There Is (Not) a God Party

I may have jumped the shark with this title. But, indulge me another sentence or two before clicking away.

Since 1980 it is clear the Moral Majority and its later iterations intended to court and influence the Republican Party. Recall Dr. Richard Land’s call for the consummation of such a relationship rather than a protracted flirtation. Just when progressives hope to inform Christians there is a way to vote blue the Democratic Platform is exposed to be sans god.

President Obama, among others, insisted on voting God back in the platform. Once the vote was taken there was booing in the room.

Many I know believe the Republican Party is the only party for which a Christian may vote. Others contend the issues are broader and cannot be reduced to abortion and gun control. The implication would be that thinking people should vote with the Dems.

Aintsobad may have rightly pointed out that we are not voting for pastor of the United States of America. But, both parties want supporters who catch the vision, the dreams, of what sort of Country we will be. The idea that, in the America Rick thinks so exceptional, voters may be courted and won without including religion is a bit like thinking you could have a Big 12 without Oklahoma and Texas.

We may not be voting for pastor, but despite the semantics, both parties appeal to values. The recent incident in Libya invites questions about what value is placed on foreign policy and what role world religions play. If you have not made that connection, consider the recent comments by Netanyahu regarding Iran and the potential for nuclear armaments.

Who could ignore the values related to government debt, healthcare, and Social Security? Values abound. Republicans do not have a corner on values voting. Democrats can’t be so smug as to call into question values voting when underneath their rhetoric is an appeal to American values. Don’t forget First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC. Or, even the way Former President Bill Clinton couched his endorsement in a vision for American values. This brings into focus the central issue. Who gets to decide whose values win the public debate and gain support for government action? The real issue is interpretation. We will think the winner gets to lay claim to the winning hermeneutic.

Last week I listened to an interview that included Cathleen Falsani. One of Cathleen’s achievements is to have obtained the first, and arguably only, lengthy interview with, then Senator, President Barak Obama on the subject of faith and politics. During the podcast where politics took center stage, she made a compelling statement. Cathleen told listeners that insiders from both parties have been contacted and these insiders shared that neither party will raise the subject of the poor during what is left of the run up to Election 2012.

What Falsani points out is that political debate is for the privileged. And, by implication this means the debate is about preserving privilege not necessarily what is best for, “we the people.” (Except that technically the “we” in “We the people” did not, at the time, include the “we” it does today. If the privileged set the agenda then, maybe we should expect them to do so today without complaint.) When the poor are neglected, left out of the debate, neither party may lay claim to God or represent his intention for the interdependency of humanity.

In short, there is no political party that may lay claim to God, his vision, or his values that refuses to raise the issue of the poor in the run up to the election. Republican Christians flooded Facebook and Twitter with derision for the Democrats who left God out of their platform. Maybe we should have understood that as, “at least they were honest.” For when Republicans claim to be on God’s side but will refuse to consider the poor they are play acting on behalf of God.

Now you see why some of us find it a viable option to not vote. That is, until Natalie comments.

Todd, I share your penchant for “principled dissent.”

Where I struggle, though, is how privileged it must be to even consider abstaining from voting. Historically, no hurdles to voting have been set up in front of white, Christian, straight, literate, middle-class men. But for my gender, I am equally as privileged.

I can’t help but think of the fact that the Fifteenth Amendment took a century to truly apply to American people of color, and how it took the Voting Rights Act, and continued vigilance up through today, to make sure all citizens have access to the polls. So, I feel like I’m throwing away something precious and hard-fought – women have had suffrage for less than 100 years! I have made a decision yet, but thinking of voting as a privilege often denied to others makes the equation that much more complicated…

I felt pretty secure in my arguments with Aintsobad. Rick, like others, considers voting a privilege that should not be ignored. He believes that the only way to change the posture and practice of the franchise is to participate in it with change in mind. I disagree. Natalie on the other hand took a different approach.

Natalie argued, quite well too, that while choosing not to vote on principled grounds may be a solid option, it is really only the option of the privileged. She noted that people not living in or with privilege would likely prompt her to vote for them. Wow!

Think that one through with me. Here is a young lady who dares suggest that we not vote for our own interests, but the interests of others. Natalie at least insinuates that what we really should consider are those who get overlooked in the grand discussions of bailouts and bombings, of nuclear weapons and drones, of dollars and euros.

