October 17, 2017

Once Upon A Christian Nation

With last night’s debate still fresh in our minds, I thought we might step away from our look at church music this morning to consider this essay from Craig Bubeck. 

I love my country . . . I mean, you gotta’, right? Even during its awkward cycles of uninhibited vitriol, come election time (with its debates). In so many regards, its ethos and heritage are so ideal driven, so optimistic, and yet so . . . practiced. What I love is its being foremost about the people—their lives, their liberty, and (imagine) their pursuit of happiness. From the jaded vantage point of a fallen and corrupt human history, it’s only reasonable to marvel at the great “experiment’s” miraculous conception, never mind survival.

Even so, I can’t say I’ve been particularly zealous in insisting it is “Christian.” To a great many of my younger brothers and sisters in Christ, this begs the jaded question. They’ll shrug: What does that even mean, “Christian nation”?

But since my decidedly evangelical childhood in the 60s, that has been my faith’s quite literal party line. It has morphed through Sunday sermons, Sunday schools, Christian schools, Christian radio, and talk radio. It has been and remains the evangelical battle cry for the better part of the modern and post-modern eras.  Here we stand—to claim the nation for Christ upon any and all “moral” grounds—we can do no other.

Can’t we?

Like so many in history, we have always wanted to believe our nation to be the particularly Christian one. And very naturally we believe the measure of its Christianity is in how we legislate and enforce moral truth. But after decades of moral certitude and reasonably tempered moral indignation on any number of political fronts, I find myself peeking my head above the political fray of late and being joyously surprised by . . . ambivalence. Understand, this is not apathy that has lured me to even flirt with the enemy. If anything, it is ironically a kind of repentance.

But know that what brings me to my political knees is not a recanting of biblical morality or sin. It is, rather, the profoundly skewed priorities that have long driven evangelical politics—for that, mea culpa.

If a people were to be known as Christian, what should be their hallmark? It shouldn’t be by our laws that they will know we are Christians. It is by none other than our love. That which Jesus insisted was the supreme law, the supreme theology, the supreme doctrine above all others—love for God, and (like unto it) love for neighbors. This is how the Church must be identified. And if a community, and accordingly, a nation is to be known as such, it must be above all else because of how it practices love.

This much I know: how I’ve argued and voted for years has been with very little concern or interest in love. But I’ve only been a good little practitioner and advocate of my evangelical culture—all along we evangelicals have tended to be suspicious of love’s relevance to politics. That’s “liberal” domain.

If anything, to vote Christian has meant to legislate truth while marginalizing and denying love’s relevance in our politics. In fact, we evangelical types actually like to admit that legislating the application of love for our neighbors—above all other legal standards—is not what we mean by a “Christian” nation. This, though we all know what Jesus’ standard was.

We evangelicals are a people whose theology favors grace transcending law. So how is it we can deem it unjust to legislate mercy and social justice, and yet with that same political tongue, ferociously demand the legislation of morality? (As if the latter were anything but meaningless without the former, a la 1 Cor. 13.)

How is it? Why, by keeping love in its place, that’s how—behind church walls and out of politics. We are like little children who believe love to be a limited commodity. If we go handing out love by way of government, what will we have left to give? It’s as if allowing the government to represent our loving interests might somehow prevent us from practicing love ourselves. We dare not employ allies of love lest we excuse ourselves from doing even the little we already can.

It’s as false a dichotomy as they come.

Love has no bounds—there’s no good reason why in a Christian’s sensibility love should be applied only through non-profit ministry. Christ called us to practice his love always and by all means, political included (perhaps especially).

So I confess I’ve cordoned off love from my political views. I’ve so easily found my mind and language being conformed to the rather worldly ways of those on the “right” side, for whom “socialism,” and “redistribution,” and “class warfare” are anathemas. And the insidious rationale has followed accordingly: I’ve actually found my language conforming around wealth accumulation, as if it were my tacit supreme virtue in political discourse.

Of course, we all know better than to claim materialism as orthodoxy by Christ’s standard. But many of you are like me on this (I’ve heard us): we whistle quite easily in the darkness of political orthopraxy.

Here’s a timely example. Do we really need to speculate very much as to where Jesus and his early-church apostles would come down on Christians’ willingness to pay more taxes, just so the sick may be cared for, even by a social medicine? What do we suppose Jesus’ response might be to the argument against legislating for a society’s welfare, simply because of its guilt by association with “socialist” ideals?

“No, Jesus,” we want to protest. “You don’t understand. Of course we believe the church should be helping the sick and caring for the poor as best it can, through its own resources. We just don’t believe we should be expecting (and paying) our government to be doing it instead.”

And I’m sorry, but only lately I’ve been hearing Jesus ask, “Instead?”

When you start actually believing in the priorities of Christ’s kingdom, you really do need to ask some pretty hard questions of your culture, especially when election time comes round. You can bet Jesus will in good time; it’s telling that the rest of the world is asking those hard questions right now.

Why is it that evangelicals can be so opposed to their nation’s corporately helping and loving its neighbors?

And why is it tantamount to anti-Christ heresy when a nation should pay taxes for (of all things) feeding its poor or caring for its sick?

I’ve been finding it very disturbing when I start to think biblically about these matters. More and more in these desperate economic times, when we Christians like to lead the way to circling fiscal wagons and protecting our own, I am wondering: to how many party platforms (and their constituencies) will Jesus have to conclude, “Away—I never knew you”?

A theoretically grace-centered electorate should be living up to its Christian name by prioritizing the unearned favor for all of its neighbors—especially its weakest and most vulnerable.

Just imagine: what if the Evangelical obsession for personal rights could be reputed for its dedication to the pursuit of a neighbor’s happiness . . . not its own? What if we actually were thought of as being just plain weird that way—radically other-centered, even? What if we were resented by the world, not for trying to impose moral rules upon it, but rather for imposing mercy? What if the dogma for which our nation’s broad populace found us to be unconditional was love, not their surrender?

Christians—they are so frustrating. They’re always pushing that James’s “true religion” down our throat. They have no right to impose being loving upon us.

Doesn’t it seem tragic that our gut reaction must be, “Impossibly naïve”?

Suspend disbelief for a moment longer, and consider this little retelling of Jesus’ parable for the uninspired paraphrase that it is. (If it’s not true to the letter of Luke 10:5-37, it should be so in spirit):

On one occasion an evangelical lawyer (and rising politico) stood up to show his party’s righteous sympathies with Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what should a nation do to be truly Christian?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

“Well,” said the lawyer. “That’s the problem. Our nation doesn’t have several of our party’s platform planks written into law . . . Not yet, anyway.” He smiled, looking around to the crowd as if to say, “Am I right?” to the nods, smiles, and smattered clapping.

“No, not political platforms or legislation,” Jesus retorted. “The Law—the biblical prophets, and the New Testament, if you like. What does God’s word insist is the absolute law above all others’?”

The lawyer answered, “Ah, right . . . well, as you know, that would have to be, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.’”

More clapping.

Quickly he added, “Oh!” Then waving his finger and rolling his eyes in exaggerated acknowledgement, he confessed, “Of course there’s also, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly, to the letter,” Jesus replied. “And any people who do this could represent themselves as a nation truly living as my kingdom.” Jesus looked back around to the crowd. “Next?”

But the lawyer wanted Jesus to justify his agenda. So he pressed him further. “And who in our God-fearing nation should we consider our neighbors?”

In reply Jesus said: “A certain nation’s evangelical electorate was heading down from primaries to election day, when they were assailed from the left and right by particularly negative ad campaigns. The media battle and news hype stripped them of all security and trust, leaving them unable to act in love: they felt vulnerable, angry, and afraid for the future (especially that of their children).  

“Now in those days leading up to the election, many of the nation’s pastors just happened to be preaching down that same political pathway, following ever so closely upon the heels of the ads. But when they saw in their people the destruction wrought by consuming self-preservation, they nevertheless preached away from perfect love, following instead as quickly as possible after the footsteps of fear and loathing.

“So too, the religious pundits, when they came to that same place of fear-driven politics, deftly passed right on over to the other side of love, favoring their greater interest (and first love)—money. In the name of “good stewardship,” they recognized this threat as the root-of-all-evil that it was—the threat to personal and corporate wealth. And quite naturally they went around it.

“But then there came that same electoral way a motley collection of self-described “Christians.” But these were folks whom all good Evangelicals knew to be nominally Christian at best: post-moderns, emergents, left-leaners, tree huggers, or just old fashioned socialist liberals.

“So these were heading down that same pathway of politics where the evangelical electorate found itself paralyzed against love. And when they saw the immobilizing fear and anger and loathing, they took pity.

“They demonstrated faith to their brothers and sisters through very strange priorities: they sacrificed to provide healthcare that would bandage all wounds; they poured their resources into prioritizing stewardship of creation, above greed for oil; they lifted up social justice for society’s abnormal: the myriad pariah and the globally enslaved. They prioritized love, even above enforcement of moral truth (or qualms for guilt by association). And they actually brought the poor and homeless in and took care of them.

“But then what they did went far beyond “the first mile” of that political way. They took their precious votes and resources, and gave them to the society’s keeper—their agnostic, amoral government. “Help us look after the least of these, our weakest and our most vulnerable,” they said. “And when it comes time to vote, we will reimburse you willingly with our support and (yes, even) our taxes.”

