Monday, October 01, 2012

God's standard for the political leader

Justin Fung has written a tremendous article for God's Politics on how Christians ought to live during election season. It's a powerful call to grace, humility, civility, careful reflection, and prayer--I encourage everyone to check it out: "6 Suggestions for Christians for Engaging in Politics."

In it, while discussing the relation of politics and the Bible, Justin points to Jeremiah 22, where the prophet delivers a word from the Lord to the king of Judah. There is one, unambiguous imperative for the king: "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place" (22:3). This is the call of Yhwh that the entire fate of the dynasty rests on--this is the standard for God's kings. If you want to assess a government, you need to look at the foreigners, orphans, and widows in the land, and you need to consider if the poor are oppressed or the weak harmed. That's the measure of a nation's leaders.
Justin suggests that against this standard neither of our major presidential candidates measures up particularly well. You'll have to judge that for yourself... but the point is, you will have to judge that before November. Whatever else you think of the candidates, their visions for caring for the needy and vulnerable in America, their track records in this regard, this is what our God is concerned with above all else, and it ought to be our concern as well.

I'm also grateful that this article brought a new documentary to my attention, The Line, a short film from Sojourners, World Vision, Bread for the World, Oxfam America, and the Christian Community Development Association. The Line seeks to show us that poverty in America is real, and it might look very different than you expect. The movie tells the stories of some normal Americans, folks who could live next door to you, or could be friends of yours, who live at or below the poverty line--and not because they won't take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

You can watch the trailer below, and the full film is online at

As the media milks the upcoming election for all that it's worth and reports on whatever issues it chooses, Christians have a responsibility to consider first of all how their votes will effect the poorest in our country. The issues are complicated and there are a lot of different ways people will try to address them, so take time to read up, listen to different positions, and prayerfully consider your options. To say this is important would be an understatement. This is the Christian life.

And, again, you can check out Justin Fung's great little piece here.


Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

With all the competing issues that did not exist in Jeremiah's day: global war, the terrifying threat of nuclear terrorism (thanks to Iran), environmental degredation, de-humanizing digital entertainment culture, the excesses of corporate greed, and so on; even if we accept the premise that helping the poor, those who have been robbed (whether poor or rich - Jeremiah's words do not focus exclusively on helping the poor), respecting the resident alien, and preventing murder (again of poor or of rich, presumably) are in fact God's highest priorities for our nation at this moment in history (just as they truly were for the King of Judah in Jeremiah's day) it remains difficult to know which candidate will better facilitate these goals (or if there will be a significant difference in either case).

Just take the issue of poverty which you focus on in your post. While Democrats are most inclined toward creating assistance programs for the poor, Republicans argue that the very inclination to tax 'job creators' (the Republican way of saying 'rich people') in order to give assistance actually dampens economic growth and thus makes it more difficult for the poor to get jobs and become self-relaint. Beginning with Bush II, Republicans have been more apt to funnel money to existing faith-based relief groups arguing that these groups are more efficient with money than government beauracracy (whether or not that be true, I cannot say).

I'm no economist and the actual economists seem to be undecided on these question, with proponents of each view.

Certainly over the last four years more Americans have become poor, and the gap between poor and rich has grown; but it is unclear to me whether that is the result of the current president's economic policies or in spite of them (or whether those policies have had any effect one way or the other).

The more I learn about the complexities of global economic systems the less belief I have in the possibility of any of us truly making an informed decision, especially given the preoccupation of our politicians and our news media with attacks on character instead of (the much less exciting but more important) analyses of policies.

Nance said...

I'm not sure I'd say most of those concerns were exactly absent in Jeremiah's day--just assuming different forms. But given the sheer preponderance of references to caring for the needy in the Old Testament, its importance in Jesus' own ministry, and its prominence in the picture we have of the early church from Acts and Paul, I feel pretty comfortable laying such a weight on it still today.

However I think the difficulty you've put your finger on is very real. You can go to one news website and read an article by an expert that leaves you convinced that the liberal economic policy is clearly the only game in town; they you go to another website and read another article by another expert that makes you wonder how anyone in their right mind could reject conservative fiscal policies. It leaves all of us who *aren't* economists in a very difficult position.
Your comment ultimately raises one question for me, though, Daniel: if you're right, and you may well be, that we can't make truly informed decisions on this matter, then should we vote at all? Could that be anything other than irresponsible and irrespective of the multitudes in our nation whose very livelihoods may well depend on the votes that we cast?