Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Politics cannot save us

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14 ESV

Years ago I received fundraising letters from two organizations on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I do not know how I managed to get on the mailing lists of both an extremely liberal and an extremely conservative organization, but I was intrigued by the content of the letters, none-the-less. 

If I had taken a marker and blacked out the names of the organizations it would have been extremely difficult to tell which letter supported liberal and which supported conservative causes.  They used the same phrases to assure me that the opposite side was bent on destroying the country we love and the freedoms we hold dear. They both accused politicians from the opposing group of despicable agendas and grassroots organizing.  They both insisted that the preservation of the Union was at stake unless I immediately sent whatever I could afford to their organization. The letters nearly matched each other buzz phrase by buzz phrase.  I strongly suspect they were written by the same fundraising organization and each letter approved by each group without the knowledge of the other letter. 

Now that’s a clever fundraising organization.

The similarity between the letters was quite eye-opening.  It was a reminder to me that a political organization, even if it adopts Christian values, is still an organization made up of men and women, who are as sinful, selfish and manipulative as I am. 

A political party cannot save us.

Let me say that again with a bit more emphasis:


Our trust is sadly misplaced if we count on the government to feed the poor, or if we count on politicians to promote Christian policies.  Our trust is sadly misplaced if we let any political candidate, office-holder, party, or pundit convince us that anyone other than God is our Strength and our Salvation.  

What I learned from those two letters was that any political side can, and will, manipulate my emotions to convinced me the world is ending and that sending the right people money, or voting the one right way is the only way to prevent certain doom.

But my trust is in a Higher Power than earthly politics.  I see that the world is a mess because of our sin rather than because of their faulty beliefs.  I do not blindly turn away, but I know that the accomplishment of peace and prosperity belongs to God, alone.  So I read the papers, and watch the news.  I read my Bible and worship with the family of God.  I vote at each election and put my ballot in the box with a prayer, knowing that my heavenly Father can bring good out of any election.

God is good; God is good, all the time. (Even in an election year when we are especially not good.)

Since receiving those letters I have tried to be more careful of my sources for political news.  I would not try to recommend a particular media outlet but I think there are a few things to consider when evaluating media and pundits.  I look for sources that tell me what is happening instead of those that predict what will happen if I don’t contribute or vote in a certain political direction.  I feel pretty confident that politicians and analysts, newspapers, blogs, polls, and T.V commentaries are not reliable prophets.  I value the useful information, especially if I feel I am getting the whole picture and not a carefully edited version, but I do not look to these people to guide my vote or predict future events.

The second thing I try to avoid is sources that paint a picture of one group or another in a narrow, negative and stereotypical way.  I see too many examples of what could only be described as horribly biased. These kinds of descriptions do not enlighten; instead they produce contempt.  Contempt is the destruction of relationships and is not what helps us to discern the best way to tackle a societal problem. 

If you find that the political opinions you are listening to, or reading, or posting on social media sites, can fit into the Pharisee's prayer, then take warning:

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, taking from the poor to feed my bank accounts. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, refusing to work and expecting the government to pay my way. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, ignoring the pain and suffering of others while enjoying the fruits of my hard labor. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, encouraging women to have abortions. . .

These prayers are expressions of contempt and do nothing to encourage empathy for the positions, lives, or challenges, of others. The truth is that we are all like other men.  We are all selfish, lazy, and hardhearted – it’s called sin.  We should be able to find a commonality with any societal group, regardless of which side of the 47% boundary we are on, because the sin we see in others is reflected from our own hearts. 

The correct application of Law and Gospel never includes contempt. It is always accomplished in love.

Because I know my life history and that my every waking moment is steeped in sin, because I am sure I offended others this political season, and because I know my Savior loves me anyway, I know I can, and need, to pray. . .

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’