Right or wrong

by Richard on July 26, 2007

Interesting conversation over at PamBG’s Blog about the “Religious Right”, a subject whch has come up here a time or two.

But what is the ‘Religious Right’? Let me quote one blogger who identifies as ‘Religious Right’ rather than quoting the myrid pejorative definitions of ‘Religious Right’ in cyberspace. This particular blogger thinks that the ‘Religious Right’ hold as core to their belief system that human beings have a God-given right to life, liberty and private property.

My whole objection to this approach is that it’s not even Christian, let alone ‘born-again Christian’.

It will be no surprise (I hope) that I broadly agree with with Pam on this. She is absolutely right correct to recognize the political differences between evangelicals in Britain and the US. Most of the evangelicals I’ve known here have leaned to the left politically, no matter how conservative their theology has been. Mind you, I’m sure that the average Briton is more left-leaning than her US counterpart, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. One danger this highlights is the folly of assuming that the same label will mean the same thing in different contexts. It should also serve to warn those who believe that Christians are inevitably political conservvatives. It just ain’t so.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Kim 07.27.07 at 8:52 am

On this Declaration of Independence self-definition, indeed self-incrimination, the Christian Right (as the bumper sticker puts it) is indeed neither, neither right (= correct) nor (with Pam) “even Christian”. Why? Because plainly the Christian Right looks to balance two loyalties, those between Christ and Caesar (in the US = Mars and Mammon), and we know what Jesus said about serving two masters. This little “and” (Christ and Caesar [or family, or whatever, including my church]) always harbours a big idolatry.

Christ demands our exclusive loyalty (our “pledge of allegiance”), and when he doesn’t get it there is always (as history demonstrates) “slippage”, as Christianity becomes utilitarian and faith suffers death by a thousand accommodations.

And here is a symptom: whatever the US does must be good, simply because the US does it. Hence the cries of disbelief, “Why, how can they hate us?” after 9/11, which also acts as a self-serving leitmotif for the war in Iraq. Political self-doubt does not even appear at the edges of the ethical radar screen. In effect, the US becomes sinless, and thereby usurps an exclusively divine predicate.

The most interesting and cogent theological explanation for such US nationalist exceptionalism is summed up in Bonhoeffer’s discerning phrase “Protestantism without Reformation”.

2

Wood 07.27.07 at 9:46 am

I blogged on a related topic a few days ago: http://www.johnheronproject.com/wp/?p=754

3

Richard 07.27.07 at 1:46 pm

How did I miss that one? Good stuff.

4

dh 07.27.07 at 2:45 pm

What is un Christian about right to life, liberty and private property? While God allows us to be good stewards of what God is given us and that everything is totally God’s the parable of the talents shows how the stewardship from to to us is. God wants us to be successful so that we can serve more people than otherwise. Sometimes he wants us to make money and other times He wants us to give money the main thing is the attitude that God is placed first. I know no Religious Right person personally who doesn’t place their Faith in God first over all of the physical things discussed. To use blanket, overgeneralized statements toward Religious Right people seems totally useless in light of what really is the truth. I probably know many more people who help the poor who are members of the “Religious Right” than I do otherwise but I’m not going to say the “Religious Right is better than the left.

Also, noone in the Religious Right is saying that the US is “sinless” quite the opposite. When we point out all of the personal sin that is going on today in the areas of sexual imorality, abortion, lack of care for the poor in Africa, etc. then one understands that the Religious Right goes beyond just the “War”.

Scripture teaches us about the right to “free will” which I refer to as “liberty”. It teaches us about the right to life “right to live for God” and the liberty to choose to accept or reject God. It seems to me the right to life is summed up in this “He that hath the Son hath LIFE. He that hath not the Son hath not LIFE.” or “Where the Spirit of the Lord there is LIBERTY.”

So from this is it unChristian or “not Born Again Christian” when Scripture says otherwise?

5

dh 07.27.07 at 2:46 pm

To suggest that Religious Right is unChristian and Religious Left is Christian is just plain wrong. If one attacks the “Caesar” of the Right then one needs to attack the “Caesar” of the left.

