Laying Aside our Ideological Weapons

Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you … (1 Samuel 15:23)

The political polarity and party spirit which so divides America is becoming so deeply ingrained in the minds of some as to cause them even to judge the Scriptures as being too liberal or too conservative. When Christians view Christianity or the Scriptures through a political lens they lose sight of God’s Word as being literally above partisan politics.  God’s word is meant to challenge us in our thinking so that we consider things not just from an earthly or human point of view but to also take God’s own viewpoint into consideration.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself … (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Today even Orthodox Christians can be heard commenting on and judging the Scriptures or a prayer of the Church or a message from Church leadership not from the point of view of God but from that of a political party. We begin to hear people say that scripture sounds liberal or conservative acting as if the American political viewpoint is the standard for measuring God’s word. When we “hear” the Scripture as sounding liberal or conservative, we have already adopted a worldly mind about the Word of God.


We may not like what we read in Scriptures. We may not agree with it. We may not want to do it, but it still remains as God’s word to us. We have to wrestle with what God revealed.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  (Isaiah 55:8)

We have to listen to God’s word and allow it to come deep into our hearts and minds in order to either live it or wrestle with it. Otherwise we are at risk to do and to become exactly what the people were in the days when Jesus walked on earth and He warned them that they had ears but could not hear and eyes but could not see.
When we come into the church, we need to lay aside our political prejudices and allow God to speak to us so that we hear God’s word and do it or begin to wrestle with it. But if we accept as a filter for reading the scriptures a political party’s point of view then we have stopped our ears with partisan politics and we will never hear God’s word.
Roman Emperor Theodosius issued an edict in 431AD at the Church Council in Ephesus. Emperor Theodosius was an Orthodox Christian, an Orthodox emperor and is even listed as an Orthodox saint. The Emperor said:

Although we are always surrounded by the lawful imperial weaponry, and it is not fitting for us to be without weapon-bearers and guards; when, however, entering the churches of God, we shall leave our weapons outside and take off the very diadem, emblem of our imperial dignity.

The Emperor said he and his entourage were to leave their weapons and emblems of the imperial dignity outside the church. They entered the church just like everyone else – as sinners in need of salvation. The only way they could truly hear God was to lay aside all their political thinking, their earthly status and even the signs of their political power.

Today we need to do this by laying aside our ideological weapons when we enter the church, so that we can hear the Gospel. We should Leave our ideological attacks and political grenades and partisan weapons outside the church so that we don’t look at God’s word from an earthly point of view, but rather we enter the church with open hearts and minds to hear God fully.

Whether we are on the political left or on the political right, whether we are politically right or wrong, we need to hear the Word of God and to take it home with us and to judge ourselves based on God’s word. We need to pull the liberal and conservative plugs from our ears and remove the conservative and liberal lens from our eyes so that we can see the world as God proclaims it.

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.  (Matthew 13:15)

Jesus told us that we cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot serve God if we come to the Scriptures or to the Church to judge God by a political ideological point of view. Listen to God first. Don’t react to what God says until you understand His teachings and comandments.

St. Paul said: For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

In Acts 4:15-31, the Apostles were arrested by the temple authorities and told not to speak about Jesus any more. They replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Political parties love it if we take their point of view in order to measure and judge the Scriptures and the Church.  We however are not to see the world from that human point of view but rather are to view every human point of view from the perspective of God’s own will.

In the Church we must speak the word of God and hear it whether we like it or not. Listen to what God says and allow it to enter into your mind and willful choices. Obey it if that is in your heart, and if not, then wrestle with it and ask God why He says things that you find so difficult to do. Carry His Word in your heart so you can take it into your life and home to become a doer of God’s word.

Advertisements

Election Loses and Regrets

This is about all I’m going to say about our current election.  I don’t endorse candidates or political parties.  As a parish priest, my job is to pray for this country, its president, the congress, supreme court, its armed forces, all civil authority and for all its people.  I do this no matter who wins the election.  My prayers are not based on election outcomes, but upon my faith in the Trinitarian God’s love for creation including all people on the planet.

