As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis celebrated his official renomination on Aug. 23, he misquoted a Bible verse to compare Democrats to the devil. As a Baptist minister, I’m appalled by his rhetoric that co-opts my faith’s sacred text to push dangerous politics that threatens our democracy.
DeSantis said he was “calling on all Floridians to put on the full armor of God” to fight Joe Biden and Charlie Crist.” DeSantis added, “So, put on the full armor of God and take a stand against the left’s schemes.”
It’s a line DeSantis clearly likes as he’s used it at multiple other events in recent months to urge conservatives to prepare for a righteous battle. But each time DeSantis said the verse wrong.
The text in Ephesians 6 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” In the new revised DeSantis version, the devil is replaced with “the left.” With that twist, he uses scripture to demonize — or perhaps worse, devilize — his political opponents.
By rewriting the words of the Bible, DeSantis changes the meaning of the text. The author of Ephesians was talking to persecuted Christians to encourage them to remain committed to the ways of God. It’s not a call to go on the offensive against other people.
But DeSantis instead baptizes the Republican Party as the new church. He’s not merely comparing “the left” to the devil; he’s suggesting that liberals aren’t really Christians. And he’s arguing that Republicans inherently are righteous — not because they believe in Jesus but because they vote for candidates like himself. DeSantis is redefining Christianity through the lens of partisan politics. Thus, he preaches this new gospel not in churches but at campaign rallies as the GOP faithful applaud in devotion.
With his crusader faith, DeSantis peddles dangerous politics. Depicting the other party as inherently evil and your own party as on God’s side distorts how one views elections and our democratic processes. This perspective frames Democrats not as good people with political differences but as existential threats. One doesn’t compromise with the devil. Nor does one just sit back and let the devil take over. True believers will instead try to save the nation from the devil’s election schemes. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that multiple insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021, marched toward the Capitol while wearing the words “armor of God.”
Treating political opponents as agents of Lucifer threatens our democracy. Such zealotry refuses to accept that God would allow the other side to legitimately win an election. And such righteous partisans will choose gridlock over compromise because the other side must be destroyed instead of accommodated. This attitude helps explain our hellish politics today.
But this view of being on a mission from God also distorts how people view their own political loyalties. While demonizing the other side, the “godly” in one’s own camp can do no wrong. Political checks-and-balances are tossed aside by a theology that justifies achieving the desired ends by any means necessary. But as James Madison noted in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
The Republican Party is neither the church nor an angelic host. For DeSantis to suggest otherwise weakens concerns about power and corruption. Anything his side does can be excused, even efforts to overturn a free and fair election. If he reads more of the scriptures, DeSantis will learn that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I checked my Bible and there’s no exception for DeSantis.
Unfortunately, DeSantis isn’t alone in invoking the “armor of God” as a partisan weapon. Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee for Arizona Secretary of State, used it during a hearing in late 2020 as he tried to overturn Biden’s win. The “QAnon Shaman,” who was arrested for his role in the insurrection, invoked the phrase last year from federal detention.
Darren Bailey, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, put the Ephesians citation on the door of his campaign bus, thus framing his campaign as a divine mission. Other Republicans like North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado have also used the phrase to justify their political attacks against Democrats.
Across the nation, politicians who sought to undermine the 2020 election have joined insurrectionists in invoking the “armor of God” to fight against the Democrats. As we saw on Jan. 6, this mix of conspiratorial politics and Christian Nationalism can be deadly.
It’s time DeSantis and the other members of this choir repent. If they persist in misusing the Bible to undermine our democracy, I pray that voters will stand against such schemes.