Posts Tagged ‘politics and religion’

Personal responsibility

June 25, 2017

These days one of the phrases that is popular these days is “Personal Responsibility”. Often it is used in discussions about health care. For example, this Tweet from Mike Pence:

Before summer’s out, we’ll repeal/replace Obamacare w/ system based on personal responsibility, free-market competition & state-based reform

Now I’m all for personal responsibility. It’s what I tried to teach my kids. It’s something I try to practice personally.

But I think we have been misusing the phrase “personal responsibility”, at least from a Christian point of view. Often, even usually, when we say personal responsibility we mean I am taking care of myself. I get to my job on time. I pay my bills. I take responsibility for my actions. That’s a good thing.

Where we slide into error is when we think personal responsibility has to do only with us. When personal responsibility stops with me and with my family, we have a less than Christian understanding of personal responsibility.

For Christians I am also responsible for you. And you for me. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, he was asking where does my personal responsibility end?

All of scripture -Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, through the law and prophets  and certainly the Gospels -the message of scripture is we are to care about and for each other. We are responsible for each other.

You, as it turns out, are my personal responsibility. As is the person across the state from me in Flint. As is the person in Mexico. As is the person in Iraq and North Korea. And like it or not, I am your responsibility. How we exercise that responsibility is both personal and structural.

I can be responsible for my children’s education. But I can’t educate every child I see. I can, along with you, make sure every child has access to a good education. I can take responsibility for my health- as much as is in my control. But I can’t treat every sick person. I can, along with you make sure everyone one has access to and can afford health care. I can feed myself and my family. But I can’t feed everyone I see. I can, along with you, make sure our food supply is safe and accessible. I can, along with you, make sure people are not hungry.

When personal responsibility stops with me, my heart, as Calvin warned, has curved in on itself.  Which is, in fact,a pretty good way to notice sin. How is my heart? Is it turned inward, focused on myself? Or is it opened up, turned outward? Is my heart facing and loving the world?

Personal responsibility, I’m all for it. But for Christians that includes my neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner, and even my enemy.




Mr. Trump and the Lord’s Prayer

February 19, 2017

Yesterday (Feb 18, 2017) I watched part of President Trump’s rally in Melbourne Florida and then read the transcript. And I must say I have some concerns about the way Mrs. Trump opened the rally. She opened by praying the Lord’s Prayer. I feel the need to say something  about that as both a Christian and as a citizen.

First as a citizen. Our constitution mandates what is often called the separation of church and state. Just to refresh our memories here is the text of the First Amendment:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.               From Cornell University Law School website.

If you are interested in some background, see here, and here.

I am neither an attorney nor a constitutional scholar. A s a citizen, it seems to me that to begin an appearance by the president at a public event with the Lord’s Prayer is at the very least inappropriate. It is inappropriate because the Lord’s Prayer is a distinctly Christian prayer. It is not a prayer that people of other religions would or should pray. (I’m leaving aside the appropriateness of beginning a public presidential appearance with any sort of prayer.) If a non Christian was at that rally, I can only imagine that they felt uncomfortable and isolated during that prayer. In light of recent Presidential actions and statements this prayer might be seen as a direct action to exclude Muslims. I do not know if that was the intention, but the result is nevertheless exclusionary.

By using that prayer, the assumption was made that the United States is a nation comprised only of Christians. There was no acknowledgement of any of the other faith traditions present in our nation. This is simply not right. One of the great strengths of America is our commitment that people worship (or not) according to their personal beliefs and those beliefs are neither helped nor hindered by the government.

I am equally, if not more disturbed by this use of the Lord’s Prayer as a Christian. My faith was co opted to set the stage for a political rally.  Jesus is not to be used by either the left or the right. Jesus is not to be used by Presidents nor members of Congress, nor state or local officials to paste a Christian veneer over their remarks. Christ is not to be used to legitimize the words of a government official.

Particularly upsetting was that the Lord’s prayer was used as preface to remarks which were designed to amplify fear and to demonize the stranger and foreigner.The President spoke repeatedly about “those people”.  To pray for God’s “kingdom to come” and then to speak of building a wall to keep “those people” out was unsettling. The President said “we want people that love us..” rather than the Christian way, which is to love others. The President said “We will pursue peace through strength.” Christ’s peace is sacrificial, self emptying, self giving. Christ’s strength is found in Christ’s weakness. The President said “We’re going to start winning.” The way of Christ is not concerned with winners and losers but rather with justice and mercy. Repeatedly the President referred to deals and money. Saving money, making money, paying money (particularly other people paying). Business and the economy were described as our guiding and primary national priorities. Along with being “totally safe”.

This is not the way of Jesus.

Please show some respect for the faith. Don’t pray the prayer Jesus taught us and then proclaim values that Jesus did not teach us. Don’t hide behind the Lord’s Prayer and use it to gloss over the unChristian character of your speech.

Christians should honestly ask whether the way of Jesus is reconcilable with the responsibilities of governing a nation. These are difficult and important ideas to wrestle with.  And what we discover may be hard and unsettling for us  both as Christians and citizens.

In Matthew’s Gospel the Lord’s Prayer comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. First there are the Beatitudes. And then Jesus taught “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But is anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”…Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

And after he teaches the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 5-6 selected verses)

I could go on….

For me the juxtaposition of the Lord’s Prayer in a political rally followed by political speech was troubling.

Mr Trump, I hope you pray the Lord’s Prayer daily. I really do.It is a good prayer and a life changing prayer.  I pray for you to be a good man and a good President. But please, please stop using the Lord’s Prayer at political rallies.




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