Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Last week we considered the opinions of two knowledgeable men, Pastor Nathan Wilson and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Both spoke articulately on the function of politics in general, while Mr. Hamilton spoke more specifically on the role of government in our daily lives. Mr. Wilson’s comments included five talking points to be considered from a religious and political perspective, which I would like to address now.
1. “Religion should increase our honesty, civility and compassion. It should not be used to make our politics even more polarized and even less aware of the poor and dispossessed.” Scripture insisting that, “Love must be sincere.”, even as we “Hate what is evil (and) cling to what is good.” Further encouraging us to, “Be devoted to one another... Honor(ing) one another above (our) selves.” We are indeed to be zealous in serving our Lord, often found expressed by, “Shar(ing) with God’s people who are in need... Practic(ing) hospitality.”
Nothing particularly controversial there, but the following scripture instructs us to, “Bless those who persecute (or disagree with) you.” Genuinely connecting with people by, “Rejoic(ing) with those who rejoice (and) mourn(ing) with those who mourn.” Living in harmony with others by overcoming our own sense of personal pride, giving place to others whenever possible – making a genuine effort to live at peace with everyone. We must be careful to champion the morals, ethical behavior and Christian foundations of our culture and country, but concede that we may not be 100% right all the time. Paul warning us to, “...not be conceited.” and to be, “...willing to associate with people of low position.” (Often designated as such when they don’t understand or agree with us.) In other words, learning to disagree in an agreeable manner. As, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:9-18
Jewish scripture set the standard for interaction between different socio-economic groups by admitting, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-hearted toward your brothers and ...the poor and needy...” Deuteronomy 15:11 In fact, James of the New Testament equates, “Religion that God...accepts as pure and faultless...” as something more than just avoiding the “pollution of the world” that the Old Testament primarily concerns itself with, but with active involvement in ministry to those in need; such as, “...(looking) after orphans and widows...” James 1:27 In fact, one of the first official projects of the newly-formed church was setting up a “relief agency” to tend to the needs of the poor and hungry among their communities. ( Acts 6:1-7) The sometimes mis-applied directive of 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”; not meant to negate acts of charity but to encourage those who can work to do so. There being a vast difference between those who will not work and those who cannot do so.
2. “Religion should insist that life has value.” Thirty thousand children die globally each day of preventable hunger and disease. War, genocide and abortion claim thousands more. Can we legitimately police the entire world, saving everyone from all inconvenience, war and untimely death? No. But we often don’t do a very good job of protecting the innocent and providing for the needy in our own neighborhoods; defining “pro-life” in a very narrow sense while ignoring other life issues occurring right across the street.
3. “Religion should promote human dignity.” From sexual and economic slavery to how we treat – or mistreat – our young and the elderly; all impact who we are and what we will become. One highly contentious issue somewhat representative of all the above being immigration and its reform, which is a necessity but must be consistent with numerous Old Testament directives to “welcome the stranger.” (See also Matthew 25:35)
The warning to Israel to “…not mistreat an alien…”, in part because the Israelites had once experienced just that in Egypt; having a corollary in our own history. Whites, blacks and even Indians having come to this land we call America from somewhere else. God specifically warned the Jews, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Leviticus 19:33,34Hinting that full participation in the adopted nation by an alien was to be done “legally”, by adhering to the dictates of the law, but sensitivity to a foreigner living among them was, none-the-less required as a reminder that they had indeed once suffered at the hands of an “indigenous” people because of their alien status. Exodus 12:48 (See also Exodus 22:21 & Deuteronomy 10:19)
4. “Religion should uphold the hope of beating swords of war into instruments of peace.” (Is. 2:4) Both religious and irreligious people know that our security depends as much on the security of others as much as our own. The Roman Empire is a prime example of a powerful, rich, culturally advanced nation that fell into ruin, primarily because of the moral decay at the center of their power structures; but the barbarian hordes – living literally just outside Rome’s borders – displaced the Romans as a world power as they were pushed out of their own homelands by still other barbarians. In the process, destroying what they had yearned to become a part of.
5. “Religion should point to the scandal of extreme global poverty and unnecessary domestic poverty in the world’s richest nation.” James most directly calls on Christians to be pro-active in their relationship to the poor and needy. (See James 2:14-16 & Matthew 25:31-46) But many see that admonition as relating primarily to other church members. But if we truly believe ours is a Christian nation – or want to return it to such a position – shouldn’t our policies and concerns reflect that value system? Wouldn’t a Christian government be attentive to its poor and needy, young and old, orphans and widows? Surely we don’t want to return to the days when the sick, hungry, jobless and homeless literally died along the roadsides or in their makeshift beds in decrepit homes.
In saying this I’m not supporting a socialist agenda or calling for a welfare state that provides all our needs. But surly there is a middle ground to be achieved between that and a loss of compassion that many seem to espouse today. As James asked, “If one of you says to (a brother or sister who is without clothes and food), ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about (their) physical needs, what good is it?” Insisting that faith, “...if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17 Faith still saving us, but a selfish, nonproductive lifestyle is not what God expects after salvation is realized. These opportunities of service often being the first step to genuine, saving ministry.
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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