October 22, 2017

Looking For The Jesus Connection: How did Jesus Fight the “Culture War?”

jesusbyz.jpgInformation about Justice Sunday at Highview Baptist Chruch can be found at the Lexington Herald Leader. Baptist Press is covering the same story, with a Q&A as well. And for irony’s sake, this story is on the same page. More recent coverage is here. :-/

I’m pretty good at seeing connections. I took the Graduate Record Examination twice, and I remember questions like this:

“Dog is to peanut butter, as cat is to _______________.”
a. Apple butter b. Martha Stewart c. The International Space Station.

I won’t tell you what the answer is, but I got it right.

So when confronted with what Jesus has to do with a Democratic filibuster of Republican judicial nominees, you may struggle with the connection. But the Internet Monk is here to help you. It goes something like this:

Jesus is Lord. He teaches us to live by Biblical values. Christians, i.e. “people of faith,” want to apply those Biblical values to public life, especially here in America where we have the right to do so. Judges affect our public lives by their many rulings on important issues, especially issues related to life and marriage. Republicans have nominated judges that are people of faith, and their rulings won’t go against what people of faith know is right and good. But the Democrats are against people of faith, and are using filibusters and other tactics to stop those Republican nominated judges from being approved. They are not just stalling the process; they are actively disqualifying these judges over issues of religious faith, and that’s wrong. Therefore, Jesus is for Republican judges being approved, and Jesus is against the Democratic filibuster against people of faith.

Not only can I see these connections, I want to go a step further. I have no problem at all with American Christians who line up their own political involvments this way. Faith has real world implications, and America is a country that allows participation in the political process in many different ways. I think an honest reading of the New Testament would move anyone with an appreciation for the sovereignty of God in history to vote and be politically aware. Christians have supported many just and right causes in American political life as an expression of their faith, from abolition to abortion to civil rights. People who are offended that Christians apply Christian values to public life are historically and culturally naive. The contribution of people of faith- of all kinds, but especially Christians- is immense.

Further, even with all its problems, I am still a believer in the two-party system. I’m not offended by talk of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, or the United States of Canada and JesusLand. It’s not that the two-party system works so well. Uh…no. It’s simply that I am convinced a multi-party system, or any other system, would fare much worse, especially in their long term effects on important freedoms. I am willing to live with the comedy, tragedy, corruption, abuse and stupidity of the two party system rather than the shorter routes to tyranny that would replace it.

So I am not surprised at, nor particularly opposed to, a political system that tends towards two poles as opposed to one or fifteen. Yes, it can get ugly, and it frequently cruises on “stupid.” I resist, in print and in life, being pushed into all that any one “team” stands for. Still, I’m not fundamentally opposed to James Dobson whipping up his troops against the Democrats, talking politics, participating in the political debate or playing to win. None of this really has my attention today.

I’m writing because of those connections we started with, especially the connection to Jesus. You have to be careful with those connections to Jesus. It’s like this dog I see all the time.

On my way in to town from where I live, there is a store, Sharp’s grocery. Nice little store run by good people. A few weeks ago, I was driving past Sharp’s and this dog came running after my car as hard as he could chase it. In the days to come, I noticed the dog crouching behind cars parked at the store, and waiting for the next car to drive by so he could give chase. The dog is obsessed with chasing cars, and stalks cars like he’s going to catch one and drag it back to the store’s porch for a a meal.

What is the connection between the dog and the store? Just driving by, I could easily draw several conclusions. Maybe the dog has nothing to do with the store at all. Or perhaps the owner of the store bought the dog and trained him to chase cars. Maybe the dog is oblivious to all the owner’s attempts to stop his car chasing behavior, but the owner is too fond of the dog to get rid of him. To get the whole story, I would have to stop and talk to the owner of the store, and find out the truth.

I’d love to talk with Jesus about what he thought about what was going on at the Highview Baptist Church Justice Sunday Rally. I’d like to know what is his connection. Just driving by, it looks like he’s in favor of all of it. But so far, all I can do is listen to scripture, and the connections are muddled.

Is the James Dobson version of the “Judeo-Christian” worldview the worldview of Jesus?

If Jesus were in Louisville, would he be at the Justice Sunday rally, urging the church to work against the Democrats?

What would Jesus have said about the Republican delays of Clinton judicial nominees? Would he have supported those delays because those judges were friendlier to issues of life and marriage, and the issue wasn’t “people of faith?”

What would Jesus have said about putting the entire rally in the context of his church? Would he want to be identified with the victory of one party and the defeat of another? Would he have sent his disciples- his pastors and ministers- to do this work, and to urge his church to be the backbone of the battle?

