Wednesday night I finished our last small group of the spring semester. Most of groups will break for the summer (although we will still have a Sunday morning “study” option during the summer). During the spring we have been studying Amos. Someone said, “I love my small group, but I was beginning to hate Amos.” Everyone (besides me) seemed to agree. What she meant was that Amos is a real downer. The whole book could be summed up as “Israel–you’re terrible and now your going to die forever.” Even the remnant speech at the end is about Judah, not the northern kingdom.
Contrary to my group, however, I dig the book of Amos because so much of it is ethics. Amos spends most of his time calling out the injustices that Israel (and other peoples, including Judah) have committed. Here is my survey of the ethics in Amos.
1. Unprovoked violence against other nations is wrong. (1:3)
2. The enslavement of other people is wrong. (1:6)
3. Violation of covenants (treaties of peace) is wrong. (1:9)
4. Murder of innocents (unborn babies) is wrong. (1:13)
5. Believing the lies others tell (naivete) is wrong. (2:4)
6. Slavery of your own people is wrong. (2:6, 8:6)
7. Ignoring the needs of the poor is wrong. (2:7, 4:1, 5:11, 8:4)
8. Usury is wrong. (2:8, 8:6)
9. Refusing to do justice is wrong. (5:7, 15, 24)
10. Taxing the poor is wrong. (5:11)
11. Taking (and offering) a bribe is wrong. (5:12)
12. Living in luxury with no concern of others needs is wrong. (6:1-6)
It is for these violations that Amos screeches the loudest and it is for these violations that Israel is being punished. Notably, it is because of the people’s unethical behavior that the Lord hates their religious practices and literally ignores their prayers (5:21-24). Amos makes rousing statements that the Lord has rejected the worship and ritual of Israel not because of the form or method, but because their behavior was so unsustainable.
It is not our worship or our doctrinal statements that earn God’s blessing. It is the way we treat one another and the way we treat other human beings. The weak, the helpless, the hurting, the poor, the alone and the needy are people created in the image of God just as we are. If we say we love God, then these people will matter to us.
I could expound on the application of these for many words but I’ll only share two thoughts today. First, the international aspects of ethics seems to be something our culture needs to pay attention to now. Treaties, drones, wars, economic sweat shops, and protests in far away places are all ethical issues. The second thing that strikes me is that much of what passes as politics in the United States is actually ethics. Euthanasia, welfare, homelessness, banking, abortion, and war are all essentially ethical questions. Part of the problem we have (in the United States) is that the left is biblical on some issues like welfare, workers rights, and suspicion of banking but the right is biblical on other issues like abortion, euthanasia, and prosecution of criminals. There is no biblically consistent ethical block in our political landscape.
Pastor Greenbean, as most of you know, is apolitical. I equally throw barbs at the right and the left. In all seriousness, we have a problem in the United States; we are far too divided. Jesus said a house divided cannot stand. Recently a friend of mine, Dr. David Caddell, posted the following comments on his Facebook page. I asked for permission to re-blog his thoughts here. David is a professor of Sociology at Ouachita Baptist University. I met him when he was at Seattle Pacific University and lived nearby, and we have recently co-authored a book on Romans. This is a long blog–but worth the read.
As a few of my friends know (especially those of you with whom I am entering my third and fourth decade of friendship), I have always been uncomfortable with politics. In fact, I have always been uncomfortable with conflict of any kind. Maybe it’s because I did not want anyone to leave what seems to be my ever-shrinking circle of friends. Perhaps I am a coward, and I have found some good intellectual and spiritual ways to legitimate my cowardice. I hope I am being intellectually honest in my assessment of what is going on these days, but I certainly do make room for the possibility that I am the one who has gone off the deep end. I also hope that while, in our present circumstances candor can be dangerous, it can also be therapeutic.
Since we all speak from somewhere, I will say that I speak from the vantage point of a Christian and an academic. In the desire for intellectual honesty, I would say I tend to be a political moderate, which is often taken to mean I don’t feel strongly about anything. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. I place myself in the “moderate” camp because I don’t see a “pragmatist” camp anywhere. I find myself supporting ideas from a variety of sources, depending on the issue. I find myself in opposition to many ideas as well, but above all, I oppose “culture warring” and effectively doing nothing while people are suffering. In the U.S., we still have an unemployment problem, poverty still remains much higher than it should be, children are going unfed and undereducated, we still have many innocent people rotting in prison with no relief because the system is screwed up, our economy has been in shambles for almost ten years now, and our debt is out of control (after the last 12 years, no one can tell me that one party or the other has the answer to that one). Abroad, we are still at war, AIDS is still rampant in Africa, and 40,000 people a day die of malnutrition. As a result, I desperately want to hear ideas, not political pap (and stuff that rhymes with pap). What I do sense more than anything is that the outcome of this election (whatever that might be) is not likely to change any of these things.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the how the current election cycle has filled me to the brim with pessimism, as has every election cycle since I was old enough to become a reflective observer of current events. It’s not that I have rarely found someone that I could fully agree with, although that has certainly always been the case. My discomfort is more attributable to character of our national debate and the tribal nature of our politics, where a candidate (“liberal” or “conservative,” it doesn’t seem to matter in this regard) is worthy of uncritical support simply because they are “one of us,” even when we know nothing of their plans should they assume office.
