The Political Church: An Approach to the Problem, Part 2

Church State5. Therefore, the church must oppose governmental injustice

A few years ago, a minister left our employ and we wanted to provide COBRA healthcare continuation coverage. But Blue Cross wouldn’t provide continuation coverage because “church plans” are excluded from COBRA, and Blue Cross only provides continuation coverage when required to by law.

Why would Congress exclude church plans from the requirement for continuation coverage? Did some churches lobby to be excluded based on conscience? I doubt it. I think some churches lobbied to be excluded because COBRA increases premiums a little. And I think that was foolish, if not outright wrong. I mean, why wouldn’t we want our ministers to be able to buy health insurance in between jobs? Why wouldn’t we want their widows able to buy insurance for 3 years after they die? Sometimes, you see, the churches lobby on a purely self-interested, short-sighted basis. We don’t need that.

Rather, the right way to lobby is found in the heart of the Old Testament prophets —

(Isa 10:1-2 NIV) Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, 2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

Isaiah cries out against unjust laws because of their unfairness to the poor and the oppressed, widows, and fatherless. He wasn’t complaining about economic theory, but the impact of the law on the poor — those unable to fend from themselves in the government. He lobbied for those who couldn’t afford their own lobbyists.

(Amo 5:11 NAS) 11 Therefore, because you impose heavy rent on the poor
And exact a tribute of grain from them,
Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone,
Yet you will not live in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards,
Yet you will not drink their wine.

Just so, Amos cries out against the powerful in Israel for charging the poor unfair rents and taxes.

If we are unhappy with welfare policies that discourage marriage and encourage abortion, who will speak in Washington for the sake of the poor? Who lobbies for them? Who considers what God’s position on the healthcare might be — outside of the false choice of the Republican and Democrat positions? Who steps outside the politics of the moments asks how Isaiah or Amos might have addressed the issues of the day?

You see, we want to get with other Christians, join forces, and become powerful to preserve our comfortable, white, middle class way of life by lobbying against things that make life unpleasant. But the prophets suffered imprisonment and death because they entered the palaces of kings to announce God’s concern for the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the aliens. They took on the powerful, rather than joining forces with them.

And so it’s really as simple as this: figure out what our values should be from the scripture, encourage other Christians, churches, and denominations to share those values, and then advocate for those values in the halls of government — not for our sake but rather offering ourselves as living sacrifices for those who need our help.

An example: crop subsidies

Consider, for example, crop subsidies. Crop subsidies in the United States violate Republican principles because they are corporate welfare, giving money to farmers from the taxpayers, even when the farmers don’t need the money to live — they violate free competition. Crop subsidies can make the owners of very large farms very rich. Crop subsidies violate Democrat principles because they help people who often need no help. And yet Congress passes them year after year, because Congressmen and Senators from farm states have to subsidize their wealthy constituents to get re-elected.

But American and European crop subsidies keep the poor in other countries from earning a living by exporting food. They can’t sell their food cheaply enough to compete with American and European food despite their vastly lower labor costs. The subsidies make that happen. The subsidies make the poor outside this country poorer. And who in this country will advocate for them?

Now, you begin to see why the prophets of old wound up in prison and in jail.

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28 Responses

  1. If your church has an effective benevolence program, it must have a process for allocating the available funds to those most in need, because there is never an unlimited supply of funds. The better programs will not only provide money, but will also help change the financial circumstances so that, where possible, the individual will become better able to meet financial obligations without assistance. The same principle should be applied in government. We can’t meet every alleged need. And we can meet needs of more truly needy people if we help more people become self-sufficient as part of the process.

    All of that is about mercy, not justice. Justice involves things like judging fairly in court without regard for how much money the two opponents have. Mercy involves giving help to someone who cannot take care of their own needs by themselves. When we attempt to make poverty itself an issue of justice, we implicitly accuse God of being unjust. As Jesus said, the poor are with us always. It’s a fact of life. Is God unjust for making the world this way? Is he unjust for allowing it to remain this way? No, without needy people there would be no opportunity for showing mercy. Taking care of the needy is mercy, not justice.