What would Jesus think about the “Culture War” Christian who has now come to the forefront of conservative evangelicalism? What would Jesus say about the culture war spirituality that is shaping more and more evangelical life and thought? (We are saved by faith in Jesus, and being Republicans against abortion and gay marriage.) How would Jesus see our use of the “Biblical Worldview” to make a Jesus connection with the overtly politicized agendas of both parties? Is the spirituality and behavior of the “Culture War Christian” a reflection of Jesus himself? Or is it something else? What is the connection between the Gospel and “Victory in the Culture War?”

Does Jesus want Christians to see Democrats- even pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage Democrats- as the “enemies of people of faith?”

I’m doing a sermon series on “Lessons From The Ministry of Jesus.” This Lord’s Day I asked if Jesus knew anything about a culture war? Of course, he did. Israel was losing the culture war to paganism. The Greco-Roman culture of the first century was ascending, and Israel was oppressed and in chaos. All around Jesus were voices saying “Here’s how to fight and win the culture war, so that Israel – not Rome, not the pagans- will be the winners.”

The Pharisees had a program. Jesus rejected it. The Zealots had a program. Jesus rejected it as well. The Essenes had a program. Jesus rejected that. The Sadducees had a program, and Jesus rejected that. There were cynics who did nothing. Jesus didn’t join them. What did he do? Read the Gospels, especially the early chapters, and take notes. Here’s how Jesus fought the culture war of his time:

He established a Counter Culture: God’s Kingdom available now, directly, in and through Jesus, lived out through discipleship and the church.

He proclaimed the Kingdom of God, now, present in power. The Kingdom was centered around Jesus, himself; not around a political program. He proclaimed and enacted that Kingdom in his ministry, never making any compromises on which was the Kingdom that demanded the most loyalty. While others had Kingdom schemes and Kingdom politics, Jesus said the Kingdom had arrived in himself. When they tried to make him King by force, he hid. When they greeted him as King at the beginning of Passover week, he completely overturned their expectations.

He called disciples. Men loyal to himself who believed Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for. Men willing to stake all their future and fortunes on Jesus as the answer to their questions of security, power and hope. Their certainty about Jesus opened the door to a whole new understanding of what God was like, and how God’s Kingdom would come into the world. He called men and women to a kind of community where loyalty to Jesus and love for one another took priority over every other kind of community, cause or family. He remade Israel, the people of God, in the image of his own community of disciples. He created a church that was a counter culture community; a sign of the Kingdom’s presence in the midst of history, even when it was two or three in a village.

He taught a way of life that radically redefined the boundaries of theTorah. Love for enemies. Prayer for persecutors. Nonviolence. Justice. Compassion. Sacrificial action. All these things were in the law, but they were now clearly seen in a “living word,” Jesus himself.

He erased boundaries and redefined human beings in relationship to himself and his Father. Gentiles were included. Those formerly viewed as unclean were included. Women were included. Enemies were reconciled. Jesus didn’t just teach about Prodigals, he enacted the story over and over. He called tax collectors as disciples, made immoral women the subjects of particular forgiveness and blessed children. He proclaimed an Israel where the exile was over in personal terms, and sinners were invited to enjoy the forgiveness of sins that came from a God no longer separating himself, but drawing near.

Jesus saw this as a compelling vision of a culture within a world of cultures. The church was God’s project, his field, his temple, his body. He saw the Kingdom of God in gatherings of two and three, not in marching armies. His attention to the last, least, lost, little and even the dead showed that the power of God’s Kingdom was present in surprising new ways. His Kingdom was not of this world, yet it was in the world it was not of. It was not a Kingdom with worldly objectives or methods, but it was a Kingdom with wisdom even the wisest of the age couldn’t understand. The greatest of Israel’s teachers couldn’t see it without being born again.

If you keep reading in the Gospels, you know that Jesus took his culture war all the way to a final confrontation, and asked his disciples to be willing to do the same- all on the premise that God’s victory would arise beyond the death of Jesus and everyone who was loyal to him and his Kingdom. The ultimate Kingdom power move was raising Jesus from death and defeat, and trusting God to finally bring the Kingdom through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was part of a culture war, and he “fought” that culture war purposefully for God’s way to prevail. This is undeniable. But what is the connection between Jesus and the “Culture War Christianity” on display in Louisville?

Scholars like Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright have made it clear that the distinction between “politics” and “religion” really vanishes in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus IS doing Kingdom politics. He IS challenging the status quo. He IS exerting power that affects culture and the state. But Jesus is not simply playing with labels. He is establishing a counter culture where Jesus is Lord of every realm: personal, private, religious and political.

For example, Jesus knew a bit about an unfair and hostile judiciary. Bad judges were common in Palestine. Jesus spoke of judges in many of his parables. Of course, Jesus was put on trial during his passion. Would Jesus have promoted the ideas that such judges were “the enemies” of God’s people?