While there has probably always been an element of this, I remember first becoming aware of this when I was twelve years old, and I saw many of the adults around me suggesting that they should vote for Jimmy Carter (a democrat) because he was “one of us.” The concomitant discomfort that now travels with this phenomenon began for me during the next election, when those very same people supported Ronald Reagan (a republican), because he was “one of us.”
I thought this had reached its zenith (I’m hoping) during the 2000 and 2004 elections, when George W. Bush was given a free pass on just about everything by those whose traditionalist persuasion he claimed. I saw him actually court the traditionalist vote by promising to work toward overturning Roe v Wade (one of the signature issues on their agenda), to maintain some form of fiscal discipline, and to resist the temptation of making the U.S. the world’s policeman by engaging in nation building. Yet, all these promises were abandoned. Specifically, he spent the country into oblivion (which has continued under the current administration), led the United States into war under false pretenses, and, did very little to effect the traditionalist agenda on abortion (in the 11 months from the time Samuel Alito was confirmed to the Court, President Bush had a sympathetic court, Republicans in charge of both houses of congress, and the White House. How many pieces of legislation were put forward in support of the traditionalist agenda? Zero.)
Why such strange support for candidates who claim to hold views and then abandon them? Because they are “one of us,” and that’s better than the other guy. This illustrates just how tribal our culture has become as a result of this “culture war” mentality we have adopted over the past 40 years or so. In the U.S., we like to think we do things better than other countries, but we seem to have devolved to become more like those we fight against. In this culture war, each side seems to prop up a spokesman for their side, and we tend to follow that ideological warlord regardless of what they do, simply because they are “one of us.” At the same time, we seem to have abandoned the idea that compromising with someone with whom we disagree is not anathema, and might actually benefit everyone.
What is the ultimate outcome of all this? Only God knows, I suppose. But I think it’s bad. In the short run, it’s terrible. We have totally trashed the assumption of healthy, vigorous debate (and compromise) that our republic is supposed to be predicated on. In fact, we seem to have defaulted to raw, naked power democracy where all we have to do is get enough votes and we can trample over the sensibilities, even the rights, of those who disagree with us. Does this mean the disagreements we are having over the issues bedeviling us at the moment mean nothing? Absolutely not. In fact, since direction determines destination, these issues are going to be determinative of our future and need to be settled. What I am saying is that they will never be adequately settled by staying on the current destructive path we are on at present.
So, what are those among the redeemed community to do?
On the issue of compromise, I would never suggest that this is equivalent to accommodating ones values, especially among those honestly trying to live a life of holiness. However, in “standing up for righteousness” in a free society (especially one founded on religious freedom), if I desire to codify those values into law, I don’t have to accommodate my values, but I should be able to justify them in ways that are accessible to people of all faiths (or none) rather than simply citing the scriptures or my own convictions. I see only trouble ahead if we continue the attempt to utilize the government to enforce a form a righteousness around which we have no national consensus. Do we really want government to stay out of our lives on the specific issues that we care about and then to act as everyone else’s nanny so they don’t engage in behavior we might find disagreeable?
Another few thoughts on the issue of standing up for righteousness in the public arena. First, we may be in need of a more biblical definition of “righteousness.” As a Christian, when I am reading the Bible, it is important for me to interpret/apply the scriptures through the lens of the teachings of Jesus. How does Jesus describe those who are righteous at the judgment? “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.” . In that regard, I don’t see much effort by culture warriors on any side to legislate this kind of “righteousness.” Instead I see ungracious ad hominem attacks and bickering, unbecoming of anyone who presents themselves as standing up for righteousness. At the same time, I see no teachings in the Sermon on the Mount on when Christ’s lessons may be suspended in favor of the ungracious behavior often exhibited by those who claim to stand up for righteousness.
Again, I would never suggest that anyone should refrain from standing up for righteousness. I am suggesting that how we stand up for righteousness matters. I have talked to more than one candidate for local and congressional offices that told me that they wanted to be in power because they wanted to bring this country back to righteousness. I could not agree more with their motives (I too, want to see our nation turn back to the God who loves them), but I could not disagree more with their method. Jesus certainly stood up for righteousness and justice, but he never sought to accomplish this through political power. Jesus never taught believers to seek the redemption or righteousness of the world through political power. None of the Twelve or Paul ever suggested that any power other than that of the holy spirit would accomplish this. So, even if the culture warriors on various sides were to win their battle for “righteousness,” they won’t get what they seek because it is a spiritual impossibility. In fact, in any culture war, even if you win, you lose. You have driven away the very people we are called to reach. This is why a large proportion of our population (which 30 years ago viewed people like us as harmless fanatics) now view Christians as “dangerous.”
