Who Gets the Glory… God or Government?

I have been in many “Christians and politics” discussions in the past year or so.  My personal conviction is not align myself with any party, because of the belief that no political ideology represents the full interest of the reign of God.  So, I am one who promotes policies and politicians as “lesser evils” that may create more good than the alternative.  This has often frustrated some of my more “politicized” friends, especially when I say that I am in favor of government programs that alleviate the most suffering.  By some definitions this sometimes means that I am favorable toward “big government.”  And the conversation for why my views are flawed usually starts with the comment “if government is allowed to alleviate suffering or poverty, then God is stripped of the glory he deserves.”  In other words, justice matters BUT it is the role of the church, NOT Uncle Sam.  The church should fight poverty, not the greedy government who want to steal both our hard earned money and the glory that God deserves!  My response is that unfortunately the church has not taken up this calling in the way that it should (although the trend is starting to change).  If there are suffering people that the church is not helping, shouldn’t we be glad that children are getting their basic needs met (even if by welfare and other programs)?  I want to suggest that the way we vote in regards to issues of poverty and justice can also direct the glory to God.  Consider the following conversation…

A non-church friend asks: “why do you vote this way?…

I tell them: It’s because Jesus has a heart for those in need, and that I want to do my best to vote in such a way that reflects those values….

(Friend) Really?!  I never heard that or saw that from any of the preachers I have seen on TV.  I thought you bible believing Christians were anti-gay and anti-women’s rights, and only concerned about what happens after death.  I never would have guessed that as a Christian, that social justice is a strong value… at least not based on what I have seen on TV.  Can you tell me more about this Jesus who you says takes up the cause of justice?

(Me): Yep!  The bible teaches that people need to be “Justified by faith” (root word, Justice), and that one day when he returns, the whole world will experience ultimate justice in “a new heaven and new earth (the Greek word for new here implies ‘renew’ not destroy and recreate).”  We will eventually live on this planet in the “new Jerusalem” where all pain, sorrow, death, poverty, and conflict will cease!  The hope of the Christian life is that some day Christ will return to bring shalom (Hebrew word for ‘peace, wholeness, right relationship’) to the whole earth and those who are in relationship to him, will be made new in resurrection.

(Friend): That sounds a bit crazy, but also so filled with hope.  But here’s a question: If you believe that God is coming back to purge this world of evil, why do you have to do anything about it now?  You don’t think that Christianity will bring this about on their own, do you?  Something this good, it seems to me, would have to be an act of God… if you believe in that sort of thing.

(Me): Your right!  It will ultimately be an act of God.  But as followers of Jesus, we are drawn towards this future day in great anticipation.  Romans 8 actually says that: “the whole creation has been groaning” “on tiptoe for its liberation” because it has been “subjected to frustration.”  But then it says something that is critical and often missed in the Christian world.  It says “those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly” awaiting that day.  We groan with the pain of all creation that is obviously damaged by evil; and this draws us to do something about it!  The groaning within our souls compels us to make God’s future intention for this world a reality now.  Not to mention that Jesus talks more about issues of justice, than he does about the afterlife.

(Friend): That sounds very interesting.  I haven’t read the bible since I took “the bible as literature” class in college.  I would have to look that up to buy into that.  Not that I think your lying, but I am a bit suspicious of religious stuff in general and will look into it myself.

(Me): Great… you should explore it on your own!  Don’t accept anyone’s view until you have taken the time to invest some time and contemplation into it.  Let me give you one last scenario to help you understand why Christians ought to stand for justice in the present as a sign of the future.  Suppose that someone converted to Christianity, but decided that they were not worried about following the standards of the bible in their personal life.  They believe that God will eventually give them a new body that is ‘sinless,’ so why should I care about the ‘sins’ I do with my body now?  Wouldn’t that be crazy?!  Of course how you live matters!  In the same way, if we know what God is eventually going to do in the area of justice for the whole earth… it seems like we ought to do something about it now.

