Monday, December 10, 2012

Internal Conflict

For several years I have tried to remove myself from the political process.  When I was a political science student and a part-time preacher as well as holding down a full-time job that depended in large part on sound, responsible public policy, I found my preaching to have been substantially influenced by my political inclinations and my disdain for government run amuck.  I was soon compelled to make a decision and choose politics or religion because I found that, at least for myself, I could not do both.  Though I still consider myself a news junkie, I will often scan headlines more than I will immerse myself in the stories themselves.  I prefer my life as a preacher, an aspiring theologian, and a committed disciple of Messiah Jesus, imperfect though I certainly am.

This does not mean I have completely detached from the political process.  Though some may suggest I cannot be a responsible voter unless I am fully informed about the ins and outs of the political process and the issues, I nevertheless do the best I can with what is available for my perusal.  My commitment, however, is to the Lord; and I have discovered that our Lord does not have leanings toward the Republican Party platform OR the Democratic Party platform.  If anything, it grieves our Lord that any politician or political party would attempt to invoke the Holy Name for its own purposes ("You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain").  In point of fact, I have come to better appreciate the Jewish tradition of not even uttering the Holy Name outside of the worship setting lest we lose reverence and awe of "Hashem" (the Name).

Writer Rachel Held Evans stated in a recent blog post, "We end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says."  So it is with politics.  In my humble opinion, public policy (actually not unlike religious philosophy) is a moving target.  "For the good of the country" is no more a forethought of Americans in general than "for the good of the Church" is for Christians.  We are all more inclined these days, it seems, to "getting mine first".  In the realm of "individual rights", we have become convinced that these rights trump all others.

And I say that to say this: we are faced with an inept Congress (my opinion) and a formerly detached and now incredibly arrogant president (my own observation, of course) all working not toward responsible public policy but toward the next election with all plans and policies geared toward "taking control".  Our own Arkansas governor recently stated at the Arkansas Democratic Party's winter convention that their focus must necessarily be on regaining their "losses" after the state's Republican Party gained control of both houses of the state's legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.  Apparently having the Republicans in control is a "bad thing" (and I'm sure Democrats would agree) just as Republicans will agree that Democrats in control of anything is a "bad thing" regardless of the stated will of the people.  Surely it can be easily seen that neither side is interested in public policy; they are interested only in their own policies and platforms.  And sadly, each side makes subtle and sometimes overt attempts to invoke the Almighty as being on "their" side.

Does the Bible support political values?  Can political values affirm biblical values?  For that matter, as Ms. Evans stated, can any one of us adequately define "biblical" values useful in the public realm?  In other words, can "Caesar" and YHWH be successfully assimilated?  Jesus refused to take sides and even seemed to go so far as to distinctly separate the two: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21).    

Yet St. Peter and St. Paul seem to agree that the "governing authorities" derive their authority from YHWH.  St. Paul says, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God" (Romans 13:1), and St. Peter admonishes us to "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (1 Peter 2:13).  Both passages, of course, must be read in their own contexts because neither, in my opinion, grants divine (absolute) authority to these "rulers" ("representatives" in our American context) but rather supports and promotes public safety and the "general welfare" of the people.

These passages become problematic, however, when such "hot button" social issues as same-gender marriage and abortion become public policy.  There are many conservative Christians who cannot - will not - abide by infanticide (abortion on demand), and these same Christians cannot in good conscience support same-gender marriage.  Count me among these, for the record.  In my own opinion and according to my best understanding with a sense of compassion for those who feel compelled toward abortion for whatever reason or inclined toward same-gender relationships, neither can be justified biblically without substantial "insertions", independent "assumptions", "reading between the lines", or dismissing the "antiquity" altogether.

Therein, I think, lays the danger because in the public realm, it does not really matter what I personally or theologically or politically think.  It matters, however, what I think in the Church.  It matters what I believe in the Church not only as a preacher and pastor but also as a disciple in fellowship with other pastors, preachers, and disciples.  It matters in the realm of the Almighty whose Kingdom is yet to come but whose realm is universal and eternal.  What I think and believe matters within the context of understanding - and helping others to understand - that we cannot have our cake and eat it, too.  One must choose "this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15).  For the people of the Holy Covenant, the choice is clear.  

No comments: