Honestly, I don't know what I think about this slogan.
Joss Whedon once said, "Always be yourself. Unless you suck." He's not wrong. Well-intentioned comments can easily waver off course. "Always be yourself" seems like good advice, but do we really want the Jeffery Epsteins of the world clinging to that mantra?
I feel the same way about "vote your conscience." It's not that I want people to ignore their conscience. I believe God placed it in us for a reason, and we ignore the genuine nudges of that still, small voice at our peril. I just also believe that, in a fallen world, our conscience is fallen, and that still small voice might just be our own preferences - or might be cultural voices actively undermining the clarity our conscience is intended to bring.
So where, as a Christian, do I turn? I'm not going to reinvent the conscience wheel. For 2,000 years, the direction for Christians has come from the Bible. If I want to cut through the static, if I want to know if the nudge I feel inside is legit, that's where I go. I get it - not everyone reaches the same conclusions or arrives at the same applications on a lot of secondary issues, but there is always a foundational model that can be applied across times and cultures.When it comes to politics, there is no direct correlation between the United States and any nation from Bible times. However, God rolled out a vision for a just society through biblical revelation, starting with the Israelites in the Old Testament and moving into the church in the New Testament. As a Christian, I see a lot of issues to which the Bible speaks - issues which ought to guide my conscience and form my heart for the world. Justice is many splendored thing, and while some of issues will be more prominent in the minds of Christians than others - and should be - all of them are worth considering. Check out just a small sampling of verses.
- “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3).
- “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17).
- "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." (Proverbs 21:15)
- “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
- “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42).
- "For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong..." (Isaiah 61:8 )
- "Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!" (Psalm 106:3)
- “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another." (Zechariah 7:9 )
- “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." (Leviticus 19:15 )
- "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3 )
- “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deuteronomy 27:19 )
- "Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place." (Jeremiah 22:3)
- "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9)
- "He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing." (Deuteronomy 10:18)
- “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23 )
- “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (Hosea 12:6 )
- "A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge." (Proverbs 29:7 )
- "Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute." (Psalm 82:3 )
- "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy." (Psalm 140:12 )
- “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)
- "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:17-18)
- "Who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!" (Isaiah 5:23 )
- "It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice." (Proverbs 18:5)
- “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts." (Malachi 3:5 )
- “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge." (Deuteronomy 24:17 )
- "Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail. Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor." (Proverbs 22:8)
- “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit." (Exodus 23:6)
- "Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!"( Isaiah 10:1-2)
- "The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice." (Proverbs 17:23-28 )
- "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.“ Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."(Matthew 25: 35-40)
In addition to justice, we see a love of mercy in the bible, a concept integral to an understanding of God's dealings with humankind. It involves compassionate and loving acts expressed in tangible ways. Justice is intertwined with mercy, by the way. They aren't at odds with each other. Holding people accountable can be a wake-up call to the perpetrator and a blessing to the victims. That’s how we can “do justice and love mercy” at the same time.
“Biblical justice… refers to very practical, down-to-earth actions which ensure that the weak, the poor and the socially disadvantaged are cared for, whether they ‘deserve’ it or not… Biblical justice… ensure[s] that the weak are protected from abuse, that the poor have what they need, that the stranger in the land is shown hospitality and that the socially disadvantaged are cared for. Even when this means giving them what they do not ‘deserve’… Justice is often interpreted in terms of seeking rights for oneself or one’s own group (‘we demand justice’) when biblically it is really an action on behalf of others… ‘Justice’ is not for ‘just me’. This means that Christians will be more keen to protect others than themselves.“
1. Protect innocent human life from conception until death.
- Abortion. In 2016, there were 623,000 abortions in the United States. Around the world, there were 56 million. After falling for years, abortions have risen the past three years: 321,384 abortions in 2016-17; 332,757 abortions in 2017-18; 345,672 abortions in the 2018-Government funding has grown, not lessened (2017-18: $563.8 million; 2018-19: $616.8 million). A key way to lower abortions is by helping women for whom the pregnancy feels like a crisis. Our church supports Pregnancy Care Center and Single MOMM, both of which help mothers before, during and after pregnancy. A public and/or private social network of support goes a long way in decreasing abortion.
- War. According to the Intercept, "Brown University’s Costs of War Project this month released a new estimate of the total death toll from the U.S. wars in three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The numbers, while conservatively estimated, are staggering. Brown’s researchers estimate that at least 480,000 people have been directly killed by violence over the course of these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. In addition to those killed by direct acts violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions."
