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Votes on War Force Washington Democrats To Reckon With Faith, Conscience and Politics

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., from left, speaks alongside Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Ill.; and Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., during a vigil with state legislators and faith leaders on hunger strike outside the White House to demand that President Joe Biden call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, on Nov. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — U.S. Rep. Greg Landsman doesn’t technically wear his faith on his sleeve, but he comes pretty close. On his shoulder, he sports a tattoo of his favorite passage from Scripture: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God,” it says in Hebrew, a quote from the biblical Book of Micah.

“God says very clearly, here’s what you should do,” said Landsman, pointing out that it is one of the few passages where God directly answers a question (“what does the Lord require of you?”) with an explicit directive.

Landsman, who studied economics and political science at The Ohio State University before attending Harvard Divinity School, said that as a member of Congress, “the degree in economics and a degree in theology have been the most useful.”

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It has also been painful. The past few weeks, many members of Congress have been living on a knife’s edge, caught between their conscience and political calculation as they vote on what many see as the fate of Israel and the future of Palestinians.

Over the last two months, Landsman, a Jewish freshman congressman who represents a Cincinnati district with an influential Jewish vote, has faced what for him were tortuous votes on aid for Israel in its war against Hamas and the censure of a Democratic colleague for her pro-Palestinian rhetoric — votes that split Landsman’s loyalty to his ideals, to his party and to his relationships with other lawmakers.

Landsman was one of just 12 Democrats who backed the Israel aid package even though House Speaker Mike Johnson had attached a poison pill amendment draining funds from President Joe Biden’s retooling of the IRS to go after the very rich. After the vote, Landsman left the House floor in tears, furious at what he viewed as Johnson’s playing politics with Israel’s ability to fight the war, according to Semafor.

But drawing on his “foundational study” of the Torah, the Bible and the Quran, Landsman also raged that Johnson, a vocal evangelical Christian, had violated the teachings of Scripture.

U.S. Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, in Washington. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)

“Protecting billionaires? Not in the Bible,” Landsman, who once served as former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s director of faith-based and community initiatives, said a few days after the vote.

Landsman’s yes vote, he told Religion News Service, was about “making sure that our allies have the resources they need to end this (war) as quickly as possible.”

A few days later, he joined the majority in a 234-188 vote in censuring Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in the House, for what they described as “calling for the destruction of the state of Israel” in her use of the slogan “From the river to the sea.” Just 23 other Democrats voted for the censure resolution.