Consider me chastened. If I cannot find a reason to vote for myself, I should consider the needs of the greatest group of people de-privileged by the systems and structures and vote for their needs more than my own. If it is true that either Leibniz or Locke influenced our Founding Fathers, then just maybe their competing visions of the same aim should be considered defended. If our rights and privileges were to be demonstrated in the way we honor fellow citizens, then our voting should be for them and not us.

Is there a party that would take up that challenge? A group who in the public square would signal a change that some voters will vote for those who are under-privileged by the system and structures, who are disadvantaged in some way by the framework that makes it difficult to grab one’s bootstraps much less pick oneself up by them? We may not get a spot on the ballot come November, but the church carrying out the mission of God in the world should be that party of people thinking more about others than themselves. And, that may need to include thinking deeply about who to vote for – and not so much for a person but a group of people.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

35 comments on “There Is (Not) a God Party

  1. Mike Chitwood says:

    Todd I have read your posts for a while and I while I agree that there is no party that can lay claim to God alone, there is a party that represents God more than another. Keep in mind a party is represented by its base than its nationwide figure heads. Therefore, I think the Republican party of the two has it more right that the democrats. However, I say this very cautiously because I do think it is important to take care of the poor. But that should not be a mandate of any party’s agenda instead of a representation of the individual morality found in each person to do what God has called them do.

    1. Mike,
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      People, all sorts of people, will interpret our two party platforms and choose the elements he or she believes to be more representative of a Christian ethic. I am not sure we have not left behind the place where one has it more right. Don’t you think that depends on which issues you or I choose to trumpet as the key matter for life in American?

      I want to be clear about your last sentence. Are you pointing out that any party should represent a force/entity which aims to help the individual do what God has called them to do? Or, is it that if, say, God instructs human beings, especially his people, to care for the poor that is a matter for each individual as opposed to the government, or at least a party agenda piece? I am not sure what you mean here. Just asking for clarity.

      1. Mike Chitwood says:

        What I am saying is that the Democratic party only has ONE moral point of validity, which is “helping the poor.” Unless one gets into a hierarchy of ethics and some how says the poor is the greatest indicator of morality, which is a stretch there is little the Democrats have to offer. Also a hierarchy of ethics is usually considered by ethicists to be a bad approach to ethics.
        Please know I do NOT think Republican’s are saints. I also know that many of the “moral” things they stand for are just to get votes. Still for whatever reason they stand on those moral points they stand for more moral principles than the Democrats. Therefore, if I had to choose between the two I would choose a Republican over a Democrat and in this climate that is the choice.
        Ideally what I am saying though is that coupled with the ideals of this country and our Christian faith one needs to have the most freedom to pursue their morality in Christ with the best means possible. Since I am more Libertarian than I am anything else again the Republicans are a smaller government party than the “nanny state” Democrats.
        Now let me clarify what I meant when I said “individual morality.” Morality in Christ is something that originates internally because of Christ within us than the external Christian rules we practice. Linking this with government this is again why I want a Republican government at this point because I don’t want a government telling me how to live my life, including how I am going to support the poor. Instead I want each person to be free enough to grow in Christ so they will be motivated to care for the poor because they want to instead of a welfare program that becomes an entitlement program. Honestly the many Christians that proclaim we need a government or party that stands to care for the poor in my opinion makes themselves look silly. This is because these “helping the poor” programs turn into entitlements, which equal government slavery. Again, this is why I like individual internal morality because it allows a person to freely choose to be moral. Yes, people will get it wrong but that is why Christ did not dictate morality to us either.
        Lastly, one can also argue based on my logic that by me supporting the Republicans then aren’t I imposing other moralities upon another? Well to be honest I AM but since we are stuck with the two party system if I’m going to have it forced on me then I am going to go with the party that supports more Biblically based views than the one that flat out rejects God.

        1. Mike,
          I do not intend to defend either party. But, to suggest the only moral issue the Dems get right is helping the poor is to ignore creation care, even if it goes under the banner of environmental concerns. It is nigh impossible to grasp the or understand much of Israel’s history as well as the songs in the Psalms without an appreciation of their understanding of their relationship to God and the land. Republicans may quibble and aregue over global warming, but it is hard to deny our responsibility, understood at least Christian-ly, to care for God’s creation.

          You seem to suggest there should be no ethical heirarchy yet you create an ethical heirarchy.

          My aim was to call attention to the fact that if we who claim to be Christian evaluate party platforms the single issue that spans both Testaments is care for the poor, the de-privileged. That you point out the critique of our system does not negate the responsibility. We should critique any attempt to help the poor that enslaves but we cannot choose neglect in its place. The issue becomes one where we are looking for democracy to come – not any era in which we could say democracy has arrived.