(Friend): That makes sense… So, let me get this straight.  You vote for issues of poverty and justice, because you believe that it is important to value what God values, demonstrated by his plan for the whole world.  I never would have guessed that a Christian really cared about poverty, based on the TV preachers of the religious right.  If I had heard more voices like yours, I probably would have given Church a try.  Maybe I will… where do you go to church again?……

Well, I don’t know how convincing the above is, but maybe it is an example of a possible way that how we vote in these areas can make a difference in our witness to Jesus.  Simultaneously, we must call out people in the church to be the kind of community that the New Testament gives witness to!  The church must be the mediator of the glory of God, and this includes the various politics that we advocate.  ANY THOUGHTS?

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  • Janie Mock

    Kurt, You really did write this one??? I have to admit, an artist’s rendering of Jesus with “Che” on his robe leaves me speechless……

    • I agree… unfortunately, that is one example of the overly politicized psuedo-Jesus we often encounter… Also, I wrote this one… its a post that has been brewing in my brain for a long time and when the comment about Gods glory came up in a recent post, it triggered that it was time to post this one.

  • Doug Schoenbeck

    Here’s a quote I found from Chuck Colson during the election: “But if we look at politics from God’s perspective, we see that he has a deep and abiding interest in all people being treated fairly. If God favors any “special interest group,” it is the poor, the hungry, the unborn, the handicapped, the prisoner—those with the least access to political power.”


    Sums it up for me.

  • Doug Schoenbeck

    Here’s one more from the above article: “So is voting for a candidate simply because he is a Christian—startling as this may sound. Rather than checking on the candidates’ denomination, we should look for the ablest candidate. Martin Luther famously said he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk—that is, a Muslim—than an incompetent Christian.”

    • interesting quotes. I dont always agree with Colson, but i do admire his passion for prison ministry and for Jesus. thanks!

  • Well put, Kurt!

  • I have always found it a bit difficult to have political conversations with anyone, because it seems whenever I talk to someone, they have a huge laundry list of reasons why so-and-so is a horrible, despicable liar, and incapable of any job. No-one talks issues because everyone is toeing their personal party line, and if you even hint at the fact that you “may” or “may not” disagree, you are instantly labeled as the opposite party.

    It’s pretty depressing, honestly. I think that’s why many Christians don’t engage politics authentically.


    • The Wingnut! Glad to have you back here at the updated site! I am 100% in agreement about your frustrations. the “this” or “that” mentality of modernity is leaving our Christian imagination in captivity, when we should be dreaming together of new possibilities. Thanks bro, and i just followed your blog and added you as a friend on FB!

  • Excellent post, Kurt. Our responsibilities start on the personal level (I am responsible to help my neighbor); but they move on from there to the ‘corporate’ level, where I cooperate with others in accomplishing justice, mercy, and truth. That ‘corporate’ cooperation can assume many forms, including both ‘church’ and ‘government’ on all of its levels (local, state, national, international).

    If God were so insecure as to be worried that He won’t “get the glory” if justice and mercy are accomplished in a certain way, I’m sure He would just ‘miraculously’ do things ‘without our help’. That way, He could be sure of getting the glory all to Himself. But is God more concerned about the ‘glory’ than He is about justice and mercy itself? I don’t think so. And in fact, God is glorified when people do justice and mercy because they recognize that is the character of God, and they want to “be followers of God, as dear children”. God works THROUGH us, not “without our help”. (I don’t recall that in the story of the “Good Samaritan” the Samaritan ever even mentioned the name of God, directing the wounded man’s attention to the fact that he was helping the man because that’s what God wanted him to do. Yet Jesus indicated that the Samaritan had truly shown God-like love even though he didn’t even mention God. God was ‘glorified’ even though the Samaritan didn’t say a word about Him. “Actions speak louder than words”.)

    So thanks for your clear sighted post.