It is hard to imagine that Jesus would have protested evil judges or evil rulers, not because their evil didn’t matter, but because Jesus accepted the evils of the age, but responded to that evil as he proclaimed the Kingdom as God’s way to put all things right in the coming Messianic age. What about here and now? Would Jesus counsel passive acceptance of suffering at the hands of unjust rulers? What do we see Jesus doing in the face of the evils of Pilate, Herod, Antipas and Tiberias? Not political action, but Kingdom action. Kingdom proclamation. Kingdom compassion. Kingdom sacrifice.

Everything Jesus did was proclaiming a counter Kingdom and showing what that Kingdom was like now. I believe Jesus would be profoundly disturbed if the church became a constituent group operating in the interests of a political agenda. Events like “Justice Sunday” don’t need to be held in church facilities, under church sponsorship, and they do not need to play into the fears of Christians that secularists are trying to persecute them or deny them a place at the table of cultural influence. Pastors do not need to take their role as shepherds of the flock and parlay it into political influence with the power brokers of political ambition. Individual parachurch leaders like James Dobson may be well motivated, but when they use their media power to shape what goes on within a church, something is wrong.

The church is to be UNIQUELY identified with Jesus, his Gospel and his Kingdom. The church’s concerns are the concerns Jesus demonstrated during his ministry, not the concerns that can be connected by the “dots” of various political, social and cultural agendas. The danger the church faces today is in becoming a niche market, a focus group, a voting block or a special interest group. If the church cannot trust her shepherds to avoid this mistake, then it is not well served by its pastors. I am afraid that “Justice Sunday” was a profound confusion of the place and purpose of the church. The cause may be right and the crisis real, but the church that Jesus created is not available for rental for politcal agendas.

I do not, however, believe there is anything counter to the Kingdom agenda of Jesus for individuals to participate in doing good to the “city” or culture where they find themselves. This includes serving as a public official, and of course, participating in political life. As long as political life is directed by the Lordship of Jesus Christ andthe priority of the Kingdom of God, such involvement is surely an avenue of good works that are acceptable to God. In America, however, it means that a Christian political servant is not identified with a partisan loyalty more than he or she is identified with Jesus. A Christian can serve, vote, campaign, blog or lobby….but there are limits to what a Kingdom servant can and will do in any temporal cause. There are profound differences in the methods and messages of the Kingdom of Jesus and any temporal political cause. These realities seem far from the minds and plans of those behind “Justice Sunday.”

For those looking on in Louisville and around America, Jesus was identified with a variety of politcal causes. Jesus, and his Kingdom, were overwhelmed with the partisan, judicial, culture war concerns of those sponsoring the rally. The persecution of Christians and the defeat of political “enemies” are the priorities. Are these the priorities of Jesus?

I can’t make the connection between the ministry of Jesus and the political methods and agendas of partisan conservatives. Maybe because the connection isn’t there.

Comments

  1. tooaugust says:

    Just wanted to comment on a couple of things.

    1. Good article. I think one thing has to be addressed though. Why is it that everyone sees the Church being used by the Republican party, but no one sees the Church using the Republican party for its purposes in government?

    2. I saw someone ask why we should outlaw abortion. I don’t believe in outlawing things to make people moral, so I don’t care if homosexuals marry or redefine marriage (unbelievers go to hell whether they are hetero or homosexual). But abortion is murder. I don’t want it outlawed to make those who would commit it moral anymore than outlawing child abuse is meant to make the abuser moral. There is a difference between abortion and gay rights. One is the Church doing good (saving a life, restricting harm placed upon another) and the other is seeking to make a person who is dead in sin act like he is alive. Obviously, Christians ought to do good in the world, so the first should be part of what the Christian does in our culture. If utilizing the Republican party to do so, so be it. I would use the democrats if they were pro-life. For this reason, I think the individual Christian should also be involved more in poverty issues as well in their politics, but obviously saving someone’s life trumps making someone’s life better.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Just a couple of thoughts…

    1) One of my biggest problems with pseudo-students of Yoder and Hauerwas is an overly naive reference to the political praxis of the historical Jesus as a model for our own. Too often it leads to a political quietism because it too easily equates the oppressed minority milleu of the First Century Christians with the American (or European, etc.) Church today.

    Like it or not, we live in a post-Constantinian era where the Church possesses a providential political power. The question is not a matter of “either/or” (i.e. whether we corporately act as empowered cultural agents or refrain from such action), but “how” we wield power with a cruciform integrity.

    2) One of the neglected biblical themes in these types of discussions is the Hebrew tradition of “hokmah” (“wisdom” or “skill”). The wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures (and indeed the whole of the Bible) instructs us in how to speak and act in ways that are “apt” to the situation. Such a wisdom might lead us to “answer a fool according to his folly” on one day and “not answer a fool according to his folly” on another day depending on the wise ends that one has in mind. It is true that for us the “end” is not a simple “telos” but rather the “eschatos” of the Kingdom of God, but that end may lead us to legitimately protest on behalf of human dignity or lobby on behalf of the cultural integrity of the family.