- Suicide/Murder. There are 47,000 suicides and 19,000 murders a year in the United States. Our staggeringly poor mental health, especially in our youth, is in desperate need of attention. Gun violence is a complex issue in need of thoughtful discussion that goes beyond memes. We are not more violent than other similar countries, but we are much more efficient thanks to guns. How to address this, I don't know. But it can't be ignored.
- Euthanasia. Approximately 550 people a year die of euthanasia in the United States. This statistic will continue to rise as more states legalize euthanasia. It now accounts for almost 5% of all deaths in the Netherlands after just 15 years of legalization.
- Immigrants/refugees fleeing violence and persecution. At least 4,000 died in 2019 while fleeing their homes; it was double that in 2016. I don't know how to calculate the deaths of those who were forced to remain in areas of persecution or physical danger. I do know that Central America - from where we get the vast majority of immigrants - has three of the highest murder rate nations in the world: #1 El Salvador (61.80); #3 Honduras (41.7); #9 Guatemala (26.1). Here's a link for the countries where Christians are most persecuted. Meanwhile, in October of 2019, the United States let in exactly 0 refugees. Zero. As of October 2020, the government is proposing lowering the cap to 15,000 refugees next year, which will be the lowest number in at least several decades.
- Human trafficking. Thousands of people a year die from human trafficking.
- Health care. In the United States, 45,000 a year die because of a lack of sufficient health care. Around the world, 8.6 million people die because of lack of access to health care or because of sub-par health care.
- Malnutrition. 7,000 a year die of malnutrition in the United States, which is not only remarkably sad but also discouragingly bad in relation to the rest of the world.
- Environmental issues. Time Magazine says, "air pollution was linked to 6.5 million deaths in 2015, water pollution was linked to 1.8 million deaths and workplace pollution was linked to nearly one million deaths. Deaths from pollution-linked diseases, like heart disease and cancer, were three times higher than deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined."The WHO claims that over 12 million people around the world die each year due to environmental issues. Deaths due to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), mostly attributable to air pollution (including exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke), amount to as much as 8.2 million of these deaths. NCDs, such as stroke, heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, now amount to nearly two-thirds of the total deaths caused by unhealthy environments. At the same time, deaths from infectious diseases, such as diarrhea and malaria, often related to poor water, sanitation and waste management, have declined. Increases in access to safe water and sanitation have been key contributors to this decline, alongside better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines."
- Pharmaceutical companies are no doubt complicit in actions that have contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Opioid manufacturers are sweating as the lawsuits rain down, alleging that the companies knowingly misled doctors and consumers while knowing the risk. One doctor distributed 2.2 million unnecessary doses, defrauding Medicare of $112 million. Quite a few other doctors have been prosecuted for "healthcare fraud, insurance fraud, wire fraud, Internet prescribing, murder or prescribing leading to the death of an individual, involuntary manslaughter, larceny, falsifying business records, RICO-type charges, forgery, failure to maintain adequate records, tax evasion, tax fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting." Big Pharma in general has a sordid history of covering up harmful and even fatal side effects (take the recent revelations about antidepressants, for instance). Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Paxil (paroxetine), for example, were put on the market even as the manufactures covered up knowledge of suicide and homicide risk - a risk that became reality.
- Thousands of people a year are trafficked in the United States for various reasons. See this link for more detail. It's a terrible denigration of human dignity.
- While there is controversy about how to best understand the issue, police violence (and the racial implications) remains a big deal. Many departments implement force policies that successfully address this issue, but the implementation is not universal, and the incidents pile up.
- Domestic violence impacts 10 million people a year in the United States. Childhood abuse and drug/alcohol abuse correlate strongly.
- "One in 5 women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old."
- While you can find racially motivated hate crimes against virtually any race, the percentage of hate crimes against blacks is wildly disproportionate to their percentage of the population.
This should neither punish success nor overlook the needy; it should promote generosity and discourage greed. A just economic system does not guarantee equal outcome, but surely it strives for equality of opportunity and looks out for those who are falling between the cracks. Are we as a society investing in the most needy among us through poverty initiatives, affordable housing, just wages and working conditions, etc? Surely there is a way we can give someone a fish while simultaneously making sure they have what they need to begin fishing for themselves.
- In 2017 around 14% (40 million) people in the United States officially lived in poverty. "Children who grow up poor are more likely to suffer from health issues, developmental delays, behavioral problems, lower academic achievement, and unemployment in adulthood."
- In 2018, 27.5 million people had no health care. This was an increase of 2 million from the previous year.
