Bad Theology, Bad Politics

Today Alabama voters by a two to one margin defeated a $1.2 billion tax increase proposed by Republican Governor Bob Riley. The vote drew national attention mainly because Riley promoted the tax increase as a Christian duty.
This represents the latest but certainly not the last attempt to enlist Jesus in a political controversy of less than eternal proportions. Jesus himself firmly rejected such efforts; his only pronouncement on politics came when he was asked whether a Jew should pay taxes to Rome. His answer, given after pointing out the image that appeared on a coin, was “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” It would have been hard to state more clearly that his mission was not a political one. Moreover, Jesus always talked about what the individual should do, never about what government should do. On the subject of politics, his silence is deafening.
This hasn’t stopped generations of politicians from trying to enlist him in their campaigns. But mainstream Christian theology, which suggests that Christians are duty-bound to oppose the most indisputable and palpable evils like Nazism, Communism, and the Islamofascism of Saddam Hussein and the Palestinians, while remaining agnostic on routine political controversies, seems to me to be exactly right. There is always room, of course, to argue around the edges. But in recent years, many Christian churches have gone overboard in the same direction as Governor Riley.
My own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has adopted some very silly political positions on everything from banking regulation to deficit spending–all of them, needless to say, consistent with the liberal positions of the moment. But the vast majority of Christians have reacted to such inappropriate pronouncements with the same indifference with which Alabamans treated Riley’s theological arguments. The average American Christian doesn’t spend much time thinking about either theology or politics, but he does believe that Christ died for his sins. And it’s pretty clear that neither he nor Jesus was thinking about marginal tax rates.


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