The past couple of weeks have been pretty exciting. On the anniversary of 9/11 all hell broke loose at a couple of our embassies and some Americans were killed and perhaps violated beforehand. Some are blaming it on a Coptic Christian amateur film maker for his YouTube montage taken from his work, “The Innocence of Muslims.” Most sensible people think this is a flimsy excuse for al Qaeda doing what al Qaeda wants to do anyway, but it has launched a national discussion about whether or not the first amendment really means that we can express any opinion we like here in the US.
This sort of thing comes up from time to time, like when an artist denigrates Christian symbols or creates blasphemous depictions of Jesus Christ, but it never came to a head because no one got killed or even beaten over the matter. Apparently you have to kill a couple million unborn infants to get a rise out of the most violent elements in the church.
So, while the unbelievers are wringing their hands over whether or not we should alter the first amendment to suit mobs in other countries where women are not even allowed to show their faces in public, we who believe should at least examine our own appropriate limits.
Romans 14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
I am using this as my text because it deals with offending people who are wrong about something. The person who is strong is depicted as someone who knows his rights and is very comfortable eating meat. The weak person is depicted as someone who feels uncertain about what is right and plays it safe. Here, and later in the same passage, Paul encourages us not to goad people into doing things they feel might be wrong.
But does the same thing apply when people are doing things that are wrong, and you try to correct them? In the first example, the weak person is not sinning. The person who was bringing correction was right, but it was not necessary to make the other person change. This is something that will change over time as a person becomes more secure in their place in God’s family. When a brother is in sin, we are actually told to warn him.
Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now, this is the kind of general warning that you can give to a wide audience and everyone who is guilty can take it to heart or not. Yet, there are those who may take offense anyway and call you a hater, a prude, mean, etc. But, it is the Word of God, so this really has little to do with you. But your delivery can be more or less effective depending on how you say it. In the very next chapter, Paul tells us how to do it on-on-one:
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Of course, the guilty don’t always receive this sort of message. Jesus gives an example here:
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
It seems sensible enough. Handle it alone, then call in help, and if that doesn’t work, don’t take his testimony of faith seriously; no beating or stoning. There isn’t even a call for public shaming, although the person who is found guilty will surely be unhappy.
This brings me back to using our rights in the public square. There is nothing wrong with declaring the truth in a public forum, although if you go after an individual while doing so, caution is in order, even if it’s a public figure. Mohammed has been dead a very long time, but mocking him is something that will make it hard for his followers to give you a hearing. Likewise, people who just love Barack Obama will not care a whit about his record if all we do is mock him. I know that one of the reasons I voted for George W. Bush in 2004 was because of the unbridled ugliness unleashed at him by millions of zealous Democrats who hated him. I was unhappy with his spending, and I wish we hadn’t sent troops into either Afghanistan or Iraq. I thought that is the reason we had bombs. But when it was time to vote, I so loathed Bush’s opponents that I could not abide the idea of them being in power.
And in the case of Terry Jones, the famous Koran burning pastor in my city, who even associated himself with that atrocious Westboro Baptist Church, the “God hates fags” people, he and I probably have more to agree on than disagree, but I would avoid being seen with him. He has not stuck with the text. And he has called out strangers publicly when he’s had other avenues. But this is how we do things in America. We have rights. And we want to beat you more than we want to win you over.
No matter how the election turns out, I will still be here, living with the consequences of it. If we continue to be a nation in decline, morally and economically, someone is going to have to pick up the pieces afterwards. It probably won’t be politicians. It will most likely be your neighbors that you learn to rely on once again. Let’s get back to loving one another and looking to God for our answers.
Hebrews 11:9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Today my wife remarked that politics has gotten so ugly that it has cost her at least one friend. And she is not anywhere near as outspoken on political issues as I am. Things are getting so touchy that it doesn’t take much to get de-friended, on social media and in real life. Does this mean that one should avoid the subject altogether? Many Christians seem to think so, while others dive in headlong and damn the torpedoes. I think this is a subject that should not be avoided.