6

ee 07.27.07 at 4:13 pm

I thought Pam’s full post was fair and balanced. However, I wonder if there’s a missing perspective. I remember seeing a documentary before the last US presidential elections on a Southern Baptist church. One thing that came over was that whilst their politics were very against state intervention in matters of welfare, the practice of this individual church was quite staggeringly proactive. It had amazing programmes to support both members and general members of the community who were in need.

I find their politics and much of their religious practice incomprehensible and thoroughly wrong, and I agree with much of what Pam and Kim say about idolatory. However that documentary, plus a few months spent in an evangelical church in Pennsylvania, made me realise that they do actually care about others, and I don’t necessarily hold the moral high ground. They love Christ and others as much as I do - isn’t that the most important thing?

Just worried that we’re failing to look at the plank in our own eye.

7

PamBG 07.27.07 at 4:14 pm

To suggest that Religious Right is unChristian and Religious Left is Christian is just plain wrong.

To suggest that I have suggested that is just plain wrong.

8

dh 07.27.07 at 5:24 pm

Well you refer to what the Religious Right believes as being idolatry when that is not the case. If one says God first, family and others second, country third, etc. then how is that idolatry when God is first? The whole concept of idolatry is that one places anything over Christ. The Religious Right doesn’t do that. Christ is always of preimenence. What about this statement: “This particular blogger thinks that the ‘Religious Right’ hold as core to their belief system that human beings have a God-given right to life, liberty and private property. My whole objection to this approach is that it’s not even Christian, let alone ‘born-again Christian’” in light of the Scriptures I referenced that state otherwise from what you said? In light of your quote I mentioned, how is my suggestion plain wrong? When one reads Scripture one can see that life, liberty and personal property are acknowledged by God with the understanding that God is the ultimate owner and controller of it all outside of the stewardship here on earth that God allowed for.

EE, I’m glad you are seeing what God is doing in Religious right type churches. When one looks beyond the overgenerlizations, like you have, then you can see that they are very Christian and doing what Christ has called all Christians to do.

While I too find the Religious Left’s religious practice to be incomprehensible and throughly wrong, I too recognize that some of what they are doing is what Christ has called all Christians to do.

9

PamBG 07.27.07 at 5:51 pm

Well you refer to what the Religious Right believes as being idolatry when that is not the case.

I defined the term ‘Religious Right’ using the words of someone who so identifies and I said what I thought was idolatrous about that defined view.

I do not believe that everyone who is a conservative Christian fits the above definition as I said in my blog.

I do not believe that any Christian who votes as a secular liberal is a ‘real Christian’.

A big problem with US Christianity is the whole ‘conservative Christians vote Republican and liberal Christians vote Democrat’ thing. The Republicans and Democrats do not define our theology; the Holy Spirit does in the light of Christ.

Doing Christian theological reflection requires complex thinking. No secular party represents a purely Christian ethic.

10

PamBG 07.27.07 at 6:22 pm

I remember seeing a documentary before the last US presidential elections on a Southern Baptist church. One thing that came over was that whilst their politics were very against state intervention in matters of welfare, the practice of this individual church was quite staggeringly proactive. It had amazing programmes to support both members and general members of the community who were in need.

I applaud any individual church that engages in such action no matter what their theology. Jesus did say that if we help those ’sick and in prison’ then the action is also done to him.

I would respectfully disagree with that church if they told me that it was ungodly for the government try to support its vulnerable people.

Again, my ‘beef’ isn’t with individual conservative Christians or individual conservative Christian churches. My beef is with a theology that worships the right to individual liberty and private property as if these ideals were part of the Apostle’s Creed rather than the American Constitution. My beef is with those who call me and many others ‘unChristian’ for disagreeing with them.