          At the risk of re-drecting your particular interest and response, let me suggest that the history of Christianity points to the way its message of hope thrives not under freedom but duress. In our freedom we tend to want to advantage our privilege rather than really care for the poor, the unborn, the widow, and the orphan. So to fear what restrictions might keep me from, say, enjoying public worship while I do little in my own life to care for the needs of the poor seems to miss Jesus in Matthew 25, if not James’ description of pure and undefiled religion.

          The title of the post is really to suggest the concerns we want the government to have should be those lived out in the church. Some will surely object so let me explain briefly. The Church should carry on sans consumerism, should work in its local context to work in behalf of the poor, care of the widows, stand with the orphaned. These we outsourced to the government and then blame those same officials for not fulfilling their promises.

          1. Mike Chitwood says:

            Of course I created a hierarchy of ethics. It was meant to show what happens when we focus on one issue over another within each party. Mostly, what I hear from Christians who are considering not voting Republican is the “social Gospel” approach, which is ambiguous language at best and coupled with scripture that is taken out of context.
            For example the Matthew 25 passage exegetically is addressing the churches need to minister to fellow believers NOT those who do not know Christ. This does not mean we shouldn’t help those who are poor and afflicted. As you also quoted the James passage is a good New Testament example for that.
            Lastly, concerning environment responsibility that again is an ambiguous term that can mean a lot of things for a lot of people. What may be moral responsibility in this area may not equal the same for another. I hate to postmodernize this subject but it is the reality of the world The fact is God gave us dominion over the world to use as a natural resource and we are to be responsible over it. Therefore waste to one may be use to another. Responsibility to one may be over cautiousness to another. Ultimately, the Lord is going to renew and replace this world in eternity so we need to do the best we can while not beating ourselves up over how we use or abuse this world.

          2. Mike,

            I believe it is largely unhelpful to spin a conversation on category descriptions that by their use intend to cast aspersions on any argument that can be relegated to, as you describe it, “what I hear is the social gospel approach.”

            Your chosen interpretation of Matthew 25 is not ubiquitous nor the standard. The pervasive nature of loving one’s neighbor as God’s vision for people can in no wise be relegated to loving people like us who are in the perceived in group. Jesus explodes that notion in his conversation with the lawyer about who is my neighbor. That, exegetically we hope to privilege a way that relegates our concerns for others based on whether they are in or not seems to wholly miss the vision for the people of God in Gen 12 through Abram, and its fulfillment in Jesus as the one who brings all people together, despite ethnic heritage Eph 2.

            As for the environment, there is a way to view the conversation critical of both extremes. But, it is nearly indisputable that Christians did not lead the way when talking about caring for God’s creation, which appears to be part of the role people were to play in Gen 1-2.Dominion does not equal abuse and lack of care. Responsibility means we must re-consider the way we “use” the earth.

            I suspect we have differing visions for what you describe as, “the Lord is going to renew and replace this world.” To my way of thinking the vision of reconciliation and restoration includes this world. I take your description to describe a wholly other making it more replace than renew. Did I capture the sense of your last sentence?

            I really do not think this forum will allow us to debate eschatological visions appropriately. But, I do believe that the vision we have for this future to come influences, as you describe, how we will view the earth and our responsibilities in it.

          3. Mike Chitwood says:

            Todd, as to your last post about me “spinning things to another topic.” I do not believe I am spinning anything but representing a part of the whole you are trying to present. The issues of social gospel and of creation are apart of the morality that concerns you about these parties. So why should we not drill down to the specifics that contributed to the general picture of this original post?
            As for Matthew 25 we will agree to disagree exegetically about the meaning of that passage probably because of a difference in hermeneutics. But I can assure you I have Greek support to explain my position soundly. Even if we were to disagree I think you missed my point, which was not that Scripture says we shouldn’t take care of those less fortunate than us but that WE SHOULD, but we SHOULD use the appropriate Scriptures to support our view. My point also was that James is a better exegetical indicator of that than Matthew 25.
            Lastly, you missed my point about creation all together. As you put this is not the place to have that discussion because eschatology is such a difficult topic even if we were drinking coffee together. So if you want to pick that up sometime you lets swap phone numbers and have the conversation over the phone.