    The problem with Justice Sunday, in my opinion, has less to do with the responsible use of political power in general and more to do with the particular wisdom of how this event was conceived, planned, and executed. By so brazenly cozying up with the Republicans, we have by all appearances become indistinguishable and thus have lost a crucial dimension of our prophetic voice. Perhaps if we were more vocal on the ridiculously shallow theology undergirding much of President Bush’s political identity, perhaps if we were less willing to excuse for the policies the brought us into war with Iraq, we would be able to speak with more integrity on these other questions.

    If we are seeking a model of what I advocate here, following the example of Pope John Paul II as he followed Christ would be much preferable than attempting to squeeze ourselves into the culture and politics of the First Century Roman Empire.

    Simply put, Justice Sunday wasn’t so nearly heterodox as it was hopelessly assinine and foolish.

    Michael+

  3. BTW – If you will forgive the promotional, I have a talk on this entitled “Citizenship in Exile” available as streaming audio or MP3 download on my own site:

    http://www.abbotgregory.com/sermons.htm

    Pax vobiscum,
    Michael+

  4. tooaugust- Regarding the person “dead in sin”- we have to remember that there is always hope for a soul while on this earth. As Christians we are obliged to do our best to uphold Christ’s teachings in order that others might not be led astray- like voting against abortion AND gay marriage. It is not always easy, but we have the Crucifix as our example and reminder of what Jesus did to save us ALL- His fight for souls is not over yet, and He is counting on us and our persistent assistance for aid in His battle.

  5. tooaugust says:

    Faith, the fight for souls in through the Gospel, not the law. People dead in sin will not be transformed by law (Mosaic or Constitutional). Instead, an unbeliever who is dead in sin needs to be regenerated in order to do what is pleasing to God. I do think that the Church needs to take its stand on homosexuality within the community of those claiming to be Christians, but that has nothing to do with the secular state and those who are not believers. What say you?

  6. tooaugust- Thank you for your response. So long as we can vote yea or nay as to what our tax dollars are supporting, voting against laws that would allow others to make wrong decisions in the eyes of God is our duty to Him, assuming we have that option in a candidate. We should make it as difficult as possible for our fellow man to distance themselves from Him. Do strongly agree with you that abolishing abortion and its spawn, embryonic stem cell research, should be the most important decision maker for a Christian.

  7. “The church, as a church, has no political power without ceding its identity and loyalty to the Kingdom of God for some political influence in Caesar’s kingdom.”

    First of all, the link to the entire article didn’t work (probably something wrong at my end), so I wasn’t able to read the article in its entirety. But taking the above comment at face value, who is “the church”? I don’t consider any Christian talking head to speak for me, or for the “church universal.” As far as I’m concerned, both James Dobson and Jim Wallis speak for themselves, not for me, or for the wider “church.”

    While the above statement is true in regard to “the church,” as a member of the church universal, and also as an American with certain rights of participation in the politics of policy making, I have every right to express myself, vote, and participate in the process of government as the next person, and to use as the basis of my political convictions my faith. This doesn’t mean I wrap my vote in the Bible, but it does mean my politics are as informed by my faith as I have the wisdom to so apply my faith. Let’s face it: the main reason the Democrats are obstructing a number of Pres. Bush’s judicial nominees is that they want to keep abortion legal. While I think the Roe v. Wade decision was both a moral and legal abomination, I consider the renegade nature of the federal judiciary to be way more devastating than simply the continued maintenance of the Roe decision. But as far as the Democrats are concerned here, their main opposition to Bush on judicial nominations comes down to abortion. And abortion is an issue, like slavery before it, embedded in a debate between “right and wrong.” For a Christian, living in a nation where freedom of speech and freedom to vote are sacrosanct, to dodge such an issue of right-vs-wrong, based upon the excuse that such issues are “below us,” is baloney.

    When we try to compare or apply how people in Jesus’ day, or in the first century, or throughout most of the history of Western Civilization, engaged in political and social debate (or ignored those debates) with how we should so engage in those debates today, we’re comparing the proverbial oranges to apples. Remember…throughout most of our history, the church in the west existed in societies where true freedom of expression and freedom of conscience haven’t widely existed. To go limp on the issue of judicial nominations, and the obstruction against nominees who have religious convictions, when many of our spiritual forefathers lost their fortunes, careers, freedom, and sometimes their lives fighting against such things as the slave trade or slavery itself (a hot political debate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries), particularly when “going limp” comes from spiritualizing our refusal to take a position, I don’t know how we’re actually giving glory to God. We should be thankful we’ve been placed in a nation like America, and that we still have the freedom to exercise the full franchise of freedom granted by our laws and traditions. To say our calling is to a path above the fray is to consign ourselves to second-class citizenship in the nation in which we live, and, I think, does a disservice to God who placed us in this time and in this place.

