Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Unmasking the myths- false Christian political values

This blog is written for Christians and anyone of other faiths or none who shares the essential core Christian values seen in the bible and the life of Jesus Christ.

In my previous blog I suggested seven key biblical Christian values we should focus on when deciding how to vote:

1. Looking after the poor and marginalised
2. Caring for the sick
3. Ensuring justice for all
4. Ensuring everyone has a fair share
5. Looking after the planet
6. Keeping peace and order
7. Allowing freedom of speech and belief

I now look at some worldly political values that we sometimes seem to treat as if they were equally divine.  Some of these "false values" certainly contain elements of truth but at best they are only part of the means of achieving true Christian values. Where they conflict with the key Christian values those values should take precedence. Others of these "false" values are directly opposed to biblical Christian values.

We all need to check whether we are basing our political views and votes more on these false worldly values than key Christian values: “ not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they come from God…” (1 John 4;1)

Freedom to do what we want with our wealth, property or business/Ensuring maximum prosperity

"For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." (1 Timothy 6:10)

Pursuit of personal prosperity is a major heresy of one strand of American Evangelicalism. Aiming for maximum prosperity is a good thing when applied universally. However too often it is as an excuse for selfish gain and allowing the rich to get richer. There are examples in the bible of God rewarding men with earthly wealth- most notably Solomon. However Solomon was only rewarded with wealth because he wasn't seeking it (2 Chronicles 1). The bible is very clear that we are not to pursue earthly riches as ends in themselves. This is a sin mentioned far more often than e.g. various sexual sins that Christians sometimes get very exercised about. Jesus warns "Woe to the rich" (Luke 6:24) and that "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:24).

The biblical view is that everything any of us have is ultimately God's and not our own (Psalm 24:1) and that we have a responsibility to use what we have to care for others. Part of that will be through charitable giving which the bible encourages. However even in the much simpler society of early Israel God laid down clear rules which did not allow people to simply do with their land and wealth as they choose. Landowners were told not to harvest their whole fields but leave some for poor (Leviticus 23:22), people were required to tithe and give away a portion of what they received to help those in need (Leviticus 27:30-33/Deuteronomy 26:12-13) and to cancel debts in the jubilee years ie  every seven years (Deuternomy 15:1). The Jews were encouraged to freely give in addition to these obligations (Deuteronomy 15:7).

God's concern, writ large throughout the bible, is that the poor and needy should be provided for . In contrast nowhere does he express any concern that the rich should be free to choose what they do with their wealth. 

Working towards total financial equality/ The abolition of private property

We see in the way the original (imperfect) kingdom of Israel was set up that everyone was to have their own stake in the land (Numbers 26). As a result, the Lord says, there should been no need for there to be any poor among them (Deuteronomy 15:4). However nowhere does the bible suggest that God aims that all humans should enjoy exact arithmetical equality. Even in his ultimate heavenly kingdom there are different rewards depending on how well his followers have served him eg see the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). It would therefore be contrary to the biblical principle for the state to take away literally everything an individual owned or earned. (And I know of no mainstream party in the UK that advocates anything close to this).
  Some might  argue that Acts 4 give us the ultimate pattern for how God wants us to live as a society- the very first Christians in Jerusalem owning everything in common. But fantastic though they were. this pattern of complete common ownership seems to have been a one off special work of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the New Testament certainly testifies to how the early Christians loved and cared for each other with their money. They effectively had their own welfare state to provide for those in the church in need. However nowhere are Christians called to own everything in common. Likewise whilst Jesus did occasionally call particular individuals to give away all their possessions (eg Luke 10:17-27), he does not make this a general command. Indeed he commends the repentant tax collector Zacchaeus for giving away half of what he owed to the poor (Luke 19:10)

Keeping taxes to the lowest level possible

There is simply no biblical support for this position. All the bible says about taxes is pay them and it acknowledges that they are a good thing needed to allow authorities to govern for the common good:

"For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good... Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue..."
(Romans 13:4-7).

Maintaining the strongest possible armed forces

In this fallen world the state does need armed forces and a police service to maintain peace and order.  "For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."(Romans 13:4). However the main thrust of the Jesus's message  is to bring peace and we are encouraged to be peacemakers. Ultimately all our swords will be turned into ploughshares (Micah 4:3). That cannot happen until Jesus returns. However, if we believe in a God of peace surely we should want a government whose focus is on making peace with its neighbours rather than preparing for war.  Jesus bemoans that the Jewish nation will be destroyed by the Romans because they do not understand what makes the peace. He also promises blessings on the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).There is no reason why that blessing cannot apply to governments and nations as much as individuals. 

Stopping the benefits scroungers
/Promoting self-reliance

It is true that Paul says those church members who refuse to work when they can shouldn't be fed by the church (2 Thessalanions 3:10). However the whole emphasis of bible is compassionate care for the poor and it suggests we should even accept being taken advantage of- e.g. Jesus in the Sermon in the Mount tells us we should lend to those who ask of us- even those we don't expect to pay us back. (Luke 6:33-35). We should also look to Jesus's own example. On two occasions he miraculously provided food for a crowd of thousands who were in apparent need of feeding. He did not instruct his disciples to first do a bag check of each person in the crowd in case there were a few who were hiding their own food .