It is no wonder that Americans suffer from election fatigue.  From the moment the presidential election is decided, the political parties and machines begin gearing up for the next election.  Running campaigns has become a full time process, not just once every four years but every day of every year.  The political parties and PACs raise millions of dollars to spend on electing candidates, but how much does anyone invest in actually doing governance?  How much time and energy do the political parties, the PACs, the political pundits put into helping these candidates learn to govern in a democracy in a diverse society?  Precious little, which is part of the terrible money imbalance in American politics.  Political office is treated as “for sale to the highest bidder” rather than as the means to serve the nation and to lead the free world.

As soon as the election is decided, political parties and political fundraisers begin focusing all their time and energy on the next election and getting their party’s candidates elected.   If they invested in good candidates who could actually govern and who could help build American democracy we all would be better off.  They however are really interested in investing in winning and holding on to power, even if they have no wise or virtuous candidates to put forth.   How much better for us all if they focused on how to make the American democratic process work and on how to help our leaders govern our country in the 21st Century with its diversity, all its many issues and problems and with the world as it is today (not as we wished it were).

The political machines pick candidates who can win elections, not necessarily those who are capable of governing.  The political machines spend tens of millions of dollars on getting people elected, but nothing on training them in governace – how to work in, with and for a democracy.   Forget having a candidate be a statesman, as they will have no time for that – their purpose is only to win elections.   Any wonder that the Putins of the world have an easier time being statesmen, being world leaders and getting things done?   The Putins of the world can set goals and accomplish them while American presidential candidates are forced to short-shortsightedly focus on winning elections.  Putins can conquer enemies, American presidential candidates have to conquer the electorate which turns half of the very people they are supposed to serve into enemies of sorts and the rest into the vanquished.  This is why negative elections seem to work so well, in my opinion.  Americans have forgotten that both political parties and all elected candidates are supposed to represent and serve all the people not just the ones that agree with them.

Presidents are said to have about 100 days of their first administration to accomplish anything.  We spend 1461 days to elect a person who apparently is only going to be able to accomplish anything about 100 days in four years.   The rest of the time (935 of their four years) they will spend campaigning for themselves or others in their political party.  The elected politicians have to cater to those who financed their election and to the talk show hosts and their legions who endlessly criticize the politician.  Apparently,  the politicians weren’t elected to lead, but only to cater to money and to continually appease the squealing media wheels.  The “next” election looms over everything elected do not because of the electorate but because of the big money and big voices.

The media superstars, not elected by anybody, dominate the airwaves and the Internet and so it appears also the thoughts of the many who listen to them.  They fire up their base so that the president and congress have to spend most of their time paying attention to the political machines and to the media commentators rather than to issues before them.   The media moguls do not want the politicians to see anything except through their lens.  Don’t pay attention to the issues but only to those who loudly yell about the issues.   But these commentators do not pay attention to or care about  what strengthens democracy in a diverse culture.  Rather they really advocate against democracy and in favor of a one party system, with their own way as being the only acceptable way to see the world.  The word dictator comes from a Latin word meaning  “to say often, prescribe, to speak frequently.”   All talk show hosts are dictators.  Why do we listen to them?  We should favor democracy not dictatorship.  We are addicted to them and the next thing they might say, which is what also comes to haunt and fixate the politicians.

We invest so heavily in the elections but do not invest in governance.  We need to change the system so that it works to strengthen democracy not tear it down like the media people and political chieftains do today.  Their goal is purely to get their people elected.  But that isn’t necessarily what is good for the country or the world.

votevoteThere is in our country the wonderful freedom of speech, which unfortunately the Supreme Court says includes setting no limits on how much money people can spend or raise on elections.  But we the people should learn “freedom of listening.”  We can turn off all of the political talk show people.  We can stop listening to or watching political ads whether from the airwaves or on the Internet.  We need to find something better to do with our minds, like learning more about democracy and how it works, why it is so important to our lives and what we need to be as voters to make democracy work.  We should shake off our own laziness of listening to dictators and encourage politicians to be statesmen and leaders.  If we don’t like their ideas we vote them out of office.  Those candidates in favor of democracy should also support the idea that they can be removed from office rather than spending all their time and energy making sure they stay in office.