  8. Carol M. — “a lot fo the rest of us see a concerted effort by (some, not you) conservative Christians to demonize anyone who disagrees with them.”

    I tend to agree with you, but in spite of my respect for your comment, aren’t there some issues which are indeed so black-and-white that an appeal for the moral equivalency of all opinions makes no sense?

  9. Well, now that I’ve finally been able to access the full article, I say, “Nicely done, Michael.” Well-balanced comments. And, as someone who has worked in politics in California, both as a staff person in the legislature, and in the legislative division of the governor’s office, I can tell you I have often struggled with the same thoughts you’ve expressed here. But I must also tell you that after 30 years of such “tension,” I still go back and forth on the “inappropriate” and the “absolutely essential” nature of Christian political activism.

    I will say this about many of the comments here on this thread: While the universal Christian church serves no secular master, there’s a disturbing theme within some of the comments that to flex our collective political muscle, based on our faith convictions, on the hot political topics of the day is somehow beneath our spiritual calling. I stand by my earlier comments where I argue for a more guilt-free exercise of our rights, not just as Christians, but as Christians in America.

  10. Carol M. says:

    Greg,

    There are, but I would disagree that the appointment of 10 out of some 200+ judges is one of them. I also think there are, in many of these cases, more issues than just Roe. v. Wade wrt the objections to the judges in question.

    When I hear a term like ‘Justice Sunday’ I expect something touching on the biblical notion of justice. You know, providing for the poor, the least, the disenfranchised. I could totally get behind a ‘Justice Sunday’ demanding we do something about the on-going genocide in Darfur. Or a ‘Justice Sunday’ demanding help for the 40+ million people who work hard but are nevertheless uninsured. Or a ‘Justice Sunday’ for the victims of the recent massacre in Colombia…

  11. “Concerning the Republican delay on Clinton nominees, was that a delay or a full-on filibuster? Did the nominees make it out of committee? Who were the nominees and to what bench were they being appointed?”

    Senate Republicans make a big point that the Democrats’ use of the filibuster is unprecedented. The only recent historical parallel is the filibuster of LBJ’s nomination of Abe Fortas to the US Supreme Court. But in that case, there was never any indication that Fortas actually had the support of the majority in the Senate, and Fortas ultimately had his name withdrawn from consideration because he became embroiled in a financial scandal while his confirmation was pending.

    What the Republicans haven’t mentioned, nearly enough at least, is that Democrat Robert Byrd, who now so vocificerously opposes the overthrow of the Dems’ filibuster tactic by use of the “Nuclear Option,” himself used such an option to overcome the filibuster of the minority Republicans (on issues other than judicial nominations) when he was Majority Leader, no less than on four separate occasions. This is why many Republicans have called the “Nuclear Option” the “Byrd Option,” because he innovated the technique to overcome minority obstruction.

  12. “When I hear a term like ‘Justice Sunday’ I expect something touching on the biblical notion of justice.”

    Carol, thanks for your comment. A agree 100% with you that when expressing concerns for “justice” that Christians should lift their gaze from one or two pet issues. Justice should be a nearly sacred issue for all Christians, as I believe true justice flows from the character of God Himself. That much we should all agree on. And I also agree that Christians should be speaking out more forcefully on issues such as genocide in Darfur, or repression (particularly of religious and civil liberties) in a number of other countries. My comments were aimed more at the right, and I think the obligation, of Christians to speak their convictions…and that convictions informed by faith and the Bible don’t automatically disqualify someone from having and expressing an opinion. Your comments seem to be focused on making a big to-do about “Justice Sunday,” and while I certainly sympathesize with your comments, I nevertheless believe that if Christians want to gather to rally, as Christians, on something as arcane as the judicial confirmation process in the Senate, they should do so, but that we (the inclusive “we,” meaning all Christians) are remiss if that is as far as our activism goes.

  13. Can we all agree that we can do without this kind of boneheaded activism? —

    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=44086

  14. Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemy. So how much less would it be to take the misguided and show them the way legislatively.

  15. tooaugust says:

    Faith, no one is being brought closer to God through the law. If we shouldn’t allow unbelievers to do evil, then should we outlaw lying? breaking the Sabbath? Not having Yahweh as their only God whom they worship? Why some laws to make them moral and not others? I would strongly argue that the law exists to protect the victim, not make the criminal moral. Otherwise, there seems to be an inconsistency and selective choosing of what will be outlawed according to preference. So, to me, abortion would be the only law important that we are discussing here because it protects a victim, not because it makes the mother moral. The Scripture seems to indicate that when men have the truth, because they are evil, they suppress it and do evil, so they must be regenerated in order to be closer to God. It is the Gospel that the Lord uses to accomplish this, not legislation.