          4. Mike,
            So, in your opinion, what is the general picture of the original post?

            As to Greek support for your position, I know a little Greek myself. However, words cannot trump their context, that is the nature of language. I do know Greek myself. But, Matthew 25 is not the point of the post and James only provides a better vision if I assent to your interpretation. I don’t. You see for me James radicalizes Jesus for his particular context. For me James’ words are haunted by Jesus’ – be they from Matthew 25 or the corpus of Jesus teachings that explode the myth of inclusivity based on ethnic terms which would have to be the default implication if the least of these only pertains to fellow Christians. Not to mention the necessity to consider what is meant by the image of God in human beings in relationship to Matthew 25. But, here I go doing what I said this is not about.

            Eschatology tends to frame everything. Coffee might make the conversation enjoyable.

          5. Mike Chitwood says:

            Yup, as I said earlier we are going to have to agree to disagree on Matthew 25 and apparently on the James passage. And yes you know some Greek and so do I and I’m not surprised we come to different conclusions. Its not like it has never happened in the church ever before over the past 2000 years! :O)
            Until the next dialog thanks for sharpening my iron a bit and know I stand on what I believe here but I do so with humility to learn a different perspective. So with that said next time I’m over your way or your in Alabama or at the next SBC convention how about that cup of coffee? :O) I like my coffee military style. Thick and black!

          6. Mike,
            Thank you for the interactions. I trust you to just as faithful and confident as you learn. We all need refining. And, that we can be both challenged and encouraging proffers hope for our world. I would welcome you with the coffee of your liking should you find yourself in these parts. Should I make it to Tide Country, I would gladly look you up. Until the next time online or in person, Godspeed.


  2. Mike Chitwood says:

    My overall point is there is NOT a God party, but I am going to have to choose this is why I am choosing the Republicans over the Democrats.

    1. Mike,
      I believe not voting for the lesser of two evils is also a Christian option.

      1. Mike Chitwood says:

        Respectfully, I understand your sentiment for not wanting to vote. However, I would encourage you to have a plan of action (if you don’t already) along with your choice to not vote. We need solutions. What ideas do you have?

        1. Mike,
          I fear you missed my point. I want to vote. I am not sure my conscience agrees with my desire to vote. The available candidates and parties in power make it difficult to vote. I am not sure I want to join the vote for a lesser of two evils when I am not sure there is a lesser.

          My main contention is near the end of the post. My rumination is that I may need to consider how to vote for others less privileged in our system and not for the candidate who protects my interests.

          As for a choice, I also note that the Church is my choice. That when I begin to think about the mission of God in the world I find Jesus’ words in Luke for both instructive and constructive. Our participation in self-denial to which Jesus calls us expressly advantages the other. Therefore, the Church should be the party we are most concerned with in our lived experiences. Governments that resist this impulse may find the outbreak of communities committed to Jesus’ way in the world weak forces, the power of powerlessness, that trade in a different vision than the protection of an elite class under the rubric of saving the middle class.

          1. Mike Chitwood says:

            I see your point now and forgive me for missing it. In response to you wanting to vote let me say this. Last election I did not vote for McCain or Obama. Instead I voted for a third party. I voted for the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. My recommendation to many Christians and non-Christians even is I think there are enough of us that honestly want a third option at least, but probably prefer something more. Still a third option would be a start so why not begin the grassroots movement now to stop saying “we wish there was a third party” and actually make certain a candidate next election cycle has enough votes to be permanently recognized? It would be a productive and in my opinion a moral response.

          2. Mike,

            No need to apologize. I did not vote for McCain or Obama in the last election either. I did vote, but likely nullified my ballot by not voting for either candidate for President. I confess to being inclined in that direction but am considering your option. Or, working through these very thoughts in this post and marking my ballot in light of what is best for others rather than me. We will see.

  3. Guy Rittger says:

    I find it intriguing that any discussion about the ethics of voting invariably ignores the crucial fact that both major U.S. political parties conspire to exclude any political perspectives other than their own – i.e., the perspective of financial elites. So we end up in these pointless “Coke vs. Pepsi” debates rather than questioning the immorality of the entire system in which we’re told we are obligated (for whatever reason) to participate.

    I have long felt that the only principled position for a Christian is to refuse the false “choice” between elites and, instead, advocate relentlessly for those effectively excluded from the table – i.e., (with reference to another article on this topic, cited by Todd elsewhere) that the elites “deliver the goods” and stop amassing limitless wealth and power at the expense of the larger citizenry.

    Christian supporters of the GOP who truly care about those on the margins – including the unborn – ought to realize by now that they’re being played. GOP leaders know fully well that they will never be able to deliver on all their promises to the base, so it costs them nothing to make them on the stump. Consider this: no Republican administration since Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion has come close to delivering on overturning it – or even made an effort to do so, despite packing the SCOTUS with right-leaning justices.

