Chief Justice John Roberts, in what was either a masterful demonstration of principle and leadership or a last-minute vote change, “sided” with the four liberal judges to uphold the controversial law.
Public and media reaction surrounding the ruling is predictably polarized. Liberals love the law; conservatives hate it. I’m not sure either side understands exactly what they love or hate about it, but each is convinced of the rightness of its position.
Christians are not immune to strong political disagreement. It is possible to find biblical support for both right and left-leaning politics.
Jesus completely rejected the state as a source of Kingdom power. You’ll find no suggestion of government programs to feed the hungry or heal the sick in the Bible. Even in the Old Testament theocracy of Israel, it was families and farmers, not the state, who were called upon to provide for the needy.
On the other hand, Jesus did command and model care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, and the Old Testament prophets rightly condemned Israel for failing to do so. In a democracy such as ours, many Christians argue that the state is an acceptable means by which we can achieve that goal.
Can Christians interact with each other and in the general political arena in a wiser, more redemptive way?
The Pharisees, in an attempt to trap Jesus, brought an adulterous woman before him and presented Jesus with two options: pronounce judgment according to the Law, which meant she would be stoned (very bad for his image and against Roman law), or ignore the Law and let her go (an opportunity for the Pharisees to openly oppose him). They Pharisees figured Jesus was in a no-win situation.
Not so fast. Jesus wasn’t interested in winning. Instead, he used the moment to expose the false dichotomy between grace and judgment. He did not condemn, but nor did he excuse the sinful behavior. He wisely said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus elevated the premise of the dilemma from the fate of one guilty woman to a question of who has the authority to pronounce judgment.
In another tricky either/or trap, some Pharisees asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Yes or no. Right or wrong. Pick a side. We’ve got him now, they must have thought.
Jesus wasn’t interested in taking sides. Instead, he brilliantly re-framed the question to be one of Kingdom allegiance rather than political expedience. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he said, “and to God what is God’s.”
How might these scenarios be instructive to us as we consider health care reform in our country today?
Jesus had to deal with the political realities of his world just like we do in ours, but he did not allow himself to be confined to false dichotomies. Nor would he play along with polarizing predicaments manufactured to serve the interests of the power brokers of his day.
I don’t think we should play along either.
Health care reform is an important issue in our country, and I believe Christians should educate themselves and intelligently participate in the political process. But we learn from Jesus that it is not as important that we “win” or “take sides” as it is to elevate the discussion.
Are we more interested in winning ideological arguments or in truly improving health care? Do political leaders and journalists who frame the issue in politically polarized terms have their own agendas that are served by keeping us fighting each other? Finally, are we trusting in government to take care of our health or are we trusting in God?
Health care reform is important, but it is not ultimately important. The law will probably end up to be the typical human confluence of good intentions, corrupt influences, political considerations, good ideas and bad ideas. I predict it will ultimately accomplish some positive results, some negative, and plenty of unintended consequences.
Do you think Christians can elevate the tone and content of political dialogue? Are you tempted to play along with polarized and partisan politics?
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” 1 Corinthians 3:19