11

dh 07.27.07 at 10:50 pm

Well, Pam, I was trying to show from Scripture that the “Religious Right” is not being adultrous. I don’t see what the person who was Religious Right said to you as being adultrous. In the extreme it can be adultrous but the concept itself is founded in Scripture. Are some people within the Religious Right having that type of attitude? Yes but I see no problem with a hiearchy as long as no other thing or idea or anything for that matter is placed over Christ alone or is looked at as equivilent to Christ alone. I know many Religious Left people who look at Buddah and other gods as being equal to Christ or is looked at as another thing that leads to Christ within the “journey” I reject that as being unBiblical and is even more wrong. Also, no one is “worshiping” those “rights” but is accepting what God says in His Word as referenced by the Scriptures I mentioned previously that confirm what I said earlier. I truly believe that the overgeneralization of the “Religious Right” is where we need to move away from. I also believe that an attitude that ALL Religious Left are not Believers is also wrong.
I would respectfully disagree with that church if they told me that it was ungodly for the government try to support its vulnerable people.” that is a misunderstanding. What they are saying is that is preferred that the church and individuals be doing that as opposed to government which has been proven to be inefficient. Also, many times when government tries to support the most vulnerable they do it in such a way that they raise taxes which in affect I believe is “stealing” (in that it is mandated as opposed out of ones freewill heart) to do that. This also doesn’t get into the even more extreme concept of government of Communism where everybody makes the same amount of money. This also is a form of stealing or Sweden where there is a 100% tax rate for any money made over $100,000.00 a year. That too as well is a form of stealing.

While I agree government needs to help the poor and vulnerable they must be careful to make sure that that is done in the most effiecient and Biblical way possible. Forcibly taking from the rich to give to the poor I believe is unbiblical. Giving incentives for the rich to help the poor out of their own heart IS Biblical and even more Biblical are Believers and the church doing the work that has been coop’ed by the government. The reason the government is doing this type of “action” is because Believers and the church are not doing their duty to assist the most vulnerable out of their own heart and/or hearts.

Also noone on the Religious right is saying this “

12

PamBG 07.28.07 at 10:45 am

DH:

I’ve never accused anyone in the Religious Right of Adultary and I’m not talking about hierarchy.

I know many Religious Left people who look at Buddah and other gods as being equal to Christ or is looked at as another thing that leads to Christ within the “journey” I reject that as being unBiblical and is even more wrong.

Aside from the fact that there is no politcial movement that identifies itself as ‘the Religious Left’, please hear again that I’m NOT trying to argue that ‘all theological liberals are good Christians’. That would be an absurd argument. There is no organised, large-scale, well-funded political movement in the US that is trying to get Christians to worship Buddha; if there were, I would oppose it theologically.

they do it in such a way that they raise taxes which in affect I believe is “stealing”

I disagree that taxation is stealing. The NHS (National Health Service) in the UK is having a lot of problems but, at the very least, my elderly church members can get into hospital for a heart by-pass or hip replacement without worrying themselves to death about the cost of surgery. In contrast, my parents in the US are paying over $300 a month for their medications and that is WITH insurance co-payments. Can churches organise an affordable healthcare system?

Sorry, but I don’t understand how a Christian can say that the rich should be given incentives to help the poor. In Christian theology, helping the poor is an absolute duty.

13

PamBG 07.28.07 at 1:11 pm

I want to pick up on the comment on taxation as ’stealing’ because I think it actually hits the nail on the head with respect to the idea that ‘the right to property’ is a spiritual value.

The implication here is that if a democratically elected government decides that it has an obligation to house, clothe and give health-care to everyone in society (at least on a minimal basis), that a Christian can be morally and ethically certain that taxation raised to house, clothe and give healthcare is ’stealing’? Presumably, that means that Christians should simply refuse to pay taxes; we’re already don’t something unethical by paying local and national taxes.