  2. Alan,
    I didn’t read that Jay said we should offer benevolence to the poor out of a sense of justice. God says that it is wrong to make laws that are unjust and that harm the poor disproportionately (Amos 5). The poor need justice Poverty is a issue of justice when the law is unfair to the poor—- and it often is. ……We must stand up for the rights of the poor because very few people are willing to demand justice for the poor. It doesn’t pay well. It is the poor people that I work with who are most often mistreated by the criminal and civil justice system. If the church does not stand up for the rights of the poor, who will?…
    It is also wrong to withhold mercy from those who are in need when we could meet that need. The poor need mercy. If we withhold mercy from the poor, what right do we have to expect God to offer us mercy for our sins?
    The poor need both mercy and justice. God’s people have a place in helping to provide both. Please don’t mistake the two, for if we do get them jumbled up in our minds, we may find that we are demanding mercy as if we justly deserve it; or handing out justice as if it was ours to mercifully bestow on whom we will. God expects up to have both qualities, but they are not the same. “what does God require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

  3. My view is that there are a couple of issues at work here — and in a sense they may be in direct conflict with each other.

    First, as Dan, in effect points out, God calls on us to act individually. Groups don’t have faith or love one another — individuals do.

    Secondly, there is remarkably little said in the NT about what happens when groups of individuals who have faith and love one another act in consort with each other.

    Third, governments are not called upon to act out of Christian principles. Did not Christ in effect say, not to get pre-occupied with what governments do when he make his comment about “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

    Fourth, Jay’s description about crop subsidies is on the simplistic side. While I personally oppose them, there are contrary points of view that support their economic value. Jay’s perspective simply does not address the complete picture.

    This is another example of how impossible it is to create a “right” and “wrong” about political matters. And the only thing that matters to God is that you have faith in him, and express it by loving one another, the way Jesus loved us.

  4. Dan, I think you and I are basically in agreement about the difference between mercy and justice. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of justice. But when people use the term “social justice”, they often are talking about something different — an economic entitlement. In other words, they imply that the poor have a *right* to appropriate and to consume some of what the rich produce — sometimes even by force if necessary. That is a very unhealthy attitude, both for the individual poor person and for society as a whole. Instead, society should be empowering individuals to produce and to earn the bread they eat. Mercy should be provided to those who are not able to produce and earn — not to those who through their own irresponsibility are not producing what they want to consume. There should be a reward for character and hard work, and that reward should not be handed to someone who did not exhibit the character and hard work.

  5. So often the church demonstratres lack of faith in our failure to do justice. Do we have the faith to do what is right and trust that God will bless our efforts as opposed to walking by sight and worrying about what it’s going to cost us?

    Thanks for bringing up but one example of the church’s injustice toward minsters. It’s about time someone lobbied for preachers, because if they lobby for themselves it’s perceived as a conflict of interest. So injustices continue without any prophetic voice to challenge them.

  6. Good post Jay. With all due respect Mr. Himes, you are wrong on the crop subsidy analysis. Go take a look at the numbers yourself. This is an insightful post that I hope gets people thinking a little more about how they approach politics. The Republican party always gets the Christian right(the majority) to vote for them by hammering away at issues like gay marriage and abortion. And this is all the Christian right focuses on. In the meantime, the politicians are able to make decisions that harm the interests of the same group that voted for them–big-time. I could go on and on, but this isn’t necessarily a political forum.

    Mr. Himes: Did not Christ in effect say, not to get pre-occupied with what governments do when he make his comment about “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

    Somewhat agree with that statement. I just wished most Christians followed that when it came to abortion and other similar issues.

  7. Somewhat agree with that statement. I just wished most Christians followed that when it came to abortion and other similar issues.

    Sorry, it won’t happen. A lot of Christians take the proverb seriously:

    Pro 31:8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

    If that doesn’t cover unborn babies then it means nothing. So we speak up and will continue to do so.

