Christian government?

by Richard on June 25, 2007

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James 2: 14-17

It is sometimes claimed that these words are addressed purely to individual believers to commend them to good conduct and that they have no relevance to politics. Whilst it is true that James did not write to Caesar, his letter is not addressed to individual believers but to To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. He is addressing a people, not a person. What’s more he is addressing a people under pressure of persecution. This is not a Church composed of the wealthy and powerful, so it may seem strange that wealth is such a major theme. But despite their persecution, they are urged to joy (1:2) and despite their poverty they are encouraged to be generous (2:14-26). James’ whole point is that they should not be living by the world’s standards, but constantly seeking God’s will. They do this together in community, not merely as individuals. They are “the twelve tribes”, the new Israel, the People of God. Let’s put that thought “on a hook” and move on.

There are many frightening images and stories of God’s judgement throughout the Bible. And that judgement is often tied to the way in which the poor are treated. Ezekiel 34 is a dire warning to the “Shepherds of Israel” who have not strengthened the weak and bound up the lame. Indeed, Ezekiel identifies the sin of Sodom as failure to care for the poor and needy (16: 49). Other prophets - Micah, and Amos for example - speak harshly of those who do not offer care to the needy or give “justice” to the poor. (There’s a whole study in that little phrase - but it means far more than “an even-handed application of the law”). Isaiah announced the Day of the Lord as “good news for the poor” (Isaiah 61) and this theme was taken up by Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 4). Jesus too speaks of economic actions resulting in the judgement of God - The parables of Dives and Lazarus and The Sheep and the Goats are two examples. More positively, the Levitical Law ensured that even poor foreigners were provided for (Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:6). In the New Testament, the young Church in Acts saw a radical shift in people’s economic relationships.

So care for the poor is a theme which runs consistently throughout scripture - I have barely scratched the surface. And - going back to our hook - the Church is the new Israel. I’d be surprised if I get any argument so far, even from the most conservative.

We (most of us, anyway) live in forms of representative democracy. The government does not act over against us as a tyrant might. It acts for us. That’s why I am so against talk of “governments spending our money” because of course they do - that’s what we elect them for. Taxes are levied with the consent of the people expressed in the ballot box. The Bible identifies care of the poor as a communal responsibility, and this means that in our context the government has a significant part to play. (What that part should be is still a question for debate - I’m not advocating any specific programme at this point)

James 2 says that when I care for the poor, that is a work of faith. Jesus said that those who fed the hungry and clothed the naked fed and clothed him - even when they did so unawares. So I want to argue that James 2 is relevant in our context because a vote can be as much a work of faith as a credit card donation. We are not saved by works, but works do issue from faith. For the Christian, that should mean our votes should be cast in favour of the poor, even when to do so is directly against our own material interest. Whether the politicians or government are “christian” or not is irrelevant. Evenly the ungodly can be annointed.

Reblogged

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1

dh 06.25.07 at 3:19 pm

No one is contradicting what you are saying when they talk about individual responsibility to the poor. When Scripture says “a man” it means a man. At the same time since it is being addressed to the group it is a group dynamic as well. I don’t see how you can make this solely group or church dynamic and pass totally over the fact the passage refers to “a man”.

You say that judgement is often in reference to how they take care of the poor. That is true but it isn’t often. Judgement in the Bible was OFTEN due to whether they were worshipping false idols like Baal and other gods, having hard hearts toward God, unrepenten attitude toward repulsive sins, etc. The ites were condemned due to their hard heart toward God with the outgrowth of that being their worshipping of false gods. To me it doesn’t seem to be the number one theme of judgement of people due to lack of care for the poor. However, even though it isn’t number 1 I will say that it is a major theme. Care for the poor is a powerful theme in the Bible but addressing this should not be done to minimize all of the other major themes or those that are in fact stronger like worshiping false gods or having hard hearts and lack of Faith in God.

