That the new Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, teared up giving his inaugural address to the legislature when he told them he had been sworn in on his grandma’s Bible is not surprising, nor am I surprised that he quoted scripture a great deal in his speech — all that is standard operating procedure for politicians, especially in the South. When thanking Governor Barbour, though, for years of service to the state, Bryant cast himself in the voice of the Lord when he told Barbour, “I think I can say, ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.’” That is surprising indeed and is indicative of the mood right now in the far Right of the Republican party in this state and others, as they honestly think they speak for an authority beyond their service to the people who elected them.
The outgoing Governor, Haley Barbour, just pardoned some men who had murdered their girlfriends and wives because he got to know them when they were working the prison work detail polishing doorknobs in the gubernatorial mansion. It reminds one of W. S. Gilbert‘s ironic operetta lyric about nepotism:
“I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!”
It’s as if Barbour, in current Republican mode, honestly couldn’t imagine the humanity of all the inmates of state penitentiaries, but when given the opportunity to talk to a few of the good ol’ wife-stabbin’ boys who come and call him “sir,” he is able to look upon them, Lord-like, with compassion, and remit their sins while still being tough on the others who have not had a personal audience in his Sistine chapel — I’m sorry — his official office. Rather than imagine that all the inmates in the penitentiary are capable of rehabilitation given the right set of circumstances and a will to change, he responds with compassion to those he can see and disregards those to whom he can say, like it says in the Good Book, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” This, of course, appears in Red Letters in the Gospel, and is the voice of the Lord as well.
Among those to whom he showed no compassion in pardoning these men arbitrarily are the families of the victims of these incidents of domestic abuse. They worked no iniquity, and have reasons for concern that these men are back on the streets, because the ability to use Lemon Pledge effectively on the governor’s desk does not qualify as any actual sort of rehabilitation. In Mississippi, the pardon gives them the right to bear arms, many arms. Just how do you suppose they remember their last encounters with their former in-laws? I doubt these families sleep well at night.
This knowing-better-than-the-stupid-people-who-elected-you fashion has extended down to the state legislature, where only in November, the voters of Mississippi voted down initiative 26, the so-called “personhood amendment,” that would have legally defined life as beginning at conception, complicating not only questions related to abortion but even of delivery of babies, birth contol, and in vitro fertilization. The voters resoundingly defeated these initiatives with 58% of the electorate, even in conservative corners of the state, voting down this idea. This week, two bills were introduced into the legislature to ratify the very text the voters rejected. One is called something like “the treatment of embryos act,” and the other one is called something like, “the life begins at conception act” (no H.R. or S.R. numbers assigned yet). Thinking the people can’t decide such a weighty matter for themselves, or rather, thinking they did not like the results when they did leave it to the people, the state legislators think they have an authority that extends beyond the will of the people who put them in a higher position.
I have been trying to figure out the Biblical text on which they have based this last dishonest double-dealing. I’m looking at Psalm 118′s “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” The stone, which is understood by the church as Jesus, would be in this case, their rejected ideas. So appointed not by a fair election of the people who pay their salaries but by God Himself alone, why wouldn’t they adopt this as a method of justifying this? Aren’t they capable of declaring themselves infallible on any matter? Didn’t you see the white smoke from the roof when the votes were counted? We don’t have a state government — as they say at the Vatican when the new pope is elected — habemus Papam — “We have a pope,” even if most of us are Southern Baptists around here.