Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Post-Election Ruminations

When you mix religion and politics, you just get politics. Ed Stetzer
The discussion in late October on literal Biblical womanhood led me to study anew how the Bible presents its instructions. What is wisdom? What is law? What law was fulfilled in Christ and is no longer to constrain us today? What commands does God give us that transcend culture or time?

The Bible clearly presents that Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Christ. Jesus could have remained on earth an earthly King, which is what His followers wanted at the time, but Jesus changed much in terms of theocracy when He declared the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, not the Kingdom of Earth. In the Gospels, even as Jesus declares the Law fulfilled, He still instructs us in God's ultimate purposes in the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes through the moral code of the Ten Commandments. Instead of minimizing them, He actually intensifies them.
Matthew 5 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. … 
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus eventually boils it all down in Matthew 22 by reiterating what God first said in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.
Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
When this story is recounted in Luke, Jesus gives the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what He meant by loving your neighbor. We understand that our neighbor really is simply whomever needs our help, even grown men we don't know. Finally, in Matthew 25, Jesus speaks in very practical terms.
Matthew 25:31-46 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
I agree with Ed Stetzer that when you mix religion and politics, you tend to only get politics. So I waited until after the election to put forth some principles that transcend politics but nevertheless have potential application to them. I live in a very diverse and liberal city, and most of my friends voted democratic though I did not this election. Many of my CHRISTIAN friends voted democratic. It would benefit us all for a moment to give the benefit of the doubt (that long lost aspect of Biblical love that Paul clearly establishes in I Corinthians 13) and actually listen for a moment to those who vote differently than us.

Among my Christian friends who voted democratic, they have a pro-life commitment, but that commitment extends past the single issue of abortion. (By the way, did you know there is a pro-life, anti-abortion caucus in the Democratic Party?) Pro-life commitment for them includes caring for life well after birth, providing basic health care, food, and education to children in particular. It includes concern for the life of those in other countries as well, including the lives of children considered collateral damage in a war whose need now seems murky. These friends have a strong sense of mutual responsibility to people who are less fortunate, and they see government as one of the avenues for this mutual responsibility. Mutual responsibility for the poor and sick is firmly a Christian value. God is definitely the first one to propose this value, and He instituted a government which was supposed to do this very thing. Of course, we are no longer under the theocratic government which God set up in the Old Testament. Our US government is set up under very different principles. But if we were obeying OT principles of debt, every 7 years every person's debt would be forgiven them. God instituted practices (that Israel doesn't seem to have ever obeyed) that would have repeatedly reset the playing field (Leviticus 25). It's interesting to think of how His desire to level debt should impact our principles today.

As Jesus first declared in Matthew 3, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In God's kingdom, His children provide for the poor, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner. Whether we do it by way of government or not is worthy of debate, but the need to provide for the marginalized is not.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post! I agree that it's clear from the OT that caring for the alien, the widow, and the fatherless were responsibilities of the people - such as leaving gleanings for them. Whether or not this is the responsibility of the government today is up for debate, but if you're a Christian who doesn't think it's the government's responsibility, then we need to be very serious about whether or not we are meeting these needs as a church. We can't say it's not the government's responsibility and then not take on the responsibility therefore as Christians.

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  2. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but as a Christian democrat, I feel like I need to point out that it's a little more complex to me than saying it's the government's job vs. the individual/church's job to care for the poor. I 100% believe that the church has a responsibility to the poor, a very serious one However, I believe poverty to be a systemic issue so in my opinion when we address poverty in personal, case-by-case ways we're patching leaks but failing to see why the boat is sinking. I personally don't think there is an effective way to deal with poverty that does not include government action as well as personal action. I think Christians' differing views of the government's role in caring for the poor have more to do with differing understandings of the fundamental nature of poverty rather than a simple disagreement on who is responsible for addressing it.

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    1. Right on, Leslie.

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    2. Not a tangent, Leslie. That's an important point. Thanks!

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    3. I agree completely. Where I live, Christian democrats or liberal Christians are a rare breed, and there seems to be a lot of hostility toward those who vocalize a belief in caring for the environment or that poverty and other issues of social justice are too big an issue to be remedied by individuals, churches, nonprofits, and charities. The need is simply greater than the giving. I'm not saying the heat doesn't come from both sides of the aisle, but being in a minority, it can make one feel alienated. Where are you guys from? Maybe I should come and visit. ;) In any case, I find it's easier to live out what I believe by trying to be a good steward of the planet, serving, giving, etc.

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  3. I am not sure I agree with Ed Stetzer. My view of the gospel gets combined in every area of my life... marriage, business, recreation,arts and politics.

    There is no better motivation to get involved in politics is because I am called to love my neighbor as myself. Bad law is not good for me, my family or my neighbor. To lobby for and elect politicians who will vote for good law is simply loving my neighbor as myself.

    Being forgiven by Christ means that I begin to be free to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

    So my religion compels me to mix religion and politics.. because my religion calls me to love my neighbor.

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  4. I am not sure I agree with Ed Stetzer. My view of the gospel gets combined in every area of my life... marriage, business, recreation,arts and politics.

    There is no better motivation to get involved in politics than because I am called to love my neighbor as myself. Bad law is not good for me, my family or my neighbor. To lobby for and elect politicians who will vote for good law is simply loving my neighbor as myself.

    Being forgiven by Christ means that I begin to be free to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

    So my religion compels me to mix religion and politics.. because my religion calls me to love my neighbor.

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    1. It depends on if you draw a dichotomy between religion and true gospel belief. Of course, we all should make voting decisions based on our belief system. Yet, more times than not the mixture of religion and politics, at least in public discourse tends to just end up with a partisan political outcome.

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    2. What you have just outlined is a far cry from the assertion that to mix religion and politics leaves just politics. There is "politics" in every dimension of life. It displays the power dynamics in every relationship in family, church and society.

      Ed Stetzer does Christians a disservice by implying we should not engage the political realm when in fact by failing to to we are abandoning our neighbor to reckless and bad law.

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  5. If a study was done of countries that are economically poor what do you think the main religion would be? Maybe our way to help the poor is to teach them how to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus stopped feeding those who were following Him because He said in, John 6:26, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” The “Bread of Life” is the only bread that truly fills us up.

    Another idea is that maybe Christian should concentrate on living lives of holiness. We also should do those good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Some Christians do not understand the sin of homosexuality offenders. They think that that were born that way and could not resist it. I was born proud and greedy but as a follower of Christ I am to resist those sins. In Jude 23 it says, “save others, snatching them out of the fire ; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah to me. If Christians are supposed to be salt and light we shouldn’t follow the example of Lot.






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  6. I'm pondering James 2 right now.

    14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead....

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  7. How do we pray for evangelicals who think disarming America of nukes and feeding the poor is more important than preventing ripping unborn babies limb from limb in the womb and the deception of homosexuality?

    Romans 1:18-27
    Unbelief and Its Consequences
    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions ; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural , 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

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