I have never made it my position to comment on “who” to vote for in an election.  However, I do value American democracy and consider it a strength of our nation.  I do think our current election trends and the power ceded to political parties and to media talk show hosts is weakening democracy.  We need to work on changing the system, and then we would get better candidates.

Dems-GOPIn a democracy, the majority decide which direction the country will go.  Political parties can hold to an ideology, but face the reality that their beloved convictions can’t win a majority of voters.   They can change their position to try to create an alliance of voters to win the election, or they can hold on to their ideology but lose elections.  What shouldn’t be accepted is that they try to buy elections or to have their unpopular ideas win through deceit or negative campaigning.  If they can’t convince us that their ideas are good for the country, even if painful, they need to try harder, improve their message, or find a combination of ideas that convince us to vote for them.  In my opinion as it is they instead just spend all their time and energy trying to get their candidates elected with no regard for how that effects the country. For them the end justifies the means, no matter what price democracy has to pay.   Their goal is to stay in power not necessarily to strengthen the American democratic process.  We voters can changes this, but we have to change our habits to do it.

I would recommend listening to the TED Talk: Democracy on Trial for further thinking about democracy and its importance and why we need to strengthen it through the election process rather than weaken it by allowing ourselves to become part of the partisan polarity problem.  I think a total reform of the party driven primaries would be helpful.   Let all candidates from all parties be put into a common pool in the primaries, and the voters decide who are the top two candidates – no matter what party they are from.  The general election would have the top two vote winners in the primary face off.  That way all candidates in all elections would have to offer a message that appeals to all or the most voters.  This I think would help end the parties become more polarized through the primaries and then offering no middle ground for voters.  I’m sure this would create other problems, perhaps some unseen at the moment, but it would help change the tenor of the election process now at work in America.

The Church in the World

“The history of religion in power is the best argument for the Enlightenment’s desire to weaken its institutional clout. There is a certain wisdom, not of secularism, but of something that secularism has taught us: if religion is to be a vital part of the culture, it must persuade. It is not a bad thing for the Church to be limited to persuasion, and it is probably no coincidence that in those countries where churches are established and propped up by the state, they are generally unpersuasive to the majority of the population, who show their lack of interest by nonattendance. The relative health of religion in America, as compared to the subsidized churches of many Europeans nations, where almost no one attends church, might be a good argument for the separation of church and state.” (John Garvey, Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions, pp 95-96)

James Madison - Father of the Separation of church and state

Fearing the Times

Presidential election years seem to bring out a certain darkness in the hearts and minds of those who pay attention to politics.  People are disquieted by the uncertainty of the swirling, sometimes rushing, muddy waters of the election.

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

(Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now”)

In the 21st Century, or so it seems to me, every four years Americans experience a great amount of angst and anxiety about the present and the future.  Political parties do a great amount of fear-mongering as the presidential election approaches, feeding the fear, dragging people down, rather than giving them hope.  This year seems especially rife and ripe for this descent into despair.

It may be of little cheer, but certainly our country has survived darker and more turbulent times.  1860 comes to mind or 1940.

The Orthodox Church certainly has been confronted with darker times.  The rise of communism seemed to spell an endless and unmitigated period of church suffering and shrinking, and hiding in the darkness which overshadowed everything Orthodox.

The world is marked by its ever-changing quality – empires rise and fall.   The uncertainty of the world is an ever present feature in the life of millions of people.     Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh spoke uneasily about the church entering a new age in the 21st Century:

“I have a very clear or rather gloomy feeling that as we enter the third millennium we are entering some obscure and complex and, in a certain sense, unwelcome period. As for devotion to the Church, our faith must certainly retain its integrity, but we must not be afraid of thinking and expressing ourselves openly. Everything will eventually settle into order, but if we keep just endlessly reiterating what has been said long ago, more and more people will drift away from their faith (I mean not so much Russia as the world as a whole), not because everything that was stated before is erroneous, but because the approach and language being used are all wrong. Today’s people and the time they live in are different; today we think differently.

