Monday, August 04, 2008

Sermon 8/3/08 Why Not Mix God and Politics Part Three "Moral Issues: Am I MY Brother's Keeper"

Moral Issues: Am I My Brother’s Keeper

Matthew 5:13-20

The 2004 Presidential election exit poll indicated that 22% of Americans chose who they would vote for based on moral issues. The Economy was 20% Terrorism 19% Iraq 15% Health Care 8% Taxes 5% and Education 4%. Of those voting, 80% of those who picked their candidate based on moral issues voted for George Bush. For this reason, analyst conclude that the most influential topic in determining the presidency in the 2004 election were moral issues.[i]

You may be wondering how we define “moral issues.” Given that moral issues where placed separate from issues like the economy and the like, it is safe to conclude that moral issues in this poll were items like abortion gay marriage, and separation of church and state. These issues have particularly been talked about by the evangelical church. Dr. James Kennedy says this about abortion, “There is probably not a more controversial subject divining Americans than the issues of abortion. At the same time, I believe there is not another subject where the stakes for Christian voters are so high or the moral contrasts so clear.” He goes on to say that no matter what else a candidate says, if they are pro-choice, he will not vote for them.[ii]

In this sermon I want to examine these moral issues in more detail and talk about how, as Christians how we can best represent our faith when it comes to voting. I want to say a couple of things up front though.

First, while I am using moral issues to talk about abortion and gay marriage, I also recognize with people like Jim Wallis that the economy, healthcare, and other issues are moral in nature. I am using this category because this is how the church has often talked about them. I do think God cares deeply about other issues as well.

Secondly, I want to again stress to you that I am NOT trying to tell you who to vote for, but rather I am trying to introduce you to the issues and some guidance the bible gives for the issues. The hard work then begins because you have to research the issues and decided where you stand when you go to vote later this fall.


As we consider moral issues together, I want to begin by explaining a simple truth that often goes ignored. Every person holds “moral values.” Whether a person is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or an Atheist, they still hold moral values. Any person who steps up to vote for a candidate for any office votes for the candidates that hold positions that are constant with their moral value.

As a Christian, we hold certain moral values that we share with non-Christians and we hold certain values that others may not hold. For example, as a Christian, we hold the 10 commandments to be of moral value and we believe if a person lives by those commandments, they will be doing well. Atheists on the other hand would not hold the 10 commandments as something they valued. At the same time, both Christians and Atheists could agree that it is wrong to murder.

As a Christian, when I go to vote, it would be consistent with my character to vote in such a way that reflected my moral values. At the same time, we must ask another question which figures into this discussion. While I believe that Judeo-Christian values the values that I wish we could all follow, does this mean that we must pass laws in order to ensure that others will have these values? If not, is there a better way to help those around me live a more moral life? An example of this could be found when it comes to watching television. I strongly believe that children (and adults) should not watch programming that contains sexually explicit content and violence. That is a value that I personally hold. However, the question I have to ask is this: Is the most helpful way to express my value to support legislation banning all programming that contains sexual content and violence or would I be better served to talk with people about the importance of turning off the television and spending time with your family?[iii]

As you can see, there is far more at steak than simply believing something to be good or bad when it comes morality and politics. I want to demonstrate how this works with two issues: abortion and homosexuality.


Most Christians, especially evangelical Christians would consider themselves to be pro-life. This position, while it is not directly affirmed in the Bible, gains support from passages in the Bible such as Psalm 139 which says,

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, [iv]

The pro- life argument begins by saying that life begins at conception and the fetus is an actual person, so to abort a fetus at any stage in pregnancy is to terminate a life.

On the other side of the equation folks that consider themselves to be pro-choice believe that while a fetus is inside the mother’s womb, it is part of the mother’s body, therefore the mother should be free to do with her body what she chooses. While the bible does affirm life, it also affirms the value of freedom and to take away this freedom from women does much to undermine how far women have come in their fight for freedom.

