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Saturday, February 22, 2014

What the Bible says about politics

This post attempts to collect everything the Bible says, that can establish principles for Christian political behavior, mostly by ordinary citizens, but also by elected leaders, or those aspiring to office. It does not attempt to deal with particular issues, such as gun rights, global climate change, government debt, immigration, foreign policy, health care, abortion or homosexuality, as important as they, and other issues, might be. Instead, it attempts to point to  Biblical principles that apply to political behavior. The links, above, are to reasonably thorough posts on two of these issues.

Here are some Biblical principles that should apply to political behavior: Respecting others, and having compassion for them
Matthew 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

This statement, by Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, is usually called the Golden Rule. It is the guide for all interactions with others, including those who may disagree with us politically. From outside, at least, it seems that there has not been a lot of this, from either side of the aisle, in Washington lately. That's not the only place that it's been lacking! It would seem that we should listen to others, and try to see the merits of what they are saying, and, if we disagree, do so respectfully and in a non-confrontational manner.

This commandment not only enjoins us to respect our equals, but tells us that we should be compassionate toward others who are not as well off as we currently are. That compassion should include appropriate government action.

Respecting authority
Ecclesiastes 10:20 Don’t curse the king, no, not in your thoughts;
and don’t curse the rich in your bedroom:
for a bird of the sky may carry your voice,
and that which has wings may tell the matter.
(All quotations from the World English Bible, public domain.)

Exodus 22:28 You shall not blaspheme God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

Titus 3:1 Remind them to be in subjection to rulers and to authorities

Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how they might entrap him in his talk. 16 They sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are honest, and teach the way of God in truth, no matter whom you teach, for you aren’t partial to anyone. 17 Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the tax money.”
They brought to him a denarius.
20 He asked them, “Whose is this image and inscription?”
21 They said to him, “Caesar’s.”
Then he said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

2 Chronicles 10:1 Rehoboam went to Shechem; for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was in Egypt, where he had fled from the presence of king Solomon), Jeroboam returned out of Egypt. 3 They sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all Israel came, and they spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.”
5 He said to them, “Come again to me after three days.”
So the people departed. 6 King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel do you give me about how to answer these people?”
7 They spoke to him, saying, “If you are kind to these people, please them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”
8 But he abandoned the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. 9 He said to them, “What counsel do you give, that we may give an answer to these people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Make the yoke that your father put on us lighter?’”
10 The young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall tell the people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but make it lighter on us;’ thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 Now whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.’”
12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king asked, saying, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 The king answered them roughly; and king Rehoboam abandoned the counsel of the old men, 14 and spoke to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
15 So the king didn’t listen to the people; for it was brought about by God, that Yahweh might establish his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 16 When all Israel saw that the king didn’t listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion have we in David? We don’t have an inheritance in the son of Jesse! Every man to your tents, Israel! Now see to your own house, David.” So all Israel departed to their tents.
17 But as for the children of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. 18 Then king Rehoboam sent Hadoram, who was over the men subject to forced labor; and the children of Israel stoned him to death with stones. King Rehoboam hurried to get himself up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel rebelled against David’s house to this day. 

Because of the statement by Jesus in Matthew 22, and the similar statement by Paul, in Romans 13, below, it seems that Christians generally should pay taxes assessed by the government. The burden discussed in 2 Chronicles 10 seems to have been taxes and also servitude. Based on this case, it seems that there may be times when Christians should speak up against burdensome taxes. It is doubtful that the amount of taxes expected from people and businesses in the US is as much as the burdens Rehoboam would have put on the Israelites. Those with the power to levy taxes need to be careful that those taxes are as fair as possible, and are not a crushing burden, based on this story.

Note that taxes to Caesar were being paid by the Israelites of Christ's time, an occupied nation, to their occupiers. The Romans put Christ to death, and fed Christians to the lions.

Respecting authority and taxes
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, 4 for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. 5 Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. 7 Therefore give everyone what you owe: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if customs, then customs; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Respecting authority and obeying the law
1 Peter 2:13 Therefore subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; 14 or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well. 15 For this is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.
17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

We (including me) have problems with that last clause. We, as a culture, have problems with honoring anyone at all. Our humor, all too often, doesnt affirm anyone or anything, but does the opposite. The second President Bush was mocked for his sometimes tortured syntax, the way he walked, and for his pronunciation of certain words. I confess that I did some of that, and I shouldnt have. Cartoons of President Obama (and the Presidents before him), often have been designed to do the opposite of honor, and, at times, I fear, Christians have delightedly passed these on through e-mail and social media.

The principle of honoring those in authority seems to go beyond the President, and extend to other elected officials, and various public servants, such as the police, teachers, and people who work in the Department of Motor Vehicles. I personally think it should also extend to candidates for office.