    I won’t waste anyone’s time trashing the Democratic Party for the utter hypocrisy and corruption of its leadership. Why bother, when both parties are ultimately beholden to elites whose interests don’t coincide with the needs of the many, and who increasingly use state power to repress and control the same.

    So, Todd, a refusal to vote is possibly the most ethical choice a Christian – or any other person – could make, insofar as it signifies a repudiation of a system designed, from the start, to keep the mass of people in line and submissive. In the past, only mass movements representing real threats to elite power, have managed to secure change that really matters.

    One more thing. No sincere Christian should think for a second that either political party would hesitate in consigning Jesus of Nazareth to prison or death, were he to appear today preaching the Gospel as recorded in the New Testatment. Keep that in mind when you’re tempted to trust them to act in morally defensible ways.



    1. Guy,
      I likely should just point to this reply as my reply to all future responses.

  4. Frank Gantz says:

    Great thoughts, Todd. While both parties raise ethical questions for believers, the abortion issue settles it for me. It would hard to argue that there is anyone more defenseless and in need of a voice than the pre-born.

    1. Frank,
      I track with your line of thinking. What I would wonder is that in our context the issue of abortion is a relatively modern ethical issue compared to the poor. The Church’s track record on the subject is poor. We outsourced care for the poor to helping agencies and the Federal Government’s Great Society vision. Now we want to claim the moral high ground by standing for the yet to be born while offering a poor showing with the most needy of people that due to our greed and closed hands will always be with us.

      I am against abortion. But, it seems there is a connection with the Church’s response to the one in favor ot the other. And, as Guy pointed out, the platform is a rouse. Cokie Roberts recently noted that 30% of Democrats are pro-life. I am not willing to think that 100% of all Republicans are pro-life. At that point it becomes more an ideaology than action.

      What I would ask those who want to make abortion the trump issue is what are they doing personally for those who find themselves pregnant and poor, the poor in need of food and shelter, and on we could go. Generally speaking, it is mostly hot air and a vote as opposed to personal involvement in any of theese issues.

      A shorter way I could have replied is that Christians in the Name of Jesus should not need to find the most defenenseless for which to stand, they should stand for all who are defenseless.

  5. Outstanding post, Todd. What a great way to think outside the box from a Kingdom perspective – put the needs of others ahead of your own! Who could have thought of that? This just goes to show how almost every decision we make is influenced by the selfish Fall and how Jesus came with his upside down kingdom to reconcile us to God and others. Thank you for this! I will repost.

    On another note, comes the question of what it means to help the poor and those on the margins. I am convinced that creating and maintaining a system of dependency for the poor only keeps them in economic and moral bondage. It is not compassion to see 4 generations of government dependency and the new generation having babies at 14 and dropping out of high school to repeat the same cycle again and again. That is the underside of government compassion. We need a new approach – one that cares for the poor and the needy, that fights against injustice and promotes justice and compassion, but that also treats people with enough dignity to hold them accountable when they refuse the help that is offered. We should treat people as though they are made in the image of God, not as mere consumers who are to be handed everything, lest the system be labelled corrupt. There are legitimately disabled and suffering people. We should have a safety net and provide for them in the same way that God commanded that those reaping the wheat in the fields would only pass over once and leave the rest for the poor to come after. The Torah is full of commands to care for the poor by the rich leaving something behind for them and not being greedy. But, the poor also had to go to those fields and get what was left over, which required work on their part too. So, both aspects are needed. In the 21st century full of global capitalism, I don’t have all the answers, but I know that it is important that we try to find them – for all of our sake.

    1. Alan,
      Thank you for your kind and encouraging response.

      Is there something to the common reaction that before we step out of the comforts of our buildings, sacrifice our budgets, and share life with the disadvantaged that we construct a system wherein we protect ourselves with our perceptions of their laziness? Is it possible the very structures that have been institutionalized had as their aim the victimization of a people, preying on the sociological implications of poverty?

      The conversation seems always to run to excesses and abuses before we ever step out of the door. I no where advocate enabling and paralyzing people to remain as they are. But, I also think we misunderstand the poor from time to time only viewing their experience through our lens. You are a NOLA Boy, find the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild. There is a very different vision of the poor in that film.

      Again, the point that I fear is being overlooked is that the poor are not represented nor invited to the conversation as to what would help. The privileged are working to appear altruistic while maintaining their positions. I simply think Jesus paints a different picture. Natalie’s comment that prompted my reflections centered on what prompts us to vote. Do we vote to keep our way of life as we like it, or do we vote for those whose lives have been trampled by the system. It seems the Church should be at the fore of this debate not on its heels. And, I suspect the answer lies in a both/and not at either/or as you suggest.