Jesus paused, fixed his gaze upon the lawyer, and asked, “Now which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the electorate, in whom true religion had been left all but dead by self-promoting politics?”

The expert lawyer replied, “I suppose your point is, those who preferred mercy. But—“

Jesus interrupted: “Again you have answered correctly! Now, go and vote likewise.”

Shouldn’t it seem to us an especially bitter irony that we want to call our nation Christian, when our priorities are far more about the love for our dogma and money than love for our outcast and marginalized? It should be no less bitter that inevitably, all of our world knows we will vote accordingly, en masse. We will vote for our evangelical culture’s standards of a Christian nation, not our Bible’s. We want to be a nation that is Christian in its moral rectitude, regardless of societal wellbeing—in its so-called truth, regardless of love.

But then we should know better, after all—there is no such thing as a truly Christian nation at heart, and there never really has been . . . not by Christ’s standards for a kingdom, anyway. And in all fairness, there probably could never be such in this fallen world, this side of Christ’s return. (Yes, there’s always our eschatology that can save us from our calling.)

Indeed, we do know better. Christians from a nation “of this world” can still be Christian to this world. In good conscience we can actually show ourselves to be quite “strange” and “alien” to our own beloved nation and its culture, just as the apostle Peter described (1 Peter 2:9-12). We’ll even confess (when pressed) with our Lord, that our “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). This is because our patriotism is for Christ’s kingdom, above any of this world. We’ll embrace the folly of holiness—of love for neighbors, over love for money and power and self.

So when it comes to Christians’ voting, how do we suppose Jesus would judge sheep-voting versus goat-voting (a la Matt. 25:37-45)?  Indulge me in one more biblical reframing (though much closer to the inspired):

The righteous [voter] will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did [even in your political choices] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do [or vote] for [the sake of] the least of these, you did not do for me.”

p.s. It should be noted, no elephants or donkeys were harmed in the writing of this essay.

Comments

  1. Odd that. I find that the “least of these” and those that have no voice are the unborn. They do deeply affect my vote. But when I say that, I’m told that’s being divisive and culture warring.
    Can’t win for losing.

    • Christiane says:

      glad you are seeing through that flip-flopper . . .

    • Try looking beyond just legislating against abortion. Rates of abortion are lower with a fairer distribution of wealth and provision of universal healthcare. (Abortion fell under Clinton, rose under Bush: so who was more “pro-life” in practice?)
      Liberal abortion laws are not necessarily associated with higher numbers of babys aborted, and restricting abortion can increase late tem abortion and maternal deaths from illegal abortion. Higher healthcare costs are associated with higher levels of abortions. It’s just not so simple as “Make it illegal”.

      • I’m afraid I CANNOT look beyond abortion. There are many, many values that the (Catholic) Church is clear about…social justice, euthenasia, provision for the poor and marginalized, opposition to most wars…..and the value of human life from conception to natural death. These values, however, are NOT equal. The protection of life is the first and most central tenant for all who truly follow Christ. I would never support any person, policy, or group that agrees with killing the innocents. No amount of rhetoric or sugar coating can change the fact that murder is the gravest and most vile sin on earth.

        So, like Mark, I am compelled in my life and in the voting booth to defend the sanctity of all human life.

        • Dan Crawford says:

          So, Pattie, in the name of and for the cause of life, you will vote for the social darwinism of the social darwinist party and the candidate (Catholic) whose “life was changed by Ayn Rand” and her contempt for the poor and the weak, and her even more adamant contempt for the Christian God? I too hate abortion but I have a hard time describing the Republicans who voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Act, who voted against health care reform, and health insurance protection for single moms and uninsured pregnant women as “pro-life”. A number of “pro-life” candidates brag about how many people they would execute were they governors. Mr Perry, the governor of Texas, can’t stop repeating that mantra. Mr Paul says the uninsured should be prepared to die. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan will destroy Medicare and make euthanasia as a consequence more appealing to those who can’t afford to enhance the profits of corporate medicine.

          I too am compelled to defend the sanctity of human but when concern for life stops at birth, I am equally appalled. And the scandalous silence of the Catholic bishops about the Republican agenda which redistributes wholesale the income of middle-America to support the profits of corporations and the individual moochers of corporate America who threw this country into economic chaos only compounds their failure to act as any kind of moral spokesperson. They have shown as little concern for the poor in their embrace of the Republican Party as they have for those sexually abused by bishops and priests.

          Insisting that one vote for the social darwinists in the name of “life” makes as much sense as voting for the Inquisition in the name of intellectual freedom and integrity.

          • I find it ironic that so many fundagelcial Christians are committed to saving a fetus and let it be born. And then they are opposed to health care, education, public assiatnce, etc.. for that child growing up. The irony is awful.

          • Could you help me understand your statement about Ron Paul? Is this a quote from Mr Paul? Did you mean that he implies that the uninsured should be prepared to die (we all should be) or did you mean that Ron Paul meant the uninsured deserve to die because they are not insured? Don’t want to get off topic but it seems something doesn’t does not make sense here. Thanks

          • Eagle, no person is opposed to health care. We just argue over who is supposed to pay for it.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Don’t bill you, don’t bill me, bill that guy behind the tree!”

          • Dan, until such time as a pollitcal party in this country supports LIFE and the good of the weak and unfortunate, I have to go with the highest principle of all……life itself.

            Ever stop to think, especially on a Christian website, that some of us are against abortion on relgious grounds, not political ones.

        • Hm, I do actually read the pronouncements of the Catholic bishops. For those of you who are interested, they can be found on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Every one of those pronouncements is careful to not pick a particular party, nor by its language to imply that the Democratic party platform plank on abortion means that one cannot vote Democrat. In fact, they have consistently resisted the argument that having such a plank means that one must vote against it or fall into sin.

          On the Republican side, when Paul Ryan came out with his budget proposals in February of this year, the Conference stated in strong terms that it was not an acceptable budget precisely on the grounds of its anti-life approach toward the poor, the weak, and those most in need of protection. But, again, they assailed the budget and not the party. Neither did they state that one cannot vote Republican because of the anti-life stance of many of their proposed budget items.

          The bishops have found that each party holds some anti-life beliefs and proposals that are strong enough that they merit the censure of the bishops. This is why no party voting recommendation has come out of the conference, though some individual bishops have expressed a personal preference.

          • Matt Purdum says:

            First of all, there can by definition be no such thing as a Christian nation. Only individuals can be Christians, not “nations.” Secondly, my Bible kind of indicates that ALL the nations are lined up against the Kingdom of God. There’s only one Christian nation and that’s the one Christ is installing.

            Abortion: I cannot believe the Christian answer is “Let’s throw women who are already distressed in to jail.” Jail simply is NO PART of the solution to abortion. No one can really take “pro-lifers” credibly because they support the party that destroys unions and represses wages, making it ever more impossible for working families to support families. Throwing people in jail, passing these little harassment laws called “regulations” — how is this Christlike in any way? Until Christians really work to build communities with good jobs, conducive to families, their pro-life position is a joke. The GOP is all about INDIVIDUALISM, not families.

          • Christiane says:

            I think Paul Ryan was more inspired by Heritage Foundation agendas than the Catholic Compendium on Social Justice. The bishops picked up on that . . . but the nuns got there first and stood up for those who would be harmed by the Ryan proposals. God bless those nuns. They are passionately Christian women, unafraid to stand up for Christ’s poor, though often they get slammed for it. I just love ’em.

          • Good to see your posts. I have missed them.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Jenny: “Try looking beyond just legislating against abortion.”

          Pattie: “I’m afraid I CANNOT look beyond abortion.”

          Here we see nicely encapsulated the failure to achieve actual communication. Jenny didn’t say anything about looking beyond abortion. Quite the contrary. She wrote about looking being legislating about abortion in favor of looking at what actually reduces abortion. Yet the response is more interest in the method than the goal.

          • Two of the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions would be:

            (1) Better sex education, like in Europe, emphasizing birth control

            (2) To subsidize costs associated with childbirth and child-rearing

            The first offends U.S. conservatives, while the second…but nobody has that kind of money.

          • Christiane says:

            the ‘cost’ of doing what is right that WILL work towards stopping more abortions is great . . .

            so the far-right chooses a ‘cheaper’ way: legislating and punishing, none of which will stop or prevent abortions, but will open the flood-gates of back-alley butchery that we saw all those years ago

            what’s the point? ‘control’? ‘show’?

            the view into the hell that will come from short-cuts started with the invasive ultrasounds being mandated in some states . . . talk about government ‘intrusion’ . . .
            and the rhetoric? shutting down access to birth control?
            closing clinics that provide GYN services to poor and working-class women?
            . . . trying to make the lives of women as difficult as possible to achieve an ‘end’ to the horror of abortion?

            so one nightmare is replaced by another?

            I think the ‘short-cuts’ are not life-affirming, no . . . they are just politics and control at their worst

            if Christian people work to offer alternatives to pregnant women that are truly Christian, then their ways will be life-affirming . . . and yes, it will NOT be ‘convenient’ and ‘cheaper’, but it will not bring down hell on the heads of women in difficulty and treat them like criminals

            I despise the work of politicians who have used the abortion issue to gain power. They have manipulated good people, but they have also done something else:
            they have offered a false solution, a quickie-fix on a problem that can only be made better by a humane and compassionate response of our society to helping women in distress . . .

