Category Archives: Church and State

PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

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Download:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170920-FightthePowers.mp3

Notes:

In a recent podcast which I titled “Make Christianity Weak Again,” I talked about the approaches which the church in the United States has used in interacting with the political realm. The place where I landed is that the church should look at the state with suspicion, view its relationship to it as an uneasy one, and not seek to consolidate political power but to emphasize its spiritual power.

In this podcast, I want to give the biblical theory behind my practical application. Why should the church not seek to align itself with the state?
Continue reading PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

PODCAST: Jesus-Centric vs. Flat Bible: a Conversation with Keith Giles

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Keith Giles, author of Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb, was my guest to discuss two approaches that he sees commonly applied to reading scripture–a Jesus-Centric approach (where the words of Jesus are the standard) and a Flat Bible approach (where all scripture is equally authoritative and applicable for Christians). We had a great conversation with lots of friendly disagreement.

Podcast link:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170707-JesusCentricwKeithGiles.mp3

Music:
“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus Book Club Ep. 1 – Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (w/ Tim the Atheist)

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My guest “Tim the Atheist” and I discussed Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. The topics discussed ranged from sociobiology to polarization to psychopaths to atheistic versus Christian conceptions of morality. A very fun and thoughtful episode!

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170703-CFBC-Ep1-TheRighteousMind(wTimTheAtheist).mp3

Music:
“Liam Rides a Pony” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

PODCAST: Senator Sanders and the Religious Litmus Test – Should Christians Be Excluded from Public Office?

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event at Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa January 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX24BL7

A few comments in regard to Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments about whether a Christian who believes in salvation in Christ alone should serve in political office.

Podcast link:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170612-SenSandersandtheReligiousLitmusTest.mp3

Notes:
I try not to talk too much about political events on this podcast, in part because I’d like it to stay relevant for future listeners and in part because I don’t want my own private passions to lead me to tie my faith too closely with my political opinions with the result that I discourage or mislead my listeners.

I did, however, post a short episode a number of months back where I challenged, both as a Christian and as an American, Republican and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments to a heckler about immigration.

Again as a Christian and as an American, I’m challenging the recent comments of Senator Bernie Sanders, the sometimes Democrat/sometimes independent, self-identified Democratic Socialist. In an exchange with Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Sanders made some very controversial statements about the religious beliefs of Vought seemingly disqualifying him from public office. Here’s the exchange:

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . .

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College:

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

There are two separate messes to untangle here. The first has to do with Sanders’ seeming ignorance of history and religion and the second has to do with him creating a religious test for public office.

As for Sanders’ seeming ignorance, upon what basis does he argue that those holding that only their religious faith can guarantee salvation are not “who this country is supposed to be about?” Many of the founding fathers were Christians who believed this very thing. Should they be wiped from our nation’s history? Is Sanders unaware of their beliefs, or is he arguing for a radical revolution in American politics which excludes those holding to traditional religious views from public office?

Sanders himself expressed concern about Islamophobia, yet most Muslims, even the many who believe in peaceful co-existence with other religious faiths, would likewise argue that Islam is the path to salvation to the exclusion of other religious traditions. This idea is consistent with the Qur’an itself which tells us in 3:85 that:
“And whoever desires other than Islam as religion – never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.”

Should conservative but patriotic Muslims therefore be excluded from public office? If Sanders is consistent, he would have to say yes. But this would certainly be an example of the “Islamophobia” that he seems so concerned about.

Sanders needs to understand that religions are exclusivistic. They tend to say, “this is the way, and other ways are not the right way.” There are Muslims and Christians who would nuance this claim, arguing that someone who loves God but has been mislead into following a wrong path might still attain salvation by God’s grace. But even the most exclusivist Christians and Muslims are capable of serving a people composed of many different beliefs and backgrounds. My projection of your eternal destiny doesn’t need to stop me from serving or loving you now, after all.

Now to the second issue–the religious litmus test. Those who have listened to my podcast before know that I have mixed feelings about how Christians often choose to get involved in politics. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

America is a country that has enshrined freedom of religion into its founding documents. If we are to be true to this principle, we cannot exclude anyone from public office on the basis of his or her views about salvation or the afterlife if they are capable of serving everyone regardless of their religious beliefs. A Christian or Muslim may serve the people of different religions even if he or she disagrees with them. Someone espousing what Sanders is–that those who are religious should not be accepted into public office or that many of his religious constituents are not what America “is supposed to be about”–cannot.

What Sanders is saying is not only radicalism, but bigotry. It’s bigotry when Donald Trump claims that he wants to stop Muslims from entering our country and its bigotry when Bernie Sanders says Christians should not hold public office.

Someone that bigoted or that ignorant representing his constituents in public office is, frankly, “not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” America should be about true tolerance, not religious or anti-religious authoritarianism.

I’m not one of those Christians who tends to claim that the sky is falling any time we don’t come out on top in relation to some social or political issue. I also think that a lot of the distrust that many have for the church is to a large extent our fault.

At the same time, we ought to want to live in a country where we are not blocked from participating, nor should we desire to block others from contributing or serving in the political sphere. What Senator Sanders said here is very troubling to me, and what’s more troubling is that his sentiments are not only his own. He speaks for many secular-minded individuals who think religious people shouldn’t be allowed to participate in politics or the public square.

If we don’t look for ways to unite around shared goals and values, our ever-widening divisions will tear us apart as a people. Senator Sanders comments give us a preview of what that might look like.

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus At the Movies Ep. 4 – The Mission (w/ Keith Giles)

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In this episode we talked about the 1986 film The Mission, and particularly dissected its themes of love, forgiveness, violence, and the corrupting entanglement of church and state. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes if you search “Cantus Firmus.”