  6. Mike Chitwood says:

    After more careful review I thought I have reread a portion of Kevin DeYoung’s book “What is the Mission of the Church?” In the book he spends two chapters dealing with this idea of social gospel and helping the poor. Here are some thoughts I think we need to consider when we are dealing with this issue to gain a holistic approach.

    The Torah does address social gospel in Leviticus 19:9-18. This is where it is vital that one takes care of their neighbor but it does not imply a handout as Alan alluded to earlier. Instead it is an “opportunity to work to eat.” This is echoed in the New Testament in I Corinthians 3:10. However those with an abundance need to plan their lives so they can give NOT INDULGE from their excess. This helps us from making sure we don’t take advantage of the weak. This is because justice is explained in these verses as a fair opportunity and process and not equal outcomes.
    Some measurable metrics DeYoung gives are “share, tell the truth, don’t take advantage of the weak, be fair, and talk it out.” It is my belief these moral metrics should be imposed from an inner desire of the self and not imposed by any law or group.

    Further more other concepts in the Old Testament such as the year of Jubilee, which is a “help the poor, social gospel favorite” should be clarified. For example the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 is often used. However, DeYoung reminds us that:

    1. We are not an ancient, agrarian society.
    2. Most importantly, our property has not been assigned by God.
    3. Our economy is not based on a fixed piece of land.
    4. Modern nations are not under the Mosaic covenant.
    5. Most of us are not Jews.
    6. Jesus is our Jubilee whom we should share as we give opportunities to the poor not equal results.

    His overall point is that we should care for the poor but do so in a way that is not a handout and not based on an exploitation of the poor. In fact he says, that “Christians who defraud and exploit others are probably not Christians at all!” I would agree with that statement as a balance is strived towards finding a view of justice based on God’s terms and not our political preferences.

    1. Mike,
      I am glad you found De Young’s material helpful. There are some important points he makes.

      My point would be that the moment you or I, or De Young, minimizes the conversation to categories of “social gospel” vs “gospel,” the conversation is blockaded. I did not tout social gospel. What I suggested was that the theme and thread of helping the poor transcends Testaments. Deuteronomy points out why the poor will be with us. The prophets spoke, “Thus saith the Lord” pointing to the manner in which the most disadvantaged in their culture and society had been neglected and that they would lose their land and stature for a failure to change their minds about the way they would treat people. Jesus, reiterates why we will always have the poor. The same theme – our greed and indifference to others. He shatters the notion that caring for the disadvantaged, the poor, is exclusively for those “in” the group when he responded that everyone is our neighbor. Exegetical contortions do not give us an out.

      And, maybe we need to explore just exactly what the difference is between justice and punishment. N.T. Wright contends that justice is meted out mostly when the victim is restored, reconciled, and made whole. That does not occur when the perpetrator is punished. so, if we are going to influence the world and the conversation about representing those described in the Beatitudes, I follow Dallas Willard on this one not John MacArthur, then how we embrace others is chiefly an expression of what it means to love God.

      1. Mike Chitwood says:

        Todd, I am just now discovering N.T. Wright as I had never heard of him until I got to the end of my seminary career. I have my theories on why that is but that is another subject for another time. For now though I am looking forward to the end of the semester to discover him on my own.

        As for DeYoung later in the book he talks about how we should use the term “social gospel” with humility because it is a very ambiguous word. So he doesn’t really demphasize it at all. Rather I personally had not read that far into his book until after I originally blogged about it last night. After reading it I can add to the fact that his point is that every person defines it just a little bit differently. He closes his thoughts on social gospel and justice by talking about “moral proximity,” which is the concept of what we “ought to do in a a situation is what we may do in another.” In other words it is noble and nice to think that we are and should help everyone all the time but the fact is we won’t because of resources and more. Therefore the “intensity of our moral obligations depends on how well we know the people, how connected they are to us , and whether those closer to the situation can and should assist first.” He believes we should take care of those closest to us first as the moral parameters and if we can take care of others that is great, but if we can’t we are then not immoral either.

        Lastly, I affirm you wanting to go with Dallas Willard over McArthur. I like McArthur on some things but if I had to choose between these two people on an issue that deals with grace and mercy it would be Willard!

        1. Mike,
          I have enjoyed our conversations. I am glad you are nearing the end of seminary life. I trust it will go well.

