Friday, July 21, 2006

Salt and Light, Spiderman Style

In Spiderman, Peter Parker uses his newly discovered spider powers to compete in a wrestling match. As he leaves with his winnings, he allows a thief to escape the sports center after robbing it, figuring that’s not his problem. Later, Peter’s Uncle Ben is murdered by the same thug. Realizing he could have prevented this tragedy, Peter devotes his life to fighting injustice, driven by his uncle’s words, “With great power there must also come great responsibility” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiderman).

Today in America, an even darker tragedy is unfolding—the demise of justice and liberty. Focus on the Family’s Citizen Magazine regularly chronicles a host of attacks on religious freedom, from banning prayer in public places to prohibiting faith-based organizations from distributing petitions. A little over a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments may seize private property for commercial redevelopment, declaring that this constitutes a “public use” under the Constitution (Kelo v. New London). In May 2006, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote to deny First Amendment protections to whistleblowers in Garcetti v. Ceballos. And on July 17, MSNBC carried the story of an Assemblies of God member being arrested for saying, “Thank you, Jesus!” after being acquitted of false charges of child abuse (Thank you, Jesus!’ lands man in slammer)

In addition, the Internal Revenue Service routinely confiscates people’s homes and personal property without a court order or due process. During the 1997 Senate hearings to address IRS wrongdoing, it was revealed that IRS employees ignore the laws and commit perjury before federal judges; and that such conduct is often condoned by the agents’ superiors, including those at the highest levels. IRS agent Jennifer Long stated that the agency uses tactics which "extract unfairly assessed taxes from taxpayers, literally ruining families, lives, and businesses—all unnecessarily and sometimes illegally" (Online Tax Relief).

Even more ominous, a significant number of innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of federal agents, including 62-year-old Donald Scott, heir to the Scott Towel fortune, who was killed by a 32-man SWAT team that had broken into his home ostensibly to search for illegal drugs. ( Five police agencies staged bogus drug raid on rich eccentric to acquire 200-acre spread). Later, the IRS went after Scott’s widow for death taxes.

Like Peter Parker, many Americans are tempted to look the other way in the face of such injustices, reasoning, “That’s not my problem.” Or, if they dimly perceive that it is their problem, they choose to live in denial. It can’t happen here, they say. Others presume that police raids such as the one on Scott’s ranch are somehow justified. After all, people who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to fear, right?

Christians, too, fall into several camps in terms of their response to political injustices. On one end of the spectrum are those who make their voices heard, loudly and vehemently. They engage in protests, rallies, picketing, and sometimes heated debate in their quest to solve the nation’s evils. Then there’s the other extreme, which maintains that Christians belong on the sidelines in the cultural and political battles of our times. After all, we’re called to win souls for Jesus and make disciples of the nations. We don’t have time to get involved in politics, and taking on the government—no matter how oppressive it becomes—could distract us from our true calling and even taint our witness.

Which of these responses is biblical? What role, if any, does the Church have in the battle for America’s future as a free and just society? How is working for political justice part of being salt and light?

American Christians have been blessed with a Constitution that guarantees our freedom to preach the gospel, plant churches, worship according to our conscience, and choose our elected representatives. But as with power, with great blessing also comes great responsibility. My next few posts will be devoted to discussing what Christians can (and ought to) do to restore righteousness and justice to our nation’s political institutions. As always, I welcome your comments.

3 Comments:

Blogger CrimsonLine said...

The Kelo decision was an incomprehensible assault on the Constitution of the United States and on the freedoms that Americans have always enjoyed. It was a travesty of justice, and I cannot understand why it was only decried by conservatives, and not also by civil libertarians, liberals, and everybody else. It was ridiculous.

Abuse of power is always hideous, and you list some horrible examples. You're right, we must be sure to speak out - with our pens, keyboards, voices, wallets, time, and votes.

And of course, our prayers.

July 21, 2006 6:55 PM  
Blogger joannie said...

I've sort of run the gamut from being silent to being activist to being "silent" again in terms of political activism in the conservative arena (I'm in my late 40's now). I find it simply overwhelming to properly frame certain issues from a biblical perspective, let alone form a conviction and have a strong voice to combat injustice. I would say the reason certain types of injustice are not decried by the more liberal sector is that usually that injustice is leveled against Christians, and by supporting a (conservative) Christian as a liberal you undercut your identity. It's a risk. To be truly unencumbered by those constraints means you stand completely alone.

My son is in prison for a crime he did commit, but the way the case was handled, the role of the police and the press bordered on violation of our rights. 75% of what was put in print was untrue. I have a blog that supports families of prisoners, but I hestitate to get involved with the political side of that whole question. I'm not sure how to handle it. I haven't even detailed the case in a way that could identify our family. I know there are battles we must pick, but I'm not sure outside of the Holy Spirit Himself how to choose them.

July 23, 2006 4:33 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for posting again, Crimson Line. It's so encouraging to hear from pastors who are committed to speaking out against these injustices! Your post made my weekend.

And thank you for sharing your story, Joannie. I've heard many cases of people being imprisoned for crimes they did commit but there was no sense of fairness or proportion in how these cases were prosecuted. Often the length of time served was totally disproportionate to the actual crime (this is often due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws).

I commend you for your blog supporting families of prisoners; this is a much-needed ministry in a nation that has the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world, due largely to the overabundance of unconstitutional laws on the books.

And you are so right about being led by the Holy Spirit in choosing our battles. I'll probably write about this topic in more detail at a later date, but I think one of the most crucial battles for justice is the restoration of jury rights. If jurors knew they could vote their consciences, there would be far fewer people serving excessively long prison sentences or being imprisoned for violating laws that should not even be on the books.

July 24, 2006 12:46 PM  

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