  8. I’m all for speaking up for the rights of all who are destitute. The poor, the hungry, and the down trodden all over the world–why don’t we as Christians have the same vigor in that area? If you look within the Christian right(the majority voting block) you hear nothing about this. All you hear about is gays getting married and abortion.
    But is there a better way to speak up for the destitute rather than just throwing our support behind a Republican politician who is essentially using us for political purposes? Roe v. Wade will not be overturned, you can forget about that. Even if it was, there would still be abortions done within a black market. Worse yet, you would have an increasing number of back ally abortions. I understand this is a very controversial issue that will not be resolved in a blog discussion, so I’ll stop it right here.

    Correction to Mr. Himes in my earlier post about crop subsidies. I know the whole farming situation is complex, but the fact that the majority of the subsidies go to the rich corporate farms is not complex. And it’s not just a little bit. These individuals get WAY too much money.

  9. Andrew wrote:

    I’m all for speaking up for the rights of all who are destitute. The poor, the hungry, and the down trodden all over the world–why don’t we as Christians have the same vigor in that area?

    Don’t assume that there aren’t pro-life Christians who do so. But to me it appears disingenuous to advocate for the poor but not for the unborn. That’s the position that sounds like worldly politics to me.

  10. Alan, you missed the point of my post. I never said there were not any pro-life Christians who do not advocate for the poor. What I am saying is that the great majority express no concern for anything other than abortion or gay marriage.

  11. Andrew wrote:

    What I am saying is that the great majority express no concern for anything other than abortion or gay marriage.

    Are we talking about “real” Christians or nominal Christians? Maybe that’s at the root of the difference in our perspectives.

  12. andrew, i completely agree w/ you – i’ve always wondered why the Christian Right has always “hung their hat” on the abortion and gay rights issue – while ignoring other important issues such as foreign policy (starting illegal wars), affordable health insurance, discrimination issues based on gender and race – i could go on and on – it’s the hypocrisy of the so called Christian Right which is one the reasons why so many of our young adults support the Democratic Party

  13. i’ve always wondered why the Christian Right has always “hung their hat” on the abortion and gay rights issue

    The gay-rights issue, as a legal matter, is of little interest to me. That issue (and pretty much every other one) pales in comparison to the murder of over 49 million innocent children since 1973. How anyone who calls Jesus Lord could keep silent about that is beyond my comprehension.

  14. alan, 45,000 a year die due to lack of health insurance – how anyone who claims to be a Christian can be silent about this issue is beyond comprehension to me as well — the whole
    roe vs wade issue is like a litmus test when it comes to the Christian Right –your pro-life stance makes you no more of a Christian than a Christian that claims to be pro-choice

  15. Eric wrote:

    alan, 45,000 a year die due to lack of health insurance

    That’s impossible. In the US, emergency care is not denied because of a lack of health insurance. Hospitals treat people with no means to pay every single day. Nobody dies in America due to a lack of health insurance.

    To state the obvious, there is no moral equivalence between abortion and a lack of health insurance. Abortion is premeditated murder of the innocent, weak, and helpless. It is usually done for economic reasons, and many times even for personal convenience. It’s the ugliest form of murder, multiplied by 49 million. Don’t even try to talk to me about moral equivalence between health insurance and abortion. The comparison is ridiculous.

  16. For solid evidence supporting my previous comment, see the research of a former Clinton administration senior health care policy advisor:

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2009/aug/20/second-opinion-deaths-totals-uninsured/

    “Principal Findings. Adjusted for demographic, health status, and health behavior characteristics, the risk of subsequent mortality is no different for uninsured respondents than for those covered by employer-sponsored group insurance at baseline”

    “Conclusions. The Institute of Medicine’s estimate that lack of insurance leads to 18,000 excess deaths each year is almost certainly incorrect. It is not possible to draw firm causal inferences from the results of observational analyses, but there is little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the United States.”

  17. On the other hand, the effect of an abortion on the health of the baby is undisputed.

  18. I’ve always wondered about how they go about producing figures like that. What does the death certificate state “he would have lived if he had had insurance”!

  19. Sorry, one more post on the health insurance question. This will be my last on this topic, I promise. Here is the link to journal article quoted in my 5:07 post.

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122342601/abstract

  20. The health insurance argument has its merits. Alan can post an article backing up his point, while I could easily find one that backs up my point. It’s endless. The point Eric is trying to make, and it’s a point I’ve heard outlined, is that 45,000 Americans die a year because they don’t have health insurance not because they can’t go to the emergency room and get care, but because they can’t get an expensive surgery that will help their lives. That is, no insurance company will cover them. They either can’t afford health insurance, or they had some form of insurance but were dropped or denied coverage because they became “too expensive.” There are many facts to back this up.

    Forget about insurance for a second. But how about all of the innocent civilians that die because of our wars overseas(millions of innocent women and children have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan(thanks to the Predator Drones). Wars that are not in our national security interests, but for the benefit of our Military Industrial Complex. Our economy today is dependent on foreign intervention, i.e. Wars, War on Terror. It’s scary. We need a different direction. I will save further comments because I don’t want to get too political here. I apologize already to those I have offended…..just one man’s opinion here(I have a deep respect for our military–make no mistake).
    Jay had a great series on Pacifism earlier, and I’m sure some of this was covered there. Again, this seems very Unchristian(a good book by the way) in light of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament (I’m not talking all wars(WWII was commendable). But you have very few on the Christian Right who are upset about all of this. I suppose because they are Muslim, who knows.

    My main point in all of this is to get Christians(other than the small majority already) thinking about other political issues besides abortion and gay marriage. And to scrutinize these corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle that we somehow seem to tolerate year in and year out by voting them in office.

  21. Andrew wrote:

    My main point in all of this is to get Christians(other than the small majority already) thinking about other political issues besides abortion and gay marriage. And to scrutinize these corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle that we somehow seem to tolerate year in and year out by voting them in office.

    If you mean all of the above issues without diminishing the intensity of focus on abortion, then I’m on board 100%. If OTOH you are saying that the abortion issue should be de-prioritized, then I am NOT with you.

    If you are really interested in bringing Christians together, it would help your cause to try better to understand those you call the “Christian right.” These are not evil and immoral people. They are not ignorant. They are not your enemies. They are right about some things. And they have some things to say that would improve the message.

  22. Alan, what are you doing to help the abortion issue? I see you spending time, a lot of times the majority of the day you are here on Jay’s blog arguing. It makes the show of all talk no walk. You complain about abortion, but what are you doing about it?

    What have most professing Christians done when it comes to abortions, they stand outside abortion clinics screaming “you’re going to hell” not knowing what’s going on with the girl, not knowing if she is being pressured by parents, being pressured by a boyfriend or husband, and not knowing if she knows Jesus. They stand out front yelling with picket signs in hands, and a lot of the girls leave out the back door hurt and scared who needs someone to hug them, and no one is there to do that in the name of Jesus.

    We act surprised when people do wrong things in a fallen world, we are more concerned about being right when it comes to abortion than we are concerned about helping the girl walking out the back door who doesn’t know Jesus and telling them they can have a personal relationship with Him.

    The solution isn’t screaming at people what they’ve done wrong in their life the solution is showing them Jesus.

    Notice that Jesus gets Simon to look at the woman, Luke 7:36-50 “Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

    And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

    Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

    Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

  23. I get a lot of political advice via email and USPS. The majority of moral issues are abortion and gay marriage. War and poverty are neglected.
    I have heard it many times before, that everyone gets emergency care, therefore health insurance barely matters. That’s fine for a heart attack but not for heatlh conditions that gradually kill without treatment. You cannot walk in an ER for cancer screening, care of Chron’s disease, Myasthenia Gravis, diabetes, lupus, etc. The ER can rescue you from death, but for prevenitive health it doesnt work.
    Thinking of these matters is important. Thanks to all the writers.

  24. Dan,

    I just downloaded it to my Kindle yesterday.