          De Young has a point. I agree that we are limited by our proximity and our resources. I also think he wisely points out that we must take great care with how we use very familiar categories for they do not hold universal meaning. Such is our experience with language.

          What I find is that we, Christians, do a great deal of talking about supporting our moral vision and less time actually doing the things that generate from that vision. If we followed Willard out in his implications, he would call into question our use of belief if there were no accompanying actions. In this context, it would be akin to saying we are for the poor and never helping the poor. It would be standing against abortion but not working with the complexities in our culture that have created for people the act as an option. And, I am talking more than educating about the bird and the bee’s.

          1. Mike Chitwood says:

            Yes, sometimes I think we do a lot of talking or “typing” about these things. Be it social issues, Calvinism, evangelism, etc. Its a double edge sword to be informed, have our views challenged informally and then doing it too much.

            Also, thanks for the end of the seminary career congratulations. I look forward to it only to start the DMin in Biblical Spirituality the Fall. :O)

  7. John Elam says:

    “In order to participate in the justice to come, hoped for, or for the democracy to come, or hoped for, the event may insist on a vote as an expression of standing with the marginalized other rather than asserting that I am exercising my individual rights.”

    Todd, while I share many of your views re: Dems and Repubs and their appeal to and misuse of religion in the effort to gain power I would argue that our current debate has made it impossible to “stand with the marginalized” in any sense that does not at the same time compromise the same principle.

    Ex. Dems are widely thought by those who share their views to be the party of the poor, lower class and recently the middle class. A Vote for the Dem is a vote for those who are often overlooked. If you care about poverty you must vote Dem.

    Repubs on the other hand have stood strongly, if you ask them, for the cause of unborn children, and even the small minority who are born in the midst of the very procedure which would prevent their live birth. If you care about those who are marginalized prior to even being born vote Repub they say.

    The problem is that both issues and so many others are central to an expression of Christian virtue and ethics. In our current system we must pit one ethic against another.

    I would ask a different question. What is the role of government? Our very system of government limits the most powerful among us, Federal Power and turns that power to those who would be most impacted by the use of said power, for good or ill. We have inverted our system and given nearly unlimited power to increasingly small group of citizen/elites/corporatists. I am often amazed and the short-sided nature of both parties who truly want their “marginalizing” issues given attention. It is only when you have local power, local authority, local responsibility that meaningful changes can occur.

    There is a reason why liberty of the individual is central to our founding and basic structure. Recall that when we tried this deal without “liberty” guarantees we almost went off the rails.

    Liberty allows citizens of virtue and good will to act and make impact in the places where needed.

    Central planning cannot get this done.

    Liberty requires a certain sort of citizen, one who will restrain herself from attempting to take from their neighbor (love of ones neighbor is central in all this) her goods lawfully earned/created for their own sake through the power of government. We have believed the lie that it is fine for me to take from my neighbor her goods as long as I only give them to another. So now we can take from our neighbors their goods and give them to corporate interests, unions, and bankrupt companies because the first principles of liberty, private property, limited federal government have been trumped by a civic felt need for those in need, which translates to those who can amass power and use it for their own end.

    AIG. GM. Citi. Solyndra. The Military Industrial Complex…

    At this point a vote for either party is a vote for war, and corporatism. (soft fascism).

    1. John,

      You want to ask what is the role of government. I understand. My question is, “What is the role of the Church?” And, specifically when I think about marking my ballot, what should my interest as a Jesus follower be? We cannot be paralyzed for the way parties abuse the marginalized or to borrow from the general logic that a non-vote is a vote for the winner, we simply continue supporting the system.

      My aim is to call to account that Christian rhetoric that claims one party more than the other is the most moral and best party for which to vote. Generally, I will maintain, all that does is cast a vote so that my little neck of the woods will be minimally touched while the downward spiral of the poor-the nearly poor-the not yet poor will go unaddressed while we continue to create reasons to consume Christian kitsch and recluse into our faith communities in anticipation of the great cataclysm that marks the “let’s get out of here moment.”

      And, per our personal conversations, I suspect we are agreeing at more points than what some may draw from your reply and my response.

  8. John Elam says:


    We agree that we agree on more than we differ. My main point, which is often the case was obscured by communication. A vote is uniquely a “What is the role of government issue.” Snowhill’s Wednesday for Others is a “What is the role of the Church” demonstration. The larger problem for me lies in the notion that I am somehow helping the poor by interacting in a political system that refuses self reflection and commits the ever grave error or majority rule democracy. When considering a vote “for” the poor (my neighbor) with someone’s money (also my neighbor) not freely given I have joined the oppressor in his cause and will have no room to speak when he chooses to exercise his power to give the same dollar NOT to the poor but the the powerful. That is exactly what just happened in the 2007-9 Bailout and Tarp and is continuing to happen with unchecked Fed money dumping.