I believe one must become rooted in God and not be afraid of thinking and feeling freely. ‘Freely’ does not imply ‘free thinking’ or contempt for the past and for the tradition. However, God does not need slaves. ‘I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends…’ I think it is extremely important that we think and share our reflections with him. There is so much we could share with him in this new world we live in. It is so  good and so important to think openly without trying to conform. Intellectuals with great receptivity must come to the fore by their thinking and writing. The Church, or rather clergymen and some of the conscious churchgoers, are afraid to do something wrong. After all these years when people could not think or speak openly with each other and thereby outgrow, as it were, the nineteenth century, there is much fear, which leads people to be content with mere repetition of what has been adopted by the Church long before and what is known as Church language and Church doctrine. This has to change sooner or later.” (The Wheel 4 | Winter 2016)

The Church unfortunately contracts and becomes entrenched exactly at a moment when opportunity presents itself for moving into a new century, for being renewed by the Spirit.  Fear causes the church to hide behind closed doors as the apostles did after the crucifixion of Christ.  Jesus, however, came into their midst and commanded them to go out into that world which they so feared and from which they wanted to hide.

So while we Americans face another presidential election and the negativity it will bring, we might consider the words of the newly elected president Franklin Roosevelt at his first inauguration.  Spoken in 1933, the problems besetting the nation at that time see very familiar to us today:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

…rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.   (Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933)

There is hope.  We are still here, America survived the mid-20th Century and moved into more prosperous times.  The temptations of greed, selfishness and hatred are always there, as they always have been.  On a personal level, we can always choose better, no matter how leadership behaves.

Or, maybe we come to realize that in the world, human problems remain rather consistently – things though incredibly troubling and worrisome are not all that different from past times.  Democracy is a system which every few years calls for an election – because we are electing fellow citizens to lead us, it will always produce anxiety.  It will sometimes produce bad results, and sometimes miraculously, good emerges, nurturing and sustaining us for a life time.

 

Lies, Lies, Lies

nprI found pretty fascinating a show from the NPR program “On the Media“:  “Lies, Lies, Lies“.  I’m recommending it if you have about 50 minutes to ponder the truth about lies, and lying about the truth.

Inspired by this year’s presidential presidential campaign, it covers recent American history related to lies and truth, politicians and the press.  Though we hate when politicians lie to us (or maybe, more truthfully we just hate when those we oppose lie, we are more tolerant when the candidates we favor lie), the fact is politicians often say things they think that people want to hear.  As Psychologist Maria Hartwig comments:  “People want the truth if it fits with what they want to hear.”  So politicians are tempted by us and what we want to hear.  We like the truth if we agree with it, otherwise we are willing to dispense with it; so too, politicians.  Additionally, as the program points out, truth can become fashionable, or go out of fashion – I found that segment of the show to be fascinating – how the political process treats truthfulness and truthiness.   Politicians are willing to use truth when it is convenient and ignore it when it isn’t, and to twist it when that serves their purpose.  Politicians also know they can be punished for telling the truth as people don’t always appreciate the candor when they want to hear what agrees with their own preconceived ideas.

Is truth self-evident? Or, does the self not rely on the evidence when it comes to the truth?

One referenced quote in the program, I had to look up because it seemed such a classic political twisting of phrases.  The master communicator President Ronald Reagan speaking from the Oval Office:

“Let’s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.”  (March 4, 1987)

reaganHis heart and best intentions told him it wasn’t true even though the facts and evidence told him it was true.   A classic case of “never let the facts get in the way of what you want to believe.”  or “Don’t believe everything you think.”   He so interestingly phrased it:  the facts and evidence aren’t giving him the truth, they are telling him what isn’t true.  Not a case that he couldn’t handle the truth, he handled it very well.   Douglas Adams described it well: “I don’t believe it. Prove it to me and I still won’t believe it.”

Reagan masterfully admits, “It was a mistake” which avoids any admission of intentional wrong behavior and also allows him to avoid having to admit he lied.

President Reagan was not the first president to handle truth, facts and evidence, as if it were modeling clay needing to be shaped by the artist.  This year’s presidential campaign shows he won’t be the last either.

