Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Politics and the Word of God, notes from tonight's debate

So I turned in to tonight's YouTube debate just in time to see the candidates questioned if they believe the words in the Bible. That's a pretty loaded question, in fact it was prefaced with, "how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you." Not only is it loaded, but it's also misleading. Many people wrongly equate believing that the Bible is the Word of God and believing that every word is true. At the same time, believing that the Bible is the Word of God also isn't the same as believing that every word applies to you. But that's a nuance that is often ignored in the public debate about the influence of Christianity on many political issues, namely evolution and homosexuality. The way the argument goes is that if you believe the Bible is the Word of God then therefore you believe every word is true and you are a strict creationist. At the same time, you also therefore believe that every word applies to us today and thus are homophobic based on the Levitical Law calling homosexuality an "abomination." See how suddenly by being "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Pt 3:15) now has painted you into a corner on two very hot political topics? Like the questioner said, "how you answer this question will tell us everything you need to know about you."

But that's just not true. Just because I believe the Bible is the Word of God doesn't mean I take every word literally. It's obvious that some is poetry and some is allegorical. And I admit that my faith isn't strong enough to take a literal view of creation. When it comes to homosexuality, unfortunately many christians (intentional little c) quote Leviticus to condemn homosexuality. I sure hope they don't eat shrimp because that too, is an abomination according to Levitical Law. And since Jesus died "once for all" (Heb 10:10) and established a "new covenant" (Lk 22:20) and "fulfill[ed] them [the law]" (Mt 5:17) the Levitical Law no longer applies to us today. (After all, where's our temple?)

But it's intentional to not ask the specific questions regarding these issues. Instead the question is framed to require candidates to dance around their faith. So how did the candidates do tonight? Well, Mayor Giuliani answered the question pretty much like I did. Governor Romney answered it directly saying he believed the Bible is the Word of God but then tripped all over himself to expand on that. And Governor Huckabee hit it out of the park. I'll paraphrase: "Yes, I believe the Bible is God's revelation to his people. And there are parts that are up to interpretation that are the center of debates. But there are parts that are so clear that everyone can agree on them, 'love your neighbor' and 'what you've done for the least of these, you've done to me'. I think we can all agree in these principles. But we get too distracted by the other debates that we don't live out what we do agree on." (for direct quote, go here) Of course, would we expect any less from a minister?

Huckabee's answer was honest and direct. And unlike either Giuliani or Romney, you could tell from his body language, his tone, and the words themselves, that he really meant it. And I have to respect that. I saw him on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and he held up pretty well against attacks on his creationist stance. He said point blank that it doesn't matter what he thinks about that issue because it doesn't affect how he would govern. And Bill Maher couldn't say anything against that, other than going off on a rant against Christianity as a whole.

While this entry might look like a political endorsement, it's not. Instead, it's a lesson on exactly how we, as Ambassadors of Christ, should "be prepared to give an answer... with gentleness and respect."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

And I can say that with a clear conscience without fear of the PC police... for now anyway.

Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday. I grew up in retail so Christmas wasn't the least bit fun. But Thanksgiving (with Black Friday after of course) was a chance to close shop for a day and spend the time with family. We would often host a big feast at our church with family from out of town, our employees, our neighbors, and the close friends of the family that were, really, family. The advantage of growing up in a small town, I guess. I can't imagine doing something like that today. But I do pray that someday my family can host a Thanksgiving like I remember growing up.

Thanksgiving, to me, isn't the least bit religious. There's no doctrine behind it like the birth or resurrection of my Savior. It's simply a time to stop the world for a moment and enjoy the blessings in our lives, wherever we believe they originated from. And even though the folklore is rooted in Puritan religious tradition, the symbols of the holiday are turkeys, cornucopias, gourds, and leaves in all the fall colors. Anyone can celebrate this holiday. And it's not just Christians who celebrate it.

