The Awkwardness of Politicians Quoting the Bible

by Mr. Sheehy

The trouble with politicians using biblical quotations is this: It’s hard, and most of them think it’s easy. The Bible-quoting politician usually ends up sounding self-important, disingenuous, ill-informed or all three at once. The quotation almost always sounds contrived, as if it’s been dropped into the speech because the audience expects something religious or spiritual, not because it clarifies or illustrates an important point. . . .

Presidential candidates speak every day in a vast array of forums and settings, and I’m sure I’ve missed some of their biblical references that aren’t available online. Even so, one generalization does suggest itself, namely, that the candidates who might be expected to drop the most biblical quotations into their speeches — Carson and Ted Cruz — generally don’t. Carson speaks mainly about his own biography and general cultural trends. The one reference I’ve found (above) was mentioned in response to a question; otherwise he’s not a prolific Bible quoter. And Cruz, for his part, spoke at the aforementioned Liberty University — indeed he announced his candidacy there — and didn’t quote the Bible at all.

You wouldn’t expect Chris Christie or Martin O’Malley to use biblical quotations, and they don’t, from what I’ve been able to find. You would expect Carson and Cruz to use them, and for the most part they don’t. Maybe these candidates know something that many of their competitors fail to grasp: that their listeners won’t be impressed by clumsy and superficial uses of sacred words.

Barton Swaim for The Washington Post