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Rep. Steve Farley

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The Bible Is No Prop

Posted: 02/24/11 11:05 AM ET

The most important object on my desk on the House floor is my grandmother's Bible. It was given to her when she was 11 by her mother, a few months before she lost her mother to the 1918 outbreak of Spanish Influenza.

In the pages between the Old and New Testament are handwritten records of my family's births, marriages and deaths. My grandmother recorded her own mother's death in those pages, and the ink is smeared from her tears as she wrote that devastating event.

In the years to follow, my grandmother Evelyn moved all over the country to stay with relatives in Kansas, New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio, and finally, California. Her Bible always stayed by her side. Her life was hard, but I will always remember her eternally hopeful and positive outlook on life. My visits with her as a kid are some of my most treasured memories -- I loved the stories from her life she shared with me.

Every day when I look at that Bible, I gain energy from the memory of her strength.

Yesterday, instead of dealing with the very real problems facing Arizona -- including balancing our budget, saving education and health care, and creating jobs -- we engaged in debate over a bill (HB2442) from Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) that would ban a practice which does not appear to exist in this country -- abortion for the purpose of race or sex selection.

Dr. Matt Heinz (D-Tucson) pointed out that most abortions are performed prior to the 12th week of gestation, before the gender of the child is determined. And while more abortions are performed on people of color, that has not been due to a eugenics movement, but rather due to the sad corollary in our country that bind together race, poverty and unplanned pregnancies.

The bill would criminalize doctors who purportedly perform this fictitious act, and would do nothing to reduce the numbers of abortions occurring among people of color by attacking the root causes of poverty. Instead, the bill served as a platform for vicious and ungrounded attacks on organizations like Planned Parenthood and those of us who support their efforts to protect women's health and reproductive rights.

During debate on the floor. Rep. Montenegro spoke of those who would oppose his bill. "They'll find a way to defend the indefensible. And they'll rationalize it with smooth words. They're the people behind genocides." It would appear that the new UofA Civility Institute has its work cut our for it.

I voted against this bill -- another in a series of ideological wedge issues that simply serve to divide us for no good reason. So did two brave Republicans, Russ Jones (R-Yuma), and Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix).

After the vote, a Republican Representative followed me up to my office and told me that she was infuriated by my vote on that bill. She told me that I was not a true Christian because no one who believed in Jesus would vote against that bill.

She then accused me of using my grandmother's Bible as a "prop".

Instead of asking her to leave my office, I remembered the words of advice offered by Katharine Schori, presiding bishop of my faith, the American Episcopal Church, when she said, "The reason to stay in communion with those with whom we disagree is to leave open the possibility of conversion. Not a conversion in which one's political opponents see the error of their ways in a flash as the scales fall from their eyes, but the far greater and more elusive possibility of a conversion that compels us to see our opponents as human beings, worthy of respect and possessing God-given dignity."

I spoke of the importance of seeing Scripture as a continuing revelation of the ever-changing present, not an unchanging artifact of the past. I spoke of the importance to me of the admonition of Jesus to love one another without exception. I suggested that we would best be carrying out the example of the life of Christ by working together to reduce poverty among all peoples, and thus reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies -- instead of dividing ourselves from one another to serve political purposes.

I don't know that my response changed her mind, but I am convinced it did no harm, and perhaps the dialogue will continue. Without dialogue, democracy is doomed.

This path to reconciliation on which we must travel is not an easy one, but neither was my grandmother's path. Her spirit continues to guide me so that we in Arizona can lead the entire nation into the promised land at last.