Sunday, August 2, 2020

Of Infidels And Pharisees

The video going around of Portland protesters burning Bibles is a sad sight in America. As a book lover, I’m aghast anytime anyone burns books, but especially when it is the Bible, the bestselling book of all time, and one that has helped countless people around the world come to grips with life, death, and the hereafter.
I’m willing to call the book-burning (and the book-burners) evil, but I have a problem with Mr. Starbuck’s claim that this election is good versus evil. Although Antifa can be legitimately called heathens or infidels, Antifa will not be on the ballot this November. In fact, the Democrat at the top of the ticket will be about as farthest thing from Antifa that any of the Democratic candidates could have been. Joe Biden is many things but it is difficult to paint him as an infidel.
I’ve heard many evangelical Christians say that Donald Trump is the “Christian” choice in the election, but is he really? Joe Biden has been a Christian of the Catholic faith for his whole life. He and his family are regular attendees at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine in Greenville, Delaware and the former vice president’s faith seems to have been strengthened after the death of his son and first wife.
In contrast, Donald Trump seems to rarely attend church and understands little of Christian theology. In 2015, he said he has never asked for forgiveness, and the church that he said he attended denied that he was an “active member.” More recently, he appointed the heretical Paula White, a preacher of the “prosperity gospel,” to the head the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Mr. Trump has also frequently mocked the religious beliefs of others such as Mike Pence. In June, the president had protesters cleared from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC so that he could display a Bible in a photo op in front of St. John’s Church, but the church’s pastor noted that Trump neither entered the church nor prayed.
When pondering God’s will for the election, consider what Paul described as good and bad personality traits. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruits of the spirit. This a familiar verse for those of us who grew up in Sunday School.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23
On the other hand, Paul described the evil character of people in the last days to his protege Timothy:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Which sounds more like Donald Trump?
“Yet I hold this against you,” Jesus might say to Joe Biden when it comes to Biden’s support for abortion. And for Christians on the right, abortion seems to trump (pun intended) all of the sins of right-wing politicians.
Some on the left try to argue a biblical case for abortion, but Jesus affirmed the Ten Commandments (Matt. 5:17-20), of which number six is “You shall not murder.” Jesus also preached that children should be protected, saying in Matthew 18:6-7, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Republican Christians are so locked into the abortion question that I got a lot of flack several years ago when I asked the question, “Can Christians be Democrats?” A lot of my readers argued that they could not and abortion was the biggest reason cited.
Yet, as I noted back then, about half of American Christians are not Republican. That includes the majority of black Americans, 80 percent of whom identify as Christian and 90 percent of whom are Democrat. Among the various denominations, only evangelical Protestants are significantly more Republican than Democrat. Does this mean that all of those Christian Democrats are going to hell?
Not if we believe in justification (salvation) by faith. And salvation by faith and not works is a fundamental tenet of Christian theology. Salvation is God’s free gift to man, we just have to accept it. So says the Bible.
The Republican Christian response is usually that “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16) and no true Christian would support the killing of unborn babies.
Okay, but shouldn’t we also judge Donald Trump and his enablers by their fruits as well? Remember that this is the Administration that purposely separated immigrant (and not just illegal ones) children from their parents as a punitive measure to discourage future asylum-seekers from coming to America. The separations were continuing this year per The Intercept and some children never seem to have been reunited with their parents despite court orders. What did Jesus say about protecting children again?
And when it comes to being pro-life, what of the current pandemic in which the Trump Administration has pushed schools to reopen for in-person classes as new cases and daily deaths climb and in which many Republican governors pushed their states to reopen too early? Many Republicans refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus and Texas’s Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, suggested that seniors should be willing to die for the economy. Are these actions pro-life or Christian?
If we have the infidels on one side, I think we have latter-day Pharisees on the other extreme. This group of biblical Jewish teachers and scholars was known for being hardhearted and legalistic. Jesus denounced the Pharisees, who practiced a public and showy religion but were inwardly cold, on many occasions.
Interestingly, Jesus sat down regularly with heathens and sinners such as prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and criminals, but he seemed to hold the Pharisees in contempt. He referred to the Pharisees as “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers” in Matthew 23 and suggested that they did not know God, being “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
I’m not saying that any Christian who votes for Donald Trump is not a Christian and is going to hell. That would be the same works-righteousness argument that we discussed earlier.
What I am saying is that we are faced with the choice of two different versions of evil. Those who want to vote for Trump can certainly do so without sacrificing their salvation but let’s not pretend that Donald Trump is a holy warrior on whom the fate of the country rests. If you are putting your faith in a man as flawed and incompetent as President Trump – if you are putting your faith in a man period – you are going to be disappointed. This is especially true if your devotion to the man crosses over to idolatry as it seems to for many Trump supporters.
The same goes for the Supreme Court and abortion. Even Donald Trump’s appointees have not changed the balance of the Court on abortion. What has brought abortion in the US to a historic low over the past five decades are grassroots efforts at love and education, not top-down edicts from the government.
I don’t believe that either party has a lock on God’s favor. In the end, infidels and Pharisees are just different forms of sinners.
In the end, love is what the Bible tells us to do. The object of our love is not just those who think and look like us but our enemies as well (Matthew 5:44). Neither side shows the love that Christ taught and too many on both sides are representative of Paul’s resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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