Since we have an abundance of candidates running on the faith platform, it seems reasonable to measure their positions on public issues against the biblical standards they are so quick to claim as their own. A close examination of scripture reveals quite a list, although it will disappoint some to discover that abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage are not on it. It’s not like God laid it out just once and then let it go. Not at all, almost every one of the 8th century prophets, and those who wrote in their names, had the same things to say. I’m particularly fond of Amos, maybe because he was a farmer from a small rural town, but I also think that God used him to provide the most comprehensive list against which to judge candidate positions, which he did by articulating the failings of a people and its rulers who bear a remarkable similarity to our own. So here goes. Will the candidate: • Even for enemies refuse to use the food of the people as a weapon • Oppose all forms of ethnic cleansing • Display integrity in international dealings • Foster civil harmony • Provide for security of persons and possessions without discrimination • Respect legitimate civil authority • Initiate economic policies and practices that are fair to all • Promote fair and honest dealings in all areas of trade, commerce and personal relations • Assure that interest rates on loans, especially to the poor, that are not confiscatory • Demand equal justice for all, especially for the poor • Initiate policies and practices that remove barriers to success in life for all persons • Show awed respect for God’s holy places • Show and promote a holy respect for all acts of (sexual) intimacy • Be sober and promote sobriety • Allow God’s servants to speak freely as God inspires them • Engage in constructive work that shows respect for all • Be personally honest and intentional worship of God in heart, soul and mind • Have humility in God’s presence and eliminate conditions or behavior that oppress others • Provide for honest courts and judges • Assure fair taxation of all • Promote policies that encourage economic well being for all • Respect the dignity of all persons • Lead a government that is generous in its compassion for those in need I imagine that some will wonder how all of that comes out of Amos. It’s really quite simple. Just take a look at what God has condemned. Wouldn’t the reciprocal of that be what God approves? I think so.
We are entering an odd presidential campaign in which the acceptability of a candidate is measured in part on how well they can express their faith, preferably their Christian faith. It’s not exactly a litmus test, but it is an indication of how fearful the candidates are that they might alienate the Christian Right if they don’t say the right things about their faith. Debate moderators aid and abet by peppering their questions with references to faith. As a Christian I realize that one of our treasured mantras is that we are saved by grace through faith, but I fear that it has become almost meaningless through unthinking and often hypocritical overuse. Proclaiming belief in God through Jesus Christ or claiming that “the day I gave myself to Jesus is the day I was saved” is one thing, but following him is an entirely different thing. I think James had it right: faith without works is dead. If (Christian) faith is to be the measure of a candidate’s character then I want to know how closely the candidate’s platform conforms to Christ’s teachings, and I suggest a place to start is a close examination of the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew’s gospel. Using that as my template I want to know if a given candidate: • Is humble in spirit and demeanor • Mourns for this fallen world and the role of our nation in it • Hungers and thirsts for righteousness • Is merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker • Is willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake • Is a person of worthiness, which is to say a person of honest integrity • Can let their light so shine that others will give glory to God because of them • Understands the spirit and depth of the Ten Commandments and not just their words • Seeks reconciliation with those whom they and our nation have injured • Lets their yes be yes and their no be no • Is able to confront violence in radically peaceful ways • Is willing to learn to love their enemies • Will pray for those who persecute them and our nation • Doesn’t act too pious, especially in public • Gives anonymously and with generosity to those in need • Prays with simple words • Serves God and not wealth or earthly riches • Trusts God and doesn’t worry so much about this life • Isn’t quick to judge others recognizing that they are not very qualified to do it anyway • Respects and honors that which is holy • Asks, knocks and seeks knowing that God who loves all of us will answer • Aims for the narrow doorway – the wide one leads to hell (Iraq perhaps) • Can discern and beware of false prophets (especially the ones who seek to be closest to them) • Builds their life on the solid rock of faith in God through Christ So much for the character of a candidate running on the faith platform. It seems to me that God also has a pretty clear cut political agenda, and that might be a platform plank for another day, but if you want an advance clue take a good hard read of Amos.
