant to our current times, that shows us a better way to move through life in America as Christians and involved citizens.

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Kaitlyn Schiess' thoughtful commentary on Christianity and politics is familiar to readers of her first book, The Liturgy of Politics, as well as all who listen regularly to the Holy Post podcast. In her second book, The Ballot and the Bible, she skillfully analyzes the various ways the Bible has been used and abused by American Christians throughout U.S. history. Her goal is to examine the relationship between theology and politics. Using specific historical examples, such as the debates between Patriots and Loyalists during the American Revolution and segregationists and civil rights leaders in the 1950s and '60s, Schiess demonstrates that Biblical interpretation and application is always hotly contested. In the process, she suggests that humble awareness of our own biases and complex history will lead to greater understanding and gentler conversations in the public square. "If we want to understand Scripture better and apply it more faithfully— as well as have compassionate and convicted conversations with people we disagree with— we will need to know our Bible and our history," Schiess writes. "We will need to examine not only our stated principles of biblical interpretation but also the habits of our hearts. We will need to see passages of Scripture in new light, look at them through old conflicts, and ask fresh questions about our politics and our faith."

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This book finally answers "what in the Sam Hill is going on?!" Kaitlyn explains the Christian influence and political participation through the lens of major American historical events going back to colonial times. Those in positions of power within the church and in government have always used the Bible to sway public opinion. The politicians of our recent past did not invent anything new.

I especially appreciated the analysis of the 1980s. As a kid during the 80s, I remember some of what happened in politics but did not have much context for how it shaped our country. And I had even less context for what was happening in popular church culture.

The Ballot and the Bible is well-researched. Kaitlyn pulls from popular books of the periods she writes about, works of respected theologians like St. Augustine, and of course the Bible. It comes together in a clear explanation of how we got here - enough so that when we see it start happening again, we will be able to point to the causes and possible solutions.

It's the book we needed ahead of another presidential election to bolster us for the tough conversations with family and friends that lie ahead.

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Such a timely book. I really enjoyed this one and learned a lot. I love listening to Kaitlyn Schiess on the Holy Post Podcast and was very excited to hear about her new book. It did not disappoint! Schiess details different ways the Bible has been used throughout important eras in America's history: the Puritans, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, Cold War and current presidential elections to name a few. Her research is meticulous and detailed and yet very readable. I highly recommend this one.

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No one is without bias when it comes to our politics and our faith. The question is not whether we can be unbiased, but whether we can be objective and fair in our consideration of views that differ from our own. I think Kaitlyn Schiess has provided us a fair, balanced, nuanced, and well-researched view of the important historical intersection of faith and politics in America, with particular focus of how people of varying political persuasions have used scripture to further their agendas. This book is a valuable resource.

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With this book, Kaitlyn identifies how churches, believers, and politicians have used and misused Scripture in America.

Rather than "throw verses" at each other, Kaitlyn asks us to read Scripture together and in context to inform our voting decisions and political life.

Kaitlyn challenges readers to re-think how we have inherited readings and interpretations of Scripture, which may not be faithful to the text.

She explores how Scripture has been used as a positive force to bring justice to the oppressed in America by looking at the themes of Scripture. By looking at the whole of Scripture, we can apply principles in a faithful way that brings justice to the oppressed and marginalized and Good News to the unreached.

This isn't a book that tells you how to vote. It doesn't try to convince you a specific candidate or party is more "biblical." Instead, it is an investigation of how the Bible has been used by community leaders, pastors, and politicians since the foundation of America. This book asks us to reconsider how we apply Scripture going forward and acknowledge that our current time, place, and context influence how we read the Bible.

Thank you, @brazospress for the digital copy to read and review.

Also, I recommend the podast from @thenewevangelicals with Kaitlyn if you are looking for a deeper dive with the author.

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If you're looking for a book that's both incredibly informative and well-written, look no further than "The Ballot and the Bible." This hidden gem is a perfect fit for history and theology nerds alike.

The author effortlessly takes us through different time periods in American history to determine how the Bible was used in politics and movements. But the book doesn't just leave you with facts. It leaves you with a load of questions to reflect on, especially as the election year of 2024 approaches.

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A great book showing how the bible has been used to influence American politics from the very beginning. As a Canadian I often watch what is going on in the American political landscape and the evangelical church and wonder why it is the way it is, and why the church in Canada doesn't seem to have the same influence and voice politically that they have in the US, and this book really shows how some of that came to be. I really enjoyed the history that was included to show where some of the issues that the evangelical church in America is facing come from, and how the bible has been used to provided backing to various views right from the founding of the nation, and how sometimes even the same passage could be used by both sides arguing different things.
I appreciate the Kaitlyn really showed that our reading of the bible and those around us really does influence the meaning we assign to scripture, and that the context of the original author really is important. I also like that she points out that not all prophetic passages can or should be applied to any given subject.
A really good book if you are interested in the state of the American evangelical church and how they have become so embroiled in the political landscape in the last 70 or so years.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, all opinions are my own.

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Whether you love politics or will do anything to avoid them, this book has something for you. “The Ballot and the Bible'' explores the way that scripture has been used in politics throughout history all the way up into the present. Schiess’s analysis is nuanced and avoids putting things into boxes based on if the person using the scripture was “on the right side of history.” There are clear examples of people who used scripture wrongly, those who had good intentions but not great hermeneutics, and those who used scripture to faithfully advocate for political change. The history in the book helps break down some of our preconceived notions and prepares the reader to get into the messier arena of current politics where our own biases are stronger.

Schiess’s book works on multiple levels: it’s a history, it encourages readers to question politicians who use scripture (no matter what party they are in), and it challenges readers to examine the way they use scripture as well. Since 2020 things have been politically charged in America, and both sides have been using biblical language or verses out of context to support their side. I have. I’m sure you have too. We can do better. This book is a great introduction to finding a way to interact with politics faithfully.

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A fascinating read, but it is a pity that the author does not go any further to propose a hermeneutical system. One is therefore forced to conclude (based purely on the contents of this book) that, apart from hindsight, there is (seemingly) no reliable way of discerning if one is misinterpreting and/or misapplying Scripture. This book would have been much better if it had offered a hermeneutical path forward for Christians seeking to faithfully read and apply Scripture in the political sphere.

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