Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dominionism -- old, new, but still flawed

Republican Presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have recently been linked to the "dominionist" movement, which espouses the notion that civil government can and should be ruled under Biblical laws.

This may surprise you, but it's hardly new -- indeed, it goes back five centuries with theologian John Calvin, founder of what we call the "Reformed" persuasion, and eventualy adopted by the Puritan movement in England in the 17th Century and transplanted to New England, where it was dominant politically. However, according to Jon Meachem in Time magazine, more recently it's been adopted by an outfit called the Pentecostal-oriented New Apostolic Reformation, which theologically certainly isn't Calvinist.

One thing I can tell you: It won't work, either politically or theologically. I have no doubt that the motivation is the "will to power," in this case using Biblical principles not to benefit the people but for that Christianity to become culturally dominant and its adherents be able to push people around.

The political problem is that we live in a land where only a minority of citizens subscribe to conservative, evangelical Christianity, with a large and growing number of those rejecting the right-wing GOP agenda allied with the dominionists. As such, the dominionists can achieve power only by subterfuge -- that is, they can't be totally honest about their goals because they know that people won't vote for them. That doesn't bode well for a movement that purports to be Biblical but needs to operate with deceitful tactics and motives; those on the political left understand this and even hope that the more extreme elements of the movement make most of the noise. Moreover, if you're going to maintain consistent Biblical standards you need to implement not just the punishment -- what I think they had in mind -- but also the proper prosecution, which means that, for capital crimes, you have to have at least two witnesses and the accusers must participate in the execution (Deut. 17:6-7); just try to establish that condition in individualistic American society. (I have heard that, in Jewish society, anyone who presides over two executions a year would be considered a "hanging judge.")

The theological problem is that God never established His law in ancient Israel simply to be obeyed for its own sake but in the process to demonstrate to the world of that day that He was indeed God and, ultimately, to be a blessing. However, Israel didn't get that. The Pharisees didn't get that. And theonomists and the NAR certainly don't get that.

This is not to say that Christians can't and shouldn't try to influence their political and cultural surroundings. Trouble begins, however, when becoming powerful becomes an end in itself and no longer seeks the highest good for anyone.

In other words, dominionists in general and the NAR in particular shouldn't try to pass their ideology off on God. Really, dominionism only uses God and cannot compel people to worship Him -- which was His real goal.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

'Freedom' without justice? Impossible

Earlier this week the Pittsburgh area witnessed the sentencing to death of Richard Poplawski, the troubled man in his mid-20s accused of gunning down three Pittsburgh police officers in April 2009 and found guilty at trial earlier this year.

A quick review: What urged him to ambush those cops was a fear that, after President Obama was inaugurated less than three months earlier, he would "take his guns away" -- a common refrain of the political right in those days. In that context, of course, a gun is a symbol of "freedom."

That's the wrong way to look at it.

The world soon learned that Poplawski suscribed to a mentality that the "state" doesn't have the right to exist, even though Biblically speaking it has the God-given function of making and enforcing laws -- even at the point of a gun if need be. Resentful because it tramps on your "freedom"? Tough. That's the price you pay for living in an ordered society, and the function of government regardless of level is to maintain order and administer justice.

Moreover, Poplawski used his "freedom" to commit an unjust act -- the murder of three men, leaving not only families but also friends, a department and even the city itself in perpetual mourning. Did he think about that? (I won't call it purely cold-blooded because he was operating out of fear.)

So let's not fool ourselves into thinking that Poplawski was defending his freedoms by going on that rampage. Progressive Catholics have a saying, "If you want peace, work for justice" -- that is, if you want things to be "cool," first make sure that they're right. Because, ultimately, there's no freedom without justice.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What will Jesus change?

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitutions
There is no bloody revolution

I wouldn't normally think of Sting, the singer/songwriter who penned those words for his then-band the Police, as a prophet. Especially since the song they came from, "Spirits in the Material World," represents the kind of despairing cynicism that we Christians are supposed to reject.

But if you look at our world today -- even more so than 30 years ago, when the song appeared on the band's "Ghost in the Machine" album -- you have to marvel at his prescience. Especially in considering our "dysfunctional" Federal government, which people can't say get anything done. If Washington could only fix itself, people believe.

Well, as I've written before, "Washington" is not, never has been and never will be, the problem.

It really boils down to our basic selfishness as human beings, believing that everything revolves around us. We want the power to change things but not the responsibility of doing so. We consider how things affect us personally but not the other guy. We denounce people who don't agree with us as fundamentally evil, perhaps not considering that they just might feel the same way about us.

Given the uncertainty in today's world, my pastor during sermons has asked on a couple of occasions if this might be the time that Jesus actually returns. Let me say something sobering: It could be that His Second Coming might, in the long run, be the last thing some people want.

What?! Yep. As I said, folks want everyone else to change, often forgetting that they too are in need of deep repentance. And should He return in the next few years, let's keep in mind that we're not going to dictate to Him just how things should be. Indeed, it's likely that we simply won't be able even to stand before Him in all His utter holiness; He barks a command and our only response will be, "You want it, You got it."

Remember, friends, that Jesus will determine what He wants done with the money entrusted to us. He will determine the best, most equitable policies. He will determine how people will run their businesses. Indeed, we won't even have a "democracy" anymore because there will be only one vote. "Freedom"? Irrelevant. There will be only justice.

Let's also not forget the part of the "LORD's Prayer," "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So, to add a twist on the old saying, "Be careful what you pray for -- you will get it." And it may not be what you expect.