Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Throughout the Bible, there are incidents where foreign kings and officials interact with God’s people; whether it be Pharaoh of Egypt, Cyrus of Persia, or Caesar himself, these men typically believe themselves to be in ultimate control of their own destiny. But they are included in the Scriptures to demonstrate that all people and all things are subject to the will of God, and are disposed according to His design. The Roman governor Felix, whom we see in the later chapters of the book of Acts, is another such individual.

In Acts 23 and 24, the Apostle Paul is being hounded and hunted by the Jewish officials in Jerusalem. Having declared a religious war on those who follow the Way of Jesus, they now must deal with the “defection” of one of their most formidable inquisitors, Saul of Tarsus; who has been transformed by an encounter with Christ into a new creation, the Apostle Paul. Paul has traveled far and wide across Asia Minor, spreading the good news of Jesus raised from the dead and promising forgiveness of sin and eternal life; things in opposition to contemporary Jewish teachings. The Jews wish Paul dead, nothing less, and attack him in public. This forces the involvement of the local Roman authorities, who step in to quell civil unrest. Upon learning of a plot to ambush and murder Paul, the commander orders him sent to appear before the provincial governor, Felix.

Felix is a consummate politician; he is familiar with the social structures of the province he rules over (he is in fact married to a Jewish woman), and knows that Paul’s conflicts with the high priest do not involve Roman criminal law; he therefore has no compelling reason to find fault. He does have, on the other hand, an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the religious authorities in Jerusalem (helpful in preserving peace, which is one of his most prominent duties to Rome), as well as the potential of receiving a payoff to deliver a suitable verdict on Paul’s behalf (helpful for living a comfortable lifestyle, one of his prominent duties to himself). Felix finds himself in an ambiguous place, uncertain of how to proceed, but aware of the dangers of choosing wrongly;  this becomes strikingly clear to him as Paul speaks about righteousness and the coming judgement – a time where every man will be held accountable for the choices he has made. Felix is not a bold man, he is a cautious  man, and has governed according to what was best for Felix, rather than seeking truth and justice in his administration; he is not thrilled to learn of a time when he will be required to answer for himself. In typical bureaucratic style, he therefore makes no decision whatsoever, and keeps Paul in custody for over two years, until he is finally replaced by another governor.

I am not thrilled to learn of a time coming where all my choices will require an accounting; I know I have acted selfishly, more than not; or given in to anger, fear, greed…any number of weaknesses. I do have something, though, that Felix apparently did not possess – I have hope; the hope that comes from a faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; hope that forgiveness of sin is available to me through His atonement; hope that in Him, I will stand before God and be accounted as washed in the Blood of the Lamb, white as snow; and be welcomed into my Father’s rest. Thus, I can make decisions; I can take risks; I can declare what I believe to be true without concern for how others will receive me. Because He lives, I no longer have to be afraid!

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

– Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

For an author who derided the concept that moral virtue was a necessary condition for an enduring government,  Machiavelli does on occasion offer advice that all leaders would do well to remember. Here, he is referring to a prince who has newly come into his power, and is in the early stages of consolidating his base…but temperance, prudence and humanity ought to be the hallmarks of any person who would take on a position of authority, don’t you agree?

I have public conversations on Facebook now and then with a young man who attended our church as a teenager, but has since grown up, moved into the workforce and adult life (with a grace and ease that leaves me a little rueful, thinking back on my time in his place)…and declared himself an atheist. He is very intelligent, and has taken the time to think out his positions, so our “debates” are a challenge for both of us, since we seem to agree on quite a few issues. From what he says, it appears that we only differ on the existence and necessity of the God of the Christian Bible- I affirm both, he denies both. He especially abhors what he calls the “arrogance of Christianity” : the exclusive nature of the Gospel, that Jesus is “The Way, The Truth, The Life.” This resentment (that is what is feels like, coming from him) most often shines out in the realm of politics and personal freedoms…most recently expressed by the statement, “The last thing we need is someone who imposes Christian values on a nation that’s non-Christian.” He later asserts that seeing “In God We Trust” on money is hateful to him, disrespecting his right to NOT trust in God; as well as a government endorsement of a particular religion, and therefore un-Constitutional.

Here is one of those situations where I find myself in agreement with an idea on its face, but not for the same reasons. Other comments in the thread attempted to “defend”  God’s name, both on the currency and as a valid political justification to legislate morality, because the United States  is a Christian nation. Perversely, I find myself arguing against them! So how does it follow that a Christian apologist is agreeing with an affirmed atheist? Let’s look at the beginning of the argument, and examine our premises…where are we starting from, and who is “we”?