  • Kurt, another amazing post! The churches in america is severely lacking in the social justice part, As somehow “salvation by faith alone” is all that matters. Tho we should not leave out the theology like the “20th century social gospel”,where theology was pushed aside for the sake of the social gospel. Theology and Social Justice go hand in hand in promoting the kingdom of god!

    • I agree with your comment fully! Theology is not thrown out the window because of emotions or political inclinations. The social gospel in its far leftist forms created a similar problem that fundamentalism has… polarity. “theology and social justice go hand in hand in promoting the kingdom of God!” — AMEN bro…

  • Chris

    I am still unconvinced on the underlying premise. If the church has not lived up to its call, isn’t the answer then “Start living up to the call?” I am not sure we should settle for anything less. It is tempting to see “good” results sooner than later, but as Derek Webb sings “Can you build the Kingdom using the devils tools? Can time be so short?” Time is not too short. The best option is doing the mission’s work in the mission’s way.

    Beyond that philosophical point, there is one other issue to consider when discussing government programs. While some people may be helped by government programs, these programs more often than not serve to bring humans into subjection to the state. Sure people are being fed and clothed, but at what price? Abraham rejected even a thread from the King of Sodom because he did not want the King of Sodom to be able to say “I have made Abraham rich.” Maybe Abraham’s view is the one we should take, and help people learn to take, on government.

    • Chris… this for me is a “both/and” not an “either/or.” Many Christians are living up to the call and rethinking their way of being the church! This is the ultimate solution! But, what about all those lower class children that need help that the Church is not yet getting to? Do we just leave them alone to suffer injustice that ‘big government’ assistance could alleviate? Being the product of the welfare system, I know first hand that if we didn’t have Section 8 housing, welfare checks, MediCal health coverage; that I would not have had the chance to rise above my circumstances as I grew into my teens and adulthood. I say that both the church (who gave me spiritual nurture, clothing hand-me-downs, birthday parties, family support, etc) and the government (who made sure our basic needs were met so that I would have an opportunity to rise above my childhood circumstances). And as for Derek Webb, I like him too… very shane claiborne esc. I doubt that Webb is anti government… he is just suspicious of it which I think we ought to be. Any time the “Empire” allows perpetual suffering to take place, we must subvert it for the kingdom. This was true for Paul and other New Testament writers regarding Rome and remains true today. Nevertheless, when a government can help alleviate suffering, we must affirm it as a necessary evil. Learning to hold a suspicion towards Empire while also promoting policy that alleviates suffering is an endless dance for a kingdom person… but one that is worthy of such a tension!

      • Black Elvis

        “Do we just leave them alone to suffer injustice that ‘big government’ assistance could alleviate…”

        Since Britain has a “big government” does that make their country more “Christian” and/or “righteous” than ours?

        What people seem to forget is that government assistance leads to enslavement. It is a quick and easy way to enslave the masses. The government becomes richer and everyone else becomes poorer. The government programs used to “help” the impoverished in all actuality only aid the lazy in staying lazy (ex. I was at savemart today on fowler and ashlan, the lady ahead of me in line bought $200+ dollars worth of groceries on an EBT card…she was wearing versace sunglasses and proceeded to put her groceries into the trunk of her escalade).

        I think the responsibility we actually have as Christians is to bring forth the absolute truth in all matters therefore we should strive to enlighten humanity and allow our citizens to realize that the Govt. is a crock of … nicely put…CRAP!

  • Janie Mock

    Doug’s quote of Martin Luther reminds me of William F. Buckley’s famous quote that he would rather entrust the government to the first 400 names in the Boston phone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University…..!
    (Would the same apply to incompetent Christians??)

  • Ian

    I agree that people are (at least, for the most part, in this country) the people. And that God can work through people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Even Samaritans, right? I applaud my friends on the right who are pro-life (NOT SIMPLY PRO-BIRTH). I applaud my friends on the left who seek social justice and programs to care for the least of these among us.

