Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday Meditation & "Values-Based" Public Policy Formation

These days lots of people argue for using the Bible to shape public policy and national morality.

Not long ago the Governor of Texas appeared in a megachurch to sign a protection of marriage act that among other things puts a constitutional amendment before voters in the next election. The guest preacher during the service pressed hard for the imposition of Christian moral standards, at least as he understood them, upon citizens of the entire nation.

Things like this have me thinking.

What would happen if the state of Texas or, better yet, the entire nation took the words of Jesus to heart when it comes to social policy?

Consider these words attributed to Jesus by Matthew:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"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, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:31-40)

Much to consider here, huh?

Actually, the practical breakdown is fairly simple in terms of applying this moral challenge to community life and public policy.

I was hungry. . .rather than cutting food assistance programs, you made sure I had enough to eat.

I was thirsty. . .you made sure I had something to drink, including clean water and milk for the babies.

I was a stranger, a newcomer, an alien. . . instead of enacting laws to lock me out or send me back where I came from, you welcomed me and made a place for me in your world.

I needed clothing, something to wear. . .you gave me clothes so that I could function without shame and attempt to do better for myself.

I was sick. . .you didn't look for ways to cut back or disqualify me, you took care of my health needs.

I was in prison. . .you didn't lock me up, throw away the key and me with it; instead of that, you came to visit me to encourage me and give me hope for a better life in days ahead.

No doubt Jesus meant for his followers to live and take action in these ways as they lived out their faith in him individually.

But, if we insist on taking the words of the Bible as our guide for public policy development, we best not forget words like these.

By the way, there are a lot more statements like this about the poor, the oppressed and those who live in chronic need than there are words about marriage.

Interesting too is the fact that Jesus personally identifies with the people at the bottom who hurt, who are cast aside and who live in need.

In other words if you are looking for Jesus today, search among the poor. There is where you will find him. There is where our tithes and our taxes ought to be invested.

Just something to think about today on your way to or from church.


JBS said...

Great post! One of the amazing revelations of this text is that we don't minister to the sick, prisoner, hungry, etc. to "be" Jesus but we minister to them to "see" Jesus, for Jesus says he is in them. Wow.

Jim Robb said...

In all my years of study I was unaware that salvation is found in writing a check to the government. Who'd a thunk it?

Larry James said...

Thanks, Jim. No, I agree, salvation is not found in writing a check to the government. However, given the current debate over values, the order of our civic life in America and the place of faith traditions in shaping that reality, it seemed fitting to expand the discussion to include matters of social policy relating to the poor and dispossessed, especially since millions are in their current state at least in part due to our current policies.

People of faith are obviously in the debate about how the nation's ethics ought to be decided. I just want to make the point that our national response to the poor should be included as a part of any values discussion.

There is a reason as to why the gap between rich and poor is growing. The church in this country has the ability to influence public policy. I believe that the church is exerting its influence. Sadly, not much is being exerted for the sake of the poor.

Anonymous said...

Jim, interesting that your concern is with your own salvation rather than with following the command of Christ to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

Larry, preach on. It is certainly a shame that the Texas governor is more concerned with removing rights from homosexuals -- a group that CHRIST NEVER TALKED ABOUT -- than with providing for the poor.