The phrase “In God We Trust” seems to originate in the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner”, written by Francis Scott Key and inspired by the War of 1812, where it appears in the fourth stanza. Key intends his readers to understand that “we” in this case are the people inside Fort McHenry – waiting, and surely praying, as British warships rained artillery upon them. This motto would be their song of praise to God who saved and preserved them, and appropriated His grace as validation of their cause. The motto was added to US currency during the Civil War, again as a claim of God’s endorsement; this time “we” were the Northern Union, battling the “godless heathens” of the South. So we see that no real reverence or piety is involved – merely political expediency and “spin”. The identity of “we” changes according to who is in power at the moment, and any claims to the contrary overlook a vital truth: Governments are agencies of the world, and while they serve God (often unwillingly; but see Pharaoh in the Old Testament) by no means do they worship Him – they exist to worship themselves, and cause others to do so as well. The REAL problem with thinking that America is a “Christian nation” is that there is no such thing.The bible tells us to honor and obey those who rule over us – nowhere does it tell believers to BE the rulers. Any attempt to blend the two will inevitably lead to compromise…and compromise is something conspicuously absent in how God deals with His creation. So, I agree with my friend that this is not a Christian nation.

So what about the other half of his statement, which rails against the imposition of Christian values upon said secular nation? Who is the “we” now? In common usage, I believe it applies to those who identify themselves first as “Americans”, citizens of the United States.  My response? Here, I have to give my least-favorite answer: yes, and no. Since the primary role of government is to impose some kind of morality (my friend leans Libertarian and would probably not agree with that assessment) the quibble seems to be semantics regarding the source of the values to be imposed.  As a Christian, I believe that morality is a reflection of the essential goodness of God; that His expression of that goodness is what we call “Love”; and that participation in loving behavior is by definition voluntary, not coerced or imposed. (I have no idea where atheists think morality comes from, if not from God; or what would make any moral code worth adhering to, but that is a different post.)

I do not despise or dislike this nation. I am well aware of the specially blessed way of life we enjoy, relatively free from hardship and persecution. I wish no evil to befall this or any other administration – what hurts them, also hurts me. But my true citizenship is not here. It is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I am here as a foreign national on a resident visa, and someday I will be going home. I am glad of that and await the day – this world is fallen, and the best thing to do while we are waiting is love everyone, help all we can, and stay out of the rest; be in the world, not of the world (see here and here). And that is what I intend to do, with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul, and all my strength. I will not try to tell you what to do, but if you let me, I will be happy to explain why I do what I do. Care to hear it?

Following hard after Him,

Nick

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

Elections in this country seem to be the only time that people want to discuss some of the basic assumptions that we operate on a a nation, and this election cycle is no different. The United States is involved in wars, police actions, military interventions…whatever name you want to call them…all over the world, and the politicians are making as much hay from this fact as they can, with both sides claiming to “support the troops” but also trumpeting the need to “protect America’s interests” at home and abroad.

I am no peacenik radical who feels that all things martial are by definition evil; at the same time, I have a real problem with the idea that the best way to serve and protect a nation necessarily involves asking my government to give me a gun and send me to a foreign land with permission to kill people we choose to call “the enemy”. That just doesn’t sound like what Jesus had in mind when He addresses His audience in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-44 –

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

So here is the forum topic for this week:  Should Christians volunteer for military service? Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Friday Forum

Posted: September 7, 2012 in Friday Forum
Tags: , , , , ,

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

 

So we have seen both the Democratic and Republican national conventions; the nominees are in and have accepted; and we are on the last leg of the race to the White House. And you know what? I find myself simply unable to care very much about any of it. I used to be rabidly political…a Reagan Republican in high school and college, becoming disillusioned during Bush 41’s term and switching to the other side (and I still think Clinton was a great President, regardless of his personal foibles). But as I grow spiritually, and learn more about the Kingdom of heaven and what it means to be a citizen there,  it is becoming more and more easy to leave “the world” to its own devices, and ignore the rancor, the name-calling, and all the rest of it on the TV. I have no plans to vote in any election again, I do not campaign for any candidate, and in all honesty, I just don’t care. I do not think that as a Christ-follower, I should even want to participate.  Am I alone in this, or do others out there feel the same? Here is the forum topic for this week:  Should Christians be concerned about participating in government, or focus on helping real people instead? Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

 

Following hard after Him,

Nicky