  16. Carol M. says:

    Greg,

    I think we basically agree on this. I think Christians certainly can be politically active. But, as it says in the bible, ‘all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable’. There are places where Christians should be politically active, providing a prophetic voice calling for justice. But there are places where being politically active, while certainly permissible, isn’t always profitable or even wise. In fact, there are even ways (like the Pat Robertson article you posted) in which Christian political activism can create a ‘stumbling block to the blind’ in that it makes us look like a bunch of fanatic nutcases and so drives people away from Christ.

    I think when we see places where people are naming themselves as Christians while engaging in the sort of activism that is unwise (or worse), we have a duty to point this out – to say publically that these people are not speaking for all Christians.

    btw, I always liked the way the Society of Friends (Quakers) used to do this. If a member of the community was sinning, they were approached privately. If they did not amend their ways, the Friends would publish a public notice that the Society of Friends ‘did not own’ this person because of the particular actions that were the problem. In this way they ensured that everyone knew that that person’s actions were not condoned by the Friends. However, this ‘disowning’ never meant breaking fellowship with the person in question. They might be barred from certain positions within the Society, but they were always welcome at meeting and everyone was supposed to go the extra mile in treating them with kindness in their daily lives. (It’s a shame that it was Puritan rather than Quaker ethics that formed so much of the basis for American culture).

  17. tooaugust- I agree behaviorial habits can not be legislated- but should unhealthy, inappropriate, sinful behaviors be rewarded with legislation that is supported by our tax dollars? It would be like passing legislation that says if an individual chooses to lie on the job, they would still be entitled to benefits because lying is now an acceptable behavior, and although their reports to their boss are never accurate, they will still get paid despite their habit of lying, and despite the fact that the business would suffer from such a law.

  18. I appreciate your comments, Carol. I have to admit that even though I fall more consistently on the right-center side of the political divide, there have often been times when I’ve heard a high-profile conservative Christian expounding on some issue that has made me cringe (the aforementioned Pat Robertson quote is a good example; as were the comments he and Falwell made after 9-11 that it was God’s judgment against a hedonistic America; Jesus didn’t die on the cross to give us the freedom to be idiots).

    I think part of the problem, if it can be called that, is that in America anyone has the right to say what they believe; in a sense, all opinions are of equal value in the marketplace of ideas, even though all opinions are not equal in terms of their “correctness.” So, Pat Robertson can get up and blab any time something tickles his fancy, and many of us cringe, but there is little we can do about it, because it’s a free country and Robertson has the right to say what he wants. In this, Robertson isn’t under anyone else’s authority to check his pronouncements out before he blabs them. Maybe he does check them out, but I suspect he checks them out with a council of “yes men” in his organization.

    There’s a certain degree of sophistication, maturity, discernment, diplomacy, and simple grace that is lacking in the political pontificating of Christians of all stripes. I may cringe at the fact that James Dobson may, at times, appear to be a mouthpiece of the Republican Party, but I also grind my teeth at some of Jim Wallis’ statements, which seem to me at times to be unadulterated Democratic-Party-lap-dog leftist pap. What we need in Christianity is a true prophet…someone who speaks about these things with the heart and mind of God. Frankly, the fact that I can’t think of anyone who fits this role probably means one doesn’t exist among American Christians.

    Consequently, I think we all struggle to find our own way in exercising our faith in regard to issues that touch on the public’s conscience, within the realm of politics. For myself, I have some pretty strong opinions about things; most of these opinions (I hope) are informed by my faith, and by what I understand of the character of God. But when I share my opinions, I try not to be so arrogant as to imply, “Thus says the Lord!” I’m just a guy (who happens to be a Christian trying to be faithful to Christ) who is exercising my constitutional right of free speech. In many cases, my faith and Christ’s Spirit within me may have more to do with how I say something, rather than what I say.

    One thing I’d like to see within the greater Christian community in America is more of an effort to bridge the ideological divide within our country. This divide is getting dangerously wide, with emotions often getting heated, and it seems to me that Christians of both conservative and more liberal persuasions should be talking to each other about the various hot-button issues in our society in a civil way, perhaps providing a positive example of how political debate should be conducted. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that some high-profile Christian stands up and says *this* is the way things should be, and another will stand up and say, no *this* is the way it should be….and the mainstream media loves watching Christians tear at each other’s throats. I’m sure there must be some venue or organization where this civil dialogue is going on, but I’m not aware of it.

    Generally speaking, as I’ve surveyed the great panorama of the American Christian church over the past 30-plus years, I despair that I don’t see much evidence of true Holy Spirit anointing upon what goes on. There is some such anointing to be sure, but personally, I think we are living through a very dry period, spiritually speaking, in this nation, and we’ve lost all ability to be led and empowered by Christ’s Spirit. Bottom line — we probably need a “Great Awakening” kind of revival throughout this country more than we need to break the filibuster on judicial nominations.