Care for the poor is communal when church do their responsibility and an individual responsibility but the government is not the church. To care for the poor is the churches and individuals responsibility and the government only steps in when either one of the former is lacking in its responsibility. Also, there is a balance when the Scripture says “Thou I give all I have to the poor and have not love I’m a clanging gong.” True love is the love that leads to eternal life of Salvation by Faith in Christ. We must be careful that our giving to the poor in any way downgrades our responsibility of accepting Christ as our Savior by Faith.

Also, having more poor people not have to pay taxes is a form of helping the poor. Having more poor people who used to pay tax not have to is a form of help for the poor. Helping the poor is beyond just giving financial assistance. Helping poor people be able to get a job. Training poor people to be able to get a job. I’m sure people have heard the statement “Give a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them a lifetime.” So those who are capable to work who are poor it is so important to teach them.

At the same time, those who are unable to work I totally agree with you that ALL parties need to do more and that is so important.

I agree with you Richard on this post that we need to do more but only to a point and this post points those certain things out.

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Steve 06.25.07 at 6:31 pm

I would say that in our context, there isn’t much difference between idolatry and lack of concern for the poor. The one flows from the other. It is our idolatry of mammon which causes us to fail to address the needs of the poor (whether individually, through the church, or through the government).

I suppose the same could be said for sex and violence, both of which have also become major idolatries in Western societies.

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dh 06.25.07 at 7:45 pm

Steve, I think a lot of judgementalism is made toward people who supposedly don’t care for the poor. It is almost that if you don’t support certain programs that one is accused of not supporting the poor. I see James Robison and Joyce Meyer, known conservative Evangelical’s, doing so much for the poor in Africa and yet the Evangelical community is accused of not doing much. Then when one addresses the sexual thing or any of the other areas of morality from Scripture it is downplayed in relation to the poor. I also know people who focus on poor to the point of downplaying area of morality from Scripture of personal and congregational morality. There must be balance between the two or in either way 180 degrees opposite of each other we just become a “clanging gong” with regard to ALL of Scripture in ALL areas of morality.

I believe that ALL aspects of Holiness should be addressed with equal flare and equal intensity. I know many people who give tons of money to the poor but are known to not Believers in Christ and I know people who are pure sexually but I know are not Believers in Christ. This is where Faith in Christ comes in and the sanctification of the saints thereafter.

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Wood 06.26.07 at 8:43 am

Steve, I think a lot of judgementalism is made toward people who supposedly don’t care for the poor.

Jesus did a fair amount, I seem to think.

I believe that ALL aspects of Holiness should be addressed with equal flare and equal intensity.

Then for the love of God, give us some evidence that you actually do, apart from paying lipservice.

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dh 06.26.07 at 2:44 pm

Wood, you are correct, I wouldn’t call it judgementalism, but He also addressed other areas of sin with equal importance with the “go and sin no more” statement to the woman caught in adultry. He never condoned sin or presented His message that one area of Holiness is more important than the other. He desired above all that we accept Christ as Savior by Faith in Christ as being God with all of our heart, soul and mind.

Wood, what evidence do you, aprt from paying lipservice, that you address ALL areas Holiness? Do you address the fact that homosexuality, sex before marriage, abortion are sins with equal intensity as you address sins in the areas of personal responsibility in caring for the poor?

I do care for the poor. I have helped out in the local homeless shelter. I have stood up in agreement with those who show the balance in Holiness on these issues. I agree with James Robison and Joyce Meyer in what they are doing with help in Africa and my support for the poor is not done in such a way that it gives the impression that other areas of morality and Holiness are not as equal in importance.

I will repeat this and this will reiterate where I believe those who focus solely on one aspect of Holiness and not the other, and that goes for those who focus on the sexual issues without addressing the poor, have problems. “I believe that ALL aspects of Holiness should be addressed with equal flare and equal intensity. I know many people who give tons of money to the poor but are known to not Believers in Christ and I know people who are pure sexually but I know are not Believers in Christ. This is where Faith in Christ comes in and the sanctification of the saints thereafter.”

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Wood 06.26.07 at 3:10 pm

my support for the poor is not done in such a way that it gives the impression that other areas of morality and Holiness are not as equal in importance.

Then you are ignoring the witness of Christ himself. That is all.

