Monday, December 11, 2006

An Answer to . . .

It is truly impossible for followers of Christ to remove their faith from their politics. The Great Commandment is that we first love God with our all; and then we love our neighbor as ourselves. To say we love God with our all means that we look at everything - everything - through the lens of our love for God: everything.

In the latest variation on the "followers of Christ must set their religion aside to be good citizens" meme - "The Power of Sacrifice" - it is presented that if we are unwilling to sacrifice our Christian doctrines in order to be part of a pluralistic society (if we put our religion first) than we cannot truly live out the sacrifice represented by President Kennedy's call to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" because we are not willing to sacrifice our faith for the "common good" established by the overall society. It seems strange to quote this speech considering the context of this remark; and for that I will quote a bit more of the speech:

. . . we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom - symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God
. . .
Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah - to "undo the heavy burdens -. and to let the oppressed go free."
. . .
Now the trumpet summons us again - not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are - but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" - a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
Considering this speech then, how would President Kennedy respond to this assertion:
Are there any Christians who aren't focused on Christian first, America second? That frame to me- Christian first, America second- isn't a frame about common sacrifice because you aren't giving up anything.
How would the man above who said:
And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

The natural law theme of that quote, and most of his speech, is evident - that our rights as human beings do not flow from whatever protections a particular government may, or may not, give us; but from our rights as imago dei - as images of God. I share that view of the rights of all "images of God"; and of the responsibility of government, to God, to protect those rights. President Kennedy also contended that everyone on the planet - regardless of the form of government they live under - has those same rights flowing from God; and that the United States was going to be a defender of those rights, for everyone - everywhere in the world. This was not a man who put country first and his faith second.

I have problems with the speech because it appears to fall into one of those mistakes that followers of Christ (particularly conservative ones) in the United States get sucked into - civil religionism:
The first moral error of political conservatism is civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.
. . .
The mistake in all these stages is confusing America with Zion. She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts-specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States.
However, certainly President Kennedy in asking for the sacrifice he was asking for was not placing this request outside his faith; and in fact couched it in our responsibility to God to protect the rights bestowed on us by God and not by the social contracts of mankind.

This was how Thomas Jefferson expressed our rights in the Declaration of Independence ("endowed by our Creator"); and, of course, his "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)" made it clear that all ideas, religious and otherwise, must be free to contend in the public square because
. . . truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them . . .
I believe those people in this country who talk about Christians needing to couch our views in secular terms, place our faith second to our country, and/or not advocate for the views of our religion are violating Jefferson's warning about removing Truth's "natural weapons" - free argument and debate.

Neither Jefferson nor Kennedy sacrificed
because of faith in the common good which isn't about God, but about Caesar's power over us.
They sacrificed because they believed that only in looking at God's view of us could we moderate and control Caesar's power over us - only by seeing other humans as imago dei. Throughout history the primary issue has been one man removing another from this classification - whether black slaves in Jefferson's day or whoever today. The progress in the human race has been in slowing including more and more people in the category of "image of God".

Because we look to God to understand those inalienable rights it is incorrect to think that followers of Christ (or members of any other ethical and/or moral system) will not try to derive from their ethical structures an understanding of what rights God endowed us with. Certainly pornography is one of those kinds of issues: one person's free expression fuels, and funds, an industry that is responsible for a good portion of the remaining slavery in the world today - trafficking. It is not true, in that case, that allowing freedom to practice what folks want is a "common good" necessarily.

However, the major issues the author of "The Power of Sacrifice" concentrated on were abortion, gay rights, and gay marriage. In the case of abortion and gay rights, there is an assumption in the diary that followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, oppose abortion and gay rights and/or marriage. This isn't true - particularly about gay rights.

My primary argument against abortion is secular - exactly aimed at the "common good" and human rights; but for many followers of Christ this is just one more example of human beings being excluded, for the convenience of others, from imago dei. Frankly, there is no direct discussion of abortion in the Bible - it is generally derived from all humans being created in His image.

Certainly, there is a Biblical argument about homosexuality being sin; no New Testament basis for any hatred or lack of justice towards gays as just another class of sinner; a strong case for Christian marriage being between a man and a woman, and no Biblical case for followers of Christ imposing that on non-Christians. In fact, one of the major points of Christianity was that Hebrew law was unable to create righteousness; and that we were free from the law in Christ. To try to impose righteousness by secular law is certainly un-Biblical.

The author of "Sacrifice" and I may agree on another error of conservatism that followers of Christ fall into:
moralism. According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way . . .

Now I am not going to complain that moralism "imposes" a faith on people who do not share it. In the sense at issue, even secularists impose a faith on others-they merely impose a different faith. Every law reflects some moral idea, every moral idea reflects some fundamental commitment, and every fundamental commitment is religious-it proposes a god. Everything in the universe comes to a point. For moralism, therefore, the important distinction is not between religion and secularism, but between faiths that do and faiths that do not demand the civil enforcement of all their moral precepts.

To the question "Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?" the biblical answer is, "Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?" The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them. . . .

Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian-if it still exists at all- only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
A follower of Christ is going to look at everything through their love of God. They are going to put God in the center of every part of their life. While it may not be the most effective thing politically, they may refer to God in their political views and analysis'

And, as they have for 2000 years, they are going to struggle with their role in the secular political sphere. However, Biblically, there is no admonition that their service to "Caesar" impinges on, or competes with, their service to God. They are different spheres with different requirements.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly