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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Bible is not a public policy manual!

By Aaron D. Taylor

My pastor and I have a friendly tiff going on. He says that Jesus was strictly a-political; therefore Christians should abstain from politics completely. I say that Jesus challenged violent, poverty-inducing, socio-political structures throughout his life and ministry; therefore Christians have a duty to advocate for peace and to speak out for the poor and the oppressed. Both of us are hardheaded, and neither of us cedes much in our debates, but we always walk away as friends, because at the end of the day there’s a key component to the discussion that we both agree on: The Bible is not a public policy manual!

I realize that might feel like an outrageous statement to some. After all, the first five books of the Bible are commonly referred to as the “Books of the Law.” These books contain legal codes that governed the every-day life of the ancient children of Israel, ranging from personal hygiene to how to prosecute thieves and murderers. Furthermore, the Hebrew prophets railed against the kings of their day for making “unjust laws” and “oppressive decrees” (Isaiah 10:1), implying that there is such a thing as an unjust law—and woe to the legislators who write them!

Over and over the Scriptures reveal a God who cares deeply about the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, yet strangely the man who Christians believe embodies the will of God in action (Jesus) refused to take sides in the bitter partisan divisions of His day. Jesus welcomed both zealots and tax collectors as members of his inner circle. And when two brothers asked Jesus to solve an inheritance dispute, He responded by saying, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). If Jesus intended his followers to establish themselves as the moral guardians of society, He had a funny way of showing it.

The pattern continues with the Apostle Paul. The indisputable case for followers of Jesus not involving themselves in judging those outside the Church comes from a passage in I Corinthians 5:12-13, where Paul says, “ What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” Paul clearly established a demarcation between Christians judging matters within the community of believers (allowed) and matters outside the community of believers (not allowed). At the very least, this suggests that Christians who think they can impose what they perceive as “Biblical values” on secular society are—more often than not— wrong. There’s simply no way to translate the Bible into concrete public policy, at least not without a considerable degree of ambiguity.

For example, most of my conservative friends are convinced that they have a Biblical mandate to outlaw abortion and gay marriage, even though abortion is only mentioned once in Scripture, and the reference is—oddly—the Prophet Jeremiah cursing the man at his mother’s side for not aborting him! (Jeremiah 20:14-18)…and gay marriage was hardly an issue on the radar in Biblical times. The Laws of Leviticus prescribe a massive redistribution of wealth every 50 years by canceling people’s debts and restoring property to original owners, yet many Christians are convinced—right or wrong— that justice for the poor is a matter of individual charity alone, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is duped by the devil. And while we’re talking about what’s Biblical and what’s not Biblical, why isn’t anyone suggesting that America as a nation love its enemies and turn the other cheek?

Come to think of it, maybe my pastor is right for refusing to use the power of the pulpit to trumpet a political agenda. I live in San Juan County, New Mexico, a place where the average evangelical pastor is about 20 degrees to the right of Rush Limbaugh, yet at Sunrise Christian Church; I’ve never heard a sermon that could be misconstrued as a cleverly disguised political endorsement—and the congregation is better off for it.

Because my pastor refuses to drag the church into the bitter divides of the culture war, there exists a wide diversity of political and theological persuasions within the congregation. People can walk into church and feel genuinely welcomed as they are, without having to conform to some mind-numbing group think. As a member of the worship team, I look out into the congregation every Sunday and see people with vastly different political, cultural, and theological beliefs, all worshiping God. It’s refreshing!

Pastor David, even though I tease you with my Talking Tom app, telling you that neutrality always benefits the oppressor and never the oppressed, the reality is I’m glad that you’ve created an atmosphere at the church where nothing is more important than Jesus Christ and him crucified. As you know, my wife and I and our two boys are moving to Albuquerque this year. Thank you for being there when we needed it the most.

We’re really going to miss you.


David said...

Even though I disagree with you on the role of politics & the church, I must say your arguments are most convincing coming from "Talking Tom."

Thank you for your warm words of encouragement!

Mick Sheldon said...

Not sure if Child molestation or abuse is in the Bible , not sure why Christians should be criticized for standing up for the unborn . Not sure of a worse child abuse then abortion . If a non religious person was pro life based on their own morality , would that be wrong ? Growing up in my neighborhood we knew when to come home when the street lights came on . It was not because of the religious right or left, or red letter Christians showing their tolerance and ridicule of their so called brothers and sisters beliefs that kept neighborhoods safe , it was moms and a dads. They protected our kids , protected their innocence when ever possible , unified in looking out for their own children , and a morality that promoted moms and ads as being important . Perhaps killing the unborn and supporting liberal views that support marriage laws that undermine the emphasis put on moms and dads , but it is clear to me if you love God , you love the life he created , if you love God , you understand the mom and ad , his design is what keeps us safer then other designs . II would think the better editorial would be to explain how you can Love God and not support Pro Life or pro marriage beliefs . That would help us understand our liberal brothers better , they seem so caught up in being like and loved by the world .

Anonymous said...

I have just read Mick's comments above and ask you mick if u r truly interested in others people's comments or banging on about your own prejudices? Who r u to judge choices that loving and lovely people make? There r far greater problems in this world than abortion ... Like real child abuse after they leave womb... Get proactive about protecting the born child mick and perhaps enjoy Aaron's blog

Gerry from Australia said...

I have just watched the doco by Stephen Marshall with yourself & Khalid.
It was glad to see that the facts regarding the foreign policies of the US & their effects on the rest of the world that Khalid related to you had an effect.
Glad the you were able to "see" beyond the extreme Christian views of many & realise that religion should have no role i politics or policies of governments.
My opinion is that if the US took more care for their own people, not just the successful ones, the world would be a lot safer & nicer.
As I assume you noticed, if the US continues to interfere in the affair of other nations, events such as 9/11 will continue to happen & rightly so.
From an aethiest socialist POV, if Christians actually acted as per the values of Jesus,(love & accept others) instead of just sprouting irrelevant biblical quotes, were would all be better off.
Good luck for the future