      • Here is a piece of pro-life legislation that I put in front of fellow members of the Canadian Liberal Party on our official discussion forum:

        Dennis Tate posted an update 1 month ago

        #health Proposed bill to Ban Intra-cardiac Potassium Chloride Injections on Singletons!

        This would actually technically be an anti-foeticide law if passed in parliament, not an anti-abortion law.

        No Canadian physician should be virtually forced against their conscience and better judgment to take a syringe filled with potassium chloride and inject it into the heart of a fetus who might well survive many types of abortion.

        I want our Liberal Party to be a place where there is a much greater level of freedom of expression of thought and opinion so although this idea is controversial, it needs to be discussed.

        A related topic is encouraging and preparing an environment more conducive for both gay couples, and heterosexual couples to adopt a child.

        Yes, a law of this nature would technically somewhat restrict a woman’s choice…but there is an obvious way to make up for this and actually give women an even greater range of options.

        I believe that a gay couple may have an increased willingness to have the mother involved in the life of her baby after the adoption in comparison to a heterosexual couple.

        We are all human, an adoptive mother would have enormous difficulty not viewing the birth mother as a potential competitor for the love and loyalty of the child. The dynamic in a case where the mother gives her child to a gay couple could be significantly different. A male gay couple would want a feminine influence in their child’s life….so by signing a different sort of adoption agreement than usual…..an anti-foeticide bill of some sort could become a win – win – win scenario for all concerned parties…..especially the physician who has to wrestle with his conscience in explaining to themselves how injecting potassium chloride into the heart of an unborn baby is not doing harm and/or unnecessarily causing a death?!

    • I don’t recall ever bringing up abortion. I only dared to allege what Jesus insisted: the greatest law is love, and that should be our standard for all we do and all truths we assert. I don’t know why your challenges regarding abortion should be an exception to Jesus’ (and the Bible’s) absolute universal truth.

      • Thank you. I know that to many people, many of them who are professed Christians, that abortion is a fringe issue, another political hot potato to either toss around or ignore.

        To me, it is the greatest sin of our age…..with war a close second. Children are destroyed mindlessly in both cases, but with abortion we want to pretend that it isn’t happening, or isn’t a grave sin and injustice, or that somehow circumstances of conception change the growing person to a soul-less bit of tissue.

        • I am with you on the anti-abortion stance, just disagree that voting for legislation against abortion will actually reduce the number of abortions.

    • Donalbain says:

      Since we aren’t allowed to post links, I suggest you google the following:

      “An experimental project that gave free birth control to more than 9,000 teen girls and women in one metropolitan area resulted in a dramatic decrease in abortions and teen pregnancies, a new study shows.”

      The report goes on to explain in more detail what it says in the lede. If you are REALLY serious about reducing the number of abortions, this is exactly the sort of thing you should be supporting. Banning abortion doesn’t work, much like banning drugs doesn’t work. The key is to look at programmes that DO work and support those.

  2. Excellent essay, Craig! Thank you.

  3. > I love my country . . . I mean, you gotta’, right?

    No. Simply, no.

    I’m past being tired of “I love my country”, “I support our troops”, and on and on an on; It is utterly meaningless blah blah. It doesn’t merit saying. I’m convinced all it these statements do is define tribe and stir the mud.

    Love should be shown for people, love turned toward organizations can only turn into something else. Love can be shown to people through organizations like good governance, and fair laws, and aid to the poor. Aimed at organizations love typically becomes adoration, which we re-label as patriotism when the organization is a government. I do not believe that goes anywhere useful.

    Why say I-love-my-country, when I could say I-love-my-neighbor; and then my saying is much nearer to my meaning. I don’t care if my neighbor is Lebanese, Mexican, or British.

    > What I love is its being foremost about the people … it’s only reasonable to marvel at the
    > great “experiment’s” miraculous conception,

    But how is that any more true than dozens of other places and/o times. The Magna Carta is pretty gradiose about human rights and dignity. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen defined the right to the pursuit of happiness. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, 1750 BC, spoke of protecting the rights of the vulnerable from those more powerful [which our constitution or declaration never mention],

    There is nothing terribly unique, or certainly not new, about the United States of America – it is just much more successful and/or recent, then many other similar attempts [that may or may not be due to any moral merit]. If once we finally pass the christian-nation debate hopefully the great-expirement / american-exceptionalism meme will be dismantled as well, it doesn’t do any good and has little to no historical merit.

    > We just don’t believe we should be expecting (and paying) our government to be doing it instead.”
    > And I’m sorry, but only lately I’ve been hearing Jesus ask, “Instead?”

    +1

    • I actually can appreciate y our objection–by “love” for my country, I should point out (as I think the article implies) such sentiment has nothing to do with what Christ and the Scriptures mean by “love.” Ironically, perhaps I could have chosen that word in particular more carefully, in this context. 😉

    • Adam: I hear what you’re saying. I love my country as I love my family: I was born into it randomly (from my perspective), not by my own choice; it has flaws, but it was part of what made me what I am; I have always loved and enjoyed people who were not part of it; and I hope that other people appreciate theirs, though different from mine, as much as I do mine. I feel no extreme patriotism about my family or my country, knowing that others are also good; however, I would prefer that criticisms to it come from inside and not from strangers. And that’s really as far as I’ll take it.

      I don’t believe I can vote in this election, but I will try to love the people I live with and work with, though I’m sure I won’t do very well at it. Am I a bad American?

      • Damaris, I’ve thought often of your analogy of the family when looking to get a clear perspective of how to view the Christian/nation tension. I think it’s as clear a picture as I’ve heard or read. Every analogy has its limits, but I thought I’d share some praise for this one: and Jesus shows us Kingdom limits for our affections of both nationality and physical family, so that helps understand this as well.

        GregR

    • I do love my country. However I think patriotism like grace is cheap for many people. I grow sick of being in a wartime envrionment and hearing people say, “I support he troops” and slap on a bumper sticker to their car. That’s it? That’s support? 😯 If you really support the troops why not go down to a recruiter office and sign up to serve in the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army, etc.. I mean if you really are going to support the troops…do it next to them in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan or serving about the USN Albany, etc..

    • One can love ones homeland. The first commandment, according to Luther, is that we love, trust, and fear God above all else. All of the commandments that follow are broken when we love, trust, and fear anything above God. When the homeland demands love, trust, and fear above God, then it becomes an idol. As Paul Tillich put it, when a nation becomes our ultimate concern, it becomes an idol. This is what happened in fascist states.

      If we loved our nation in terms of our neighbor, I think many problems would solve themselves.

  4. I have a real problem with taking Jesus’ words, which were almost ALWAYS aimed at the individual (excepting Matt 23) and inserting political groups into the equation. How often did Jesus speak to government? He said “Render unto Caesar…”, but that’s about it. His message was always directed to the individual’s heart. And last time I checked government is NOT an individual, does NOT have a heart and cannot be “saved”.

    I believe that if our Saviour walked the earth today He would STILL avoid political statements and would STILL enjoin individuals to dispense care to the less fortunate, the widows and orphans, and to loosen our grasp on the world’s idea of success and wealth.

    Another question that arises in my mind concerning the essay: Does motive and method make ANY difference in dispensing “love”? When it comes to government, one of its first priorities upon taking power is to do anything possible to consolidate that power. That includes providing for its power base and encircling as many as possible into that base. When a government fecklessly promises utopia IF ONLY it could take more money from its constituents, or even promising to take LESS from us, it is NOT doing this for OUR good, it is merely building on its own power base and trying to ensure its own perpetuation. It doesn’t matter WHICH party, they BOTH do this. Jesus said that whoever would give up his life would, in the process, save it. I don’t see any governments saying that they will diminish in order to help the most vulnerable among us. Motives?

    In short: letting government do what WE should, as Christians, be doing will get you no gold stars in heaven. That is just the same as trying to force people into salvation, it just CAN’T be done. Sure, government CAN do SOME good,,,and DOES, but there is ALWAYS a price to pay that falls unevenly on others, and often causes us to lose our concern for the less fortunate because we feel we are caring by proxy.

    In MY opinion the Church does not do enough to relieve the suffering of the unfortunate. Instead we build buildings and “ministries”, we pay staff members to exercise gifts that the Spirit gives freely, and then we take pride that our church gives more than 10% to missions and another 5% to “benevolence”. All in Jesus’ name.

    The essay above is deceptive. It has some high sounding words that tickle our sense of fairness while using scripture (WRONGLY in MY opinion) to make its point. Republican, Democrat, liberal, progressive, conservative, left wing, right wing…what about the Kingdom of God?! This world is nor our home! Why are we trying so hard to ignore that by trying to make it a secular Kingdom, or trying to make it conform to the image of the Son? STOP!

    End of rant…I woke my wife with my keyboard pounding…

    • I intentionally kept the focus of this essay upon how individuals vote in good conscience, while specifically countering that there isn’t such thing as a Christian nation. My intent was very much for how individual Christians should prioritize in their voting. (I’ll also point out that I never mention the U.S. specifically, nor do I specify any particular party–only the issues.)

      I don’t think your protest is particularly fair.

      • Sorry Craig, but the way your parable came off was that evangelical Christians are “right” leaning, pro military and anti socialist Republicans who walked on the other side of the road whilst those who might be considered on the other end of the political spectrum were the ones who showed mercy by manning up and paying higher taxes. THAT sounded more as a political statement than a call for individual accountability. Trusting government to do the right thing by forking over more of our money (when is “enough” enough? Answer: When the patient expires) is a Mephistophelian bargain. And once that decision is made there is NEVER, EVER any chance of undoing it.