    This is the legal theft of money from future generations (my future neighbors) for the purpose of helping the powerful in the name of governments ability to help the poor.

    *Note, this is almost exclusively about Federal Power.

    1. John,

      I may have contributed to the confusion. The underlying implication is not that one party will do for the poor better than another. I most surely think my friend Guy is correct. Power is the game and people are the pawns. No matter where you fit on the spectrum below the elites, you and I get snared in the language game that sounds much better than it actually is and becomes nothing short of an empty ideology.

      I stil have not ruled out voting but not voting. Your last sentence achieves my aim. The consequence of such a conclusion presses me to consider how to form pirate communities that do contain the trappings that promise the one (help the poor) only to gain the other (money).

  9. Guy Rittger says:

    So much to remark on, but I want to limit this response to a single question to John Elam: Are you claiming that all government taxation is illegitimate and should be resisted, or only taxation that constitutes a “redistribution of wealth”? If I understand the thrust of your comments, you would repudiate all forms of taxation that result in “theft of money” to give to undeserving others – e.g., AIG, TBTF banks, MIC, etc.

    But, of course, government cannot function without taxation, so if we oppose it then we effectively oppose government itself. I take this as the slippery slope of Libertarianism. And I personally would have no problem with this provided that we are fully consistent in sacrificing all of the things that government provides which we demand as part of the covenant of citizenship – military defense, police and fire services, interstate highways, regulation of food, water, drugs, etc.

    Natually, nobody actually holds such a position, so that raises the question: why do so many Christians willingly – yea enthusiastically – accept over 40% of the dollars “stolen” from them by the Federal government being spent on weapons and war, but are outraged when a dime of that money is spent – wisely or foolishly – on helping the poor and needy? We all agree that fostering dependency among the poor is not good for anyone, but given how much the deck is stacked against so many in our society, even before many of them are born, why would those of us so comparatively fortunate begrudge providing a basic standard of living to all of God’s creatures? Indeed, if Christians don’t want the government in that business, then by all means step up and take on that responsibility – and see how quickly the pews will empty should any pastor promote such a view to his/her parishoners.

    In the absence of credible alternatives, government programs are the only things preventing millions of Americans from being plunged into abject misery. And if you would prefer that those millions work for a living, consider that it has been the policies of decades of Republican and Democratic administrations that ultimately led us to the edge of compete economic collapse, driving real unemployment upwards of 25%, and plunging millions into poverty and homelessness who never imagined they would ever be there.

    This is why I return to my position that the only moral and ethical stance a Christian can take is to aggressively oppose the system under which these things occur.

    More in response to Mike Chitwood a bit later.



  10. Guy Rittger says:

    On a more positive note, one form of resistance which Christians could undertake would be the withholding of all Federal taxes and funneling that money into programs that would more effectively address the plight of the poor and needy – i.e., programs consistent with Jesus’ mandates as expressed in the Gospels. This would have the dual effect of calling out Federal misuse of tax dollars to fund actitivites completely antithetical to the Gospels – whether abortions or wars of aggression – and putting Christian money where the Church’s proverbial mouth has been (or should be).

    As it stands, railing against taxation comes across as personal greed, not legitimate concern about the effectiveness of government programs. If Christians believe government can’t help those in need, then they can step up with massive funding and show their fellow Americans how to do it properly.



  11. John Elam says:

    Hey Guy,

    We are in agreement that opposition to the system is necessary.

    To answer your question:

    No, all taxation is not theft.

    No, it is not ONLY redistributive policies that I oppose.

    I oppose misuse of power by both parties that destroy my neighbors (poor, middle class and wealthy) while benefiting those who seek to play the game of government power.

    This story provides a real time example that explains why this is never about Repub/Dem but about the role of government, its limits and the rights of individuals in a society.

    Monetary policy, which is mostly disconnected in the minds of voters from the ‘real’ issues in many ways drives the ‘real’ issues that people care about. Limited government, or a government that amends its own power through legitimate processes are acceptable. Destroying the wealth of an entire people for the sake of power brokers is immoral. Our moral causes are held hostage by their respective parties so that we do not pay attention to the men behind the curtain.

  12. Guy Rittger says:

    John – Then it looks like we are fundamentally in agreement.



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