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dh 06.26.07 at 3:33 pm

No I’m not ignoring the witness of Christ Himself because He never gave the impression that other areas of Holiness are not as equal in importance. Christ was the perfect balance between ALL areas of sin and His main focus was for people to place their Faith in Him for Salvation. Especially when one looks at the questions to Peter, Nicodemous, etc. I think those who focus solely on the poor and not other areas of morality are ignoring the witness of Christ Himself.

Again, I’m in total support of the poor but I’m also in total support of Holiness in other areas of morality as well and not in such a way as it appears to downgrade other areas of morality that are of equal importance.

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Wood 06.26.07 at 4:41 pm

He never gave the impression that other areas of Holiness are not as equal in importance.

And you accuse other people of picking and choosing. I really despair.

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Wood 06.26.07 at 4:43 pm

Tell you what, DH: how about you threadcrap a bit more and tell us in about five more separate posts, packed with densely-written, grammatically dubious text, why you’re wrong and the Bible says something other than what the words say?

That’d be just great.

Go on. Have the last word. Drown us in denial.

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dh 06.26.07 at 5:10 pm

Wood, I’m not picking and choosing. I’m just saying when one addresses only one set of area of Holiness and not other areas of Holiness that are clear in the Bible then it makes one appear something that they aren’t. I know I might give you that impression with reference to sexual. However, that is not the impression I’m trying to give. I believe as Believers we should pursue to be Holy in ALL areas. That includes like you and Richard have stated care for the poor and sick but it also includes sexual, personal responsibility, etc. with the most important being Faith in Christ alone for Salvation. Even Nicodemous asked what is the most important and Christ said being Born Again.

I believe like you strongly that care for the poor is very, very important. However, many who place that as the most important ridicule those who look at ALL of the areas of Holiness with equal importance by saying “you guys only focus on the sexual stuff”. That is in fact not true.

One must look at ALL of the messages of Christ with equal importance and not focus solely on the Salvation message (because I’m not focusing solely on that) and must not focus solely on the message for the poor. Christ message was for ALL and the focus included everything which included the poor (in fact poor is all aspects of being poor spiritual, physical, etc. when one reads poor in spirit as well as His message of giving to the poor) as well as Faith in Christ alone for Salvation as well as other areas that are important in the areas of Holiness.

I choose not to focus on only one area of Holiness. I do, Wood, appreciate your importance in bringing to light how we as Believers must care for the poor. I would just like to see us as Believers have equal focus in ALL areas of Holiness rather than the apparent downplaying. I’m speaking to myself if I appear to downplay the care for the poor. That isn’t the image I’m trying to give. I’m trying to say the emphesis in ALL areas of Holiness are of equal importance.

I think if one rereads what I have said that any Christian would agree with it. I’m not being hostile or harsh toward anybody or call what people say “crap”.

Denial? I don’t know what gives you that impression. Shouldn’t we focus on ALL aspects of Holiness which includes care for the poor as well as the many areas of Holiness unto the Lord? Doesn’t this also include the communal aspect of Holiness as well as the individuals within that community of the Body of Christ? How is saying that we should focus on ALL aspects of Holiness to the Lord be denial?

Why the attacking words here when I wasn’t attacking? “Then for the love of God, give us some evidence that you actually do, apart from paying lipservice.”
I could give you many a thing of how I care for the poor but it wouldn’t satisfy you. What really is the problem with what I’m saying on this thread? How is it inconsistent with what Scripture says about ALL aspects of Holiness.

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Wood 06.26.07 at 6:03 pm

Well done.

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dh 06.26.07 at 8:26 pm

Wood, thank you so much for the compliment. I hope it gave you additional insight into how balanced we ALL need to be and I speak for myself in that I’m not always “balanced” myself. I strive to be that but I’m not always that way. I would say we ALL need to work on ALL aspects of the Holiness of God in response to the responsibility of Believers “Be ye Holy even as your Father in heaven is Holy.”

13

Steve 06.26.07 at 9:55 pm

DH,

If the church in America said absolutely nothing about sexual issues for an entire year and only focused on issues related to poverty during that time, then it still wouldn’t be doing enough to have the “proper balance.”

