U. S. Congressman Bobby Lee Rush was born November 23, 1946 in Albany, Georgia, but grew up on Chicago’s North Side, where his mom was a Republican precinct captain. Today he is the U.S. Representative for Illinois' 1st congressional district. Rush worked as a medical clinic director during the early 1970s, and as an insurance agent in the late 70s and early 80s. In 1983 he was elected a Chicago City Alderman, and the following year became a second ward committeeman in Chicago. He began serving his congressional constituency in January, 1993, and is a member of the Democratic Party, the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. His district is located principally on the South Side of Chicago and is a minority-majority district that has the highest percentage of African Americans (65%) of any congressional district in the nation. Bobby Rush has the distinction of being the only person, at least to date, to ever defeat President Barack Obama in an election for office. Obama challenged him in a primary election in 2000 and was defeated by the incumbent.
After watching the movie Night Catches Us (2010), a film which dramatically portrays the cultural and social impact of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, I began to do some Internet reading about the Black Panther movement and its leaders. I was particularly interested in Bobby Seale, who was featured in a 20-minute interview in the features portion of Night Catches Us. By virtue of this wide-ranging search I came across Bobby Rush, himself a former Black Panther. Then as I read about Congressman Rush I came across this statement that amazed me:
On November 5, 2007, Rush proclaimed his support for National Bible Week, saying that he had not always been an ardent reader of the Bible, but after having been elected to the House, he received a copy in 1993 and that while in Chicago with his wife, he was drawn to read the Bible and is now a ferocious reader. He quoted Micah 6:6-8 and Luke 4:18. At the close of the speech, he called on Christians and non-Christians alike to read the Bible.
To say that I was interested in this account is an understatement. I looked up Rush’s speech in Congress and read the following from the Congressional Record entry of that date. (I have included the whole portion of the Congressional Record with no edits.)
NATIONAL BIBLE WEEK
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. RUSH) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. RUSH. Mr. Speaker, on the week of November 18 we begin to celebrate in this Nation National Bible Week. National Bible Week is the National Bible Association’s signature event which is celebrated the week before Thanksgiving every year since it began in 1941.
In this week, we encourage the citizens of this Nation to read the Bible. Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I was not always an ardent Bible reader. I was always in and around the church, but as so many of us who belong to church, I was in the church, but church wasn’t in me. Mr. Speaker, I came to this Congress in 1993 and almost immediately upon my presence here I received a Bible similar to this given by Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy. And, Mr. Speaker, I found my evenings alone, my wife and my family back in Chicago, and somehow I had a prompting to pick up the Bible and to read the Bible. I must admit, Mr. Speaker, that although I wasn’t an ardent reader, now I’m a ferocious reader of the Bible, avaricious in my interests in terms of the words recorded in God’s living book.
Mr. Speaker, I must say that I have been renewed as a man by the renewing of my mind according to the dictates and the Spirit that’s incorporated in the reading of the Bible. I am a changed man; I am a new man. I don’t have the same friends I used to have. I don’t walk the same way; I don’t talk the same way, and it’s all because of this Bible.
Mr. Speaker, I am an activist, and for years I had shunned this Bible because it didn’t speak to my activism. And then the Holy Spirit spoke to me through my conversations and through my interests in reading the Bible. And, Mr. Speaker, I came across a Scripture that really moved me, two, as a matter of fact. One is taken from the Old Testament, Micah 6:6–8: ‘‘With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of ram, 10,000 rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’’ The Lord answers, ‘‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’’
Mr. Speaker, in those words, it encapsulated all that I had attempted to be, my activism, my love for humanity and my love for the Lord. Mr. Speaker, Luke 4 and 4:18: ‘‘The spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken- hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’’
Mr. Speaker, my life had been, and continues today, to be a reflection of the spirit that is within me, the Holy Spirit that is within me. I call on all good citizens, Christians and non- Christians alike, during this week and every week of the year, pick up your Bible. Read the Bible. You have no better friend. You have no better solution than what is recorded in these words.
All I could say when I read this was: “Wow!” Think about this for a brief moment. Rush was a Black Panther. D. James Kennedy gave him a Bible. I doubt Dr. Kennedy ever knew what that gift really did. And I doubt that he would have had much regard for Bobby Rush since his conversion to Christian faith because of Dr. Kennedy's well-known Christian Right stance. But his simple gift to Bobby Rush was used by the Holy Spirit to lead this man to embrace Christ as his Lord and Savior.
This led me to do some more reading about Bobby Rush. I discovered that after dropping out of high school he joined the U.S. Army in 1963 but then went AWOL. He received an honorable discharge in 1968. Throughout the 1960s Rush was involved in the civil-rights movement and worked in various civil-disobedience campaigns in the South. He then co-founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in 1968 and was its "defense minister.” In an interview with People magazine several years ago Rush said: "We needed to arm ourselves." He was actually present when fellow Black Panther Fred Hampton was killed in a Chicago police raid (I still recall the day this happened and the front-page news). Rush made an official statement that the police, whom he referred to as "pigs,” had murdered Hampton. Rush's own apartment was raided in December 1969. The police discovered an unregistered pistol, rifle, shotgun and pistol ammunition, various training manuals on explosives and booby traps, and a small amount of marijuana and an assortment of communist literature.
Rush was imprisoned for six months in 1972 on a weapons charge after carrying a gun into a police station. Nevertheless he worked on several non-violent projects that built support for the Black Panthers in African-American communities. He coordinated a medical clinic that offered sickle-cell anemia testing on an unprecedented scale. Rush also graduated with honors from Chicago's Roosevelt University in 1973. A year later he left the Panthers, who were already in decline. He humbly admitted to People, "We started glorifying thuggery and drugs.” This became distasteful to the deeply religious Rush, who said he was [now]a born-again Christian. He went on to say, "I don't repudiate any of my involvement in the Panther party—it was part of my maturing." He subsequently resumed his education in the early 1990s and entered McCormick Theological Seminary (PCUSA) where received a master's degree in theology.
- Against the development of a national missile defense system;
- Against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- Against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- Against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- Against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
- Against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- Against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- In favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- Against President Bush's 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- In favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
- Against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
- Against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- Against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- Against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- Against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, October 2004, and May 2006;
- Against separate welfare reform bills designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- In favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and
- Against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf.
I list these votes to give you an idea of the political perspective of Congressman Bobby Rush. I agree with some of his positions and strongly disagree with others.
My primary reason for listing his votes on various issues, and telling his story in the first place, has nothing to do with politics per se. My purpose is missional. My purpose is related to the grace of God in transforming people’s lives through the Word of God. I found this story amazing and encouraging. I realized, once again, that you cannot fit the followers of Jesus neatly into a political box and say, “This is the position that defines what a real Christian will do politically.” I simply did not know anything about the personal story of Bobby Rush other than the Black Panther part of this past life. I find this story faith-building and encouraging beyond words.
I also found it a little more than ironic that the late D. James Kennedy gave a Bible to Congressman Rush and this gift became the instrument that God used to open his life to the good news. I wonder if we might all learn something very basic and important about the kingdom of God from this story. I did. I will pray for you, Congressman Rush, my brother whenever I hear your name in the future. May God bless you and may your life bear good fruit in every way.