But yet, there are some who feel that there is a War on Thanksgiving like there is a War on Christmas, with bumper stickers that say "remember to thank HIM". If it was me, I'd play off the slogan of "Keep Christ in Christmas" with something like "Keep the Thanks in Thanksgiving." I don't think there's a reason for the Christian Right to be paranoid about the religious roots of Thanksgiving eroding in the name of Political Correctness. But I do think it's right to remind everyone why we celebrate this holiday. We are blessed in this country. The poorest among us are rich compared to much of the world. We celebrate freedoms that few others share. And despite how screwed up our country can seem at times, thousands still come to this country regularly to seek a better life.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. It is worth it to look to his words to remind us why we celebrate this holiday today.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great
things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with
us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set
apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving
and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. (full text here)

And while we are called to give thanks for our blessings, we are also called to remember those less fortunate:

And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to
him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble
penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender
care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers...

Today, let's remember to Keep the Thanks in Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

If there's a separation of Church and State, where's the line?

On Tuesday, the Governor of Georgia held an all-faith rally to pray for rain. If you haven't heard, Georgia is suffering an unprecedented drought and a call for everyone in the state to pray for relief wouldn't be unheard of. But to hold it on the capitol steps? Is that going too far? Like my title says, if there really is a separation of Church and State, where's the line? Was it crossed when Congressmen and women sang God Bless America on the steps of the US Capitol following September 11? Is it crossed when the president suggests we pray for the victims of a natural disaster?

There were a few protesters, but not as substantial as I would've expected. But there was an online debate on one of the message boards I frequent over whether this sets a bad precedent (of course, in order for that to be the case this would have to be the first time something like this has ever happened). The person who started the thread, about halfway through the debate, stated that he was afraid of what this country will look like in 20 years if such violations of the First Amendment are allowed to continue. I hate to break it to him, but there was a nationwide vigil when the Apollo 13 mission failed. And that was more than 20 years ago. Have we been sliding down the slippery slope ever since? Of course not. That wasn't the first such event and it certainly wasn't the last. I already mentioned 9/11. And while that spike of patriotism and religion might have alarmed the most paranoid Church/State activists, a majority of those who rushed to their churches to pray, hold vigil, donate blood, or just take communion for the first time in years have since dropped back out into the world of sleeping in on Sundays or staying home to watch football.

But were the prayers effective? Well, it did rain believe it or not. Although the weather service did predict rain. But this whole event reminds me of a common anecdote of the girl who, when her town gathered to pray for rain to end a drought, was the only one who brought an umbrella. Relate this to Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." So I wonder, of all the people who showed up, did anyone think to bring an umbrella?

Friday, November 09, 2007

For president I endorse...

So Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani the other day. To quote Adam Sandler in one of my all-time favorite movies, "Well, whoopidee dooo!" Meanwhile, Sen Sam Brownback, I guess the standard bearer for Christianity in the Senate, has endorsed John McCain. Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, has endorsed Mike Huckabee (so did Chuck Norris FWIW). And a couple of weeks ago, Bob Jones endorsed Mitt Romney. All that while Dr. James Dobson and other evangelical leaders threaten to endorse a third party if the Republicans fail to nominate a pro-life candidate (see this post below). Do these differing opinions mean anything? Is it a harbinger of the collapse of the Religious Right?

Not really. It's really more reflective of a reality of Christians overlooked by political "experts." Remember, there are hundreds of different denominations split over things as important as whether or not you have Sunday School. Do you honestly think if Christians can't be united under Jesus that some politician can unite them? And this is a good thing, really. I'd rather have a fractured "christian" political base than one united on only one or two issues. I'd rather not be shoe-horned into a political party just because of my faith. And I especially don't want dishonest politicians pandering to me in the name of my Lord with the aim to be elected to office, not to bring Him glory.

There are a lot of people surprised by Pat Robertson's endorsement. After all, Rudy doesn't have the most conservative record when it comes to abortion and gay rights. However, this isn't an indication of Robertson becoming less narrow minded. Instead, it represents his strong and very public stance on the Global War on Terror. As much as it seems he says some ridiculous things like Hurricane Katrina being about homosexuality, he talks much more frequently and more firmly about terrorism. So this news shouldn't be taken as an encouraging sign of the Christian Right, but instead an endorsement of a 21st Century Crusade.

But again, these figureheads don't speak for me. And I don't pledge allegiance to any doctrine based on their words, but on God's alone. There is some discussion online that this endorsement will drive moderates away from Giuliani. I don't think so. I just think reality is finally exposing the mythology of the "value voter". And I'm not the only one who thinks so. (For a counter argument on the state of the evangelical voter, see this article)