This post is difficult and delicate. I don’t want to get into the usual back-and-forth on politics or religion. But I need to dive right into the middle of both as we race toward the Independence Day holiday.
I got a call a couple of days ago that a local pastor was on the Glenn Beck Program. I’ve never watched it before. Not once. I’ve seen clips. But I turned it on because I wanted to see how the discussion went.
On this program, which aired July 2, Beck had invited nine religious leaders — pastors, writers, a professor. They came from various Christian denominations. It was titled the “State of Religion in America,” and over the course of an hour Beck took this group through discussions of the role of religion in politics, the place of “social justice,” charity and taxation, the state of churches today, the stance of the U.S. toward Israel, whether religious expression in this country is being threatened and the role that preachers and religious leaders should play in the nation today.
It was an interesting discussion. It was, no surprise, full of plenty of assertions that would find agreement on the political right in this country, but that was to be expected.
What I didn’t expect was this:
In an hour-long discussion with nine of the most influential Christian leaders today, not one of them saw fit to quote the Bible in answer to any of Beck’s questions.
They quoted John Adams, but not John the apostle. They quoted Peter Marshall, but nothing from any of Peter’s Biblical books. They quoted Montesquieu and Frederick Tolles and George Washington.
But the closest any one of them got to a Biblical quotation was when Stephen Broden, senior pastor at Fair Park Bible Fellowship and a Republican Congressional candidate in Texas, said, “The Bible says that the Christians — that the gatekeepers, that the shepherds — have failed.”
It must be a version of the Bible that I do not have. I don’t doubt that some similar grouping of words might be found somewhere in its pages. But I know that the Bible does not include the term “Christian,” so I’m going to reject that as an actual Biblical quotation as applied.
Later, Princeton professor Robert George, a Roman Catholic, gave a twist to a famous utterance of Jesus when he claimed that those registering on a web site he was promoting would be serving to “render ungrudgingly to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to never give to Caesar what is God’s.”
I came away disappointed. For all of the talk of getting “back to the Book,” none of them found the book relevant enough to quote in answer to these fundamental questions.
Of course, it can be difficult. There’s nothing resembling a Democracy in the Bible. There’s plenty of taxation. Jesus himself lived under the government of King Herod, whose taxes Jews of the day opposed bitterly. Yet Jesus was criticized for being a friend to tax collectors. And when asked directly about taxation, he took the coin, asked whose picture was on it, then advised those who asked to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s.”
And when Jesus advised those listening to what we have recorded as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles,” he was making a clear reference to the Roman practice of conscripting workmen. In that day, soldiers or officers of the king could simply force people to convey goods, carry gear, and sometimes even furnish horses or carriages or otherwise work to move their effort along — without compensation. It is the worst kind of government job — unpaid and not by choice. But instead of denouncing the practice, Jesus told people if the government asked for one mile, they should give it two.
The host, however, declared this: “If Jesus tells you to go and take a shovel and build, you know, dig a ditch for somebody, go do it. If the government tells you that you need to dig it for somebody else on your own time, that isn’t — I have not found it in the Bible.”
Of course, as we’ve just seen, it is in the Bible. And Jesus is the one who said it. For a secular host not to have studied the Sermon on the Mount is no big deal. For a bunch of preachers who repeatedly talked about going “back to the Book,” and who no doubt have read this passage and understood its meaning to not be willing to educate the host and the many watching on television, was disappointing.
John Hagee — who has made many statements I disagree with, which I won’t go into — himself wrote about that passage something I can go along with:
Don’t confuse duty with love. Duty goes the first mile; love goes the extra mile. The old saying about going the extra mile (or the second mile) comes from the Bible. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (two)” (Matthew 5:41). The Romans occupied Palestine in the days of Christ. Under their law, a Roman soldier could compel a Jewish man to carry his pack one mile. The Jews developed the custom of placing a marker, or milestone, one mile from the edge of their property. So if a Roman soldier came by and told him to carry his pack, the Jewish man would carry the pack as far as the milestone and then drop it promptly. He had grudgingly done his duty to the last inch. Jesus was telling His disciples, “Duty carries that pack the first mile; but love joyfully carries it the second mile.”
This work, Hagee and Beck might argue, is in military service (though it also could be rendered in service to the king, or as a courier.) And Beck is arguing here that the government shouldn’t be asking you to do service for someone else. Yet many times, those conscripted to help Roman soldiers were, ultimately, performing work that would benefit others in the Empire and not themselves. It simply had to be. And Jesus’ words were clear. He could have spoken out against the Roman practice. Instead, he spoke to the responsibility of duty and love.
There wasn’t much of that talk among this panel of religious leaders.
In the one-hour show, do you know how many times the word “Love” was uttered? Zero.
And apparently for this group, prayer is not the answer, because it was not mentioned once during the entire show.
Now, I realize this was a secular program. And I realize this book, the Bible, is problematic for many of us. Certainly, for this group of religious leaders, all of its talk about healing the sick and feeding the hungry and care of the poor did not lend well to this particular discussion. Nor, frankly, did it quite fit the host’s financial views. Old Testament law, which comes, for those who follow the Bible, straight from the hand and mind of God, provides for all debts to be forgiven at the end of every seven years and even allows for more leniency when loans are made to the poor (Exodus 22:25): “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is poor and needy, do not be like a money-lender; charge him no interest.”
It fits no fiscal model in place on either side of the aisle today.
I understand that the Bible, like the Constitution, is open to interpretation.
But for a host to bring up all these issues in a one-hour forum with that group, and for the Bible never to be used as a tool for answering questions, but only be held up as a symbol, leaves their calls to “get back to the book” ringing quite hollow.