        • I intentionally equated “right leaning” with the evangelical tradition that I’ve known for four decades. (I never so much as invoked anything military.)

          Pastors are associated with Jesus’ Priest in the story, and Religious Pundits with Jesus’ Levite in the parable. I hope the irony is not lost on the nominal Christians being tied to the Samaritan–the Samaritans were despised by orthodoxy for many reasons, including political and heretical. The fact that this Samaritan was a neighbor is not an endorsement of their theology or politics–just this man’s ironic love, regardless of his adversarial role with the orthodox.

          Don’t be distracted by the liberal and socialist labels–those become excuses to be unloving toward neighbors. And certainly don’t be distracted by the “Republican” label, which I never stated.

          As with the Good Samaritan (apostate as he was), followers of the one true God should prioritize love for a neighbor (even an enemy neighbor), above concerns for rights or being right.

          And per “forking over money,” I’m not advocating giving up one’s responsibility to be a good steward of GOD’S money. Yes, one should vote with such in mind too. But I’m especially impatient hearing people argue against any issue simply because it smacks of socialism or of our supposed right to not pay taxes. We protest far too much.

    • I agree that the lessons in Jesus’ parables are aimed at the church (and individuals), but I am personally a skeptic when it comes to the idea that mere benevolence of individuals, churches, and nonprofit organizations can truly deal with problems related to lower income (hunger, health care, etc.) in this country. I think it’s an idealistic concept that wouldn’t work given human nature and real life, not to mention the administrative side of things. And I think that’s why support for “the alien, the fatherless, and the widow” was built into the tithing system (perhaps we could call it a tax code?) of ancient Israel. My personal opinion is that we need a mix of personal benevolence and systemic support to be able to deal with people’s needs in trying circumstances. Your mileage may vary.

      • I guess my reaction to this is kind of a muted “and then what?”. Supporters of both candidates will point to different aspects of their platforms and claim that because of that they are more Christ-like. I don’t think either candidate has power to actually accomplish 50% of what they say they’ll do anyway, so ultimately, it doesn’t make much a difference. I’m just a political agnostic I suppose.

        Here’s a timely example. Do we really need to speculate very much as to where Jesus and his early-church apostles would come down on Christians’ willingness to pay more taxes, just so the sick may be cared for, even by a social medicine? What do we suppose Jesus’ response might be to the argument against legislating for a society’s welfare, simply because of its guilt by association with “socialist” ideals?

        This is an issue I do have an opinion on, or least would like to comment on. It seems to me that Jesus was very clear about where our provision comes from and who actually has a claim on our lives. Perhaps we forget that even the word “Gospel” itself is a subversive term. Caesar came promising peace and safety in response to loyalty from his subjects, but in the end it was false claim. It was a parody of the real thing.

        So I guess my fear is that we believe we have moved past the era of governments becoming tyrannical or oppressive. Sure they can offer some good things, but I think civic engagement requires a constant questioning of the motives of those in power. It requires the church being able to maintain a prophetic voice, and to do that it seems that we must always keep our support of politicians and programs at arm’s length.

        • I didn’t mean this as a specific reply to you, Josh, but as a reply to the article in general. It somehow ended up in the wrong place.

      • Josh, I agree that we cannot alleviate ALL suffering, but Jesus never asked us to do that. He just enjoined us to give our all. Results were not, are not, part of the equation. If govt. can do some good, then fine, but when Jesus said “the poor you have with you always” He was not offering us an excuse to do nothing, He was pointing out a basic fact of life. Our obligation remains the same: give our all, not necessarily our neighbors’ all.

        • Personally, I’ve always thought Jesus’ ‘the poor you have with you always’ comment was also an admonition. It was pointing out that we don’t do enough and we never have, and we always use any excuse we can to refuse or diminish our provision of help – including, in modern times, through taxation. It is true that the poor will always be with us, but it greatly concerns me how often Christians quote that verse as an excuse to not do more on a societal level to help the disadvantaged.

  5. Steve Newell says:

    I believe that as Christians, we are called to help care for the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, etc. This is part of our calling as Christians. As good citizens, we should expect our government to provide policies that also help the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, etc. as well. It is not a “either/or” but a “both”.

    If we didn’t live in the US but another nation, how would our theology change? Can we say what our theology drives our view of politics or does our politics drive our theology.

    • If you look at some EU nations that are government heavy you see that personal giving is a mere pittance compared to the USA. This does not indicate that the USA is more Christian, but it does indicate that when a people expect govt. to take care of things then personal commitment is weakened. After all, why should I try to do something that is the government’s responsibility? It has more to do with human nature than it does with politics.

      My mother lives in Section 8 housing in a large eastern city (USA) and over the past 5 years she has seen a shift in the population of her complex from the traditional elderly living on Social Security to a younger crowd, averaging about 30 years old. Why are they living on government subsidy? Unseen chronic injury, drug addiction, mental issues, etc. The largess of governmental subsidy is allowing this group to grow exponentially.

      The reason I bring this up is because it SHOULD be a cautionary tale about governmental “good intent”. Be careful what you allow because there is a good amount of bad mixed in with the good.

      • humanslug says:

        Good points. One can encounter a lot of Catch 22 situations when it comes to politics and economics — and intending good in the short term does not always equal doing good in the long term.
        According to scripture, Jesus did a miraculous mass feeding on only two occasions. After that, He seems to have decided that it was doing more harm than good.

        • Yep, the law of unintended consequences always rears its ugly head. Simply put, the issues that politicians claim they can help or solve are complex and multi-layered. If you try to apply a simple solution to such things, it often pushes the problem area to somewhere else. Look at the war on drugs. I don’t doubt it was well-intentioned, but if you look at the wake of destruction in its path, it’s questionable whether or not it’s done more good than harm.

      • It just goes to show you, whatever you subsidize, you get more of.

        • Donalbain says:

          No. It doesn’t. It doesn’t show that at all. Just because you like a slogan, it does not mean it is valid.

          • Sorry, but Miguel IS correct. Whatever is rewarded increases….whether you are talking lab mice or human beings.

            Simply and harshly put (andmerely as an example, not a suggestion) …..if unwed motherhood is treated with a Hester Pryne “A” and a shame to the whole family, instead of free housing, food, and medical care….there is MUCH less of it.

          • Thank you for the unsupported claim.

      • I appreciate the concern for wise stewardship of our resources. And I could see how your voting according to your conscience, as expressed here, could indeed by driven exactly by love.

        However . . . Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan could just as well be countered with similar skepticism:

        “No one is proposing a solution to the real problem: these thieves running around this road, leaving people near death and stripped of their clothing. This has been going on far too long. Jesus’ concern should be for the profound injustice going on here, rather than glorifying some exceptional heretic Samaritan who happens to help a guy in need. I mean, why do you think the Priest avoided the crime in the first place? He probably was afraid he’d become a victim too. Same with the Levite–these people had good reason to be afraid. Don’t judge them. We need to worry more about preventing the crime. THAT’S what will help the victims the most. Preventing our brethren from getting into such trouble that they need a Samaritan’s help in the first place.”

  6. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    We can legislate justice. We can legislate mercy. I don’t think we can really legislate love, simply because a law by its nature cannot love. Our laws can come about as an application of love, but laws themselves are incapable of love.

    Interesting paradox that we see even in the comments above: on the right, they say stuff to the effect of “How can you say you support justice for women and minorities while denying so many women and minorities the right to even be born?” On the left, they say stuff to the effect of “How can you say you are pro-Life when you don’t give a damn about what happens to them AFTER they’re born?” There are certainly kernels of truth to both of those statements, but mostly they’re just rhetoric and caricature.

    “Love knows no boundaries.” This is true. But if we’re going to use the law as a way to apply Christian love, don’t we have an obligation to be sure we’re doing it in the best way possible? Our Roman Catholic brethren call this the “Principle of Subsidiarity” where the prime responsibility to take care of stuff falls to the simplest level. E.g. the Federal Government shouldn’t take on responsibilities that State or Local governments can better handle, because it will be less efficient and more wasteful at the Federal level. The issue then becomes how to properly APPLY this principle. What stuff is best taken care of locally, and what stuff Federally? What stuff is best dealt with by the Church and what stuff needs the Government to get involved in?

    That’s not just trying to compartmentalize our faith; that’s working out how best to apply love in these real-world situations.

    • Spot on Isaac!

    • I wouldn’t want to have ever conveyed in this article (and I don’t think I did) that love can be legislated. But actions that are loving can be. (Ironically, have you ever heard of the “Good Samaritan Law”?)

      But what I’m addressing here is voting and arguing your politics with a driving motive of love, first and foremost. Concern for the wellbeing of others should especially be the Christian motive in judging laws, not self-interest.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        Oh, please don’t think of the above so much as an attempt at rebutting or refuting your article as much as just some thoughts riffing off of it. This is certainly an issue of practical theology: how we put our Christian faith and beliefs into practice as citizens of this country. Truth be told, I’m a bit wary of the “win back America” rhetoric among my brethren, too.