  25. David,

    I disagree that we aren’t called to action as a community. Indeed, it’s the “body of Christ” that is Christ on earth.

    (Rom 7:4 ESV) 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

    “We” isn’t “each of us.” It’s the body of Christ. We belong to each other “in order that” we bear fruit.

    Obviously, this isn’t a reference to works done by the paid employees or leaders. It’s the work done by the members (paid, unpaid, leaders, followers) acting in concert. We need to avoid the temptation toward Western individualism. Jesus formed groups (apostles, disciples) and they formed groups (congregations, the church-universal), which encouraged and supported each other and cooperated to send out missionaries and support the needy.

    I agree that governments aren’t the church. But the church is the church and needs to start acting like the church. I’m a Christian when I vote just as I’m a Christian at my job and in my marriage. Therefore, as best I can, I vote my conscience, not my billfold.

    Crop subsidies aren’t that complicated. The government taxes people to subsidize both wealthy farmers and poorer farmers. Many get paid for not farming their land. The result is to produce great wealth for some at the expense of other Americans and the poor around the world. Many crops are unsubsidized, but some remain heavily subsidized for reasons that defy logic. The politicians used to defend this by appeal to preserving the family farm, but that is simply no longer true.

    In his proposed budget for fiscal 2011, Obama suggested a sharply lower cut-off in income that qualifies for crop supports, implemented over a three-year period. It would save $2.26 billion over 10 years.

    The administration plan would end crop subsidies to people with more than $250,000 adjusted gross income (AGI) from off-farm sources or more than $500,000 on-farm AGI. The caps now are $500,000 off-farm AGI and $750,000 on-farm AGI.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0118312020100201. We are giving welfare to the wealthy — and it’s hurting some of the poorest people on the planet.

  26. Alan,

    The scriptures do sometimes speak of “justice” in economic terms —

    (Deu 10:18 ESV) 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

    (Psa 112:5-9 ESV) 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. 6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. 9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.

    Remember that the Law requires those with the ability to lend to the poor as a form of charity.

    (Psa 146:5-9 ESV) 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. 9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

    (Luk 11:39-42 ESV) 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

    Pharisees were not judges or government officials. Their “justice” was how they dealt with others.

    (Mic 6:6-12 ESV) 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 9 The voice of the LORD cries to the city– and it is sound wisdom to fear your name: “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it! 10 Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? 12 Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.

    Micah speaks of injustice in terms of merchants cheating their customers — not the failure of the courts to punish them. The Law prohibits false weights and dishonesty.

    I grant that “justice” is often used of the justice given by a judge or king, but it also refers to dealing with integrity — honest scales and telling the truth.

    Think of it this way. “Justice” means enforcing the law without bias. But the Law of Moses commanded care for the poor, the widow, the sojourner, etc. Therefore, caring for those in need as commanded in the Law was sometimes referred to as “justice.”

    In the NT, it’s a bit more complicated, as the same Greek word is translated “just” and “righteous.” But the NT writers saw no need to coin or re-define a word to distinguish the concepts in their writing. But I’m not sure it creates an ambiguity. Rather, I don’t think they saw a lot of difference.

  27. Jay, I don’t see what you do in those passages. The fact that scripture sometimes enumerates acts of justice and acts of mercy in the same passage does not mean that the two are the same thing. In fact, confusing the two leads to some pretty ungodly reactions. The scriptures simply don’t teach that justice means equal possessions for all. On the contrary, the scriptures teach that hard work bring a profit; that the man who won’t work shall not eat; that there is a difference between the harvest of the wise worker and the foolish. The notion that justice should equalize all that is not only missing in scripture, but it actually contradicts scripture.

  28. Anonymous wrote:

    Alan, what are you doing to help the abortion issue?

    I’ve spent some time considering how to respond in a Christian manner to your query. And I’ve come to this: God knows what I am doing and that’s enough. Perhaps, as you’ve suggested, I spend too much time in discussions like this. Or perhaps it’s just those who disagree with me who think I say too much on the subject. I’ll leave that for God to judge. I request that you do the same.

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