Reading Genesis Literally … in Texas - Word&Way

Reading Genesis Literally … in Texas

After Texas recently installed deadly buoys in the Rio Grande River, 22 Republican members of Congress think they can defend the effort by pointing to the biblical Book of Genesis. Literally.

The controversial buoys include round blades like those in circular saws. The blades sit between large balls that spin so no one can climb over. The buoys cover about 1,000 miles of the river that divides Texas from Mexico. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, said he saw scraps of clothing stuck on razor wire and he called the buoys “incredibly dangerous, incredibly inhumane,” and “barbaric.” Already several people have been injured and the body of a man trying to cross was found in the buoy system. Mexico called for the removal of the buoys.

The Biden administration sued Texas, arguing the buoys create humanitarian and environmental problems and violate the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 that requires approval before building structures in federally-controlled waterways. The latter claim upset GOP lawmakers who insist the Act cannot apply because parts of the Rio Grande are no longer navigable due to water depletion (though the stretch with the deadly buoys is actually navigable). Claiming the Biden administration wants to apply the Act “if navigation was ever possible at any time in history,” the lawmakers turned to Genesis in their filing last week.

“If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then the entire world was once navigable by boats large enough to carry significant amounts of livestock. Genesis 7:17-20 (ESV),” the legal brief from the congressional representatives reads. “Under the federal government’s theory, these anecdotes would render any structure built anywhere in Texas an obstruction to navigation subject to federal regulation.”

A kayaker passes large buoys being used as a floating border barrier on the Rio Grande River on Aug. 1, 2023, near Eagle Pass, Texas. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

The lawmakers are arguing that if the federal government can restrict structures in the Rio Grande, then they could use the same Act everywhere because of Noah’s flood. Putting aside the legal silliness of the appeal to Genesis, let’s join the 22 Republican representatives in their thought experiment.

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will realize God created the waters “and God saw that it was good.” Why would we disrupt God’s good creation with a contraption from a horror movie?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will know that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Why would we support injuring and killing those made in the image of God?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will see that the flood that covered the Lone Star State came after “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” Why would we then act with wickedness toward others?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will know that Abraham and Sarah were migrants who God told to “go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Why would we turn our back on modern-day migrants like Abrahán and Sara?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, we will read about Abraham showing hospitality to visitors who turned out to be divine messengers. Why would we not go and do likewise, perhaps entertaining angels unaware?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, we will see God having mercy on Hagar and her young son Ishmael after they were cast out into the desert to die. Why would we not also seek to save the lives of those dying as they cross our desert lands today?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will recognize that Joseph showed mercy upon his hungry brothers and forgave their transgressions against him. Why do we think we aren’t expected to love our neighbors?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will keep reading that way as we flip the page to the next book where the villain of the story is a ruler who wants to kill those of another ethnicity in the water. Why would we model our ethics after that of Pharaoh?

If one takes the Book of Genesis literally, then we will also continue reading that way throughout the biblical texts, finding commands about welcoming the strangers, loving our neighbors, and caring for the least of these. Why do we think we can call ourselves Christians if we don’t live accordingly?

It turns out that taking the Book of Genesis literally (or seriously) can be quite harmful to one’s predetermined politics. But that’s only if one actually reads it.

We’ll have to see how the courts respond to the lawmakers’ legal plea to read Genesis literally. But on moral grounds, if one reads Genesis literally, seriously, or even at all, then the scriptures cannot be invoked to justify barbaric buoys designed to maim and kill people. To suggest otherwise is to do violence to people and to the text.

As a public witness,

Brian Kaylor

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