If our priority is not to be taken advantage of rather than providing for need there is a real danger that we don;t look after poor, because we put in so many barriers to stop fraud that we also restrict help to those who need it. And as for structuring welfare to encouage self-dependency nowhere is that identified as a key biblical Kingdom value. In fact Jesus's message is that we are to be interdependent on each other and take care of each other as, for ecample, is illustrated in the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-34). His message is the very opposite of every man for himself. Actually it’s a message of one man for everyone! (1 Corinthinas 15:22)

Restricting immigration

Some restrictions on immigration may (or may not) be a good thing to manage the economy and help achieve some of the other things that are key values. However, certainly the bible does not support restricting immigration as an end in itself. In fact the bible promotes a positive and caring attitude towards immigrants; “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) It is even alluded to in Jesus’s key teaching in Matthew 25; “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me...” Remember Jesus himself was a foreign refugee in Egypt (Matthew 2:14).

Ensuring our country has as much control as possible over its laws

The only special earthly kingdom recognised by the bible is the original (pre-Jesus) kingdom of Israel. This kingdom will be fully realized when Jesus returns and is crowned king of a world-wide Israel/Jerusalem, which will welcome all nations. The bible recognises authorities are there for a purpose and it recognises that purpose can be served by supra-national authorities like the Roman empire as much as governments of an individual nation. (Romans 13). Outside of Israel, the bible does not suggest there is anything inherently better about being ruled exclusively by a country’s own government or a supra national government or a local council or a mix of all of them. The vision of  Micah 4:5, Isaiah 2:4 and of John’s Revelation (Revelation 7:9 and 22:2) is of people from all nations coming together in peace under Jesus. This can never be achieved until Jesus returns, but it does suggest that nations seeking to work together in partnership rather than  just going it alone is a godly principle to work towards.

Stricter law and punishment
The bible does acknowledge the need for criminal law and punishment to ensure peace and order (see Romans 13). However, we must be very careful as Christians that we do not apply a strict Old Testament approach to law and order. Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation who fulfils the Old Testmanent laws and goes above andf beyond them with his law of love. Ultimately he took the punishment that we all deserve for our sin. Jesus's approach to law and punishment is gracious and makes clear that there should be room for mercy rather than the  strictest application of law and punishment. We see this in how he stopped the stoning of the adulteress (John 8;7) and in Matthew 25 visiting prisoners is the sort of thing he expects his followers to be doing. So those advocating stricter law enforcement and punishment risk being on the wrong side of the debate to Jesus. Biblically it cannot be considered a key political value.

Even sticking to the key Christain values it can still be difficult working out what will best achieve them

Of course, even when we focus on the core Christian values there will still be difficulties sometimes in working out what policies will best achieve those values. For example, with Brexit- will a “hard” or “soft” Brexit or no Brexit at all better help the poor and marginalised, better care for the sick and better promote peace and security? The answers to that are not immediately obvious. However, if we take the time and trouble to unmask the myths and get to the actual facts it becomes much easier to assess what's most likely to achieve those ends.

A Footnote about some false American political values

The following “false”, supposedly Christian, values are major party political issues in the USA. Sadly, they were instrumental in putting into the White House a man who I believe to be the most unsuitable and unchristian President of all time. I hope one day that the Evangelical church leaders who encourged Christians to vote for this man because of some of these false values  will one day have the wisdom and humility to apologise. I mention them here because  they could be a factor in how some may exercise the vote for an individual candidate.

The rights of the unborn
I have changed my own position on this recently. I still believe that abortion generally is wrong. However, that does not make it the right thing to criminalize it. (Any more than we should say criminalize say adultery). The notion that abortion (certainly before the third trimester) is the equivalent of murder is simply not supported by the bible. There are  lots of offences against person listed in the Old Testament laws but abortion is nowhere mentioned among them even though it certainly happened in Old Testament times. (You can check for yourself in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In fact Numbers even hints at a divinely delivered form of abortion). It seems clear to me  that for whatever reason God does not equate the destruction of the unborn with murder. His word actually allows the freedom to choose. (That is not saying that it is right). I think we can allow God to take care of the unborn child who dies in the mother’s womb and welcome then into heaven. Even if I am wrong on this ,the lack of any direct reference to abortion in the bible means a tightening of abortion laws cannot be considered a key biblical Christian value.

The right to bear arms
Whilst this may be seen as right under the US constitution a personal right to fire arms it  is directly contrary to biblical values. This is evident from Jesus’s call to us to be “peacemakers” and to “turn the other cheek” and his warning to Peter when he used a weapon to try to prevent Jesus’ arrest that“those who live by the sword die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Preventing/discouraging inappropriate sexual behaviour
This is a more tricky one. There are all sorts of inappropriate sexual behaviours which are clearly contrary to biblical values. But where should we draw the line at criminalizing them? As for the very particular issue of homosexual relationships and gay marriage note thankfully this is not a party political issue in the UK. As a bible believing Christian who was once very strongly opposed to gay marriage and now supports it what I acknowledge that there are genuine differences over interpretation of scripture there. However I would point out that whatever view one takes this is not highlighted in the bible as a key issue. There are no more seven references to homosexual relationships in the whole of the bible (and even where mentioned I would say it is not talking about monogamousfaithful homosexual relationships). It is not once mentioned by Jesus himself. Contrast this with issues like poverty and justice and the sins of greed and love of money which are mentioned many, many times.

Capital punishment
The Old Testament laws did prescribe capital punishment for more serious offences- not just murder but also adultery. I wonder how many advocates of capital punishment would be happy to see the electric chair or hanging brought back for adultery? (And bear in mind here that Jesus says he who looks at a woman lustfully is guilty of adultery in his heart!) Fortunately for us all Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament laws who took the punishment we all deserve for our sins. His approach to sin and punishment as we've seen is gracious and merciful , illustrated by his saving the adulteress from stoning with the words, "He who is without sin cast the first stone." I would suggest following Jesus's own  example is simply not consistent with capital punishment for any crimes. 

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