  19. tooaugust says:

    Faith, do you think Muslims or Jews, who work for the government, should get paid for taking off on their respective holidays? Isn’t that rewarding people for worshipping a false god? Isn’t that the sinful practice breaking commandment number one? Your tax dollars aren’t yours according to Christ. They belong to Caesar. They belong to government, not you. The government owns everything you have because it owns you. It simply allows you to live and use much of what you make for you, so none of your tax dollars are yours at all. (I’m sure that might be a weird and new idea for you, so we can discuss that if you want.)
    Secondly, I just wanted to ask why you thought homosexuality is wrong? I believe it is definitely wrong, but because I understand why the Bible condemns it. If you understood the reason why the behavior is sinful and against God, you might also realize that you are guilty of the same underlying sin (and probably have been rewarded financially for it as well–although I don’t know you so i could be wrong). This to me is a key hypocrisy in the evangelical movement. So let’s discuss these.

  20. Carol M. says:

    Greg,

    For two people from different political perspectives, I think we agree on an awful lot. (And for what it’s worth, Wallis makes me cringe sometimes too. And I send e-mail to sojourners to tell him so and why.)

  21. Carol, it does my heart good that two people who most likely differ on particular issues can agree on some of the big picture concerns. I’m impressed, if I may say so, that in your convictions, you exhibit a lot of integrity. Frankly, I think personal integrity is missing in much of what we see from both sides of the political divide. Maybe that’s the big difference we Christians can bring to the political debates in our country — a measure of integrity. In the final analysis, that’s probably more in line with Christ’s will than some particular position on some particular issue.

    Blessings to you.

  22. tooaugust: “…so none of your tax dollars are yours at all…”

    Huh? Maybe my perspective isn’t “biblical” on this, but I don’t consider that I work 4-plus months a year for the government (the average time necessary for the average American to pay their tax oligation to all levels of government — this year, “Tax Freedom Day” was April 17th). While we may be “rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” some of us consider this country’s tax policies to be confiscatory, and in violation of private property rights. In a republic, the government works for us, not the other way around. That we pay something like 35% of our income to the government is due to the fact that we allow this to occur…not because Caesar is receiving what is rightfully his.

    And even if we voluntarily allow the government to tax us at confiscatory rates, we still have the authority, through elected representatives, to change how government spends *our* money (theoretically).

  23. …make that 3-plus months…

  24. The great, extremely faithful, and genius minded Paul would use secular arguments to bring people to the Christian Faith.

    How could it possibly be our decision to not install laws that would ban certain practices that are inherently against the Law of God? This is not only criminal, but against our Christian teaching.

  25. tooaugust says:

    Greg, the founding fathers would be proud, but their sentiment, as well as yours, stems from an autonomous, secular humanist idea of freedom (particularly in the area of money). But the government is lord of the land and that lord owns everything on its land. That is a Biblical concept if you look to the ideas of government and land in the Bible (I realize some may disagree and so be it).

    Gala, Paul doesn’t use secular arguments. He uses secular proverbs and reinterprets them through the Gospel. What does that have to do with outlawing ungodly behavior? Did he stand on Mars Hill and tell everyone to lobby the procurator to outlaw idol worship? And people could lobby then you know. There were special interest groups even in the Roman Empire. My whole point is that our job as Christians is to convey the Gospel to people, not try to restrict their behavior externally (that is Pharisaical) through legislation. We are the transformers of men internally via the Gospel. Why have we become the preachers of law as though law can deliver anyone to God? Law is to protect harm done upon a victim, not make a criminal moral. Otherwise, I want you to apply your decree to everything, not just somethings. Outlaw all things that are sinful, not just homosexuality. Are you willing to do that?

  26. tooaugust- Married people do benefit financially ie. when their spouse can provide insurance benefits for them through their jobs. If you are pro gay marriage, although I do not understand it, it is of course your choice. There are some groups who are pushing to lower the age of consent, which with gay marriage is the next step in this cancerous growth. God bless those who are working to prevent these abominations- like The Thomas More Law Center and Priests for Life. Btw- The commandment you cited was handed down from Moses- if it came from a false god, then why would Christians follow the teaching, or Christ for that matter? As Christians, we are taught that the original olive branches will some day be grafted back on to the tree, and that we as Christians should not get puffed up with ourselves, as we can be removed from the olive tree just as easily as the original branches had been… and I do pray that I do not fall into that category. Thanks for your comments, and to iMonk for the excellent postings. God Bless!

  27. I vote knowing that I am in the Sight of God. Therefore it would be immoral to vote anyway other than the right way, which is to cast the ballot the way a Christian lives. As a Christian it is not my choice to do otherwise.