On one extreme, pro-lifers believe a child should never be aborted and on the other extreme, pro-choicers believe woman should have the right to perform an abortion anytime during pregnancy for any reason. Most of us as Christians probably do not fall on the extremes. Many Christians who are pro-life do recognize that there are some cases in which an abortion could be allowed, such as the woman’s life being in danger or in cases of rape or incest. Pro-choice folks, while not wanting to take away a woman’s right to an abortion also recognize that like is sacred and that during the pregnancy the fetus does become a life, therefore they support some kind of band on abortion during the last trimester of the pregnancy.[v]


The other hot button moral issue that we face in this election year is over gay-marriage. The question at stake is really two-fold. One, how do we define marriage? Secondly, as a direct result of how we define marriage, how do we ensure civil rights for those people who live a homosexual lifestyle? For those who are opposed to gay marriage, they believe the bible teaches that marriage is defined as being between one woman and one man. Furthermore, they believe the bible does teach in several places that homosexuality is sinful. The one passage that really stands out in this issue is Romans 1:26-27

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error[vi].

The argument goes that the nature relationship should be between a male and female and to exchange this for a homosexual relationship is sinful.

On the flip side, there are those who argue that being gay is not a choice, but something people are born into. By our government not including gays and lesbians in marriage laws, we are taking away their civil liberties. Even if the bible condemns the action of homosexuality, the bible does say everyone is created in the image of God and therefore everyone deserves to be treated as human beings.[vii]

Salt and the Light

These are just two issues that would be classified as moral issues. The question I want to turn to now is this: How would Jesus want to us to vote is such a way that we can influence our country with the values that he has passed down? As I began thinking about this question, I kept coming back to Jesus’ most famous sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. I was particularly drawn to the introduction to the sermon where he talks about being the salt of the earth and a city on the hill. He begins,

13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.[viii]

Jesus uses two important concepts for his listeners: salt and light. You could say that these two concepts were the essence of life. We normally use salt to add to our food to make it taste better, but salt meant much more. They would use salt to preserve their food so they could store it and keep it from going bad. Salt was life saving. Light is used to guide us. The bible normally uses light as a means of conveying knowledge. In other words, we are to bring knowledge and life to those around us. As Christians, I believe we are to be the moral compass for our country. God calls us to speak light into the dark places and bring life to the lifelessness around us. If we fail to be a moral compass, we have become useless. We are salt that has lost its flavor and light that has been covered up.

Jesus then goes on to say,

17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.[ix]

These words make since when we understand who Jesus is critiquing. The Pharisees were the religiously conservative group who really tried to get people to live by the Old Testament laws. They even enforced laws in order to enforce laws. Notice Jesus begins by saying that he too cares about the laws in the Old Testament and not one letter will fall away. Not only that, but he affirms that others should make sure that the law is followed. He then goes on to say that their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. Why would he say this about a group that was so concerned to make sure everyone followed all the laws taught in the Bible? You would think that this would be the one group who Jesus would hold on a pedestal.

It seems that Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that the taught the law or valued the Old Testament, but that they failed to value the people they were leading. The law itself became the end, rather than the means to help people live a life that honors God. Jesus gives a warning about being the salt and the light. In order to bring knowledge and life to the world around us, we must realize that the aim is bring life to people, not to gain political power or office.

When it comes to politics, Brian McLaren’s words are important. He said, "Remember in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based on the benefits it brings to its nonadherents. [T]he gospel brings blessings to all, adherents and nonadherents alike."[x] The Christian values we hold should not just make it more comfortable for us Christians to be Americans, it should bring value to all people, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Atheists, every single person.

Values to Vote For

As we set out to choose the candidates to vote for this election year we have a lot of homework to do. I believe each person needs to go back and examine the issues that the things they believe the bible teaches. We must first identify the moral values the bible teaches. Do we believe the bible holds a special place for marriage being between a woman and a man? Second, we have to then decide how we can best be the moral compass in sharing these values. Do we need to affirm legislation supporting this moral value or would that actually make the situation worse. Third, which policies will actually bring life and light to people rather than just make life easier for us Christians. We must ask ourselves how we can be of benefit to everybody, not just ourselves.