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  (Mark Twain)

It’s Only Money

TimeBankruptI have through my blog shared ideas – mostly things I’ve read.  I read mostly materials related to Orthodox Christianity, but do peruse other things.  I read the article, “The United States of Insolvency”, by James Grant in the 28 April 2016 issue of TIME.  THE 2016 United States debt is

$13,903,107,629,266.00.

As Grant writes, “Let us pause to reflect that a billion is a thousand million, and that a trillion is a thousand billion – or alternatively, a million million.  It’s a measure of fix we’re in that the billions hardly seem worth talking about.”  Them’s lots of dollars.  The magazine reports that currently every man, woman and child in the US would have to pay $42,998.12 to erase the national debt.  As another comparison, Grant says if the US government were a typical American household it would have an annual income of $54,000/year and it would be spending $64,000 a year and carrying a credit card outstanding balance of $233,000.  Most of us can understand that math doesn’t work.    Grant goes on:

“I merely observe that sound money and a balanced budget were two sides of the coin of American prosperity.

Then came magical thinking. Maybe you had a taste of modern economics in school. If so, you probably learned that the federal budget needn’t be balanced–it’s nothing like a family budget, the teacher would say–and that gold is a barbarous relic. To manage the business cycle, the argument went, a government must have the flexibility to print money, to muscle around interest rates and to spend more than it takes in–in short, to “stimulate.”

Oh, we have stimulated.”

moneyissuecover1I actually never took economics in college.  The idea of a balanced budget for the government always made sense to me.  But I’ve not found many politicians to vote for, who seemed to share that idea.  Rather what I heard was that President Hoover was criticized for trying to balance the budget at the time of the Great Depression, and his actions are even blamed as the cause of that depression.  When Reagan was president, I heard many say a balanced budget wasn’t needed as long as the economy was growing.  So apparently whether the times are economically good or bad it is never a time for a balanced budget.   That doesn’t make sense to me.

Eight years ago there was all kinds of talk about the growing national debt and what to do to stop it, but this year it has not been the main focus of the presidential candidates.  Candidates probably are glad that Americans have attention deficit minds when it comes to politics.  The hot issues of a few years ago are put on the back burner even if they need to be a main issue for the country now.  Bringing down the debt may be too painful for politicians to advocate for it as it might have noticeable consequences for all of us – higher taxes and fewer entitlements.  The trouble is we manage to postpone dealing with the problem which makes some think it doesn’t have to be dealt with – and currently few are willing to pay the price for the level of government services we’ve come to expect and few are willing to give them up.  Of course if we think again about Grant’s framing the national debt in terms of an average household, we can easily see that what is required is for the the average household to cut spending by $20,000 and start paying $10,000/year on the debt.  Most householders can understand how difficult and painful that would be and probably wouldn’t want to do it either, especially if it seemed possible to keep deficit spending going until some vague future reckoning.

In the 23 May issue of TIME a new analysis of American capitalism is offered by Rana Foroohar excerpted from her book, Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business.   Foroohar says there is a reason why American capitalism is sick:

capitalism-finalDebt is the lifeblood of finance; with the rise of the securities-and-trading portion of the industry came a rise in debt of all kinds, public and private. That’s bad news, since a wide range of academic research shows that rising debt and credit levels stoke financial instability. And yet, as finance has captured a greater and greater piece of the national pie, it has, perversely, all but ensured that debt is indispensable to maintaining any growth at all in an advanced economy like the U.S., where 70% of output is consumer spending. Debt-fueled finance has become a saccharine substitute for the real thing, an addiction that just gets worse. (The amount of credit offered to American consumers has doubled in real dollars since the 1980s, as have the fees they pay to their banks.)

As the economist Raghuram Rajan, one of the most prescient seers of the 2008 financial crisis, argues, credit has become a palliative to address the deeper anxieties of downward mobility in the middle class. In his words, “let them eat credit” could well summarize the mantra of the go-go years before the economic meltdown. And things have only deteriorated since, with global debt levels $57 trillion higher than they were in 2007.

