Critics target House Republican's religious expression on Twitter

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) uses his Twitter account to spread word of his faith. 

In a sea of tweets dominated by news links and political statements, Shimkus stands out with his messages quoting Biblical passages. 

Shimkus posts a quote from the Bible on Twitter almost every day, and has kept at it in the wake of criticism about his religious statements, which came under fire when he read biblical passages last year during an Energy and Commerce hearing about climate change. 

Now Shimkus wants to lead that committee, which oversees climate issues as well as telecom policy, and critics have dug up the comments to suggest Shimkus should not get the gavel because he relies on religious rather than scientific truths.

Shimkus is one of several Republicans in line to possibly be chairman next year of Energy and Commerce, one of the most influential posts in the House.

In the wake of the criticism, Shimkus has kept his religious faith at the fore — particularly on his Twitter account.

On Sunday, he tweeted: "John15:4Abide in me, and I in you.As the branch cant bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine;no more can ye, except ye abide in me"

And on Saturday: "Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, I am helped: my heart rejoices; with my song I will praise him."

Other members also make reference to religious holidays or their faith in messages on Twitter. For example, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillGOP Senator forces Dems to vote on single payer Mattis rips Pentagon officials for M wasted on Afghanistan camouflage Pentagon to address M spent on untested Afghan camouflage: report MORE (D-Mo.) tweeted"God Bless our Veterans"on Thursday to mark the Veteran's Day holiday. 

Still, Shimkus appears to be the only member offering a daily dose of scripture.

"While bursts of religiosity after tragedies and other news events are fairly common in the Capitol Hill Twitterverse, current members of Congress don't typically tweet about matters of faith," said Danny Glover, editor of the Capitol Hill Tweet Watch Report, a daily newsletter produced by digital strategy firm David All Group that chronicles the political scene on Twitter.

"Congressman Shimkus is the exception to that rule," Glover said. 

Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said Twitter users have responded positively to his tweets.

"The vast majority of comments posted online after Scripture passages are supportive," Tomaszewski told a columnist at the State Journal-Register, a newspaper in Illinois. "The congressman is a devout Lutheran and has never hidden his faith. His faith and personal core values form the basis for many of the congressman’s votes." 

But sometimes the religious tweets have garnered criticism back in Shimkus's home state. An editorial cartoonist at the State Journal-Register mocked his tweets this year with a caricature featuring Shimkus wearing a halo. The image was surrounded by jibes such as: "Vote for the Reverend John Shimkus…Using my taxpayer funded site to spread the word," "WWJT: What would Jesus Tweet," and "Facebook your way into heaven."

Shimkus addressed the issue on Twitter. "I do a daily devotions so that is part of my day. I am sorry if I have offended anyone and I appreciate the comments in support," he wrote.

The tweets also came under scrutiny when a columnist at the State Journal-Register called some of them "disturbing" and said he saw political messages in the passages.

"When [Shimkus] wrote, 'Genesis 2:24 — Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,' I wondered if that translated into his view of the 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy in the military," the columnist, Bernard Schoenburg, said.

Schoenburg also suggested the tweets could be offensive to non-Christians.

"When he wrote, 'John 5:12 — He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life,' I wondered if he thought I was here at all," Schoenburg said, noting that he is Jewish. (Schoenburg tartly verified that he is, in fact, here: "Well, somebody had to write the column.")

Barry Lynn, executive director of the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Shimkus's habit "ratchets up" the other ways religion sometimes enters life on Capitol Hill.

"He obviously wants to have an influence on other people, and it’s the very nature of trying to use his official office as one place for evangelism that I think raises eyebrows," Lynn said in Schoenburg's column.

Despite the criticism, the forthright use of Twitter may prove an asset to Shimkus, according to Glover, the Capitol Hill Tweet Watch editor. He said the best tweeters "go beyond policy and politics."

"They give followers a glimpse into other interests and activities, be it family, sports or pets," Glover said.

"He obviously wants the online world to know, on a daily basis, that his faith shapes his thinking, even if his tweets lead to criticism," he said. "That kind of openness is great for his constituents. More lawmakers should be so transparent—on Twitter and elsewhere."

—This story was updated at 12:55 p.m.