- More than 11 million Americans pay more than half their salaries for rent. On average, there are 28 adequate/affordable housing options for every 100 extremely low-income households.
- It doesn't help that the purchasing power of the dollar has been dropping for a long time.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Marlin Luther King quotes: “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” And then there are the words of Jesus: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)
When we claim to be teaching a man to fish, we are ignoring the reason why they need to be taught to fish in the first place; we are doing nothing about the underlying issue–an unequal distribution, not only of fish, but also of access to fishing equipment, ponds, bait, education, and places to cook whatever is caught. In America, the poor are more likely to live in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, worse schools, and poor air quality. More likely to live in dilapidated, unsafe, and unhealthy apartments that are also unaffordable. More likely to be incarcerated for small crimes for which the non-poor (and white) are often let off with a warning. And more likely to lack easy access to affordable banking services, quality health care, and fresh food....
Economic justice matters to God, so issues of economic justice matter to me.So yes, let’s not stop teaching people to fish, but let’s remain awake to the complexity of poverty. Perhaps, in fact, we should amend the proverb to read, “Give a woman a fish, and she’ll have the energy to take care of her children, do well at work, and pursue her goals. Teach her to fish and give her access to a pond full of fish, and she’ll be able to feed herself and her family for life.”
This includes prison reform (do we really want for-profit prisons?), and a court system that is truly impartial and not effected by race or riches.
- There is a correlation between level of income and incarceration rates. According to the Brookings Institute, "Boys who grew up in families in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution—families earning less than about $14,000—are 20 times more likely to be in prison on a given day in their early 30s than children born to the wealthiest families—those earning more than $143,000... almost one in ten boys born to lowest income families are incarcerated at age 30 and make up about 27 percent of prisoners at that age." This in not usually because wealthy people are cheating the system; it's usually because they have the money to access the system.
- There is a long history of racial disparity in sentencing. A long history. Here's just one aspect of it. Some of it may overlap with the poverty issue mentioned above (45% of black children live in poverty, compared to 14% of white children), but not all of it.
- Speaking of for-profit prisons, they are a terrible idea. In 2016, the Justice Department announced plans to end the use of private prisons. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed this plan. See the 2009 "Cash For Kids" scandal for one reason. See the prisons detaining illegal immigrants at our border for another. 54,344 immigrants were detained in about 200 detention centers across the country in 2017, which was almost double the number in 2016. Why? The Trump administration was giving big business to private prisons. "The last time ICE produced such data [in 2017], more than three-fourths of the average daily detainee population was being held in a for-profit detention facility." Private prisons GEO Group projected earnings to grow to $2.3 billion in 2018, partially earned from the hundreds of millions of taxpayer money.
This is freedom to practice religion and worship - or not - without unjust discrimination or coercive social policy. This constitutional right has a messy and hard fought history in the United States. Since Jefferson, we have been fairly consistent in our protection of this right. I've done a series of posts that review Luke Goodrich's book Free To Believe which covers his (professional and thoughtful) insights on how our culture is currently navigating this issue and how Christians should position themselves within the different points of tension.
There are many ways in which serious religious engagement correlates with cultural stability in the United States. Religious freedom deserves to be protected in principle, but it turns out we all benefit when it is. (See my review of Rodney Stark's book America's Blessing, which chronicles the positive impact Christianity in particular has had on the United States.
We as a society have a vested interest in our children, first for their sake and second for the stability of society in general. Sociologically, there is little argument that children flourish best with their biological parents in a loving, stable, low-conflict family. When families do not match this ideal (for whatever reason), we should personally engage and generously serve them, promote policies that bring stability to them, and put people in government who are committed to helping families in need.
- Early investment in children has huge consequences down the road. Helping families in poverty to nurture their children benefits the children for sure, but all of us are better off when we help them flourish. Google "how early investment in childhood pays off" for a ton of articles.
- If you aren't familiar with the importance of "social capital" - and how it gets lost and found - this article from National Review will give you a solid starting point.
- States like Louisiana and Mississippi are trying the"two generation approach,"which helps at-risk kids by helping the entire family.
- Embody truth and gentleness, justice and mercy, law and grace.
- Treat everyone with respect, even those with whom they disagree.
- Model integrity (not perfection) in their personal and public life.
- Promote both natural rights and mutual responsibilities. These cannot be separated.
- If they claim to be a Christian, I would expect to see fruits of the Spirit on full display: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)
- love others as we would like to be loved (Mark 12:31)
- show esteem (Philippians 2:3) and honor (1 Peter 2:17)
- care for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40)
- go into all the world and preaching the gospel (Mark 16:15).
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