14

dh 07.28.07 at 9:50 pm

I’m not saying we have a right to not pay taxes unethically because the “render unto Caesar ” in Scripture. What I’m saying that the appropriate amount of taxes needs to be done in such a way that it isn’t so high that it is stealing. Also, the healthcare system needs to be one where people don’t have to wait in line for healthcare and that the best doctors need to be available. Also, with state Medicaide there ARE ways for the poor to get proper healthcare. I believe it is a Christian duty to help the poor and I stated that very clearly. All I said is that should be done not by force but out of the goodness of ones heart. With regard to the incentives. I’m saying that it is more efficient economically to do that then to have government mandate it and do the work of distribution when giving directly without any middle man affects more people. It also promotes people desiding from their heart where to help the poor and that is very much Biblical.

How can you say you never accused the religious Right having adultry when you say this: ” This particular blogger thinks that the ‘Religious Right’ hold as core to their belief system that human beings have a God-given right to life, liberty and private property. My whole objection to this approach is that it’s not even Christian, let alone ‘born-again Christian’.”

If you reread these passages I mentioned you can see how your rejction of the “rights” as not being Biblical is in fact wrong: “Scripture teaches us about the right to “free will” which I refer to as “liberty”. It teaches us about the right to life “right to live for God” and the liberty to choose to accept or reject God. It seems to me the right to life is summed up in this “He that hath the Son hath LIFE. He that hath not the Son hath not LIFE.” or “Where the Spirit of the Lord there is LIBERTY.”

15

Richard 07.28.07 at 10:15 pm

You’re talking at cross-purposes DH. Pam hasn’t accused the religious right of adultery. Idolatry is what she said.

I think the reading of scripture you reveal in your last paragraph is very distorted, but I don’t have time just now to say why… I’ll come back.

16

dh 07.29.07 at 1:40 am

I’, sorry I made a typo. However, I do believe that the Religious Right is NOT involved in idolatry as a whole. I’m sure some do but to use blanket overgeneralistic statement to a group of people seems really unecessary. It also isn’t a distortion of Scripture. The terms lifeand liberty are mentioned many times in Scripture. I just used a few of the verses I could have used many more. The whole point is you are promoting forcing people to do something that should be directed from ones heart not mandated from some third party intity.

17

PamBG 07.29.07 at 3:02 pm

DH, I don’t even know how to begin to respond:

* The right to life has nothing to do with the right to amass, horde, keep and not share wealth.

* Free will to respond to God’s offer of salvation doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that we have a God-given right to choose to not share with others.

People on Medicare speak of being turned away from hospitals and of being exceedingly frightened of getting ill. Also, access to emergency medical care when one is 30 years old is one thing. Access to consistent good quality health-care at the age of 80 is quite another.

Always the objection seems to be ‘I don’t want to pay higher taxes’. This same objectlion came up in Ben Witherington’s blog on the subject of healthcare in America. The overwhelming refrain was ‘no higher taxes’. If people don’t want to pay 30% of their salary in taxes, why should I trust that they would give away 30% charity?

It also isn’t a distortion of Scripture. The terms lifeand liberty are mentioned many times in Scripture.

And the minor prophets rant in long and unified narratives about societies that organise themselves to exploit the poor.

Although I don’t approve of ’search the bible for a word and then use the resulting verse as a proof-text’. Searching the NIV for the English word ‘liberty’ yields one reference (Lev 25:10), Searching the RSV for the English word ‘liberty’ yields 15 references, the KJV yields 25 reference.

I’m not disputing the right of a living human being to life, but it’s interesting that you seem to equate an individual’s right to life as being one and the same thing as ‘liberty to withhold charity from the needy’.

18

dh 07.30.07 at 4:44 pm

None of my statements don’t give the indication that we should have the right to amass, horde, etc. without sharing. I just believe that should be done out of ones heart not dictated and mandated by some third party entity. Why should a third party dictate how much a person gives to charity when that is between one and God? Other than the tithe, does the Bible dictate what we should give to the poor?

How does this statement give you the indication that one shouldn’t share the wealth when I mention in this following statement that it is a right that we out of our hearts to help and assist the poor and needy?: “I believe it is a Christian duty to help the poor and I stated that very clearly. All I said is that should be done not by force but out of the goodness of ones heart. With regard to the incentives. I’m saying that it is more efficient economically to do that then to have government mandate it and do the work of distribution when giving directly without any middle man affects more people. It also promotes people desiding from their heart where to help the poor and that is very much Biblical.”

