“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt 5: 21-24
Jesus was a radical thinker. He confronted the conservative fundamentalism of his time with some very difficult concepts. One of the most difficult concepts for the Jews to accept was reconciliation. They believed that God was vengeful and visited His wrath on sinners in the form of illness, poverty, and misfortune. So it was easy for the Jews to identify sinners and they treated them accordingly.
Jesus rejected that way of thinking. He taught that we are all God’s children. We all need saving, and it was God’s job to judge, not ours. In fact, withholding judgment isn’t nearly enough, we have to figure out how to love everyone – particularly those that we feel were sinners. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is saying that if any of us are guilty of harboring ANY unkind thoughts about our brother, we are in MORE spiritual danger than murderers.
In other words, as He did through out this chapter, He is expanding the definition of what it means to be a disciple. It’s not enough to just follow the commandments. We have to love our brothers, even if we think they are murderers. That love by the way goes way beyond the simplistic “I love the man but hate the act”. Later in this same chapter He says we have to “walk” with them until we understand them. We have to embrace them, even when we think they have injured us. We have to trust them even when we feel they have stolen from us. In fact, it is so important that we sincerely resolve any differences with our brothers, that we should make that a higher priority than going to church and asking for our own forgiveness.
This is radical thinking that I don’t see many Christians practicing today.
Here’s just one example.
I’ve been corresponding with a handful of different people who felt that a vote for Obama was immoral because President-elect Obama is Pro-Choice. The news last week carried a piece about a Catholic priest in South Carolina who went so far as to suggest that a vote for Obama was a sinful act. As a result, those who committed that act needed to confess that sin before they could receive communion.
This may seem well beyond the pale for many, but I can confirm that there are some who feel that our country is going to suffer the wrath of God because of our failure to elect a Pro-Life Presidential candidate.
I’ve already posted a couple of things on abortion. I won’t repeat those posts here, but just provide a summary and link if anyone wants to do any more research.
Good ideas bad results – Practical ways to reduce the number of abortions
Eternal Life – Practical reasons why “life begins at conception” doesn’t work
Unto Us a Child is Born – God respects choice
Greater Good – Which is worse, abortion or sin
What I did want to spend some time on is this question of Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice as a political issue.
First a quick summary of the issues.
Pro-Life folks feel that there is Biblical evidence that life begins at conception, so abortion is the equivalent to murder. As a result, they feel it should be treated as murder by our legal system.
Pro-Choice folks are more concerned about the rights of women and the control that women should have over their own bodies.
Roe v. Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from enacting legislation prohibiting abortion.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey is the 1992 Supreme Court decision where the court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade using the principle of stare decisis. Essentially, when something has been law for a long time and has become part of the fabric of society, it is beyond the scope of the courts to change it.
The bottom line is that the past thirty years have polarized the voting public and made a lot of money for politicians on both sides of the issue.
So let’s dig a little deeper into the claim that a a vote for a Pro-life candidate is a moral issue.
First an easy one. If a Pro-Life stance is just a moral litmus test of the character of candidates, I suggest that it is faulty because there have been plenty of Pro-life senators and congressmen over the past eight years who fell far short of the mark as ethical lawmakers. So there it has to be more than that.
If it’s not just a moral litmus test and Pro-Life supporters are looking for real practical change, then shouldn’t those candidates who deliver real change be the ones who earn their vote regardless of whether or not they pass the litmus test?
In other words, since it is unlikely that Roe v. Wade is going to get overturned anytime soon, and the longer it stands the more difficult it will be to overturn, then shouldn’t Pro-Life voters be demanding more substantive practical progress in reducing the number of abortions from their candidates?
Well as you might imagine, I’ve done a little research on the subject. Here are the statistics (abortions per 1000 women of child bearing age) for the last couple Presidents through 2005.
Reagan – 29.28 – 27.37
Bush I – 27.37 – 25.89
Clinton – 25.89 – 21.30
Bush II – 21.30 – 19.41
What is interesting is that the President who had the most dramatic affect on reducing the number of abortions was the only one of the bunch who was Pro-Choice – Bill Clinton.
Here’s the bottom line from what I have learned so far from those single issue Pro-Life voters. They are unconcerned about whether or not the person they voted for actually does anything substantive to change the status quo. They view their vote as a moral imperative that goes beyond any practical measure. They feel that when they vote Pro-Life, they are voting Pro-God.
My concern, at this particular point is time, is that we don’t have the luxury of this sort of debate anymore. We can’t have folks sitting on the sidelines self-righteously predicting God’s wrath for our moral weakness. Our country is in tough shape. Right after 9-11, a call went out to the American people and they responded as one, even though a lot of us thought the wrong person with questionable morals was in the White House then too.
I think that the situation is even more serious now. We all need to be in the same boat rowing in the same direction because our ship of state is perilously close to the falls. We don’t have time to argue about the details. On some things we are just going to have to agree to disagree at least until we are in a safer place. Hopefully, we CAN all agree that we care enough about each other to put aside partisanship, pick up an oar, and start rowing.