Besides being inconsistent with scripture, the approach to making progress along any sort of ideological agenda by electing Christians (or those who share our values) has already proven to be a failure over the past 40 years. Evangelical Christians thought they had hit the jackpot when both Reagan and George W. were elected. In fact, the evangelicals who supported them got very little in return for their efforts except the dubious distinction of having linked the gospel of Christ with one political party’s agenda.
Why hasn’t the approach of pursuing a “Christian” agenda for the United States through political power been successful? The sociology behind this is pretty simple. Individuals change in response to the expectations of the roles they occupy. The roles do not change in response to the will of individuals. This is why it has been demonstrated over and over that power corrupts. So, if you want someone who is going to remain concerned about the righteousness of their cause, it’s probably not a good idea to elect them as president. As a prophet, I have one constituency to be concerned with. As president, I am beholden to so many people who got me elected. You can bet that favors will be done to show gratitude. As Ed Dobson (former Associate Pastor to Jerry Falwell and executive of the Moral Majority) once said, “You can either be the prophet, or you can be king. But you can’t be both.”
Lastly, do we really believe in the sovereignty of God or not? I hear evangelicals shouting out quite often how the U.S. is doomed if one candidate or another gets elected. This always stirs me to ask a few questions. Is God sovereign or not? Do we really think than any of the temporal events about which we are so anxious have taken God by surprise? Must we really have “one of us” in political power for God to be in control of our destiny? Instead, it seems to me the Biblical theology we hold dear should allow us to “be anxious for nothing,” participate as good citizens, and leave the future of our country and ourselves to the Almighty.
Back in the days, the dark ages, when I was active on MySpace—that’s been a long time now, I commented on my MySpace blog frequently during the election cycle of 2008. I had great fun analyzing the debates, the elections, and the media coverage. I haven’t done that yet on this blog because the election cycle hasn’t really gotten under way much. But tonight I tuned in for a few moments (not the whole thing, but a few moments) to the Republican Debate. I thought I would offer some advice to the candidates.
(DISCLAIMER—PASTOR GREENBEAN IN NO WAYENDORSES ANY CANDIDATE OR POLITICAL PARTY. HE IS FAR TOO CYNICAL ABOUT POLITICS. FOR HIM WATCHING POLITICS IS LIKE WATCHING A SPORTING EVENT. PASTOR GREENBEAN BELIEVES ONLY JESUS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.) notice I talk about myself in the third person…that’s called escapism because I wish I was big-time enough to have an editor to write those disclaimers for me.
Now, before I get to the advice, a note on coverage. CNN did not do a very good job with this one. So, now for the advice.
1. Diversity would be a good thing in the candidates. The field is dominated by graying white guys. Herman Cain has an outside shot, Bachmann looked like a dear in headlights (not to mention she received very few questions . . . hum?) but we need some real diversity here. How about someone speaking a little Spanish or maybe two or three other ladies? It looked like a group of Baptist preachers.
2. The mainstream-type candidates had better watch out because Ron Paul is fired up. He got huge applause. Of the group he is probably the only one I would like to go have lunch with. True, he is running, I think, for the election cycle of 1912, not 2012 but at least he is exciting.
3. The ones in the race ought to gang up on Newt Gingrich and get him out. As long as he is around, he will suck up all the usable oxygen. I don’t mean to sound divisive, but he really can’t win but he will deflect time away from someone who might be able to (like Pawlenty or a Romney, or maybe Cain).
4. The GOP needs to stop talking about “Obamacare” in completely reactionary tones. It is okay not to like it, but it sounds denigrating to use that type of language. By using the GOP candidates do not separate themselves at all from the talk-show talking head crowd. Be elegant in your argument—hire some wordsmiths and speechwriters for crying-out-loud.
5. We voters like to vote for something, not against something. The overall feeling that we saw tonight was negative and not positive. It was the positive “change” motif that got President Obama elected and the GOP candidate that wins the nomination and perhaps have a shot at being president (a slim shot, I add) will have to find something positive too.
6. Someone (apologies to Bachmann) should grow a beard. I guarantee the candidate that grows a full beard will have a gigantic bump in the polls. Many of us bearded men would become single-issue voters in favor of the fellowship of the facial follicle.
Okay, that’s enough advice for now. I wish there were also a Democrat race like last time. Democrats are far more fun. Watching Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama was always fun for me. Tonight’s debate was so boring I turned it off to go get some work done. Work! I chose work instead of listening to them, and I like debates.
************Update************It appears I misjudged the performance of Bachmann. The post-debate media critique seems to think she did very well. I didn’t see that part of the debate; but maybe she’ll make it interesting. I hope so.