The fact is, while this may or may not apply to you, the VAST majority of Christians in this country focus on sexual issues to an unhealthy degree to the impoverishment of Christ’s call for us to bring the kingdom of God to the poor. This has been going on for decades, and it will take decades of action by folks like Rick Warren, the NAE, Jim Wallis, and others to bring us anywhere near the balance we should be at.

And here’s why: it’s much easier to wag our fingers at people who are doing things we don’t like than it is to get our hands dirty, simplify our lives, and pour ourselves out on behalf of the world’s least.

Disclaimer: I can’t speak for the church elsewhere in the world, but that’s my U.S. centric perspective.

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Beth 06.26.07 at 10:41 pm

Really well said, Steve.

Wood, were you being sarcastic by any chance?

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dh 06.26.07 at 10:48 pm

Steve, I don’t see the VAST majority that you are talking about. I have heard many, many sermons on helping the poor and I have heard many, many sermons on sexual issues. I just don’t see the “lack of balance” you are talking about. I do see that from the people who focus on poverty. They seem to ridicule those who even mention Holiness in ALL of the other areas. Can’t we come to agreement that ALL aspects of Holiness are important? Can’t we agree that Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 where homosexuality is condemned is just as bad as not doing much for poverty? I get ridiculed for believing that homosexuality is a sin and when I mention it I keep getting “not doing much for the poor”. When is this ridicule going to stop when in fact America IS generous. THer has been so many studies into how America is the most generous nation in terms of giving in the world for the poor. When one counts volunteered time it is even way higher. So this “american” perspective doesn’t seem to take into account all of the many studies into the level of giving Americans and even Christians do.

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Beth 06.26.07 at 11:18 pm

dh, you have mentioned sermons, and you have mentioned America as a nation, but I think Steve was also looking at the grassroots level, at a focus on sexual sin etc. to the detriment of other issues in the daily lives of all Christians, not only leaders. I believe that I see the same tendency in the UK.

If people believe that homosexuality is a sin - I disagree, but I’ve been wrong before - then they have every right to speak against it and work for a change in attitudes amongst Christians. But in many cases, those who do oppose homosexuality expend a huge amount of energy in trying to campaign against the rights of non-Christians to conduct their lives as they will. This seems to me to be counterproductive, and it looks to many people like a serious attempt by a religious minority to curtail human rights.

I don’t gamble, because I believe it is against my faith. But on the whole I wouldn’t campaign against the right of others to gamble. I know others who consider drinking alcohol or taking drugs to be sinful, but they don’t tend to spend huge amounts of energy campaigning against alcohol or for the tightening of drug laws.

When did you last see anyone campaigning for the criminalisation of adultery? Or of dishonouring one’s parents? And God forbid that either of our countries should think of criminalising blasphemy. Yet these are all certainly sins. Issues of sexuality are generally the only ones that cause really huge amounts of campaigning from Christians. This suggests that those who vocally oppose homosexuality yet claim that they do not see it as different from any other sin are being somewhat hypocritical, since they tend not to campaign against the social acceptance of other sins. Or, for that matter, to spend much time campaigning against poverty.

17

Wood 06.27.07 at 11:42 am

“Wood, were you being sarcastic by any chance?”

What makes you think that? Could it have been the post immediately preceding dh’s, perchance?

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Beth 06.27.07 at 11:44 am

:) It might just have been!

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dh 06.27.07 at 2:50 pm

Beth, I have seen many, many people campaign against poverty among the camp that believes homosexuality is a sin. Beth, I could also say the same thing in the 180 degree opposite. Many people campaign and spend so much energy on things for the poor but fail to spend any energy addressing areas of personal morality and Holiness. One must include in the “energy” all of the sermons ones speaks on particular issues. The press will only focus on those issues which pertain to THEIR particular interest as opposed to what ALL that a particular group says. I think that is where the overgeneralizations start. Heck, I might be doing a little overgenerlaization with regard to those on poverty issues. However, I don’t think I am because every time I hear someone talk about poverty issues they in the same breath say the opposing side only talks about personal morality issues.