    And maybe legislating immoral behaviour will get the immoralists to think twice, maybe enter a church to see what God has to say. Maybe a priest/minister would walk up to this lost soul and maybe they would turn Christian.

  28. Carol M. says:

    tooaugust:

    The biblical perspective is that the land, and our money, and everything else ultimately is God’s.

    Jesus said ‘render unto Caesar…’, meaning that we shouldn’t get all caught up in politics. (It was a controversy in 1st century Judaism as to whether is was lawful to pay taxes to the occupying Romans).

    And after considering that all we have is God’s, the next in line for it, biblically, is not ourselves but the community – particularly those most in need. Based on that, one can argue for against our govt’s policies on taxes and spending. But what we can’t argue from a biblical perspective is the line starting with ‘but it’s *my* money…’

  29. tooaugust says:

    Carol, you think “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” means you should really render unto your community and not to Caesar at all? Wow, i think that is reading quite a bit into it. The whole point in 1st Century Palestine was that Caesar used the money for oppression of others (specifically the Jews), building elaborate houses and temples to false gods, support homosexual pedifiliac behavior in his palaces, war and self-pleasure. What in the world does that have to do with giving to community? There is not social welfare program in Rome. I think your reading Jesus through Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Moore.

    Faith, do the Jews believe Christ is the second Person of the Trinity, the Triune God? Does not John say that those who do not are anti-Christ. Just because Paul states that one day Jews may become Christians doesn’t mean that their religion is legit now. Paul even says at the beginning of his argument in Rom 9-11 that the Jews are cut off from God and are not saved. It is now, not in the OT, a different God they serve it they reject the Son (Gospel of John). I never said I was pro-homosexual marriage. I said we shouldn’t be making Christianity about legislating laws to prevent people from externally performing sinful behavior. None of you as of yet has answered whether or not all laws in the OT and NT should become secular laws, and why or why not. You seem to be picking this one out because it’s a part of the evangelical subculture, but it hasn’t seemed to come from your Biblical reading, since all of the other stuff has been left out.

    Gala, I don’t think voting a particular way is wrong based on the issues. I’m talking about holding Christian rallies, trying to convince others to vote a certain way on moral issues in order to make others moral. I realize as a Christian you would not vote for homosexual marriage, but why would you then vote at all? Why do you feel the need to go and vote against it? Do you think your changing behavior internally? Do you think people draw closer to God by not being “as bad” as they could? Both of these are contrary to what the Bible teaches. It seems to me that the problem in the last days (the days from Christ to the end) is that people will act like Christians (have an appearance of godliness) but not be Christians who derive their godliness from a relationship with God through the Gospel (but deny the power thereof).

  30. Carol M. says:

    tooaugust: ???? How did you get that out of my post?

    Yes, the whole point was that there was controversy over whether it was *moral* to pay taxes to Caesar because of all of that. Jesus’ reply was to render to Caesar what he could claim as their overlord. The focus of moral and spiritual concerns belonged elsewhere.

    The rest of my comment was on what the biblical perspective on ownership was. Read from the Torah onwards and it’s clear that the biblical perspective doesn’t particularly jive with our modern notions of private property. The understanding Israel had was that everything belonged to God and we were obligated to provide out of what God had given us to care for whoever in the community was in need (part of that giving included taxes paid to the temple and to the govt). The tax structure in ancient Israel was based on an understanding of communal obligation rather than today’s “It’s MY money. What’s in it for me?” attitude.

    (btw, I think Paul would be rather surprised to hear himself quoted in support of the idea that Jews don’t worship the God of Israel. It’s one thing to say that Jews have a wrong understanding of God, but to say they worship something other than God is one of those things I hear some Christians say that just makes no sense to me. Does having an incorrect or incomplete understanding of God makes them guilty of idolatry? If so, then we are all in trouble.)

  31. “When American Christians are “discriminated against”, we run for the lawyers and the press. When Rwandan Christians were slaughtered, they prayed and rejoiced. Who’s being more faithful to what Jesus really said?”

    The Americans, no question.

  32. tooaugust says:

    Wow, Carol, if Jews worship God I’m not sure why Paul would say that they are cut off and damned. No one worships God apart from Christ. No one knows God apart from Christ. The whole point I was making is that the Jews in teh OT who we see have a relationship with God would have believed in Christ because they knew God and simply had insufficient revelation. Jews now don’t know God and reject Christ, thus proving that their God (a non-triune God–it’s one thing to not know God is triune and another to know and reject it) is not the true God. Otherwise, I guess you would reject that unbelieving Jews are not saved like the NT says.

    Secondly, all i need to say to your use of the OT is that Israel = the Church, not secular governments like America. The Church is to pay toward the poor and build up the community. Are you making a false connection?