Keith Giles was my special guest and can be found at www.KeithGiles.com. His new book, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb can be purchased on Amazon. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes by searching “Cantus Firmus.”

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170527-CFATM-Ep4-TheMission(wKeithGiles).mp3

Music:
“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

PODCAST: Make Christianity Weak Again – Toward a Biblical Worldview of Political Involvement

I examine biblical data on the origin and purpose of government and contrast it with the traditional right and left wing outlooks as classically formulated by Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine and carried on to this day, arguing that there is some validity in both approaches, but that the biblical worldview differs in some significant respects. I ultimately seize on the idea that Christians should prefer to live in something more akin to a libertarian society.

The histories of the Christian left and right are also briefly discussed.

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170307MakeChristianityWeakAgain.mp3

Essay:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/eBooks/MakeChristianityWeakAgain.pdf

Erasmus on the “Problem of the Turk”

I recently came across a small treatise by the 16th century Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus–the same Erasmus who gave us the Textus Receptus (the New Testament in its Greek printed edition) and The Praise of Folly. The treatise is entitled Against War and I found in it a parallel to the attitude of much of western Christiantiy today. Erasmus speaks of those Christians who desired to blot out the Turks to stop the advancement of Islam upon Christian territories and proposes a different solution to the “problem of the Turk” which he found to be more Christlike:

“Nor to me truly it seemeth not so allowable, that we should so oft make war upon the Turks. Doubtless it were not well with the Christian religion, if the only safeguard thereof should depend on such succours. Nor it is not likely, that they should be good Christians, that by these means are brought thereto at the first. For that thing that is got by war, is again in another time lost by war. Will ye bring the Turks to the faith of Christ? Let us not make a show of our gay riches, nor of our great number of soldiers, nor of our great strength. Let them see in us none of these solemn titles, but the assured tokens of Christian men: a pure, innocent life; a fervent desire to do well, yea, to our very enemies; the despising of money, the neglecting of glory, a poor simple life. Let them hear the heavenly doctrine agreeable to such a manner of life. These are the best armours to subdue the Turks to Christ. . .

“Trow ye it is a good Christian man’s deed to slay a Turk? For be the Turks never so wicked, yet they are men, for whose salvation Christ suffered death. And killing Turks we offer to the devil most pleasant sacrifice, and with that one deed we please our enemy, the devil, twice: first because a man is slain, and again, because a Christian man slew him.”

-Desiderius Eramus, Against War

How Shall We Then Vote?

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There seem to be two basic attitudes in the church in regard to the question of how Christians should vote. The first is that politics is a complicated issue and that each Christian should lean purely on his or her conscience to reach a conclusion. The other is that there is one particular party that strongly represents the Christian viewpoint and it belongs to whoever is speaking at the time.

I think that we can take a more thoughtful perspective. There are certain biblical principles that tell Christians which kind of state they should prefer and which issues are central to its proper functioning. And in a country like the United States where citizens can participate in guiding the direction of government, these principles might also inform us on how we should vote.

To begin with, we ought to distinguish ancient Israel from those physical nations which have not been chosen by God to issue laws based on theocratic principles. Though the laws of Israel might at times inform us as to how secular states should work, Jesus’ claim in John 18:36 that the Kingdom of God must be distinguished from geopolitical powers ought to give us pause when it comes to direct application of the laws of theocratic Israel to our present nation’s laws. However, the following principles seem to be applied to all nations universally when the Bible speaks about the role of the state:

1. The state should punish evildoers and reward those who do good.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3-4).

This passage raises a lot of questions about the relationship between church and state, following as it does after a passage wherein Paul tells Christians that they should not seek to punish the wicked but allow God to avenge either now (perhaps through the state) or in the age to come. Whether or not we assume that it forbids Christians from participation in the state, we must at least conclude that it tells us that a state which functions most properly will punish not those who do good, but those who are doing evil. Indeed, those who do good should have nothing to fear in a state which is living up to its purpose.

2. The state should allow for freedom on matters of conscience.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Paul here encourages Christians living in a pagan state which did not allow open participation in directing its political aims to pray that those in power would allow for Christians to have the freedom to follow their Christians convictions. He follows this up by noting that Christianity can flourish in a state which allows for religious freedom to either accept or reject its doctrines and practices. Christians should therefore desire religious freedom for both Christians as well as non-Christians.

3. The state should be concerned that peace is pursued and justice is done, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

“For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever” (Amos 1:11).

In Amos we see the moral standards that God holds pagan nations–those who do not follow Him and perhaps have not even heard of Him–to. We find that God will execute judgment on nations that preferring war and taking advantage of the weak and poor as a means to become prosperous. This tells us that even a secular nation should prefer peace and justice for the oppressed and seek it out whenever possible.

How shall we then vote?

With these principles in mind, what should we expect the biblically minded Christian to do on election day? As many Christians find themselves unable to comfortably support either Trump or Clinton, we find ourselves in a trilemma: do we vote for the lesser of two evils, abstain from voting, or seek out a third party which more closely reflects the core Christians values as to the role of the state? If we choose the lesser of two evils, we have acted in support of evil. If we vote third party or abstain, we may be enabling the candidate which we fear could do the most evil to win the popular vote and perhaps the election itself.

For the Christian, obedience to God and to doing right should be our chief concern. The rest is up to God. However, there is still room for Christian conscience–do you believe that any one candidate is close enough to these core values to earn your support? Alternatively, do you feel that none of them do, or perhaps that the act of a Christian voting in and of itself conflicts with citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Then you must act on whichever conclusion–biblically and politically informed–that you reach.