Easy money and debt maybe just too tempting for Americans to resist – the instant benefits have fed a monster whose insatiable appetite keeps demanding more.  And we become slaves of feeding the monster because it seems to perpetuate the system.  Maybe we really do believe the myth of the ouroboros  and believe the system is self-perpetuating.  We will be surprised to find it really is a myth and not sustainable at all.

 

 

 

Reducing the Church to Politics

I have often read that a serious problem which occurs when church and state are so enmeshed as to be indistinguishable.   People who are marginalized by the state or oppressed by the state or whose consciences are troubled by the deeds of the state, have no where to turn to seek solace and refuge when the church is in complete sync with the state. And often the church ends up submitting to the state on many issues.

Some claim this is why in America “traditional” Christianity is on the decline, and why people instead turn to New Age religions or embrace spirituality instead of religion.  These alternatives allow them to see life and the nation freed from the government or politically correct view point.  Official or traditional religion ends up sounding so much like the state that people begin to look for a spiritual alternative. So Ted Peters wrote in his 1991 book,  THE COSMIC SELF: A PENETRATING LOOK AT TODAY’S NEW AGE MOVEMENT :

While church leaders have been occupying themselves with the world of secular politics, millions of people have begun to turn once again to religion. They are embarking on a spiritual quest: they want to find the source and meaning of their existence; to regain a sense of transcendent divinity; and to find a way to integrate human beings with one another, with nature, and with the whole of reality….’

At root the human potential movement is seeking a new cosmology, a new grounding for reality. The key to this new cosmology is the innate connection between self and world. It seeks to overcome the dualism of modern mind that separates subject and object, the humanities from the sciences.’   (as quoted by George Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, Kindle Location 138-142)

At the exact same time that denomination and church leaders try to leverage their power through influencing the voting habits of their constituents, the people in the pew find themselves turned off by the political bent of religion and seek to find a spirituality that is not so conformed to or determined by the news or nationalistic trends.  An other worldly dimension is what many are seeking from religion – not a church which embeds them more in this world, but which brings them into contact with the boundlessness of the divine life.

Something for American Christians to consider as we into a presidential campaign year.  Politicians love it if we conform en masse to their message or support them or their party as if it were the church.   And in so doing they often are shaping the religious messages and spiritual beliefs of those following the political leader.    The politician’s goal is to get elected.    The goal of any political party is to get their candidates elected.  Are they willing to bend and shape and even mislead in order to get voters to get on their bandwagons?  Certainly.  Are they happy if they can capture Christian denominations en masse to vote their way?  Ecstatic.  It makes their job easy.  They create an illusion that they are empowering the voters when in fact they are taking the power away from the voter and putting it in a political party or ideology.  They make an appeal to the religious nature of voters, but then will embed those beliefs in their secular ideology and goals.

Christians need to read and study the Gospel carefully about Christ’s own attitude toward political power.  The early Church did not rely on political power to get its message to the world.  It relied on the membership living the Gospel and remaining faithful to the teachings of Christ.

We Christian should never hand over our votes en masse to any candidate.  Make them work for every vote, and hold them to their promises.  There is power in withholding endorsements.  The politicians have to pay more attention to those whose votes they want to win.

RussianbishopsAnd we can remember that when the church is too cozy with any political party or ideology, in America at least, we will lose some adherents to all kinds of independent spiritualities.  Some really are looking to the Church to proclaim the Good News of God’s kingdom and to offer a spiritual vision of reality rather than simply trying to get people to conform to a political agenda.

Of course the other extreme is to be so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good as Oliver Wendell Holmes is said to have quipped.  The issue for the church is to be a light to the world, which we cannot be if we allow ourselves to be identified with any political ideology.  We are not called to be disinterested in democratic elections, but we must always remember the goals of a political party are not the goals of the Church.  We must always be wise to the fact that politicians will use us to their advantage if we let them.  And they hope that we believe they will carry out the will of God whether or not they can even say what that will is.

A Theology of Government

Today is election day across the United States, though this  year many of the races and issues being decided upon are local rather than national or even on a state level.   Since it isn’t a national election, Ohio is not ground zero for the political battle this year, for which I’m grateful.    I don’t have the heart for listening to the negative campaigning and though many think that is a necessary but messy part of true democracy, I could live without it.