I think if we spent equal time on ALL aspects of Holiness and work to be Holy in ALL areas of Holiness then maybe we would get somewhere.

Beth, I personally would have no problem with people standing up against adultry and sex before marriage in addition to the homosexuality and poverty issues and ALL areas of Holiness. Just because something appears to be hypocritical doesn’t make what that particular person say anymore wrong. It is illogical to project falsehood to someone who is hypocritical. I agree there are some people who are and when Scripture says something specific with regard to issues just because some people don’t “practice it” doesn’t make what Scripture say specific about it any more wrong.

Also, to say ALL or a MAJORITY don’t practice what they preach is also stereotypical as opposed to being humble and dealing with the particualr sin we ALL have. I agree people are hyporcitical and even if 99.99999% of the people were comitting homosexuality but saying homosexuality is wrong that wouldn’t make it any more false with regard to the issue that homosexuality is actually a sin. The same goes for any of the other sins. How people act has no bearing on what Scripture say about particular areas of Faith and Holiness. If we Noah had that attitude with regard to this subject we wouldn’t have been alive today because the Flood would have killed him. (I’m sorry, it is just an analogy that might not work but is mentioned for greater clarity so one can understand my statements better.)

20

Steve 06.27.07 at 7:11 pm

DH,

You have repeatedly said that America is very generous - and it is, by the world’s standards. But if any of us who follow Jesus in the developed world think that we are giving enough to help the poor throughout the world, we are wrong. We need to give more. Both individually and corporately (through both church and government).

21

dh 06.27.07 at 7:38 pm

Steve, I totally agree with you wholeheartedly and my response and reply previously doesn’t contradict with that fact or with what you just recently said above.

Serving God includes helping the poor as part of being Holy to God but it isn’t solely that alone. That is all I was trying to say.

22

dh 06.27.07 at 7:41 pm

Also the Holiness is not an emphesis of one area over another. We should pursue that in ALL areas God calls to which include sexual and other areas of personal responsibility toward Christ as well as serving the poor.

23

Beth 06.27.07 at 8:34 pm

Part of the problem here is that many of us do not agree that certain things - homosexuality is the obvious example, though I’m sorry to harp on it - are, in fact, sinful. We also believe that there are other things that governments do - such as war, human rights abuses, etc. - which are sinful.Therefore, it’s difficult to accept that those who spend their time campaigning against and speaking about homosexuality and not war, poverty and so on, are not wasting their time.

If I believed that homosexuality was sinful and in need of correction, maybe I would be doing as much good by, say, running support services for gay people as I would by feeding the poor. But campaigning against gay marriage and the like would still be a relative waste of time, because this makes no difference to Christians - we can simply choose not to enter into homosexual relationships, as we can choose not to gamble, or drink, or commit adultery despite their legality and relative social acceptance. In contrast, campaigning against poverty can make a practical and real difference to the lives of oppressed and deprived people. It’s not that I believe that there is a grading system within holiness, but that I think there are some things in which we can me markedly more effective than others and in which, therefore, we should concentrate our energies.

Sorry, this was all a bit stream-of-consciousness. I hope it makes some sense, nonetheless.

24

dh 06.27.07 at 9:38 pm

Well, I believe there ARE people who are saying homosexuality is sinful that are helping homosexual people. To me those programs and organizations that are helping people not to be homosexual are just that. I know many of them are giving support to these people. Also, many people who are advocating that homosexuality is a sin are the same people who are advocating helping the poor (James Robison and Joyce Meyer are ones that are this to name a few). With regard to war, many people who are what you say who are for the War do so by taking ALL of Scripture into account. Also, the concept of coming to the physical defense of the helpless requires some “physical force” that is similar to one taking on a “gang member” who happens to attack a “90 year old innocent man”. It requires a “violent reaction” to get the “gang member” to “stop” the “90 year old man” from being “hurt” in the “future”. I know we disagree but I hope one can at least see instances where “physical defense” of “innocent nations” are needed at different times especially if the “gang member” is “attracting others” which can do a “greater amount of destruction” than otherwise.

