Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Word on my Use of Words

The Passions of Mankind have boiled over into all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes, and frustrations. – Saul D. Alinsky; Rules for Radicals
I made a mistake.

In my last post I stated as my political position that I consider myself to be a Christ-Following Libertarian who places his Politics on the Right but his Jesus on the Left.

I stand by that definition but the mistake I made was in using language that is so politically charged. As has been clearly pointed out by more than one of my readers, the term libertarian and any attempting to place Jesus on the political spectrum can be too easily misunderstood.

One of the first things I learned when I started writing is to be careful with definitions. Dictionaries never tell the whole story. Definitions are fluid and coloured by experience; a fact that one must always be mindful of when writing and speaking. Even if the dictionary is on my side, recent history and life experience of my readers may not be. So allow me to further explain what I mean by the use of these particular words.

Let’s start with what I mean by “Christ-Follower”. I have been asked on a number of occasions why I don’t simply call myself a Christian and the answer is simple; because I am not.

The term Christian is a Greek noun, meaning “Little Christ” it assumes something static and denotes someone who has arrived at a conclusion of what it means to be a reflection of Christ. While on the other hand, to be a follower is a verb which alludes to a journey and a person who still has some distance to travel before arriving at his destination. While I do not mean to cause friction between myself and those who consider themselves Christians, at this point in my life I have far too much left to learn so for me calling myself a Christian would be the height of arrogance.

Although I know that there are political parties in many countries that call themselves Libertarians with platforms that center around a narrow interpretation of personal liberty and, in the case of the United States, the constitution, my intention in using the term here was to point to a more classical definition. defines a Libertarian as;

1. a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct.
2. a person who maintains the doctrine of free will

That’s it! No political party affiliation, no mention of any constitution, just a dedication to personal freedom and the right to choose your own destiny. By calling myself a “Christ-Following Libertarian” I am stating that I have chosen, of my own free will, to follow the teachings of Jesus and that I support a government that does not interfere with that choice. I hope that more people would chose to follow my example but my respect for liberty and freedom does not allow me to impose my will on others.

Now I can hear some of my more evangelically minded friends starting to protest; what about the Great Commission?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[Matthew 28:18-20]
The key word in that passage is “teaching”. In order to fulfill the Great Commission we must learn to teach like Jesus, live like Jesus, lead like Jesus and above all know when to walk away like Jesus; that is the core of evangelism and it in no way contradicts a libertarian way of thinking. God himself was the first libertarian when he offered free will to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Coercion and control of followers is a human invention.

Which brings me to where I place Jesus politically; while I still stand by my assertion that many of the things Jesus taught are the same types of things that tend to be championed by the left, that by no means makes Jesus or those who follow him leftists. Jesus transcends mere politics and in most instances simply ignores it.

One of my readers questioned my assertion that Jesus had very little to say to the political leaders of his day and did not teach how to steward political power. I acknowledge that as early as Samuel and King Saul prophets have spoken truth to power and warned of cracks in the system. But I stand by my position here as well. Jesus spoke directly to the church leaders of his day, the Pharisees, but he said very little to the Roman authorities who controlled the government. Jesus never advocated for a return to the “glory days” of a Jewish state therefore advocating for a Christian state is nothing short of a perversion of the gospel.

For the first three centuries Christianity was a minority underground movement that had no political power. Almost the entire New Testament was written from prison cells. Jesus and the apostles taught extensively on how to live in community under a more powerful authority but never advocated for political uprising or taught on the subject of how to grasp or hold on to power themselves. On the contrary Jesus taught about an upside down kingdom where the last shall be first [Matthew 19:28-30] and whoever wants to gain life would lose it, [Matthew 10:38-39]. Jesus went on to model the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the many and the apostles all died as martyrs.

I can’t stress this enough, Jesus and the apostles direct their teaching to the church, not to the government. It is a personal challenge and if you are a Christ-Follower or claim to be a Christian you must model the things Jesus did and taught. Christ-Following is not a political cause, it is a personal journey.

So, not because I wish to change any of my original meaning but for the sake of clarity, I hereby revise my earlier statement;

I am a Christ-Following Libertarian (in the classical sense of the term) who rejects all other labels and actively seeks to live in a way that honours the teachings of Jesus regardless of politics.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jesus on the Left

Last week I was asked by a new follower to describe my political position. It seemed that through reading my posts he was a bit confused. I can’t imagine why. Sometimes I appear to be conservative, at other times quite liberal. So where exactly do I stand on the important issues of the day?

I answered him thusly; I consider myself to be a Christ-Following Libertarian who places his Politics on the Right but his Jesus on the Left.

Much of the debate between the so called Christian Right and Christian Left centres around two things. The roll the church should take in government and the roll the government should take in social institutions. I believe this entire argument is misleading and misrepresents the roll that either institution should take in our daily lives.

