Friday, February 8, 2008

Christianity, Politics & The Issues

Paying Taxes to Caesar

"They sent some Pharisees and followers of Herod to bait him, hoping to catch him saying something incriminating. They came up and said, "Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don't pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
He knew it was a trick question, and said, "Why are you playing these games with me? Bring me a coin and let me look at it." They handed him one.
"This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?"
"Caesar," they said.
Jesus said, "Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his."
Their mouths hung open, speechless.

The Message (MSG) Mark 12:13-17

No this isn't going to be a post about paying taxes, at least not directly. It's more a cautionary tale about modern day Pharisees. This post is also the first in a series in which I hope to share my views on the relationship between my faith, my politics and many of the issues that have divided Americans for the past few decades.

Believe me I'm not embarking on this blogging journey lightly. There are good reasons for avoiding conversations that mix religion and politics.  Over the past eight years or so, no three topics have divided families, churches and this nation more. During the past two US presidential elections, people's faith was called into question, pastors have used their pulpits to advance political agendas, members were kicked out of congregations, pastors were locked out of churches, and people were refused holy communion, any many people were simply turned off of  "the church" entirely. Does anyone think that God is pleased with this?

So as we head into another presidential election, I'd like to dispel, once and for all, the myth that the fundamentalist right-wing, neocons have a monopoly on the Christian faith. I would also like to try to expose the tricks of the Pharisees.

As long time readers of this blog know I do not hold doctoral degrees in theology, history, psychology, or political science. I'm just a person who reads a lot, listens, hopefully learns, and has an interest in all of the above. My faith is non-denominational Christianity, my politics range from fiscal conservativism to social liberalism and when it comes to issues ranging from abortion to global warming I can be just as passionate as any member of the far-right.

What I believe makes me different than the James Dobsons ( no insult intended to Mr. Dobson) of this world is that I do not feel entitled to force either my faith or my politics down your throat. I don't believe that I can force you to accept my beliefs by legislating them. I don’t believe that I can change your heart by beating you over the head. And I don’t believe that I have the right to force you to lay down your life for my faith.

As an American, I believe that this nation's founders were Christians but certainly were not perfect men. Many were slave owners and given the numbers of mulatto offspring on the plantations, many were adulterers. But whatever their faults, I believe that their faith granted them the wisdom of realizing that the government should not intervene in matters of faith and any individual organized church should not directly intervene in matters of government.

The founding fathers, despite the accepted practices of their era, drafted a document, which to this day, protects the rights of all citizens, not by legislating their beliefs, but by ensuring their freedoms. And when personal freedom is not in the best interest of the society as a whole, provisions were made to protect the greater good . What is truly amazing about the founding father’s document is that it honors the values shared by all of the major religions. Does not the true follower of Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and even the atheist desire life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

As a Christian, I always hope that you will share my faith but if you don’t I am commanded to LOVE you. So, how do I view the role of my faith in my politics? The teachings of Jesus tell us that we should be like light and salt.

Salt and Light

"Let me tell you why you are here.

You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!

Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-14 (The Message)

The next post in this series will be Christianity, Politics & Abortion.

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