You know that people tend to live merely in the service of their own success. Those who know nothing but prosperity and pleasure become hard and shallow. Those whose prosperity has been mixed with adversity can be kind and gracious.
And civilization, from a heavenly point of view, is only a slow process of learning to be kind.
~William Sloane Coffin

Politics

This “Politics” category will look at politics in terms of the message of Jesus and the Bible. You are encouraged to write comments, and if nothing is offensive, we will approve them for others to respond to as well.  It is definitely okay to disagree with us, just, please, don’t be offensive!

God Bless America?

I’ll probably never forget a few years ago when members of the U.S. Congress stood outside and sang together the song “God Bless America.” At the time I was filled with a great sense of patriotism for our country. However, as I have thought about this over the past few years, I have come to believe that this was a bit narrow-minded.

I recall the passage from Acts 3:25 in which Peter, speaking to an assembly of Israelites, recalls the covenant that God made with Abraham:

You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (NRSV)

“Families” in this context means “nations.” Therefore, Peter is reminding his hearers and us that God promises to bless not only Israel or America but ALL nations of the earth.

Some would say that some nations of this world do not “deserve” God’s blessings, and I couldn’t disagree more. These nations that we deem to not “deserve” God’s blessings need God’s blessings as much or more than we do in order to help them become the people God would have them (and us) to be. That is the wonderful story of grace – getting what we DON’T deserve. Plus, if we say that WE, as citizens of the United States, DO deserve God’s blessings, aren’t we being a bit prideful? Aren’t we tooting our own horns? Aren’t we being like the Pharisees who felt that WHAT we do determines whether or not we receive God’s blessings?

How powerful it would be for our nation to stand together and sing a song to the world that has the line GOD BLESS THE WORLD! Let us all join together to sing and pray for God’s blessings on all the nations of the earth. If need be, maybe we can strive to be channels of God’s grace, taking God’s blessings to the world!

(Originally posted at http://theology-of-t-roy.blogspot.com/2005/07/god-bless-america.html on July 2, 2005)


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Religion & Politics Don’t Mix?

Really? Are you sure?

I have heard this phrase all my life, and until very recently, I even believed it – until I did a closer study of Scripture.

Let’s think about the Exodus. This is about political salvation of the “nation” of Israel – not personal salvation. Slavery is a political issue when it is mandated by the government, which it was in this story. As the story goes, God provided salvation from a political government’s oppression. When we look closely at the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we can see that the law we are told God gives to Moses is a set of laws to guide the “nation” of Israel. “Thou shalt not murder,” is no different than the political law provided by the government of the United States today.

When we look at Joshua, we see the Israelite nation claiming the promised land for their own political nation. Judges shows a nation trying to make it under the law of Moses without a human king, and repeatedly, we are told that God has to come rescue the Israelites from political oppression of other nations through a judge. 1 & 2 Samuel shows us the transition from the system of judges with God ruling the nation to having an earthly king – first Saul, then David, and so on. 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles really do not focus on individual people but on the history of the kings of both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Occasionally, we’ll see the entrance of a prophet, such as Elijah or Elisha, but their main purpose is to reform the king, the political nation and not the people of the nation.

Many of the psalms are about political need and political conquest, not just personal needs. The prophets are focused, again, on reforming wayward kings who have led the nation into dire straits. The hope is to bring the nation out of its slump and / or exile to be a strong political nation again.

Many will say, “Yeah, but that’s the Old Testament. It’s different in the New Testament.” Well, first of all, are these people saying that the Old Testament is not inspired? Why not just throw it out then? Second of all, we must never forget that Jesus was called the “Messiah” or “Christ,” the anointed one to redeem the NATION of Israel!

We must remember that “Messiah” literally means “anointed one.” Therefore, every political king that ever sat on the throne of Israel or Judah was a “messiah” because each one was “anointed.” If Jesus was the Messiah, we cannot overlook these political connotations that come with the title!

1 Thessalonians is probably the oldest New Testament writing we have, and it probably comes from the hand of the Apostle Paul. Let’s look at the first verse of this book:

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (NRSV, emphasis added)

We do not realize it today, but “Lord” is a political term on top of being a religious term. It comes from the Greek word kyrios. Caesar Augustus had brought peace to Rome following the civil wars that ensued after the assasination of Julius Caesar. From that time on, emperors of Rome were considered to be gods! One of the titles for these emperors (who were understood to be gods) was kyrios, lord. By Paul calling Jesus, “Lord,” Paul is making a political, as well as a religious, statement!

As much as we try to deny it, Jesus was a political figure and some of his concerns were political. For example, let’s look at a passage from the sermon on the mount:

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42, NRSV)

Jesus’ first statement, “turn the other cheek,” has to do with one’s social status in the world. In 1st century Judaism, the left hand was considered unclean and could only be used for activities such as wiping oneself. Therefore, in order for someone to hit me on the right cheek, that person MUST back-hand me with the right, because they cannot use the left hand! That is a sign of derision saying, “I’m better than you!” By allowing someone to, then, strike me on the left cheek, I am forcing that person to strike me as an equal. I am declaring that in God’s eyes, I am an equal to this person who thinks they are better than me. Some will say, “That’s not very political.” True, but let’s look at the next two statements.

“If someone wants to sue you. . . . ” This is a part of the political process allowed by the government. Jesus’ response to this statement is to “give them your cloak as well.” Why? In Jewish society of the 1st century, it was deemed to be worse to cause someone’s nakedness or to see someone’s nakedness than be naked. Therefore, Jesus is inviting his hearers to “work the political system” to show one’s value and worth!

Similarly, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go also the second!” This, also, has to do with a political situation of the 1st century. Per Roman rule, Roman soldiers could force anyone in the kingdom to carry their pack for one mile, but ONLY one mile. They could be punished for having someone carry it farther than that. Thus, Jesus is, again, asking his hearers to “work the political system.” Imagine this picture: A soldier forces a Jewish peasant to carry is pack one mile. After one mile, the peasant keeps going. Knowing that he could be punished, this Roman soldier (who is deemed to be more important than this peasant) has to BEG the lowly peasant to give up the pack. This is known today as “passive resistance.” This same type of political resistance has been employed by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.!

We must also not forget one of the most common phrases on the lips of Jesus: the kingdom of God / heaven. He doesn’t talk about the family of God or the people of God.  He talks about the KINGDOM of God, and “kingdom” is a political term.  In these instances, Jesus is asking us to choose between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. Where does our allegiance really lie? Are we really seeking the furtherance of the kingdom of God or our own kingdoms?

When we really think about it, it is this question that led to the Jewish leaders bringing Jesus before Pilate for sentencing. These leaders used the issue of Jesus calling for proper allegiance to God above Caesar to encourage Pilate to sentence him to death, even if they do stretch the story a bit:

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:1-2, NRSV)

Yes, religion and politics do not mix when one’s goal is to further the earthly kingdom and not God’s kingdom. Yet, if we are truly seeking to be active citizens of God’s kingdom, we will properly use politics and other means to further that kingdom. When we are truly member of God’s kingdom, politics become a good and useful thing – not a bad thing!

(Originally posted at http://theology-of-t-roy.blogspot.com/2005/04/religion-and-politics-dont-mix.html on April 12, 2005)


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