For this election season, a debate on manners in politics (with a friend)…

In an effort to build discussion on important topics, I have occasionally replayed my on-going discussions here on this blog. This is one such discussion centering initially on political civility and ranging out as these things go. Recently a friend posted a link to this piece from the Watchman blog. Another friend commented on the piece saying:

“This post, and especially the excerpt from The American Spectator is actually the exact matter I was thinking about last night. I’ve been trying to find the center of the Left, and that is indeed it – it’s their religion. For them, this lif…e is not the antechamber to a hereafter with rewards or punishments. There is no higher hand, no providence, no grace. Everything is blood, sweat and tears to realize their greatest hopes within the confines of this temporal existence – because when you wink out here – you’re GONE. So it’s a desperate struggle to, by the sweat of their brows, erect paradise on earth – and anyone who is not in agreement with their program is an ignorant fool who is unable to see the plain “truth” of utopia within our grasp – most likely because of a blindness due to outdated cultural norms or “superstition.” The frothing, vitriolic fury we get for opposing them is because we are obstructing their path into their secular heaven, and they HATE it when we tell them that it’s all just a mirage, anyway.”

To be honest I jumped the gun a bit and reacted to the title with this reply:

“I have been accused of many a “liberal” tendency, but let me say I have no interest in creating a paradise, but I am concerned to see God’s Kingdom become manifest in this reality (if only in part as we await the fullness of His Kingdom established in the new earth). I am concerned about this because Christ, himself, stated that His mission was toTO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” If this was Our Lord’s mission then it should be our own. As I do this I stand with men and women like Francis of Assisi, RA Torrey [ed. note I was thinking of Torrey’s debate with Moody about whether the Social Gospel was part of the Gospel], and Dorothy Day, people who like me long to hear our God say this of us (when it is all said and done): “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” To understand the ‘liberal’ tradition you must understand our faith, because it was Christianity that inspired the progressives of yesterday, and for many of us today, our Christianity compels us to stand not with the corporate henchmen on the right, but the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan [ed. note- here I was thinking of Mark Noll and others discussion of the liberal’s fondness for God’s immanence and the conservative’s fondness for God’s transcendence and how that played out at the end of the long 19th century]. This is our service to Christ, and no one has any right to speak ill of us (disagree if you dare), but please we the chosen of God have a much greater enemy about whom to worry, than our ‘brothers and sisters in Christ.’ P.S. I am not speaking for the Democratic party which like the Republican party has more than its share of pagans, but am simply asking my brothers to attempt to get to know a man before accusing him or her of treachery against the faith, after all blasphemy of the Spirit (that is criticism of the work of God in the life of another) is considered a high offense [I take my definition from a class discussion, so no nifty footnotes but if you ask nicely I can provide my notes, they’re in a box somewhere].

A response from said friend (who as it appears wrote the article in question… open mouth, insert foot– on my part criticizing what I thought was an extraneous link but which was written by postee, bad journalist, bad. Rookie mistake):

I must say I’m confused by your post, Matt. You seem to feel personally wounded by my post and I don’t understand why that would be. I can tell you quite sincerely that your face never came to mind as I wrote this.
You say you have liberal… tendencies. Good, so do I. But when a Liberal Democrat (is that you?) and a Libertarian (that’s me! — with some exceptions) both say they have liberal tendencies, they are talking about very different things, wouldn’t you agree?
It’s a shame that both sides claim the root of the word ‘liberal’. Libertarians embrace the classical meaning of liberalism: personal freedom. Liberal Democrats embrace the concepts of statism and collectivism (ie, fascism and socialism, respectively) when they say ‘Liberal’.
If you really are a statist, Matt, then I am compelled to oppose you just as Jesus opposed the temple money-changers who profited improperly from doing Kingdom work. I imagine the money-changers might have said, “This is our service to God, and no one has any right to speak ill of us.” Are you as self-righteously arrogant as they were?
For my part, I make no claim to be above criticism. I could be wrong and frequently am (just ask Linda). But like you, I try to lead an examined life in light of the scriptures.
In those scriptures Jesus did not say that when he was hungry, the state fed him, when he was thirsty, the state gave him something to drink, when he was a stranger, the state invited him in, nor when imprisoned did the state (his jailer!) come to visit him. To claim these scriptures as support of statism (I’m not saying you are doing that, but I have often heard Liberal Dems do that) is simply faulty exegesis.
Jesus spoke a lot about money and a bit about government. But nowhere did he talk about using government to redistribute wealth. In fact he told us that we will always have the poor among us. I take that as a direct refutation of the idea that government can achieve any meaningful redistribution of wealth. It’s a fool’s errand.
I’m not saying collectivism is wrong. In fact, that was the economic model of the early church. But it’s at this point that I think many Christians go astray. Like Abraham and Sarah, they try to achieve for themselves what they believe cannot be achieved by God. The Church doesn’t have enough money to provide all the social services the world needs? Then let’s use the heavy hand of the government to provide those services. Well intended, I suppose, but look what happened to Abraham and Sarah when they did that. They created a rivalry that tears at the world to this day.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Gal 5:1 This is an incredible statement of God’s priorities. We are free, because God wants us to be free. We were created free and though we enslaved ourselves to sin, Christ came to make us free AGAIN. This is not just a spiritual freedom; it is freedom in every sense of the word.
Can we then embrace the statist philosophy which only brings freedom to one by financially enslaving another? Statism, IMHO, stands against one of God’s highest priorities for mankind: FREEDOM!
Am I wrong?