Biblical scholar N.T.Wright comments on what he discerns to be a theology of government found in the scriptures.   On the one hand, God is forever trying to bring order upon a universe which  tends toward chaos, and government is part of a god determined plan for order in the world.  On the other hand, rulers have had a penchant for choosing evil and abusing their power, and God finds it necessary to hold all leaders accountable for their behavior.  The fact that rulers are needed in the fallen world, does not give them license to do as they please.

“The Jewish political belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall, and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, including all rulers, and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overruling their whims for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in turn. This meant that a classic Jewish position, which echoes on well into the Christianity of the second and third centuries, seems to us today to play from both ends of the spectrum at once. The rulers are wicked and will be judged, especially when they persecute God’s people. But God wants the world to be ruled, rather than to descend into anarchy and chaos, and his people must learn to live under pagan rule even though it means constant vigilance against compromise with paganism itself. […]

Augustus Caesar

God wants the world to be ordered, to keep evil in check, otherwise wickedness simply flourishes and naked power and aggression wins. But the rulers of the world are themselves answerable to God, not least at the point where they use their power to become just like the bullies they are supposed to be restraining. Meanwhile, God is working out a very different purpose, which will result in the vindication of his people and the judgment of the Pharaohs and Babylons of the world. All this is based, of course, on a creational monotheism which, faced with evil in the world, declares that God will one day put it all to rights, and that we can see advance signs of that in systems of justice and government even when they are imperfect. This leaves no room for a dualism in which pagan rulers are thoroughly bad and can be ignored, or overthrown without thought for what will come next. Nor does it allow that kind of pantheism in which rulers are simply part of the fabric of the divinely ordered world, requiring unquestioning submission to their every whim.” (Paul, pps. 66,68-69)

G. Washington resigns his commission.

 

Roman Prosperity’s Opposition to Christ

What is the price of peace and the cost of having peacekeepers?

The cost can be measured in dollars, but that is only part of the price.  It also taxes our moral values.  It takes its toll upon our willingness to love our enemies as Christ taught us and to forgive one another.  We can lose our ideals and settle for what satisfies the bottom line or do what is immediate rather than what is important.  We can buy into false rationalizations that assuage our troubled consciences and prevent us from feeling cognitive dissonance over morally questionable actions.

And in the biblical wisdom that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we also can learn from history on this point.

Emperor Nero

“The Pax Romana was a time of peace and prosperity for the empire. The development of cobble-stoned Roman roads facilitated commerce and the rapid movement of the Roman army. Anyone or anything that disturbed the Pax Romana was viewed as a threat to the great prosperity of the empire and was dealt with swiftly through violent police actions of the Roman army. Rome created peace through violence, while the emperor himself, Augustus, was the bringer of that peace.” (John Fotopoulos in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg. 22)

The Roman Empire thought Christ, whose Kingdom was not of this world, to be a threat to their peace and prosperity.   They crucified Him, and opposed His Church and martyred many of His followers.   Their vision of ‘national’ peace saw Christian values as a threat to Roman prosperity.  They vigorously and viciously persecuted the Christians.  They relied solely on the might of the army to maintain the peace, but in the end they lost the empire to the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

The 40 Martrys of Sebaste: The traded military might for martyrdom while serving Christ.

Turning Democrats and Republicans into Americans

This is the 2nd blog in this series reflecting on former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, The Parties Vs. The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.   The first blog is Turning Republicans and Democrats into Americans.

Edwards advocates some very specific changes which he thinks would make for a better democracy and a better America.  Some changes he advocates seem simple –  for example, stop the practice of having separate lecterns in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans and make them use one lectern to reinforce that all congressman serve the same country, not separate political parties.   He also advocates changes in how redistricting is done after every census.  Instead of redistricting being controlled by the political party in power in each state, have nonpartisan commissions do the redistricting.   This is what this year’s Ohio Issue 2 advocates for example, and while the issue has not gotten a lot of attention due to the presidential race, Edwards would say that we should vote for issue 2.