        Something I heard Steven Colbert talk about on a recent interview on Fresh Air was that it seems that some of the folks who want to see religion have a bigger influence on politics don’t realize that the gate will be a two-way street. The nastiness of partisan politics will have (and has had) as much influence on our religion as our religion will have on politics. That’s kind of scary, to be honest.

  7. Help me out here all. Do you know if it is accurate that a number of years ago the United Nations changed the US religion status from Christian to Pagan? I checked Snopes and so on couldn’t find anything. But I do remember reading that somewhere. Anyone know?

    • I highly doubt that the UN has a “pagan” category for religion… Jus’ sayin’…

    • Matt Purdum says:

      I wouldn’t stay up nights over it.

    • Oh, you must be talking about UN Bill 666. That was just a formality. Our official religion changes every year. (They rotate the honor among all the organizations listed in Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions.) It’s kind of like when mayors designate some day to be “Baywatch Day” or what have you. The clause consigning our collective souls to the Dark Lord was insisted upon by Sweden (some kind of political horse-trading going on), but it has little practical application outside of grade school curricula. You may have heard the new invocations during high school football games. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. Hail to the Dark Lord.

  8. As I read Craig’s article and comments, I began to hum the tune, Everything’s Alright, from Jesus Christ Superstar.
    Based on John 12:1-8 JUDAS (sings—)
    Woman your fine ointment, brand new and expensive
    Should have been saved for the poor.
    Why has it been wasted? We could have raised maybe
    Three hundred silver pieces or more.
    People who are hungry, people who are starving
    They matter more than your feet and hair!

    MARY MAGDALENE (attempts to reassure)
    Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
    Problems that upset you, oh.
    Don’t you know
    Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes.

    JESUS (knows the truth and tells it like it is)
    Surely you’re not saying we have the resources
    To save the poor from their lot?
    There will be poor always, pathetically struggling.
    Look at the good things you’ve got.
    Think while you still have me!
    Move while you still see me!
    You’ll be lost, and you’ll be sorry when I’m gone.

    Little by little, He will be all but gone from school prayer, In God We Trust, One Nation Under God, Ten Commandments eradicate from government buildings, public display of Nativity at Christmas—banned.
    Yep, I for one will be lost and sorry when He is gone.

    Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them. Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me” (John 12:1-8 MSG).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Sure you weren’t a consultant in that “Letter of Warning from 2012” that was making the Christianese rounds almost exactly four years ago?

    • cermak_rd says:

      school prayer is still allowed, just not allowed to be faculty led or coerced. Certainly no student is ever prosecuted for silently praying to the math deity.

      In G-d We Trust means nothing. And how often do you take the coins out of your pocket and read them?

      One nation under G-d was inserted into the pledge during the Cold War. In honesty, I’m more concerned about anyone wanting to force school kids to take an oath of fealty before they understand what it is they’re doing than I am the reference to deity (I led the pigeons to the flag being a frequent misunderanding).

      The 10 commandments, which the US reveres so much that only 2 are enforced laws? The first 2 (or 3) being expressly illegal under the first amendment?

      Public displays of the nativity? Actually, I don’t see the naked public square happening. I see a crowded square instead. You want a nativity? Well, sure but we’ll also have a Wiccan display (not hard, a decked tree will usually suffice, bonus, it makes most Humanists happy as well) and a Menorah and something for the Muslims (usually that dome thing) and something for… Heck, recently, in my area I’m seeing Diwali stuff tossed in there, even if it occurs a month earlier than the rest of the hols.

      On a personal note, I would hate to see the Christianists throw in the culture war towel. Some extraordinary atheists have come out of their churches.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        school prayer is still allowed, just not allowed to be faculty led or coerced.

        When I was in high school (1969-73), the arrangement at the time was that student religious assemblies (usually Evangelical Christians) were permitted as organized student clubs, subject to the same requirements and regulations as other special-interest clubs.

        This worked pretty well at the time, but remarks by high-schoolers at a Brony picnic last month makes me wonder if the system has cracked between then and now; said high-school Brony claimed that his school permitted a “Zombie Apocalypse Readiness Club” but forbade the My Little Pony fan club he attempted to organize.

        One nation under G-d was inserted into the pledge during the Cold War.

        True. It was to further distinguish and contrast the USA with the militantly-atheist USSR.

        You want a nativity? Well, sure but we’ll also have a Wiccan display (not hard, a decked tree will usually suffice, bonus, it makes most Humanists happy as well) and a Menorah and something for the Muslims (usually that dome thing) and something for…

        Don’t forget that Kwanzaa-variant Menorah (Kwanorah?) and a Festivus Pole (kind of a Seinfeld Xmas Tree).

    • //Little by little, He will be all but gone from school prayer, In God We Trust, One Nation Under God, Ten Commandments eradicate from government buildings, public display of Nativity at Christmas—banned.
      Yep, I for one will be lost and sorry when He is gone.//

      “Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
      Problems that upset you, oh.”

      I love that song and scene (esp. in the 2000 version).

      I don’t feel personally very worried. The problem has long been with the church, and I don’t pretend I’m going to solve it. I purposefully (and sincerely) had a first-person voice in this–it’s been my own conforming-to-the-ways-of-the-evangelical-world that is at fault.

  9. humanslug says:

    I agree that love should be at the top of our agenda as Christians — even in the realm of politics.
    But in seeking to uphold and demonstrate love in society, how does one measure meeting people’s immediate needs versus aiming at their longterm well-being when doing both simply isn’t possible? How does one measure the enacting the good of one group or demongraphic against another when limited resources require a choice?
    Would it be a good thing for a man to use his good credit to borrow huge amounts of money in order to help those in poverty — if the longterm result is putting his own family on the street and leaving millions in toxic debt to weigh down the financial system? Is it good for government to do the same?
    Our present political climate is pretty convoluted and very polarized. I would dare say that both sides have bolstering their own political power bases at the top of their agendas — and both sides are perfectly willing to give lip service to particular beliefs and ideologies to advance their cause. But regardless of what they say or even do (which can turn on a dime these days), we should always keep in mind that power and control are their ultimate objectives — whether its big government or big business (or both working together) sitting on the throne.
    Julius Caesar handed out a lot of free bread and tossed a lot of money into the cheering crowds after crossing the Rubicon. Adolf Hitler enacted one of the biggest and quickest economic turn-arounds in history. The poor were fed, the homeless were housed, and the unemployed had work.
    But the longterm results were death and enslavement for millions.
    I guess all I’m saying is that when it comes to politics, things aren’t always as they seem and the product advertised isn’t always what you end up getting for your money.

    • Amen. By no means would I want to represent this as a simple absolute. I suspect two oppositely voting Christians could have the same thoughtful, authentically loving motive, and Christ’s response would be to both, “I know you. Well done!”

      • humanslug says:

        I find it hard to endorse certain evils with my vote, while hoping that evil will be counteracted by a greater weight of good. It’s really going to take a fight with my own conscience to go to the voting booth at all this time around.

  10. Dan Edelen @ ceruleansanctum.com has an interesting post on the dangers of values voting.

    “A state that once again rules in God’s name can count not only on our applause but also on enthusiastic and active cooperation from the church… With joy and thanks we see how this new state rejects blasphemy, attacks immorality, promotes discipline and order with a firm hand, demands awe before Go
    d, works to keep marriage sacred and our youth spiritually instructed, brings honor back to fathers of families, ensures that love of people and nation is no longer mocked, but burns in a thousand hearts… We can only plead with our fellow worshipers to do what they can to help these new productive forces in our land reach a complete and unimpeded victory.” – A statement by by German Lutheran Bishops in 1933

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Years ago, one of the documentary channels (before they went all tabloid paranormal, all the time) had a documentary on the rise of the Nazi Party that mentioned during the early years (when they had to win elections), they presented themselves as the Defender of Traditional German Family Values (TM) against the chaos and sexual immorality of Weimar Berlin. (Of course, after their coup-from-within in 1933, they didn’t need that spin any more.)

      I look at it that “Men of Sin” will ALWAYS try to cite a Cosmic-Level Authority (Bible, Koran, Nature, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Reason, Traditional Family Values, etc) to give Cosmic-level Justification for what they want to do anyway.

      • That’s very true. HUG. Many Nazi’s decried the “immoral decadacne” of Weimar Republic. They decried the loss of “Christian” faith, the homosexual “agenda” push, new art expressions, etc.. I remember hearing about this and reading it in German History class in college and grad school. The irony for me is the following. I sometimes see a lot of similarities between the Nazi “family” agenda in the late 20’s and early 1930’s to the “family agenda of James Dobson and Focus on Everyone Else’s Family…”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          So did the guy who watched that documentary with me, many years ago. Unfortunately, he jumped to the conclusion that “Advocating Traditional Family Values = Nazis” when it would be more accurate to say that the Nazis just presented themselves as solving an actual problem that was a hot-button to a LOT of Germans. Politician pandering to the single-issue voter blocs; just because the Nazis were using it as a stepping stone to absolute power doesn’t mean the problems and concerns weren’t legitimate. Or that it was wrong or evil to address them. (Unfortunately, Extremist Politics — Nazi or Communist — were the Order of the Day in late Weimar Germany. Everyone else had been crowded out by design or circumstance.)

