A reader writes:
Although I usually thoroughly enjoy the challenges to my assumptions you often enunciate in your postings, I was dismayed to see you write in your post “Christianists on the Left?” that tired old argument:
[T]here is no disputing Jesus’ teachings about the poor. But Jesus had no teachings about government‘s relationship to the poor, no collective admonitions for a better polity.
Jesus had no need to address our odd dichotomy between personal and collective responsibility. He knew his Isaiah well; indeed, one might say that his teaching and life was living commentary on Isaiah, and it is with Isaiah that he began his preaching in Luke 4. And in Isaiah 58, the command to do works of justice is a collective command, addressed not just to individuals, but to the nation of Israel. What Jesus calls one to do, he calls the community to do, just as Isaiah did. Need we go into the Pauline doctrine of the Christian community as body of Christ?
So let’s stop this nonsense that Christianity is only about one’s individual acts. It is about a community living in a way that is totally incomprehensible to “the world”. Now, you can argue that such a community is of necessity different from and not to be confused with any secular polity, but a community it is, and as a community it must take responsibility to follow the commands given in Isaiah 58, and by Jesus himself.
I’m a North Carolina teacher, and I’ve participated in one of the Moral Monday marches. I carried a sign with Isaiah 10:1-2 (“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless”). I’m a pretty big proponent of separation of church and state, but I don’t really see how Moral Monday is participating in Christianism.
I stand in agreement with Marcus Borg that the separation of church and state is not the separation of religion and politics – that all of our policy decisions are rooted in morality. Jimmy Carter was right when he said that one of the biggest mistakes the Democratic party made was ceding Christians to the right. All of this is to say that, for 30 years or more, the Republican party has been claiming as its divine duty the enacting of certain policies that are quite contrary to the Bible – or at least part of it.
I view the Moral Monday movement as a fine prophetic “Deuteronomic” counterpoint to the “Levitical” emphasis on sexuality that seems to be the primary hangup of the most vocal “Christianists” (see Walter Brueggemann for more on the Deuteronomy/Leviticus divide). The Bible has both interpretive strains, and it’s about time some other people with a religious sense of justice speak up. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders certainly used the exhortations of scripture to move the nation toward the type of just society described in Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah.
And please, Dreher, et. al., don’t resort to an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque when people speak up for justice. If those in the state house in Raleigh claim to be enacting Christian principles, stop ignoring the part of our tradition exhorting us to systemic justice.
Another reframes the debate somewhat:
I’ve been a believer most of my life and a recovering fundamentalist for nearly half of it. That said, I’ve wondered if the “rend to Caesar” passage still applies in our day and age. Rome was a dictatorship; we’re a democracy. The people make the laws in our society, not a corrupt despot. I realize that Jesus only advocates for individual behavior, but maybe this changes the rules a bit? Perhaps the admonition to care for our neighbor can apply to the government because it is believers who (theoretically) make up that government. Rendering unto Caesar means rendering unto ourselves.
(Painting: a detail from Titian’s “The Tribute Money” when Jesus responds to a coin with Caesar’s head on it.)