As I read the reply and my blood pressure rose, I made this reply:

You’re right, my bad, being called soulless, un-Christian, un-American, and ignorant is no reason to be offended. Maybe I jumped the gun on what the dude was saying, but that is because this type of accusatory language has become expected in this debate. As far as the state goes I take the traditional Christian response that the State exists to protect and provide for the well-being of its citizens. Paul asked his followers to seek the welfare of the city [ed. note, a major whoopsie, see my next post], just as the Apostles collected all these goods for use in the community. As far as Christian liberty I fall back to Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther who have all that the freedom of a Christian is not a matter of laissez faire. The freedom of a Christian is the freedom to come and die to self, and serve one’s community. As Jesus himself said, “”Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We are freed from the bonds of sin so that we might serve the Kingdom. To me that can very well mean “go now and sell all your possessions and give them to the poor that your righteousness may be fulfilled.” If I can work in concert with my government to turn over portions of my paycheck so that the poor may have access to food, education, housing, and basic health care then I am glad to do it. God has richly blessed me with a good job, and it is my privilege to honor Him in this way.

Here is the response from my friend:

“I have no problem if you want to partner with the state to serve others. I think it’s a very unwise choice, however, because the state is demonstrably inefficient at converting cash into blessing. There are a thousand charities that would… be better partners for you, that would convert a higher percentage of your money to blessing, and that would do so without violating Christian principles as the government regularly does (eg, funding abortion).

But you cannot escape the fact that by voting for these liberal Democrats, you are enabling their full agenda, including wealth redistribution by force (not voluntarily as you are willing to do), gay marriage, and the slaughter of the unborn. None of these are righteous acts of governance.I think you should reexamine how much your personal belief in collectivism has biased your reading of scripture and church history. You say, “I take the traditional Christian response that the State exists to protect and provide for the well-being of its citizens.” ‘The well-being of its citizens’ is far too broad a characterization of the ‘traditional Christian view’. About the only thing that Christians have agreed upon over the centuries is that government exists to execute God’s righteousness. That typically has extended only to the adjudication of laws. The idea that Christians thought government should have anything to do with housing (for example) is simply not found in church history until the 20th century.

You say Paul “asked his followers to seek the welfare of the city” I’d like to know the chapter and verse for that. I know of no place that Paul referred to the ‘city’, unless you mean Jerusalem, and in that context he clearly was not talking about some kind of universal health care for the geography known as Jerusalem. His interest, always, was in the believers in these geographies. He would never have suggested government as the vehicle for the benevolence he exorted. Government was the entity that regularly jailed him!
“Just as the Apostles collected all these goods for use in the community.” Really, Matt? Do you not see how your bias has infected even your interpretation of scripture. If you had said the community of BELIEVERS, that would be accurate. But you make it sound like the Apostles were helping the whole community as though they were some kind of early welfare workers. Nonsense. They would no more have allowed money to be raised for unbelieving Gentiles than Obama would give money to Republicans. What they did was raise money for believers and the government and non-believers were completely excluded.
You are overlaying ancient contexts with the language of modern day socialism and it just does not fit.”
I am not sure which made me madder the jab about overlaying ancient contexts with the language of socialism (say what all I did was quote a scripture passage and state that I believe in paying my taxes, how is this socialism? Being called a socialist for saying things left of the libertarian call for no new taxes is definitely my least favorite addition to the national dialogue. For this as always I blame Beck, I hate that guy! [ed. note I don’t hate anyone, and will not publicly stoop to such shananagins ]. Or the questioning of whether I was quoting an actual scripture, as if there is no possible way that the Spirit had inspired anyone to wrote such nonsense. I may be a lot of things, but most of the time when I say something is in scripture I am being honest (although as the case may be a little off on the actual address of said verse). Here is my response:
Sorry I had a brain fart, the verse I mentioned was not Paul (I remembered it incorrectly because in a class I took we discussed it reference to Paul alluding to it in 1 Corinthians). The verse was actually from Jeremiah (29:7 for the record), and is written about the Jewish exiles. Here it is: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” The verse was used as the title for the class I took and the book our Prof had written titled ‘Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens (First-Century Christians in the Graeco-Roman World).’ Dr. Winter has also written a book exploring the cultural issues raised within 1 Corinthians, as well as the issues surrounding women in Roman culture.  

