I, as I suppose many of you, was fascinated and deeply troubled by what I witnessed on my TV screen on Wednesday. I am equally fascinated by the various responses that followed yesterday and today.
It was a wake-up moment for us. The change in tone and words in a usually mundane procedural event in congress was nothing short of amazing. The senator from Oklahoma (with a significant delay) changed his speech, quite literally, in mid-sentence.
I am limited in my perspective and inconsistent in my expression of ideas. Limited because we all are. Inconsistent because I rarely have the information to make definitive, once for all, accurate assessments of any situation. I also have days when I think like the story of Noah where everyone dies because of their wickedness, and others like Jonah where everyone lives because of God’s patience and people’s repentance.
It is my vocational goal to bring to bear a balanced theological and historical perspective on events and attitudes that we live with today. It is not my job to determine who is in good standing with their God and who is not. I have a robust belief system that allows me to tenaciously hold to my faith while withholding judgment on others.
Now, concerning what we all witnessed during the ratification of the presidential election. There will continue to be those who seek to lay blame and hold responsible those who created the atmosphere and those who acted in criminal ways. I will leave that to those whose job it is to do that and encourage them in their pursuit of understanding and justice.
We all know mixing religion and politics is dangerous. It is dangerous because those in power tend to want to coopt religion (or ban it) for their own purposes. There have always been large swaths of Christianity quite willing to cooperate with or support leaders to take moral stands that agree with the religious leadership.
We need only to look at the horrors of the 1930’s and 40’s in Italy and Germany to see where this can lead. Further back we can look at the Reformation or even further to the time of the Crusades. Doesn’t stop us from doing it.
It is tempting when a secular leader is willing, by force of policy, to promote a Christian moral principle, to support such a person on that basis. History teaches us that such decisions do not end well. Here is the difficulty. When Jesus’ disciples, James and John got into an argument with the others about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God Jesus reminded them that it is not by lording over that we are to lead.
He says in Matthew 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I have no doubt that James and John meant well, but Jesus quickly checks them. He knows the dangers of lording over others to change behavior.
There is another warning in the prophet Hosea 8:3-4,7.
“They made kings, but not through me.
They set up princes, but without my knowledge.
With their silver and gold they made idols
for their own destruction.
For they sow the wind,
and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
Hosea mentions idols. I might suggest that there are two of the Ten Commandments which address idolatry (three if you count the first). The second commandment has to do with images — easy enough. The third, however, has to do with taking the name of the Lord in vain. This is not a commandment about cussing. It has to do with taking up God’s name and declaring him on your side to promote your own agenda. We can make idols of good things such as our morality. Remember the golden calf? It represented the G(g)od that Israel believed rescued them from Egypt. Christians still need to learn not to give away our calling to accomplish our goals. Do it the right way and let God take care of the rest.
I am thankful that our congress completed its task in a timely fashion, making the fiasco something that should get our attention, rather than something much more serious. I remain hopeful for the future. I am thankful for our political leaders. I am thankful for those of faith who serve in such a way.