Reshaping Values

’21 I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

24 But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ (Amos 5:21-24)

I am continually perplexed and dazed at the rapid digression of ‘Election 2012’. I call it digression because of the sense that we are arguing over the same controversial issues of the past 40 years. Abortion, gay rights, individual rights and the societal responsibility all seem to be issues that rise to the surface whenever we are faced as a nation with particular hard decisions that no one wants to make. In this case, deficits, wars and a global recession have led America to an unwillingness to talk about any of those issues and instead focus on ‘values’. (Whatever that means)

Whenever the ‘values’ politicians and issues enter into the public arena, they always seem to bring the Bible and (cue big voice narrator). ‘The Christian Faith’. I mentioned in an earlier blog the problem of the so-called Christian position of these politicians in the face of what Christian tradition actually says. In this week’s blog, I want to bring the Bible into clarity in the face of these so-called values oters and values politicians. Specifically, the Bible is not the uniform and in singular doctrinal (and more relevantly ideological) book that can be counted on as a source for national policy.

The challenge of the 2012 election is to cut through the rhetoric of the ‘values’ argument to get at the root of the argument in our society. At the core of most values arguments in this arena are essentially religious. Opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the support for policies that “strengthen families” are both rooted in Biblical interpretation. The difficulty for persons of faith seems to be the degree to which the ideals of the faith are being assailed, while at the same time being co-opted and redefined. The rhetoric and atmosphere that surrounds certain campaigns is one that is misleading and counter-productive to much of what Christianity stands for. Often, what constitutes the conservative position on some of these issues stands at odds with a critical reading of the Biblical text. Likewise, the liberal and progressive movements are portrayed as solely non-religious or even humanist positions. Let me just say here that I am a values voter, and I believe that every single person that votes is a values voter. Regardless of what party and position they hold, if you cast a vote, you are a values voter!

To begin, the Bible is not a singular document written by one individual who stayed up all night in a monolithic cultural context to offer his/her perspective on all the issues we would talk about in 2012 in the United States. The Bible has multiple worldviews, theologies, and a diversity of opinion that makes it more of a multifold witness to the nature and move of God in the lives of the people compiling the text. Its content and composition span nearly two millennia and intersects nearly a dozen empires that shape world civilizations. Each book is born in unique environmental and contextual situation that it addresses in its own unique way. This perspective does not deaden the power of God communicated in the text, but instead, strengthens my belief that God is speaking in/through/with/ these multiple voices. Same song with diversity in the choir.

All of this is to say that the way we have understood and read our Bibles (particularly in the Protestant tradition) is wholly disconnected from the faith that we say we believe as Christians. The Bible is a religious text with political implications, not a political text with religious inferences. Further, our politics have become so enmeshed in many of our lives that we cease to be recognized as the ‘followers of the way’ that would have gotten us ridiculed and even martyred in the 1st century (or in many countries in the 21st century). Instead, Christianity in this country is the norm to which all others religions are idolatrous or evil. Regardless of the fact that roughly 50% of this nation identifies as Christian practicing, we hold to the rhetoric of being a Christian nation. If that statement is true, then we should be the least willing to make war, the least violent and the most willing to aid the suffering of others. I believe the Christianity which the political climate and the ‘values’ campaigners speak are a cop-opted and undermined Christianity. It isn’t the way of Christ.

I want to offer a different perspective of the relationship of our Christian faith to the culture. This interaction is best viewed through the Biblical worldview of the prophets of Israel. The prophetic texts exemplify a wholesale rejection of the state co-opted religion that is part of the practice of 7th and 8th century Judaism. The prophet’s indictment is levied against the ‘haves’ of the society. The institutional religion and the governing institutions are both maintained by the same upper crusts in the society. The prophet Amos’s charge of hypocrisy and God’s rejection of the worship of Israel is because of the failure of the ‘elites’ to honor the Mosaic code of communal relations and protection. Quite simply: To take care of the widow, the poor and the orphan.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

The point here is this: the continual political practice of thumping Bible verses and Christian ‘orthodoxy’ to motivate ‘values voters’ shouldn’t be enough for us. I don’t want my politicians doing theology because I don’t trust them to arrive at a consistent and reliable (or universally applicable) conclusion. However, I do expect theologians and practitioners to do politics. We as Christians need to engage in the political discourse in the public sphere. That engagement needs to center on what really matters in connection to our faith and society. Ironically, these matters are the same issues that matter to the Biblical prophets: poverty, class and equality.

Let me be clear, I do not expect my president or congressperson to be Christian (or any particular religion). Nor, do I expect my government to be crafted in Christian image (or even a religious one). That is a theocracy and we live in a democracy. Besides, if the president or government was truly Christian, then war could no longer be an option in national policy, the second amendment would have to be repealed, there would no need for banks and economic inequality, and the vanquishing of poverty would be a singular priority. (On second thought, maybe I need to rethink my position!!). I do expect my politicians to be moral and grounded in some sense of social and ethical responsibility to the larger human experience. I don’t expect government to solve all human problems; I expect it to take care of its citizens, all of them. Where government can’t or won’t do, then we fellow citizens (neighbors in Biblical language) assist through direct action. The partnership for a better work in society is government and religious institutions, (church and state), it is the idea that God works through each of us. Here are some values to consider:

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

O, wouldn’t that be a vision of truth….


Filed under 2012 Election, Christianity, Civil Religion, Discipleship, Old Testament, Prophetic Accountability

2 responses to “Reshaping Values

  1. This election cycle has caused me to pause not because they are saying something but the lack of substance. Nothing to address social issues but like the Virginia government taking up issues that is making our commonwealth take three steps back instead of moving forward on education, and other issues. It is a shame when a politican states I will be your $2.50 per gallon gas president instead of I am going to be your president that ends wars and talks peace.

  2. I have to be transparent here and say that I haven’t done my due diligence as far as really getting down to the nitty gritty of what the issues truly are and how each candidate stands on those issues. With that being said, I am still often startled by some of the things that come out of thier mouths… See Pat Kelly gas statement above. The insensitivity to the needs of the people, the lack of empathy, and sheer arrogance is ridiculous. This has got to get better. But if it doesn’t, we should still be prepared to do what we can and are called to do. As Rev. Lee said so succinctly above… the church(neighbors) and take care of the widow, orphan and the poor.