[ii] Dr. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote (Water brook Press: Colorado Springs, 2008)pgs 47-58.
[iii] Barak Obama The Audacity of Hope (Three Rivers Press: New York, 1996) The chapter entitled “Values” was the best chapter I have read in understanding how values shape our political views.
[iv] TNIV Psalm 139:13-15
[v] Tony Campolo Red Letter Christians (Regal: Ventura, California, 2008) I found Campolo’s chapter on abortion helpful. He moves beyond just pro-birth to pro-life.
[vi] TNIV Romans 1:26-27
[vii] Tony Campolo has a great solution to this issue in his chapter on “Gay Rights” Also Adam Hamilton in Seeing Gray in a Black and White World (Abington Press: Nashville, 2008) does a great job of explaining the heart of the issue and his own struggle with where he should stand in his chapter “Homosexuality”
[viii] TNIV Matthew 5:13-16
[ix] TNIV Matthew 5:17-20
[x] Brian McLaren A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan: Nashville, 2004)

Sermon 7/27/08 Why Not Mix God and Polititcs Part 2 "Social Issues: Melting Pot or Boiling Point"

Social Concerns: “Melting Pot or Boiling Pot.”

Today begins our second sermon in the sermon series “Why Not Mix God and Politics.” Today we will be dealing with what we typically call social issues. I do want to point out though, that just because we call these issues “social” it does not mean that they are not moral. The issues that we will talk about are very moral because God does care how we respond to these issues. Let me define some of the social issues that seem to be important for this presidential election.

1. Education
2. Immigration
3. Health Care
4. Social Security/Medicare

I would also include the categories we will talk about next week in as “social issues” but most Christians seem to put them in another category so I will do the same. In all of these cases there are really two philosophies these issues are approached from. I will spell out what I see as the two philosophies and then explain how they impact each of these issues, but let me be clear about one thing up front.

In some of the reading I have been doing I have read this comparison over and over: The republicans only care about the rich and want cut tax taxes for the wealthy and leave the poor to fend for themselves while democrats care about the poor and want to help them. I have found that this really is not true. I believe republicans care about the poor as much as democrats, but the two philosophies about how to best care for the poor tend to differ.

Republican Philosophy of Free Competition

Republicans on the whole, tend to support policies that promote free competition. This means that they try to do everything they can to decrease the amount the government plays in order to allow businesses to compete and consumers to buy. This means the republicans will tend to support lower taxes and tax breaks for businesses because this means businesses can hire more people, consumers will have more money to spend, and the competition between businesses will lower prices meaning the poorer folks can buy more with their money.

Ronald Reagan was famous for a philosophy known as “Trickle Down Economics” which meant that if the top was having to pay less in taxes then the money would trickle down by boosting the economy, providing more jobs, and then helping the poor to have a better life. Republicans favor this approach more than establishing programs that “hand out money.” They believe this promotes a waste of money because the money funds bureaucracies and only helps those who will not help themselves. Not only do these social programs waste money, Republicans believe they ultimately do not help the poor attain a better life. They are oppressive to those that they are trying to help.

Democratic Philosophy of Bringing the Bottom Up

On the flip side, the Democratic Philosophy begins by assuming that free competition, while good in some respects, will always leave out those on the bottom. In order to promote free completion, those who are left out need to have programs available to them to help them move from the bottom so that they can have jobs and buy those things that are necessary for life. The problem with the “Trickle down Theory” is that the money never really trickles all the way down. While the wealthy are getting tax breaks, they are not cutting costs and creating new jobs. Instead they are building bigger houses.

While it is true that some people who refuse to work are getting “handouts” and hurting the system, there are many people who would work and pay taxes that cannot do so without help. If the government could step in and help them get off their feet, the economy would actually be in better shape and capitalism would be at its best. While this can mean that we have to pay more initially in taxes, it will promote a better society in the long term.

The Philosophies and the issues

To understand how these philosophies affect some of the key social issues, let’s examine the four critical issues.

1. Education- Typically the republican response to education has been to support a program called “Vouchers.” All of us pay taxes which go to support the public school system, but many people over the years have grown leery of the public school system. As a result, many parents choose to send their children to “private schools” where they have to pay tuition. This means two things: (1) Parents are paying taxes and if they send their kids to private schools they are also paying tuition and being “double billed.” (2) Some parents cannot afford private schools so they are stuck sending their kinds to the public schools which are not meeting their standards.

Democrats as a whole are normally opposed to school vouchers and programs they believe will cause money and funding to be taken out of the schools that are already failing. They would rather us invest in the troubled schools and bring in better teachers to turn the school around.