  11. Agreed. But, the situations are more complex than just providing for the basic needs of alienated, vulnerable and disenfranchised. I work day in and day out with this wounded population from the courts to the jails to transitional housing to applying for financial help to treatment, etc…most (with the exception of treatment) are temporary fixes that barely scratch the surface of their lifelong, usually generational, deep-rooted problems. And, I live in a community where Christians lovingly pullout their checkbooks to fill in many of the financial gaps the government leaves wide open…again a temporary fix. And, there is a definite entitlement attitude to contend with.

    Should the government stop or cut back funding? No. But, I think we should look for solutions rather than keep throwing more and more money at it. There are virtually few training programs, fewer unskilled job opportunities and even less accountability and little, if any, programs that treat the whole person-body, mind, soul and spirit. If you can’t tell-this is my passion :0)

    What I’ve seen work is, for example, one woman who had mentor that loved her no matter what she did. Over time (and a few setbacks), this mentor paid for her GED classes, helped her get to parenting classes, treatment and medical appointments, showed her how to fill out multiple job applications, included her in activities like family BBQ’s, searched for appropriate childcare and advocated for her at court while she and her child lived in temp housing…with government assistance until she began making an income on her own two years later. AND, she took her to church where most of the congregation were kind and somewhat supportive. I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt this young woman would not have accomplished all she did on her own.

    I also know a little 8 year old girl who is alive because another woman stepped up to help a confused and frightened teen mom. That’s another amazing story.

    I can’t go into it much here- But, there’s not enough social workers or programs or money in the world that can replace friendship based on enduring, sacrificial Christ-like love. And, yes-it costs time, money, energy. So, I want to hear from all the candidates from local to federal how we are going to help AND what we are going to do to change the situation but, I also pray the churches will step up, too. In this, there doesn’t need to be a separation of church and state.

    (stepping off my soapbox, now)

    • +1

    • +1

      It is not often we hear someone who stands behind thier cause who’s only solution is not ‘more money’. Real change is hard to accomplish and harder to measure; big entities (gov’t, business, etc) like measurables for their money, not necessarily results.

    • Great comments, Cherie. Thank you for the work that you do.

      • Thanks, Joanie-but it SO not by my own merit but God’s grace in every way conceivable-trust me on this 🙂

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I am always leery of “Christian Nation” rhetoric because — especially with the “Take Back America!” corollary — it becomes the first axiom of a Grievance Culture, i.e. a culture whose only reason for existence is Revenge On The Other:

    1) “Once WE were Lords of All Creation, and Everything Was Perfect!”

    2) “Then THEY came and took it all away from us!”

    3) “PAYBACK TIME!”

    And there is NO upper limit to the payback after the takeover/restoration. Because the Utter Wickedness of the Other in (2) justifies any evil done by the Righteous to achieve (3). And Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories (“The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs! We Won’t Be Taken In!”) often go hand-in-hand with Grievance Cultures, further separating them from reality.

  13. Marcus Johnson says:

    The exchange between Jesus and Pilate in John 18:28-38 might be informative here. There is an element of American self-professed Christians who are working so hard to ensure that America becomes and/or remains a “Christian” nation, when Jesus himself rejected that exact concept.

    Christianity has, at its very best, always operated as a grass-roots movement that transcended political and governmental institutions. The initiative to bring any government or country under Christian standards will always be an exercise in futility, not because the intentions are mean-spirited, but because no human-made institution can legislate or live up to the standards of love that Christ emulates (hence the dire need for grace for each person).

    It should be noted that the Christian church was conceived and grew in strength and power under (and, perhaps, as a result of) governmental systems that were incredibly hostile to the expansion of Christianity. Shouldn’t it follow that Christians should be more prepared to resist governmental submission to Christian doctrine?

  14. I really need to read Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” sometime. I’ve heard good things about it. Anyone read it?

  15. I believe that we should, as Jeremiah taught, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile . . .”

    Since Christians differ on so many things, it is not surprising that we have divergent views on the role of government. For a long time, the “Christian” voting block has entrenched itself on the right (perhaps “Evangelical would be more accurate), with motives both good and bad. I believe the tragic thing is that the ability to listen has been lost. Right or wrong, I label myself as “right of center”, which is a miserable place to be in my faith tradition. I have been called liberal (with a certain tone of righteous indignation) by many church people simply because I listened to someone’s concerns who were left of the center mark.

    The truth is that the USA is not the church. It is hard enough to keep the church righteous, let alone a country!! I wish that I could persuade believers that we must govern with non-believers, and that we have not been commissioned by our Lord to be in the majority. I regret that a large segment of the Christian population has demonstrated a far greater concern for ruling rather than for serving their neighbor. I have apologized to many non-believers for this glaring fault of Christians, and have always had appreciative responses.

    I am no great theologian, but it seems to me that Jesus’ mission in His first advent was not to rule. I have no doubt that He could have with the power He displayed. In His own words, “I came to serve, and to give my life . . .” Regrettably, I don’t think anyone would accuse us of having a mission remotely similar.

    Please, hold your political view with civility and humility. The leader that you fear will only be in power a limited time, and he will go and be forgotten. The leader that you place your hope in is only human, and however good he may seem, he is capable of disappointing you greatly. “Our patriotism is for Christ’s kingdom, above any of this world.” Amen to that.

    • This. It’s experiences like yours, Chill, that make me so glad to live in a country that doesn’t go through these arguments every electoral cycle, and doesn’t have that “Christian = vote for X party” mentality. Down here in Australia, we have an atheist feminist unmarried childless woman as Prime Minister. We’ve yet to be swallowed by the pits of hell! I’m also sorry that you (and many others) have experience that ‘righteous indignation’ for listening to others or daring to hold a different view. I pray for civility in the US election – looking from the outside, politics really seems to be a blood sport over there.

  16. I might have said this before, but posts like this remind me of Arcade Fire’s Culture Wars song. Seems even more pertinent to this coming election. Highly suggest a listen and overview of the lyrics.

  17. I doubt that the historical Jesus would have been able to conceive of either a representative government or a modern economy. He lived in an outlying province of a empire which was mainly interested in tax collection. The local economy was such that owning two cloaks was a sign of wealth.

    • ummmm…since the “historical Jesus” was also the God who created this universe and everything in, I am pretty sure that HE could understand everything we humans of any age understand. plus about 10 to the gazillinth power more.

      “My thoughts are not your thoughts..”

  18. birdwoman says:

    Thank you Mr. Bubeck for your insightful thoughts!
    Your article is an example of what attracted me to internetmonk – some off-the-beaten-path information.

    WHY should people deemed inferior or subhuman [less than fully human or unhuman] be regarded and treated as human neighbors? Or loved even??

    I have lived my entire life with peoples who are consistently and relentlessly DEHUMANIZED, TRAGICALLY including by countless christians, and often especially by christians.

    The typical christian view on materially poor people is that being materially poor is somehow a character defect, indicates secret sin, and is materially poor peoples` own fault.
    Above all this ugliness, the materially poor are said to be chronically lazy and therefore DESERVE to suffer.

    Plus there is the omnipresent bootstrap theology.
    If someone/anyone is unable to pull THEMSELVES up out of any misfortune [be it material poverty, illness, loss, disaster….] it PROVES they are worthless and deserving of punishment.
    There are plenty of successful folks around who enthusiastically dole out the punishment.
    The meaning of success is to aquire material wealth and power and seeking to expand it.

    Yes, Headless Unicorn Guy [ I like that name], the revenge/retribution/retaliation motive propelling vindictive actions against unacceptable “peoples” is deeply embedded in AngloAmerican culture.

    As far as voting in the upcoming election is concerned, I don`t need to bother.
    I am one of the millions of undesireable “people” who were culled from the voter rolls.
    It`s no problem for me though – I fiercely detest the “lesser of two evils” scenario anyway – whomever I would choose, were I allowed to, would still be evil.

    I am relieved beyond description that Creator Jesus could not be more UNLIKE human beings [those considered trash included] than he is!!!

    • I am sory for you obvious pain…….just wanted to point out that what you describe is primarily the PROTESTANT / Puritan worldview.

  19. Mr. Bubeck,

    There are three critical questions to ask here with reference to your quoting of the Matthew 25:31-46 passage.

    First question, and a most important one: Who are those whom Jesus calls His brothers (and sisters), in the Matthew 25:31-46 passage? Jesus did tell us their identity, and it’s not the generic world – it is not unbelievers, poor, sick, imprisoned, or “least of these” in the world. Nope. It’s Christians – Christ-followers. The command is to the Church about the Church.

    To confirm this we have Jesus’ answer to the crowd in Matthew 12: 48-50, Mark 3: 33-35, and Luke 8:21. Read these passages. His answer automatically eliminates unbelievers because unbelievers do not “do the Father’s will,” nor do they “hear His word and put it into practice.” Hebrews 2: 11-12 also tells us that only followers of Christ are His brothers.

    Second question: How is it that what is done to “the least of these my brothers” is done, simultaneously, to Christ personally? It is because we believers, we Christ followers are members of Christ’s body. He is our Head and we comprise the rest of it. (I Corinthians 12:26-27, Ephesians 5:23 et al).

