America, Politics, and Morality

There’s a lot to be said about the relationship between politics and morality in America. Hopefully we have a lot of time to say it. But before we try, I want to offer a framework for thinking about the issues.

Most of us agree that we must get our fiscal house in order or face national bankruptcy. What we disagree on is how to do that. This isn’t a political blog, we don’t need to wade into policy questions. I’ll leave that to the politicos. I’d rather make a more fundamental point.

The government isn’t the problem. We are.

In other words, we have a moral, not political, problem. We elect people to take care of us. We empower them to take people’s money and give it to others (often, ourselves), and we justify this by saying that “those people” don’t need that much, or they can accord to sacrifice that bit for the good of all. And lest anyone think I only have liberals in mind, let me say that conservatives seem to be just as guilty of this mentality. Almost all of us get some type of subsidy from the government, whether our pet tax-break or that needed entitlement.

Think of it this way: would you vote for someone who promised to take away your tax break, your subsidy, your entitlement?

Just as people say they hate Congress, but their congressman is good, so the thought process is, “All entitlements except mine are bad.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting help from Uncle Sam when things get desperate. But we must recognize that every dime we get, we got from someone else—from our friends and neighbors.

We have a remarkable capacity for generosity. We help each other. But to the extent that that we use the power of government to take from others what they would not willingly give, we engage in theft. Until each of us decides to stand on our own and be responsible for ourselves, no political answer is possible. No politician will be able to do the right thing, because it’s too easy for us to elect someone who will cater to our demands.

But someone may argue that they won’t survive without government help. And just here, the moral problem becomes most obvious. Who do we trust to take care of us? It’s easy to ask others to give up their entitlements, but Christians should be the first lay down their claims to other people’s money, because we recognize neither our necessities nor our abundance comes from the Oval Office, but  from the Throne of Heaven (James 1:16-18). In that, we declare others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-5). In putting others first, we seek the Kingdom of God by making ourselves the last and putting all others first (Matt. 6:33; 20:16). Maybe then our politicians could do the right thing. More importantly, perhaps God could use our faith to demonstrate His power to provide for His own. What kind of witness would that be for Christ?

I’m not looking for a savior. I found Him in 1987. I’m looking for Christians to trust Jesus with more than just their soul, to lead by example, and show America what it means to be free. And if that’ is true, then watever we say about morality and culture, we should always keep in mind that it starts with us.

A Plea for Sanity

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:9-11, NIV)

There is no doubt she was guilty. There was no doubt that, according to the Law, she deserved to die (Lev. 20:10). She had no defense. She could offer no excuses. What is more, there is no indication that the woman caught in adultery even so much as asked for mercy or forgiveness.

It is easy to get caught up in all the theology and scholarship surrounding the text. Why wasn’t the man brought with her? What was Jesus writing on the ground? What exactly was going on in the Pharisees’ mind? How were they trying to trap Jesus? What about the relationship of this passage to the rest of the Gospel of John? Is it part of the original writing? Who wrote it? Does it belong in the Bible? How does it fit into the context?

All of these are important questions, and I think we should be sure to offer answers to each of them. We should not, though, get so caught up in those questions that we miss the force of the story. For whatever value those questions have, there is one far more important we should be asking ourselves:

How is it that, if the one and only man who ever had a right to condemn anyone chose not to condemn this obviously guilty woman, we are so comfortable condemning others? Put differently, if the perfect Person didn’t condemn an imperfect person, why do imperfect people confidently condemn other imperfect people every day?

I ask this of myself just as I ask it of you. And as I ask it, I’m reminded of Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat:

Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you’re mad?’
`To begin with,’ said the Cat, `a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’
`I suppose so,’ said Alice.
`Well, then,’ the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.'”

If only we were as insightful as that old Cat. It is certainly mad to do precisely the opposite of what the sane person does. If Christ, then, does not condemn; indeed, if He does not even require our defenses and excuses, but simply looks at us in all our miserable guilt and does not condemn; still more, if far from condemning, He takes our condemnation on Himself in an act of pure love; then is it not pure insanity for me to think for one moment that I should, or even could, judge someone just as sinful as myself? To issue such a judgment seems to me to stand in the very place of God. More, it is to judge God Himself, for it is to tell Him that our judgment is more just than His. So yes, perhaps we’re all a little mad.