2. Immigration- This is one issue where party lines have not been as strong. McCain, a republican recently sponsored a bill with Kennedy, a democrat, which would allow illegal immigrants to identify themselves and then go through the process of citizenship. It seems that our interest in this issue lies both with helping immigrants become assimilated into America and protecting our boarders from those who want to harm us.

3. Healthcare- Democrats have been quite outspoken about the need for universal health care. There are a number of different plans available, but the basics are that they believe every person ought to be able to carry health insurance and the government is responsible to make sure that every person has this opportunity. It is important to note that offering universal health care does not necessarily mean the government will control the health care system. There can still be private insurance companies while government make place a cap on the cost and the minimum coverage for families.

Republican on the other hand, believes that while it is important that everyone have health care, we have to balance this out with the quality of health care people receive. The best way to do this would be to give some type of tax credit so people could afford health insurance and then let people choose how and what plans they want for their family. Republicans believe this would inspire competition, which would keep prices in check.

4. Social Security and Medicare- As many people know, Social Security is in dire straights. It is believed that by 2041 the reserve funds of Social Security will be bankrupt. Republicans have suggested that it would be better if we allowed people to take the money that normally goes into Social Security and let people invest the money.

Some Democrats have suggested that this will severally hurt the poor who will not be able to invest as much as the rich and there will be no system in place to help take care of those who are poor and retired.

Of coarse there are many more issues and there are many more dynamics to each of the positions I have just raised. The question that we have before us is what the Bible would teach us to when it comes to these social issues.

The Bible and the Poor

Most people are familiar with the 10 commandments in Exodus 20, but have you ever read through the laws Moses gives to the people in Exodus 21 -23. Here is a brief sampling of some of them found in Exodus 22,

21 "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
22 "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
25 "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can your neighbor sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

I would challenge you to read through some of these chapters and see how concerned God is that the poor are taken care of. Lots and lots of the laws in Exodus are there for the primary reason of taking care of the less fortunate.

One of reasons the prophets tell Israel that they have been exiled is due to their exploiting the poor. Amos says,

6 This is what the LORD says:
"For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.[ii]

Jesus also teaches these truths over and over. He told a parable in Matthew 25 in which he says those who go on to have life are the ones who fed the hungry, invite the stranger in, clothed the naked, and visit those in prison.[iii] In James 1:27 we read that “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”[iv]

In these two passages, there seem to be two themes running throughout. The first is that we are held responsible by God to make sure we do everything we can to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. In Hebrew times the poor were people who had no influence because they had no power. The Bible tells us that we are to step in and support those who cannot support themselves.

The other theme that runs through the Bible is the Bible does not promote laziness or taking advantage of the system. In Exodus the people were commanded that if the people picking crops in the field did missed some that they were not to go back but to leave that for the poor to come out and pick. The Old Testament does support work. Neither the rich nor the poor are supposed to take advantage of the system. The poor should work and the rich should do all in their power to make those things available.

What to look for in a Candidate

The first thing I want to say about what to look for in a candidate is more of a personal thing based on being a Christian and the research I have done. I will admit it is a matter of opinion, but I think faith based programs are so important. It makes since that the government could support programs that actually can make a real impact in the lives of people. Instead of just mailing a check to a home, it supports programs where people can work with other people to give the best chance of success. I think about out Inner City Program for example. It makes me smile to see our church members tutoring kids who may not be able to get that kind of attention when they get home.

I also believe changing lives begins with the educational system. The best way we can help people who are on the bottom of economic system have a chance in the world is to provide an education that will equip them to either go to college or find a good job. This may mean that we have to invest in our troubled schools and give incentives for good teachers to work there. Actually we need to pay out teachers more money across the board if they are to be charged with this great responsibility.

Thirdly, we should look for candidates that have a plan for making the health care system better both in terms of quantity and quality. It is true that everyone needs healthcare, but we also must maintain the quality of health care that is provided.

Finally the candidates must have compassion for those who cannot help themselves. They must be able to provide programs that move people out of poverty. This is what God asks of us and we should demand this from those in office.

[i]TNIV Exodus 22:21-27
[ii] TNIV Amos 2:6-7
[iii] Matthew 25:31-46
[iv] TNIV James 1:27