    On the road to Damascus, Jesus asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?” when Saul was going after Christians to kill them or put them in prison – Acts 9:1-6. Saul was persecuting Christians and Jesus said that as he did that, he, Saul, was, at the same time, persecuting Jesus. To paraphrase – “If you hurt my Body, you hurt Me.” Jesus is making the strongest possible connection between Himself and those who believe in Him. Matthew 10:40 is still another example of Jesus’ trying to make this very clear to us – “He who receives you, receives Me…”

    Third question: What, then, makes a brother in Christ “least”? This answer requires a review of the entire Bible. Throughout Scripture, God is always calling our attention to the “least” – to “little.” Joseph, Gideon, David, shepherds, even Bethlehem itself – all were, to the natural eye, the “least.” For here and now, we can see that those of us in the Church who are NOT rich, or even well-off, or downright poor too, or famous, talented, published, national speakers, national bloggers, pretty, handsome, likeable, loveable, in a certain clique, are counted, by the natural eye, as “least.” It is easy for those who are any or all of the above, to overlook our hurting brothers and sisters in the Lord – and we do, time and time and time again. And in overlooking them, we are overlooking Christ, ipso facto, and He holds us accountable to Him for that. The epistles of John make this still more clear, maybe terrifyingly so. See 1 John, chapters 2 and 3. John juxtaposes lack of love for a brother (in Christ), which results in death, with that of love for a brother (in Christ), which love would reveal that we truly do have life in Christ.

    This Matthew 25:31-46 passage is so commonly abused – such a parroting of untruthful interpretation in order to beat the Church into submission through guilt (false guilt, I might add), as well as a false idea of “social justice,” and to a government that couldn’t care less about truly relieving poverty, hunger and joblessness. It’s utterly naive to think that any secular government has anyone’s but their own best interests (as a powerful demagogue), at heart. More than that, we, in the U.S. increasingly have a government that is turning its back on God on every level – and our current president leads the way. What happens to a nation that turns its back on God and goes its own way according to what it thinks best instead of what God thinks best? Hmmm….just look at the Biblical record to see what happened to any number of tribes and cities and people and nations – nations like Egypt… and Israel.

    You want this country to turn around and truly become a Christian nation once again (yes, as Christian a nation has anyone could hope for in a secular, sinful world) ? Then apply 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 to your own life, and I’ll apply it to mine. It was true at the time of its writing, and it is still true today.

    Our responsibility to the suffering in the Church extends beyond any spatial boundary. We in the U.S (and anywhere else). are just as responsible for our hurting brothers and sisters in Nigeria or South Sudan, or India, or Laos, or Vietnam etc. etc., as we are for those in our local congregations (think Macedonian Christians raising funds for their brethren in Jerusalem). The onlookers to the Early Church had this to say about them: “My, how they love each other!” Jesus said that it was only by our love for each other in the Church that the world (the “outsiders,” the unbelievers), would know that we are truly His disciples (John 13:34-35).

    The Church of Jesus is suffering throughout the world through persecution by governments and religious ideologies that oppose Christ. Christ’s body is being imprisoned falsely – they are sick with no medicine or people to care for them – they are hungry, they are naked. Christians around the world are all of these things. Matthew 25:31-46 applies right here – right now.

    But, ahhh, what about “the neighbor” then? Yes, Christian or no, if you can, you minister to the need of that neighbor – the one in your path – the one you can reach. Help him physically, but also help him spiritually. Show him/her the love of Christ, not only by meeting a need, but also, primarily, showing him/her that they need the salvation of Christ, and that Christ will hear their cries for help when they turn to Him. If you just throw money or goods at people, does that show them Christ, and their need for Him? No. Wise missionaries will tell you that.

    Are you the answer they’ve been waiting for, or is Christ?? Jesus will meet the needs of His people – period. He promised. He can do it supernaturally (manna, quail, ravens, whatever He chooses), or He can do it through His own people – those who follow and love Him – thus the Matthew 25:31-46 instruction and warning. His command to the Church concerning the world is this: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-20. The world needs to call on the name of the Lord and be saved/delivered, not the name of the U.S. government.

    May the Lord give us all “ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Nice sermon, Susan, but I’m not sure how you can assert in the same statement that it is “utterly naive to think that any secular government has anyone’s but their own best interests (as a powerful demagogue), at heart,” while at the same time claiming that it is possible for America to become a Christian nation.

      If America “turned its back” on God, then it must be inferred that there was a time when America was following in His ways. When was this age of Christ-following? When slavery wasn’t an American institution, racism was, or sexism, or homophobia, or xenophobia. America has always had a neglected “least of these,” whether it was the mentally disabled, the poor, people of color, or our veterans. Maybe I’m wrong here, in which case, I am sure you’ll correct me by identifying a “golden age” when this did not happen. Otherwise, expecting America to become a Christian nation is like asking Pizza Hut to start serving breakfast. Sure, they can try, but people who have had real breakfast will know it’s not the real thing.

      • Dear Marcus,
        I could have been more clear on the Christian nation idea. I was thinking especially of the likes of George Washington and every God-fearing, God-honoring president since then, who truly saw beyond themselves to an ideal of a nation that intended to serve the Lord through an honest effort at making good government – good in the sense that they did their best to serve as God intended them to serve as stewards over the generations that succeeded a founding group of persecuted Christian believers who sought refuge here. There were solid Christians in Congress, and the majority of the population went to church (and I am making the assumption that they truly loved the Lord – though I am sure this was not always the case), and the government even paid for Sunday school and its teachers! Oh what a truly auspicious beginning we had! Yes, I know that even the “good” guys did not always perfectly follow Christ’s teachings. But, we live and discuss, and listen and learn from each other, and hopefully get good teaching that stays true to God’s Word to us, and we grow accordingly.

        Thus, the good thing about such forums as these.

        I know that not everyone at any time in America has been Christian, and thus many ugly and ungodly things have occurred here, but I look to the whole, especially to leaders, as those who help define who we are as a nation by the integrity and humility of their leadership and their pointed reference that acknowledges God, who is our only hope. I look at the people who do generously give of their time and talents to help wherever they can and are able. This is our heritage; yes, a Christian heritage.

        There’s always more to say, and the need for more time to say it, carefully, thoughtfully. I’ll just close by repeating 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ve had glimmers of this, but it looks pretty dim now. But, I won’t lose hope. I hope you don’t either. Now, I will go on to answer my friend, Craig. He’s pretty angry at me, so I’d appreciate your prayers for a good and humble reply.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Repeating 2 Chronicles 7:14 may not be your best defense here. Bear in mind that verse was part of God’s response to Solomon, in the context of God’s direct endorsement of the kingdom of Israel. Nothing in that verse said that “if any nation, present or future” humble themselves, then God will “heal their land.” As a matter of fact, Jesus himself disavowed the possibility of endorsing a nation (check out his conversation with Pilate in John 18; i.e., “my kingdom is not of this world”).

        As for calling our presidents “God-fearing” and “God-honoring,” I would suggest that is not a claim that we can either prove or disprove, given the evidence that we have before us. Most of their writings acknowledged the presence of God, but that’s all external stuff. There were a lot of churchgoers, but it is pretty naive to use that as evidence of a once-Christian nation. Christianity was part of the culture just like water is part of the ocean, but just because someone is dripping wet with ocean water, doesn’t mean they can drink the water (i.e., just because it surrounds him, it doesn’t mean it’s inside him). There is always an aspect of people’s personal spiritual identity that we cannot examine, hence verses like 1 Samuel 16:7. It’s best to leave the assertions about a person’s or society’s faith to God.

        By the way, not to disappoint, but defining America by our heroes-made-legends dismisses the truth about our nation’s history. The truth about America is very disheartening, but it’s better than pretending that America was actually conceived as a utopia.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          By the way, there was a lot of proof-texting in that last post. I’m doing way too much typing to explain the context of these verses, so just chalk it up to laziness.

    • A patently false interpretation according to immediate and broad Gospel context—and an embarrassingly shameful and bitter loophole for which too many of us evangelicals will desperately search. I’m all too familiar with such proof-texting of Matt. 12 and Mark 3—they do not relate (you can’t have your literal cake and eat it too, else mothers and sisters cannot be included in Jesus’ Matt. 25 caution, and salvation must be broadly applied to anyone who does the will of the Father). Just as “sons of God” or “children of God” are used variously throughout Scripture, sometimes referring to believers, sometimes to humanity, sometimes even to angels, “brothers” has to be understood in its context here: i.e., all the world, whom God so love. Otherwise, perhaps James 1:27 (“religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”) should be taken as an exception to—when it comes to non-believers (those who are not “brothers”), your God apparently does want us to make an exception by caring for widows and orphans, even though they are not brothers per their faith, let alone gender (in the widow’s case).

      When we all face the Master, I don’t think the bleats of goats pleading is going to be very convincing: “But I heard you say we should only be loving our Christian brothers, not the world. . . . They’re your problem, your people, not one of us. I had ears to hear well enough, as long as your Spirit was directing me to love my own kind. That’s what I heard, anyway.”

      • No, dear brother, not a patently false interpretation whatsoever (and I will count you as my brother even though you inferred that I was following a different God than you). No, there is no loophole here, and neither is there desperation. You have misrepresented me and the position I have taken, especially in the final quote of your first post. Where do I begin to address this?

        Let’s take another look at the Matthew 25 passage as you interpreted it. I overused a comma in my original statement concerning this verse, and also omitted the words, “who are.” It should have thus read, “Jesus did tell us their identity [the Matthew 25 folks], and it’s not the generic world – it is not unbelievers who are poor, sick, imprisoned, or “least of these” in the world.”