Does this mean that we must support all the policies and actions of such people? No. But we should disagree, if we must, in a respectful manner. Heres a case of Paul disagreeing, by asserting his rights:

Acts 16:35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out, and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, without a trial, men who are Romans, and have cast us into prison! Do they now release us secretly? No, most certainly, but let them come themselves and bring us out!”
38 The sergeants reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and begged them. When they had brought them out, they asked them to depart from the city

And a similar case:
Acts 22:24 the commanding officer commanded him to be brought into the barracks, ordering him to be examined by scourging, that he might know for what crime they shouted against him like that. 25 When they had tied him up with thongs, Paul asked the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and not found guilty?”

Praying for those in authority
1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: 2 for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4 who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth

The Roman Emperor, at the time Paul wrote this, was Nero. It is true that much, or all, of the reason for praying for rulers, in this passage, seems to be so that Christians can live in peace, but it's also true that we should pray that rulers (and others) will come to belief in Christ as savior. It seems to me that prayer for wisdom for those in authority is also important, and should be part of our prayer life, although the Bible doesnt seem to explicitly say that.

Ezra 6:8 Moreover I make a decree what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the River, expenses must be given with all diligence to these men, that they not be hindered. 9 That which they have need of, including young bulls, rams, and lambs, for burnt offerings to the God of heaven; also wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests who are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail; 10 that they may offer sacrifices of pleasant aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.

This is part of an edict of Darius, who was not an Israelite. He asked for prayer for himself and his sons. We should do the same for those in authority over us, and their families.

The government has a responsibility to the poor and oppressed
Psalm 72:1 God, give the king your justice;
your righteousness to the royal son.
2 He will judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
12 For he will deliver the needy when he cries;
the poor, who has no helper.
13 He will have pity on the poor and needy.
He will save the souls of the needy.
14 He will redeem their soul from oppression and violence.
Their blood will be precious in his sight. 

The World English Bible attributes this to both David and Solomon. In either case, they were the government, and whichever of them wrote it recognized the responsibility of the king toward the poor.

The Jewish Law made provisions for the poor. Exodus 21 specified that, unless a slave chose to remain one, any Hebrew so poor as to have become a slave was to be freed after six years. Leviticus 14 said that a poor person was not required to make as large an offering as someone who is well off, in some circumstances. Leviticus 25 required that, if a family became so poor that they have to sell their fields, those properties were to be returned to the family in the Year of Jubilee.

In Jeremiah 22, we read:
15 “Should you reign, because you strive to excel in cedar?
Didn’t your father eat and drink,
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
so it was well, then.
Wasn’t this to know me?”
says Yahweh.
17 But your eyes and your heart are only for your covetousness,
for shedding innocent blood,
for oppression, and for doing violence.”
18 Therefore Yahweh says concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
“They won’t lament for him,
saying, ‘Ah my brother!’ or, ‘Ah sister!’
They won’t lament for him,
saying ‘Ah lord!’ or, ‘Ah his glory!’
19 He will be buried with the burial of a donkey,
drawn and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” 

Those in authority should not take bribes
Exodus 18:21 Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men which fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

This was advice to Moses from his father-in-law. The ESV renders hating unjust gain as hate a bribe. Apparently there were, then, as now, those who expected favors in judgment because they paid for them, but then, as now, people of integrity who judge -- or write or vote for legislation -- on the merits, not because of a campaign contribution or a trip to a resort. We need more of these, and we can’t always tell who is like that, and who isn’t.

Politicians should, at least usually, be honest.
Like the rest of us, politicians should not intentionally deceive so that they may advantage themselves. This means that political advertisements should not deliberately confuse the record of opponents. It means that politicians should not make promises that they dont mean to keep. It means that, when a politician, in office or aspiring to one, discovers that something she said is not true, or something they said would happen isn’t going to, they should say so, and apologize. Recently, President Obama had to backtrack on his statements that people could keep the insurance that they already had, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He should have apologized, and did. I don’t know if he deliberately deceived us in saying that in the first place, or if it was an honest mistake, because he didn’t realize what would happen.

Much deceit during political campaigns, especially in attack ads in various media, is supposedly not under the control of the person it is designed to benefit, but produced by some political action committee. Whether the candidate knew about it, or not, such deceit is wrong. Candidates should not knowingly deceive, or allow their supporters to do so.

There may possibly be times, such as when delicate negotiations with another country are going on, or when agents of the US are operating under cover, where deceit, at least temporary, by a person in authority is appropriate. But most deceit by elected officials, and by people running for office, or their supporters, is not of this type, even if supposedly in the interest of national security. It’s just plain wrong. I have recently posted on lying, deceit and the like, based, I hope, on what the Bible has to say about these matters. It includes a few cases where God seems to have approved of deceit.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading. Have I left anything out?

January 8, 2015: Here's a post on what's wrong with the political left/right in the US.

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