By your acknowledgement that homosexuality is just as much a choice as adultry and the like shows that we CAN help people to make another choice so those too are not oppressed and deprived. I personally believe people who are homosexual, addicted to gambling, addicted to drinking, commit adultry are just as much oppressed and deprived as those who are in poverty. I think if you go back to another post we discussed about spiritual/physical poor and project what we are saying here you can get further insight into the “balance” I’m trying to portray with regard to the issue of Holiness.

25

Beth 06.28.07 at 12:14 am

Sorry - I guess I gave the impression that I think homosexuality is a choice. I absolutely, 100 percent do not believe that. Which is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe God intends us to view it as sinful

You also inferred that I thought people were not trying to help gay people - that wasn’t what I meant, although I personally think that ex-gay ministry is abhorrent I can accept that many of the people who do it are very sincere.

War… well, we’ve been there before, and I know we will never agree!

26

dh 06.28.07 at 1:52 am

Beth, to show what level of agreement we have, I believe people can be born with the temptation to be homosexual but acting upon that is what is the sin. I hope that at least gives you a little more respect. I still don’t see how ex-gay ministries are abhorant. At least they are trying to help which was different than what you said where they don’t help.

27

Beth 06.28.07 at 2:21 am

Well, as I said, my meaning wasn’t that they aren’t trying to help - I just expressed it badly. From your perspective, homosexuality is problematic and so helping people away from it is a good thing. From my perspective, with my view that homosexuality is inherent and something to be respected, trying to change people is disrespectful and can be dangerous for their sense of self-worth. I hope you can see that my dislike of ex-gay ministry is based on that view. “Abhorrent” was a strong term to use, and I should have chose something less emotive.

I’m very glad to hear you say that you think that homosexual feelings and tendencies can be inherent rather than a free choice. It seems logical to me to believe this, from talking to gay friends and from reading on the topic. I respect your view that homosexual activities can - and should - be avoided, although I reserve my right to disagree.

Getting back to the main topic of this thread, I think it will be difficult for us to agree on whether some issues need social and political action on the part of Christians, or not. But it seems we can all agree on the immense importance of working to counteract poverty, and that this is something that should be at least one priority for us.

28

dh 06.28.07 at 2:16 pm

Beth, I know we got some “semantic” issues and we “get the point” between each other. I wouldn’t say that people who have homosexual tendencies are inherent. I prefer the term temptation. Everybody can be tempted in all areas of sin if one allows themselves to think about the concept of sin. That is why before one sins there is the temptation. I believe we as Christians should work to not let ourselves be tempted in the first place.

I personally believe helping people to change behavior is NOT disrespectful. It is how one tries to change someone that is where the issue of changing can be problematic. However, that doesn’t make the attempt any more wrong. I know we disagree but does that make sense? T

The ex-gay ministries that I know DO value and respect the person. They may try to help change a person to change their behavior. To me it would be equivilent to call alcoholics anonomous as being “disrespectful and dangerous”. I know you may think that is harsh I’m not trying to be but I honestly see the similarity and the conclusion of “disrespectful and dangerous” I don’t see.

I think many times when we see an organization doing something to try to help we focus on the extreme group doing the help and overgeneralize and say “because this group is doing it wrong then any help in that area is not help”. I think that is where I think the problem occurs. Many ex-gay groups are being attacked really for no reason. I know there are some who have tactics that are harsh but they are the extreme minority from the research I have done on those groups.

Minus the homosexual thin there are so many areas of Holiness besides poverty issues and I agree that poverty issues need to be addressed but not to the point where it is number one or the only one issue. I believe there are so many issues that each need to have 100% and equal focus. Some say that can’t be done because people emphesize one over the other. I say otherwise and that with God we CAN focus on ALL of the issues of Holiness helping people to like the Word says “Be ye Holy even as My Father in heaven is Holy.”

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dh 06.28.07 at 2:18 pm

While temptation is not a sin, limiting the thoughts and temptations I believe is important so one doesn’t attempt to sin in the first place. I believe Scripture addresses this issue by saying “Hold every thought captive under the Lordship of Christ.”

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