Are liberal Christians phony?
by David Batstone

The query came into my in-box this week, with the obvious inference that SojoMail is both liberal and phony. The accuser identified himself by name, adding that he had his Ph.D. and hailed from the state of Texas.

Without getting caught up in political labels - my self-proclaimed "liberal" friends stumble over some of my faith-informed views - I found his theology intriguing. Without a doubt, he clearly drew borders that zoned Christians into different political territories.

He opened his note as follows:

Liberal Christians have no understanding of the God-given role of Government. Liberal Christians are Peter-Pan Christians who demand that Governments, before the return of Jesus, foolhardily beat their God-given swords into plowshares and live according to the Sermon on the Mount. Liberal Christians do NOT realize that the plow-share things happens during the 2nd Coming of Jesus, when Jesus takes back the swords from Human Governments as He establishes God's Kingdom on Earth. This is why our Hero taught us to pray: "Please hurry Thy Kingdom to come, so Thy will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

If you have never had exposure to a "dispensational" view of history, my accuser's stream of thought may make no sense to you. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church that espoused a dispensational theology, so let me explain. God, it is assumed, has divided up history into different eras, or dispensations, and each will run its course. In our present era, the forces of good (God's chosen) battle against the forces of evil (under Satan's spell). God looks to government to practice order and suppress evil with the sword. This current dispensation will end with the second coming of Jesus, who will establish God's kingdom on earth.

I often hear non-Christians ask: How can a person who identifies with Jesus Christ espouse actions that run so counter to peace and justice? This theological device enables many Christians to discount the teachings of Jesus as a guide for living their lives. Forgive your enemies? Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked and care for the prisoner? Not a chance; you'd be foolish to adopt these practices in the dispensation in which we live. Governments must take whatever measures are necessary to defeat evil, and we are commanded to be its loyal subjects.

I guess that's what makes me a fool. I take my faith journey as a challenge to embody the teachings of Jesus in an era that cheapens the dignity of life.

In his condemnation of SojoMail, my accuser indicates yet another key theological marker that is worth sharing:

Liberal Christians live in a world of make-believe because they focus almost exclusively on the New Testament, to the exclusion of the Old Testament. Unfortunately for them, the Bible describes the role of Government in detail in the Old Testament, NOT in the New Testament! It is the Mosaic Law & the Mosaic Government that is ordered by God to put to death any person who commits a heinous crime, and goes on to list about 30 crimes as heinous crimes. In the New Testament Jesus is just a private citizen, NOT a member of Government (Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, etc., were Government Officials). Moreover, Jesus directed His Sermon on the Mount exclusively to private citizens like Himself, and NOT to the Roman Government or the Sanhedrin. Note that Jesus did NOT criticize the Roman Government for not having any Social Welfare Programs. This is because the Romans were doing what was called for in the Old Testament: the Roman Government was using the Sword to maintain Law and Order!

If this viewpoint merely represented a crackpot hiding out on a survivalist ranch in rural Texas, I wouldn't bother to publish it. But it unfortunately has significant credibility among a swath of American evangelicals. With my colleague, Mark Wexler, I have just completed an investigative study of the Religious Right (which will come out in the July edition of Sojourners magazine). It was jarring to realize that many American Christians reject the notion of a separation of church and state as a "humanistic secular plot" to obstruct God's proper ordering of U.S. society. They want to see the establishment of a theocracy that puts into place many of the Mosaic laws as established in the Old Testament. At the moment, they are mobilizing a strong cadre of religious leaders and members of the U.S. Congress to rewrite the legal system.

How ironic that my erstwhile critic praises the Roman Empire for fulfilling the divine mandate for right governance. I fear today that is exactly how the United States is acting in the world - as an empire bent on the expansion of its own interests. If my calling as a Christian is to deliver my full support to that empire, than I indeed must confess that I am a phony.

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