Thursday, April 28, 2011

Between Scripture and Politics: An Impossible Bridge?

I recently broke a self-imposed rule on avoiding political conversations on Facebook. I do not know what exactly came over me, but I just felt compelled to respond to a number of political posts that were made by various friends not only on Facebook, but via email as well. Additionally, I came across an excellent academic article this week written on immigration by a law professor and a professor of religion. So my week so far seems to be dotted with various political opinions and conversations which, unlike previous experiences, were carried on in a civil and constructive manner.

Aside from any disagreements or agreements I had with friends on political issues, what struck me about the Facebook comments and the academic article on immigration was the difficulty of connecting Scripture to contemporary issues. In some cases on Facebook, there was not even a semblance of an attempt to consider how the Word of God might speak to an issue. In other cases there was reference to Scripture, but with the assumption that no other scriptures then the ones posted were relevant, nor any indication that they might be differing interpretations on the texts being cited. Another difficulty overlooked was evident in the academic article on immigration which seemed to ignore the perils in applying texts from the Old Testament to contemporary immigration policies in the United States. For instance, the article on immigration did an outstanding job of referencing relevant texts on how Israel was to treat strangers and foreigners who came to live among them in the land of Canaan. The authors then proceeded to draw an immediate application of these Old Testament texts to immigration policy for the United States. The question that comes to mind is, “Can we directly apply texts from the Old Testament to the United States?”

While there is no question we ought to be informed by the Word of God on all matters political, spiritual, social, and cultural, just how we are to be informed exactly in specific details and policies is not always clear-cut and obvious. For the sake of brevity, let me note just a few obvious differences between Israel of the OT and the United States today. First (according to both Scripture and the US Constitution), America is not God’s nation as Israel witnessed in the Bible is God’s one and holy nation. Second, Israel (especially in the Pentateuch) is an agricultural society, while America is an industrial-informational-financial based society. Third, Israel was a theocracy and then a monarchy, while America is democratic republic built on capitalism. Just taking the aforementioned differences into consideration, an immigrant in the ancient Near East in the time of Moses seeking to live in the land of Canaan is not the same as an immigrant seeking to live in the United States today. Obviously, therefore, translating the Israel of Scripture to fit the contemporary scene in the United States is not a simple one-to-one transaction. Israel is not America and the Bible is not the US Constitution.     

Building a bridge between Scripture and contemporary politics is not something done easily. How Christians seek to build these bridges can and does differ widely. Some Christians I suppose would argue that others are building bridges from wrong starting points (referencing irrelevant scriptures). Others would say that bridges are being built to wrong conclusions (Bible passages do not lead or imply the conclusions being drawn). Yet others would argue that the bridges are being built with faulty material (bible passages being taken out of context). So is building a bridge between Scripture and politics an impossible task or a bridge impossible?

Perhaps, carrying this bridge analogy further, we might consider that more than one bridge is possible and that not all Christians will build, nor cross from Scripture to politics in the same way? Perhaps we are not all standing on the same side of the divide in this world, and therefore how and what types of bridges are built will differ? Perhaps we can respect, and show grace for the hard work and difficulties inherent in connecting Scripture to politics. Perhaps we   could encourage brothers and sisters in Christ to at least attempt building bridges, rather than building up dams and condemning the bridges of those we disagree with? Are we all not trying to get to the same side of eternity? Last time I checked, bridges were designed to connect and unite, not separate and divide. What kind of bridge are you building? Just a thought.