“The value of independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions is that those competing values will be balanced on the basis of principle, not according to how they help one political party gain an electoral advantage. As Americans for Redistricting Reform notes on its website, independent redistricting commissions allow voters to choose their representatives, not the other way around.”   (Kindle1133-35)

When political parties do the redistricting, it is the party/politicians choosing their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives.

Another issue for Edwards is that the rise of the two political parties has caused us to have a more parliamentary system of government and it weakens the constitutionally defined three independent branches of government.

“As the nation has grown and issues have become increasingly complex, and as the rise of broadcast media has tended to focus national attention more narrowly on the presidency, Congress has increasingly failed to grasp that it is a separate and independent branch of government with a constitutional obligation to serve as a check on the executive. Instead, members of the president’s party have tended to see him as their “leader,” and members of the other party have seen him as the opposition, to be stymied whenever possible.”  (Kindle Loc. 1398-1402)

The congress is supposed to be a branch of government independent of the presidency and its purpose is to balance the government so the executive branch does not have too much power.  But the current political party system is pushing members of congress and the senate to stay completely loyal to their party and to the president if he is of their same party.  But in so doing the separation of powers is violated, and instead of the branches balancing each other, the legislative branch can be reduced to being a tool of the executive branch.  This is a clear way in which the political parties are against the interest of the people and of the constitution.

The growing power of the two major political parties has also interfered with the work of the congress itself according to Edwards:

“The United States House of Representatives does not operate according to Robert’s Rules of Order. It adopts its own rules, and one of them allows the Rules Committee, heavily dominated by the majority party, to determine which bills can be brought before the entire House for consideration and what amendments, if any, can be debated. No matter how many members of the minority party may support a proposal—fifty, eighty, one hundred, two hundred—the majority can simply refuse to let the bill be considered. If the majority brings a bill to the floor, the minority can be prevented from even attempting to amend it. Here’s how: If a bill is brought to the floor under an “open” rule, debate is free-flowing and there is no restriction on the ability of members to propose changes in the legislation under consideration. If the Rules Committee presents a “modified open” rule, only a limited number of amendments are permitted; those that are to be considered are specifically identified, and time for their consideration is strictly limited. Under a “closed” rule, House members are given the option of voting for or against the legislation, but without any opportunity to offer improvements or changes.”  (Kindle Loc. 1702-11)

Though the House sets its own rules, the two major political parties have found a set of rules that makes the majority party even more powerful.    This too according to Edwards is to the benefit of the parties but not the people.  And since each party sets the rule when it is in the majority it feeds and fosters the partisanship and polarization which then paralyzes the government.

Edwards says the polarization is further fed by the fact that the politicians have very little information which they share in common.  Rather the congressmen listen only to their party’s spin on things.  This results in what he calls the “’Myside bias’—choosing the “fact” that validates your side’s position.”

‘It’s that ‘myside bias’—the tendency to judge a statement according to how conveniently it fits with one’s settled position—is pervasive among all of America’s political groups.’  In other words, given a set of possible conclusions, politicians, like the rest of us, will choose not the one that comports with dispassionate analysis but the one that fits their own preconceptions.”  (Kindle Loc. 2334-37)

Democracy requires an ability to debate, listen to various viewpoints on an issue and then to decide which one idea is the best for the country.  Governance in democracy requires that people adjust to majority rule.  It requires politicians to be able to make compromises so that the government and a diverse society can function.  But if each political party adopts its own facts and refuses to accept majority rule, then the government and the nation become paralyzed and the union is threatened.   In the past this was dealt with by cessation from the union.  Today the split is not between states but between political parties that cross state lines.  Cessation is not viable though some want to divide the map between blue and red states, perhaps hoping those of the other party can be placed on reservations in each state.

Edwards solution is to vote for people who are willing to work with others to create the government that works.  His proposals aim at restoring a sense that we are Americans, and in the vast land of democratic ideals there is plenty of room for divergence and forming alliances that get legislation and budgets adopted, as well as budgets balanced and debts reduced.

Next:  Democrats Vs Republicans and E Pluribus Unum?