        But you’re interpreting this to mean that just because someone is in jail, or hospitalized, or naked or hungry, that they are automatically identified by Jesus as His “brothers” or that they are, indeed, Jesus Himself. So, rapists, thieves and murderers (making the assumption that these are imprisoned), and people who shake their fists at God, and deny Him, despite their illnesses which have landed them on the sickbed, are then, Jesus’ brothers and are metaphorically Him? Because if you take this section of Scripture, and say that Jesus is speaking of the world of unbelievers here, or including unbelievers, that’s what you end up with. That’s why I am asking you to reconsider your interpretation of this verse as that which should motivate Christians to do good works in the world and to believe that they should do these things because Jesus calls such people His brothers, and that they are, in reality ministering to Him. That is the “patently false interpretation.” If you want to show Christians that they are called to do ministry to the world, then, even as I said in my 11th paragraph of my first post, “neighbor” is the prerequisite for the good works to the world. Of course I had the Good Samaritan event in mind, as well as a whole host of other Scriptures, even Galatians 6:10; “So, then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” You see? Again, it starts with our first obligation to each other as members of Christ’s body, the Church, but it doesn’t preclude helping/loving neighbor. I don’t know how to make this more clear to you. The only ones who are identified by Jesus as being a part of Himself, as being part of His Body, is His Church. That’s it. That interpretation alone is true to the whole counsel of Scripture. To paraphrase again, “If you hurt My body, you hurt Me.” “If you minister to My body, you minister to Me.”

        This is no loophole. On the contrary, what is laid out here is much harder to live out. The hardest thing of all, I think, is to love your enemies and to do good to those who persecute you. The next hardest thing to do is to be a servant to take care of those in the Church who are hurting; and I’m not talking about ministering to your “friends” at church, or those who have influence and a good position in the congregation. No, I’m talking about, as I believe Jesus is talking about, those who are less than lovely – less popular, maybe handicapped, lame, blind, deaf, poor, so needy, so in need of a brother or sister in Christ to come alongside them and minister to them to help relieve their suffering; and by those actions we are then ministering to Jesus Himself because we are ministering to His Body. That’s where our profession of Christian faith becomes the rubber that meets the road.

        Gender inclusivity is inherently understood when it comes to the use of “man,” “mankind” or “brothers,” in the Scriptures. So, when Jesus speaks of “brothers,” it automatically includes both genders. So, yes, these Scriptures (Matthew 12: 48-50 and Mark 3: 33-35) are certainly compatible and help interpret the Matthew 25 passage, as does Hebrews 2:11-12. My goodness, if we were just to understand that “brothers” is for men only, then we women are shut out of most of the context of the Scriptures. No, “brothers” is we sisters too. And no, in no way is the use of the term “brothers” to be understood to include unbelievers – ever. That is a huge error. Jesus dealt with a foundational aspect of this in John 8:31-47. We are all certainly God’s creation, but we are not all God’s children. That’s why Jesus came – to bring us to the Father who loved us so much, “while we were yet sinners,” so that we can finally become sons and daughters of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 et al). So go, and make disciples, teaching them…..

    • Then of course there is the central (to my essay) Luke 10 passage with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The one Jesus lifted up as a neighbor was the heretical non-believer–by modern evangelical standards, this non-brother would be analogous to a Mormon or a J.W. Yet such a demonstration even by a profane outcast is Jesus’ choice illustration of the kind of neighborliness that should be practiced by those who want to “inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25).

      • See reply directly above your last post – that is if my post passes the muster of “moderation” by the website owner, as I was informed.

        • We’re going to have to agree to disagree on how this passage should be interpreted and applied. I think the difference is more than academic. In many regards, your stance is exactly the kind of rationale that I think is what is so wrong with the church. I hope I’m wrong about the implications of your stance.

          Please accept my response-in-kind in the true spirit of generosity that I intend (and the tone of my writing accordingly):

          First, to your point:

          //So, rapists, thieves and murderers (making the assumption that these are imprisoned), and people who shake their fists at God, and deny Him, despite their illnesses which have landed them on the sickbed, are then, Jesus’ brothers and are metaphorically Him? Because if you take this section of Scripture, and say that Jesus is speaking of the world of unbelievers here, or including unbelievers, that’s what you end up with.//

          Exactly my point—yes. Neighbors are not only believers in your proximity—they are Samaritans to Jews, apostates even. Neighbors are whomever God places in your proximity, regardless of faith. You are to love EVERYONE and ANYONE in this world, all of whom “God so loves.”

          //That’s why I am asking you to reconsider your interpretation of this verse as that which should motivate Christians to do good works in the world and to believe that they should do these things because Jesus calls such people His brothers, and that they are, in reality ministering to Him.//

          It is disappointing that you should actually express in written word the exact ramifications of your argument, and insist upon its meaning so—that Christians should not be motivated to do good works in the world, because non-believers are not Christ’s brothers.

          // even Galatians 6:10; “So, then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” You see? Again, it starts with our first obligation to each other as members of Christ’s body, the Church, but it doesn’t preclude helping/loving neighbor. //

          It starts with the church, yes—but the modern evangelical church’s fault (especially its political one) is in the ending with our human brothers and sisters outside. You present a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or—if you love Christ and you love his body, you must love the neighbors and political enemies even, whom he loves unconditionally and without exception.

          //I don’t know how to make this more clear to you. The only ones who are identified by Jesus as being a part of Himself, as being part of His Body, is His Church. That’s it. //

          I sympathize. I also don’t know how to make this clearer to you. Jesus said nothing about his body in this passage. He spoke of “brothers.” Your false assumption is that they must be one and the same. If Christ intended this to be in reference to his church alone or his body alone, he would have specified as much. Instead, he calls his people to love even the least of their fellow human brothers. And as Christ is fully man, they are his brothers.

          //This is no loophole. On the contrary, what is laid out here is much harder to live out. The hardest thing of all, I think, is to love your enemies and to do good to those who persecute you. The next hardest thing to do is to be a servant to take care of those in the Church who are hurting; //

          I don’t agree with the second hardest. I think it is much harder to be loving to the broken and outcast and the pariah, who are not part of the body of Christian fellowship, and who are not part of society for that matter. (Just compare loving the local Gossip in your fellowship to loving the Gay prostitute or the Planned Parenthood abortionist.)

          Flip back 20 chapters to Matthew 5, where Jesus actually makes the statement about loving your enemies. These “enemies” are not merely those who despise and attack us—they are the outsiders from faith: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:43-48).

          The way we are called to have God’s perfection is in terms of motive for love, not legalistic practice. If you love only those who are like minded “brothers,” then . . . and here’s the point: “what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Love for brothers in faith is nothing remarkable in terms of what God calls perfect love. Because we count brethren as those who are like-minded, and all else are enemies who are far more difficult to love.

          But Christ counts all humans brethren to be loved unconditionally, and he challenges us to be similarly remarkable and perfect with regard to such love, rather than imperfect and compromising and conditional in our love. Remember John’s clarification of just how Christ modeled love? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That is, he loved us when we were unbelievers—he loved us when (by your standards) we were not his brothers. So much so that he died sacrificially, even for many who would never accept his sacrifice . . . who would never become (as you would have it) brothers. In fact, it was only because of his preemptive love that we are able to requite it. If we cannot love those who are not your exclusive brothers, they cannot become brothers . . . even though they are Christ’s brothers, and therein Christ himself (effectively).

          // No, I’m talking about, as I believe Jesus is talking about, those who are less than lovely – less popular, maybe handicapped, lame, blind, deaf, poor, so needy, so in need of a brother or sister in Christ to come alongside them and minister to them to help relieve their suffering; and by those actions we are then ministering to Jesus Himself because we are ministering to His Body. That’s where our profession of Christian faith becomes the rubber that meets the road.//

          We are to love the “less popular, handicapped, lame, blind, deaf, poor, and those so in need of a brother or sister in Christ” regardless of their faith. In fact, how could we even presume to judge one’s salvation anyway. Just how would you go about identifying which poor and broken are brothers and which are not? Do you ask the man in the soup line if he’s a Christian, before you pour the ladle? Jesus is saying we must love fellow humans (brothers), regardless of their faith, and in doing so we are loving him . . . loving God, as we love neighbors.

          //And no, in no way is the use of the term “brothers” to be understood to include unbelievers – ever. That is a huge error.//

          No, the error is yours. And lest I seem to be putting too fine a point on the matter and arguing semantics . . . this is a profoundly important error. It is indeed how the rubber of our faith meets the road. Christians who practice a so-called faith that is primarily about loving their own, with little care for the world, are very much in danger of what James so vigorously warns against: dead faith without works . . . “goat” faith, per Matt. 25 (the goats did call the master “Lord.”) This error may be one of the most profound mistakes of modernist evangelicalism.

          Scriptures use “brothers” and “sons of God” and “children of God” variously throughout. Genesis 6 uses “sons of God” to refer to the Nephelim, while in Matthew 5 it is Peacemakers, and only in Gal. 3:26 is it specifically used to refer to those who have faith in Christ Jesus. In John 1 “children of God” refers to believers who follow Christ (v. 12), but 10 chapters later John uses the description to refer to Jews (11:52). Meaning is not accomplished by prooftexting and legalistic nit picking (as if “Oh, Jesus only meant love brother Christians, not anyone else”).

          Meaning is always understood in context. And if nothing else, the context of the whole of the Gospels should inform us that Jesus clearly intends for us to love the people of this world, not merely our neighborly religious faithful.