I never said it was right that we withhold charity from the needy. It is just that the giving of charity should be from ones heart not mandated and dictated by some third party outside of God and His Word. There are times God wants people to invest to obtain more money so that even more can be given to the poor aka: the parable of the talents and with regard to what is Spiritually and phyaically important (I say Eternal life issues) aka: “Thou I give all I have to the poor and have not love I’m a clanging gong.”

I totally agree that it is wrong not to share with others but that sharing with others should be dictated and mandated by third party entities. To me that amounts to stealing. When one gives charity to those in need out of their heart that isn’t charity.

When it comes to healthcare the government DOES help those who are poor and needy. I would rather have the American system where a super majority of people don’t have to wait in line, the cost is more efficient (when looking at in comparison with other nations where tax rates are well over 50%), etc.

Also, if we did your form of economics how many more people would be poor who otherwise wouldn’t be under the current system? How many more people who currently who are poor who currently don’t pay taxes would pay taxes? Remember the poor pay taxes too. Should we increase the poor’s burden by making them pay taxes? Should we have people who are in charge of hiring workers be in a financial bind to the point where more workers jobs are lost and therefore a worsening of a situation where the intent was good? Just some thoughts and questions this thread keeps drawing out of me and the unintended consequences of something that on the surface appears good.

At least I recognize your heart as being right on this but we must address the unintended bad consequences for this type and these type of changes.

Also, just because a certain word is only mentioned a few times doesn’t mean it is less important. When Scripture mentions a phrase one time it is important. ALL Scripture is of equal importance with each other. So that seems to be a “red-herring”.

19

Steve 07.30.07 at 5:49 pm

Oy. DH, you tempt me to reconsider the idea of “sola scriptura” with some of your wacky interpretations.

20

PamBG 07.30.07 at 6:47 pm

At least I recognize your heart as being right on this but we must address the unintended bad consequences for this type and these type of changes.

Sorry, I forgot. I live in communist Great Britain.

21

dh 07.30.07 at 7:21 pm

Pam, did I say you lived in Communist Britain? I hope you didn’t give that impression.

Steve, what wacky interpretations are you referring to? Are you reconsidering going away from “sola Scripura” or reconsidering coming toward “sola Scriptura”. If the latter then I would consider that positive.

This paragraph I mentioned earlier explains what I mean by charity from the heart as opposed to mandaing from a third party entity: “Also, if we did your form of economics how many more people would be poor who otherwise wouldn’t be under the current system? How many more people who currently who are poor who currently don’t pay taxes would pay taxes? Remember the poor pay taxes too. Should we increase the poor’s burden by making them pay taxes? Should we have people who are in charge of hiring workers be in a financial bind to the point where more workers jobs are lost and therefore a worsening of a situation where the intent was good? Just some thoughts and questions this thread keeps drawing out of me and the unintended consequences of something that on the surface appears good.”

Great discussion and I hope Pam, Steve and others are enjoying it as well. I hope we can at least see how being a good steward as Believers is more comlicated than giving everything we have to the poor. However, it might surprise people that I have no problem with that if God tells a person to do that. I just believe that that shouldn’t be mandated by a third party but by one’s heart alone. That’s all.

I totally respect both of you Steve and Pam. I hope you feel the same and see the reasonable rationale for the position I have. I at least see that with you both but the unintended consequences is where my position becomes solidified and I believe there is a biblical basis for that.

I totally believe that all three of us want to see the poor and needy helped to the highest amount possible it is just a matter of the “how that’s done” where we seperate. If we don’t accuse each other of “not doing all we can” too much then we fail to recognize where each is doing much for Christ on the areas of poverty. We all need to do more but I don’t believe that any one group is to blame. We all are to blame.

22

PamBG 07.30.07 at 8:41 pm

DH:

I, for one, am not discussing ‘how it’s done’ which is, I think, an entirely different discussion. I’m talking about values.

