House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently addressed the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities conference in Washington, DC, and a reporter from Slate decided to investigateher repeatedly referencing Biblical scripture that does not exist.
“I can’t find it in the Bible but I quote it all the time, and I keep reading and reading the Bible,” Pelosi said. “I know it is there someplace.”
“It’s supposed to be in Isaiah,” Pelosi said. “I heard a bishop say to minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship,” Pelosi said. “To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.”
“It’s in there somewhere in some words or another, but certainly the spirit of it is there,” Pelosi said. “And that we all have a responsibility to act upon our beliefs and the dignity and worth of every person.”
The Slate reporter decided to ask two experts about Pelosi’s use of “scripture” and how she has used it for years basically unchallenged — until now:
“The Pelosi passage is not in the Bible,” Will Kynes, an associate professor of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Whitworth University, told me by email. The closest analog he could find was Proverbs 14:31, which switches the order of the two main ideas and focuses specifically on the poor: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” Greg MaGee, an associate professor of biblical studies at Taylor University, independently suggested the same verse as the closest approximation of the sentiment in Pelosi’s version.
Pelosi got one thing right: She does in fact “quote it all the time.” The earliest example I found comes from the Congressional Record in 2002, in a speech honoring a prominent Catholic priest in San Francisco who had recently died. “The Bible tells us that to minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship,” she said on the House floor. “To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.”
Between 2002 and 2018, the quote appears 12 times in the Congressional Record, with Pelosi responsible for all but one of the entries. (The other time, Texas Republican Louie Gohmert was quoting Pelosi.) She has deployed it in speeches to recognize genocide in Darfur (“to ignore God’s creation, which are these children, is to dishonor the God who made them”), to strengthen the Endangered Species Act (“to minister to the needs of God’s creation, and that includes our beautiful environment”), twice to honor Catholic schools (“my Catholic education taught me that to minister to the needs of God’s creation”), and to express condolences after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia (“it is appropriate on many occasions, but I thought of it the minute I saw the tsunami”).
The Slate reporter noted that the only “pushback” Pelosi has received for her imaginary scripture was more than a decade ago on a few conservative websites and someone at one of them “called around to some Bible scholars to confirm that the line didn’t come from the Bible.”
The Slate reporter softened her criticism of Pelosi by claiming that her speech to the Christian leaders seemed to come the closest to her admitting she is making up her biblical wisdom.
“Pelosi’s hemming and hawing in her speech this week suggests that she’s aware by now that she has it wrong,” Slate reported.
The reporter said Pelosi’s office did not respond to an inquiry about her favorite Bible quotes, and if a bishop did indeed use those words, “he or she has not put it in writing in a location accessible to search engines.”