As a libertarian I maintain that government should be small and so I lead by example removing myself from it as much as possible. I vote for initiatives that traditionally have been the purview of the right, small government, liaise-faire economics and personal freedom. I don’t like it when my government tells me I have to pay taxes to maintain a road I may never drive on, build a school I will never send my children to or support a war I don’t believe in. But the bible clearly tells me to shut up about it when they do so I don’t get involved in rallies and protests either.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. [Romans 13:1-2]

But as I read through the Gospels I also clearly see a Jesus who was very concerned with the plight of the poor and marginalized, values traditionally associated with the left.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ [Matthew 25:37-40]

I also see a Jesus who had very little to say directly to the governing authorities about such things. He spoke directly to his followers and the religious elite not to the government of his day. The instructions Jesus gives never tell his followers how to lobby government or how to wield political power. His instructions are personal and specific.

So what does this mean in a day and age when certain values seem to have won the day and do hold political power? Are we to applaud or condemn government when it seeks to provide free healthcare to those who can’t afford it? Are we to get involved or remain silent when certain members of the church abuse their freedom of speech to spread hate and oppression?

The answer of course to these questions is simple, follow Jesus. Many Christians are fond of saying “WWJD?” (What Would Jesus Do?)

Of course we know what Jesus did; he cared for the poor, he did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, he commanded us to love our enemies, he preached peace, he ate with sinners and he did it all without any support from the government or the church. In fact he all but ignored the government and fought with the established church until they had him killed.

I get very uncomfortable when Christian organizations accept government support. Government does not allocate money based on the good it will do so much as on the votes it will buy. Christians on the other hand should not be concerned with politics. Our only motivation should be to follow Jesus. When we become dependent on government support the motivation not to offend is too great.

A few months ago Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preached social justice, calling it a code word for communism. But the church is the only place where social justice can be effectively preached at all. It is the core teaching of Jesus and it functions quite nicely without any help from the government.

Why would anyone anywhere on the political spectrum (right or left) have a problem with that?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Tower of Babel and the Real Modern Day Babylon

As expected a few of my readers took exception with the point I made last week that America should become more involved in worldwide government bodies like the UN. In spite of my plea not to confused Orthodoxy with Literalism some claimed that God himself is against such organizations, incorrectly sighting the story of the Tower of Babel as “proof”.

To quote one reader;

It appears that you and many of your commenters here are trying to backtrack to Babel; at present scattered around the earth, confused in language so as to not be able to understand one another, but trying to return to the plain of Shinar to build a city and tower to reach to the heavens and build Utopia on the earth.

This is a complete misunderstanding of the story. The Tower of Babel really doesn’t condemn World Government at all. On the contrary it can more accurately be looked as a warning against becoming too insular.

At just nine verses, the story of The Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9] is a relatively short account, a mere foot note in the broader arc of Genesis. That fact alone should give readers an idea of how much importance the author wanted to give it. It’s as if the he was saying, “yes this happened but it isn’t really that important so let’s move on.”

The Tower of Babel was constructed in the city of Babylon in the Shinar valley near present day Baghdad. Babylon was possibly the first city constructed after the flood by Noah’s grandson, Nimrod. Nimrod is a Hebrew word meaning to rebel and may not be a person’s name at all, more of a moniker given to protect his true identity and the identity of his family. In today’s vernacular it might be more appropriate to refer to him simply as The Rebel.

And rebel he did. At a time when the rest of Noah’s family were spreading out in an attempt to repopulate the earth, Nimrod defied the will of God and Noah’s instructions and stayed close to where it is believe the Ark ran aground. Why do you think he did that?

The key to the whole story lies in verse 4 –

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”[Genesis 11:4]

Did you catch it?

Nimrod and the people of Babylon were afraid of the very thing that eventually happened. They wanted to remain in close community with one another so they undertook an ambitious capitol project that would focus their collective efforts and hold them together while at the same time drawing more people into their orbit.

Does that sound familiar? How many times have you heard the mayor of a town or city call for the community to rally around a similar project sighting the need for them to attract business or residents? Several years ago the city in which I lived expended a massive effort to build a new convention centre so that they could “make a name for themselves”. In the end the project lost money and cost the mayor his job. Similarly, why do you think the competition to host an event like the Olympics Games is so intense?

God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel is a story of how he wants us to build community. The people of Babel were insular, building great monuments to draw attention and pulling people in but God had commanded Noah and his family to go forth and “fill the earth.” [Genesis 9:1] If you try to entice people to come to you, what you are really doing is projecting a sense of superiority. Everyone you attract will somehow be a second class citizen. They came to your city or country because of some great monument, social or political institution, business or event but they didn’t help build it so they don’t really belong.

And that my friends; was the great sin of Babylon! They built a monument to their own greatness and community based on a concept that was exclusive setting up a hierarchy of belonging and diluted themselves into thinking they were somehow better than anyone else.

By confusing the language and scattering people across the face of the earth God was telling them (and us) that we can’t build community by turning inward. Community is “out there”. Worldwide bodies that promote a form of world community are not the problem. The problem arises only when these organizations become an exclusive hierarchical club or when members of the organization make it difficult for them to function as they were intended.

Don’t get me wrong, the UN and other world bodies have their problems, but they are not Babylon. I can think of a few cities that resemble Babylon much closely than any worldwide goverenment, with a single language, monuments to their own greatest, and irrational fear of outsiders and a hierarchy of belonging that would put even Nimrod to shame.

Any guesses?