It may still be Advent, but tonight we had our Children’s Christmas Pageant complete with an informal Eucharist. The script allowed everyone, including adults, to participate in one way or another. Dozens of sheep, a bevy of angels complete with wings, animals of every kind and shepherds of all sizes and ages gathered about the manger. Seven or eight youth offered their musical talents, and many carols were sung. Most everyone in town will attest that our “Midnight Mass” on Christmas Eve is the best that Anglican tradition, liturgy and choral music have to offer, but for the sheer joy of celebrating the Nativity there is nothing that can compare to the children’s pageant. This semi-rehearsed and often spontaneous event is filled with laughter and tears of joy and is the best, the very best. In the light of the pageant I really don’t care what the Archbishop’s Advent letter says or what Kendal Harmon thinks. It’s all marginal drivel in the light of children telling the Christmas story.
How do visions become reality? At this time of year we have an abundance of them read to us mostly from Isaiah, and an even greater abundance of them from sentimental holiday films and music. Is it all just wishful thinking? I keep going back to the gospel stories to be reminded of how Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of God kept breaking into this world in startling reality with every word and deed of Jesus. That breaking in did not flood the entire globe, but it did bring the renewing water of life into the parched places of a person here and a person there and sometimes to whole crowds and villages. It was, it seems to me, the necessary, sure and certain sign that the visions of Isaiah, and even those of rank Hallmark sentimentality, are visions of a reality that is already partly here with more to come in God’s good time. I am also reminded that it is the gathered church that is to continue as the body of Christ going about the business of bringing reality to the visions in the places and among the people where we live. We are not called on to bring the reality of the kingdom of God to the world. We are called on to bring it into the places that we touch and the places that touch us. If every follower of Christ did that, the whole world would indeed be touched by the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.
Looking back on recent posts, I suspect I might be considered a rather curmudgeonly sort of Country Parson. I prefer to think of myself as a Christian realist firmly rooted in a classical Christianity that takes the Bible as progressively revealing the Word of God in truth without having to be taken as inerrant or literally and historically true in all things. That same classical Christianity honors thousands of years of tradition, recognizing that those who have preceded us and dedicated their lives to better understanding God may have some important wisdom to share with us. We, in our own generation, will become the next layer of tradition to help guide the way for generations yet to come. Whether our contribution to tradition is wise or foolish depends a lot on us, and there is a lot of foolishness out there. As a classical Christian I fully embrace the Nicene Creed, and delight in worship rich in liturgy that helps to create holy time and holy space. Setting all other things aside, I am convinced that the heart of Christianity is to follow as disciples where Christ has led. That means that we are to: love the Lord our God with all our hearts, bodies and minds; love our neighbors as ourselves; and love one another as Christ has loved us. As priest and pastor a part of my job is to help those in my care to come to deeper understandings of what all of that means and how it might be lived out in practical everyday ways. Finally, the right-wing challenge is always: yes, but do you believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation? The answer is an unequivocal yes, but probably not a yes acceptable to them because I leave all of that entirely in God’s hands and am unwilling to insist on certain human formularies as a test of whether one is saved or not.
I continue to run across conservative Christian blogs and websites decrying the fact that the Supreme Court has banned the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Where do these ideas come from and how do they get so firmly stuck in the psyche of some people? As far as I know the last Supreme Court decision on this matter was in 2004 when the justices in a majority of eight dismissed a case brought by a man in California who objected to the pledge. The pledge, whether one likes it or not, is still recited in public schools just as it has been for decades. This sort of “Chicken Little The Sky Is Falling” stuff distracts us from more serious issues facing our nation and the important work Christ has given us to do.
I’m generally not fond of simply republishing something someone else wrote, but after listening to and then reading a recent lecture by Prof. Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, I’ve been rereading Reinhold Niebuhr’s 1952 book The Irony of American History. His comments on a certain naïve idealism he saw in the American foreign policies of his day seemed to offer some startling illumination for the policies of our own. He wrote in part that… We might be tempted to bring the whole of modern history to a tragic conclusion by one final and mighty effort to overcome its frustrations. The political term for such an effort is “preventive war.” It is not an immediate temptation; but it could become so in the next decade or two. ….Nations find it even more difficult than individuals to preserve sanity when confronted with a resolute and unscrupulous foe. Hatred disturbs all residual serenity of spirit and vindictiveness muddies every pool of sanity. …Our foreign policy is thus threatened with a kind of apoplectic rigidity and inflexibility. Constant proof is required that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor. (Niebuhr, 146)