As I understand you, you’re saying: God gives Person A his/her family, wealth, etc. and that God also gives that person an inalienable right to keep everything to him/herself if s/he so chooses. That God imposes no obligation on individuals or society other than their free will to give to the poor whatever any individual so chooses.

I’m trying not to be rude and not respond to you, but you’ve brought into the discussion a number of things that I never talked about and that don’t seem pertinent to the discussion. Frankly, I’m running out of energy for this conversation.

23

dh 07.30.07 at 8:55 pm

I never said that God omposses no obligation to give to the poor. In fact I say otherwise. God commands us to help the poor and needy and not doing so is sin. However, that command is from an attitude of freewill just like to sin or not to sin is a freewill choice so it is in helping the poor and needy. If one wants to sin by not helping the poor and needy it is their choice but God and the Body of Christ are going to point out that that person is sinning.

With regard to “how it is done” IS important in bringing up with regard to values. I consider it an unGodly value to forcibly take from the rich and give to the poor. I do believe strongly that the rich must help the poor and needy or else they will be sinning. So as you see there IS an obligation by God for the rich to help the poor and needy. I’m trying to see how you think that I think there is no obligation to help the poor and needy when in fact I’m saying otherwise. Being in sin or not being in sin seems to me to be an obligation by God toward ones freewill to sin or not to sin.

24

Tim 07.31.07 at 12:40 am

DH, I’m really intrigued by the way you look at our duty to help the poor and the sick. You seem to place more importance on the giving of the help than that the poor and the sick are helped. I would disagree totally, but there’s another flaw in what you’ve been saying and that’s a total insistence that governments are not the most efficient way of helping the poor and needy.

It would be almost impossible (and a hugely inefficient) to set up any sort of total welfare system entirely based upon charity and non-governmentally run organizations, therefore taxation is imperative to help the needy. If most people want to give to help the poor (or to set up a NHS or whatever) then surely it’s the government’s job to set up the best way to do that, through taxation. Admittedly this means that some people who do not wish to give have to pay but it facilitates lots of people helping the poor and the sick.

25

PamBG 07.31.07 at 9:33 am

You seem to place more importance on the giving of the help than that the poor and the sick are helped.

And it seems more important that ‘the haves’ give voluntarily than that the poor and the needy are helped.

26

dh 07.31.07 at 2:50 pm

Well, I still feel that I’m being misunderstood. I never said that I don’t support any government assistance. What I meant to say, and it is my fault because I really didn’t explain myself very well which for that I apologize, is that a system of taxation where over 50% of ones income is taken to help the poor is too much and I believe too inefficient. I don’t want to give the impression that absolutely no government aid should be done. It is just the amount taken to do the job that I have issues with.

With regard to government aid I would rather have incentives like tax breaks for people to facilitate helping the poor and sick as opposed to a bueracratic system governed by the government where $100 hammers and 50$ shovels are being spent. Basically we need to improve having more people to give so that the poor and sick are helped.

If you all remember LBJ did a War on Poverty and everybody even thoses who supported it said that it failed. The number one reason they said it failed was that they didn’t involve personal involvement but the War on Poverty was done solely through government run projects.

If I gave the impression that government should not be involved in any way in helping the poor and needy I apologize. I totally can understand how someone could get that impression. To me it is to what extent the government is involved and how governmenr is involved ethically to help as many people as possible. To me if it is done in such a way as to stifel an economy to where future potential aid is affected because of reduction of personal contributions then I will not support that. However, if it is done with a combination of greater tax cuts to help the poor, government aid to existing organizations as opposed to a government run institutions then I’m all for it.

I think we all agree that the “haves” need to do more to help the poor and needy. That is really the point of the thread is to point out that no one group coops the concept of assisting the poor and needy.

I guess I don’t see it as inefficient to focus more on government run organizations. I believe we must immobilize and empower non-government run organizations to do more than they alreays are. I believe using some tax money to aid these organizations as opposed to setting up a sole government entity is a better solution.

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