I want to preface this discussion by saying that I have been systematically reading through the Bible this year. I began this journey without any agenda other than to understand the God of the Bible better. I use no study guide. I am currently beginning the Book of Lamentations. This means I have already covered a lot of Jewish history and I have seen that God has opinions on governing. I have also seen that God cares about how people behave corporately; and that he punishes nations. He sends prophets to warn people when they have strayed from obeying His commands, and His patience has limits.
He is also big enough to deal with us individually, and to cull out the obedient from the rest who couldn’t care less. And one of the things the obedient are supposed to be doing is influencing their careless neighbors. For instance, as Jesus told his disciples in the New Testament:
Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice that Jesus said to teach them to observe what was commanded. This is a big deal. I have been in church a long time, but I have seldom heard people being told to do a whole lot more than believe. I know I am just an unschooled layman, but even I can figure out that this leads to a lot of people doing whatever they want to do. Yes many factions have arisen as someone here and someone there decides what lines in the sand they want to draw, but then we only listen to the people we already agree with.
When the church is like this, is it any wonder that it has little moral authority when trying to bring correction to the general public, which also does whatever they want to do. Political correctness is a form of morality that has been cobbled together by people who only have some idea of morality they have arrived at without God. Our social mores, the things that make us feel shame, like incest and pedophilia, are built on the shared feelings of many people. How many? I don’t know. But we have an age of consent that differs from state to state here in the US. If a 40 year old man has sex with a 16 year old girl in Georgia, he is naughty. If he hooks up with a 16 year old in Florida, he is a child molester. In other countries, it’s complicated.
The Bible is pretty clear that government gets its authority from God. It’s also pretty clear that those in authority don’t always do the right thing. And it’s very clear that when they get it wrong long enough and badly enough, God judges them with all manner of destruction. It can take awhile because God is patient and He wants us to have the chance to govern ourselves well. It’s that way in our personal lives as well. If He wasn’t patient, there would be a lot fewer people on the Earth.
Our present form of government in America is one in which we participate to a far greater degree than did the early Hebrews, who had kings, and the early church, who lived under the occupation force of a despotic empire. Ours is one that that gives us some power to influence. In fact, our government, a representative form, comes from the people. It is a reflection of the people who chose them. And as much as we, the voters, love to criticize and excoriate our representatives, upon close examination we are not much different from them. I have run for public office three times and have talked to many, many fellow citizens in the process of campaigning. It has been a pretty depressing experience, because I have found that people are pretty self-absorbed and want what they want and care little what others want. You disagree with them at your peril.
In the video that I posted at the beginning of this article, roughly half the delegates at the Democrat National Convention booed God (or the recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel) on national television. Yes, people have free speech in America, but I cannot imagine this happening twenty years ago, let alone forty years ago, when I first started having opinions about my country and how it was run. This has gone far beyond people resenting God or the people of God in their minds or under their breath. And it should be a warning to all of us that we have let our country stray so far from a shared national reverence for God that was one of our mores, and that we didn’t need a law.
We can debate whether or not it should be illegal to flip off God in public. But it should at least be a shame. There should be something in our hearts that recoils at blasphemy. And we should pity the offender, rather than think of him as brave. It is foolish to offend God, whether we do so by vocalizing our hatred for Him or by being unwilling to take a stand for his commands. And we should first be sure that we are living by them.
We hear Jesus come up a lot, from both the believing and the unbelieving. The unbelievers use His words to make the pitch for social programs paid for by someone else. As believers, we need to live lives of generosity if we are going to challenge them to spend their own money on helping the people they want to help. Jesus never said to take someone else’s coat and give it to another. He said to give your own.
I believe that the Bible teaches us that religion and politics go together. If we ghettoize our faith in God and His commands, we fail to bring righteousness to our government. What we get is godless leaders, disdain for God’s commands, and self-worship. And we will have let it happen. Then, God will send His judgment, and this country will be no more.