As far as allowing one’s opinion’s to color one’s view of scripture, this is a serious issue that has kept me up more than one night. My heart’s cry is to allow scripture to color my world view and not the other way round. To be honest I started my voting life as a Republican, and was radicalized as such in politics around the pro-life issue. It is a concern for life and the life abundant that has influenced my thinking on such diverse issues as euthanasia (against), the death penalty (greatly troubled by), and cloning / stem cell research (issue too complicated for soundbites but definitely against the destruction of embryos). It is interesting that you would mention Dems and the pro-life movement. I see democratic principles in better keeping with the pro-life movement that Republicans. It is an interesting accident of history that Carter allowed a pro-choose plank as a nod to the far-left, because he was concerned that his evangelicalism would turn off far-left liberals. Before that time the prominent Dems (mostly Catholics) including Ted Kennedy had been “pro-life.” Today you see an influential group of Dems known as the blue-dogs which are pro-life. It is this group that had abortion listed as an explicit exclusion to any government funds which the Health Care reform created. If not for this centrist, moderate group the Reform would have allowed money for abortions and the RU489. The Republicans could not block this because they were not at the table, but trying to block the reform with parlor tricks and scream fests on Fox. So if you’re scoring at home that means that the only significant pro-life lobbying success from the past four years was created by Democrats. You haven’t heard this story because liberals are embarrassed by this, and Fox, Beck, et al have a vested interest in having you believe that Republicans are the only people that can save you from the far-left wingnuts. Maintaining a foot in both parties allows centrists such as myself to play both sides of the aisle and increases the chance for reform. This is the practical value in supporting moderates and centrists. The other issue for me is that as stated above the same motivations for protecting the unborn led me to be passionate about protecting those who have been born already. I applaud Republicans for protecting the unborn and respectfully ask them to grant the same passion to protecting all those who born in less than ideal homes (which is one of the great features [among same less than good features as well but such is any legislation] of the Health Care reform- improved health care options for poor children and children born with massive health problems).
After so long a digression, let me arrive back at some semblance of a point. Many of my political views started on the right and have migrated to center. The reason for this migration has been my taking a hard look at scripture and trying to moderate these views in response to an on-going debate with the writers of scripture. Several good books which have aided the journey (and no I am not going to name-check Dem hacks like Wallis, Campolo, or McLaren whose works sometimes leave me as disgusted as that of unblinking Republicans like DiSouza): Breakthrough and Different But Equal by Derek Morphew. Who Is My Enemy and Empowered Evangelicals by Rich Nathan. The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ron Sider (or his book on Ethics). Moral Choices by Scott Rae. Simply Christian by NT Wright. Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams. Doing Reconciliation by Alexander Vinter. That is a good start (and all by Evangelical Christians in good standing in either the Vineyard or Anglican communities).
There is one other book I should mention: Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. This a fascinating book that seeks to provide an understanding of how to apply the teaching of scripture to moral issues in our day. Webb argues that is some instances God is bring ever increasing freedom to our cultures (Slaves and Women are described here), but in other instances (Homosexuals) scripture brings a greater call to purity. I mention this because in some cases my views on issues have grown ever more conservative based on my reading of scripture. I can say here that of the many accomplishments in my life, living a life of sexual purity for 35 years (as a hetero male single awash in a sex-obsessed culture) is something which I hope God rewards.
That being said, I have attempted to take the opportunity in each election cycle to prayerfully consider a wide range of beliefs and opinions as I choose who to vote. As a Poly Sci prof from UT convinced me long ago, there are 2 ways to choose a politician. One way is to pick the person whose views most closely align to one’s own and hope that person is either telling the truth about their views or will have the moral fortitude to live up to those beliefs. The other way is to look for people who seem to possess wisdom and the ability to use it to make good, informed decisions which they feel will best serve the interests of the nation. It has lead to strange presidential voting record, with mixed results ( I sometimes regret my 2004 vote, but feel my hands were tied by 2 sub-par candidates), but in the end I must invoke the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”


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