    However, the title of this blog is a trick question.

    God HAS the Glory, Forever and Ever.

  • Charles Toy

    Great article. I posted it at “The Christian Left” fanpage on Facebook.

  • Owen

    Here is the inherent problem of Christians relying upon government programs for social justice initiatives. As already alluded to a degree, it should be the role of the church. However, the church rarely acts when there is little perceived necessity. The Christian community has outsourced its duties, and when it does it, it historically doesn’t do a good job of recovering it. The Christian community used to take care of the sick, but now commercialized hospitals do and the Christian community has done little to address it. The Christian community used to be the place of hospitality with the taking in of strangers, but now we rely on hotels for that job. But these things become rather impersonal, with little sense of community.

    Short of God working in a drastic way, the Church will not expend much energy to work in an area that is already being done elsewhere. There is no historically likely both/and, because historically it has been an either/or.

    There is also the problem of relying upon any centralized initiative to fix social problems. But that is a whole other topic, but to summarize it as being impersonal, very prone to corruption, and does not have many effective mechanisms for feedback in case it is doing a bad job.

  • jason


    I think that the article is more than a bit unfair in that it implies that (1) “big government” solutions are the only right way to go in order to fight injustice and help the poor, and that (2) all Republicans and members of the Religious Right are indifferent toward the poor. Isn’t it possible that two people who know and love the Lord can look at the same issue, but come down on opposite sides of the aisle when it comes to deciding which solution is best for the problem? For example, the one poster quoted Chuck Colson as he made reference to God’s heart for the poor and needy. I don’t tend to agree with Colson’s positions on issues, but I don’t question the genuineness of his compassion for the poor. However, I’d wager that his political solution to a problem would look quite different from the solution that you would probably support.

    I think that the “Christian Left” is in danger of becoming the new “Moral Majority.” Falwell said that if you love God, you need to vote this way on moral issues. If you didn’t see it their way, they stood in judgment of you like a pharisee in Jesus’ day. The Christian Left is saying, if you love God, you need to vote this way on issues of social justice. Furthermore, they are saying the Christian Right has got it all wrong and that they are a bunch of insensitive, heartless, greedy racists. The members of the Christian Left are becoming anti-pharisee pharisees. Remember, Jesus loves those on the Christian Right just as much as he loves those on the Christian Left.

    When I read “Jesus For President,” the message that I get isn’t one that tells me how to vote. The message that I get reminds me of what it means to be The Church…the body of Christ.

    Unfortunately, I think that we as a church in America have offloaded our responsibilty to care for the sick and the poor onto the government. It’s very easy to stand at a distance and cast a vote, but getting in there and actually doing the work ourselves is hard, messy and inconvenient. I agree with Claiborne when he said “Advise everyone. Endorse no one.” Isn’t it possible to be the church and serve the poor without relying on the government? If we think that it isn’t possible, does our reliance upon government mean that we have turned government and voting into an idol? Does it mean that we’d rather spend the government’s money (which is collected from people of all faiths) to try to solve the world’s problems instead of self-sacrificially spending our own? I believe that the church can be exponentially more powerful and transformative than the federal government…But, by and large, it chooses not to be.

    I don’t mean to come down hard on you. My concern is that an article like this only serves to alienate the person who is most likely in need of hearing a message that reminds them of Jesus’ heart for the poor and the outcast and that he is a friend of sinners and that he said blessed are the peace makers. I think it’s more divisive than it is transformative because it’s an article that “preaches to the choir.”

    • Charles Toy

      The Christian Right has controlled the message in this country for FAR too long. I would never go as far as to say, “If you love Jesus, you’ll vote this way.” As for me, I choose to emulate what Jesus did in fact say and do while he was here on earth. I love this quote:

      Many on the “Christian Right” are fond of posing the question WWJD?– What would Jesus do? I’d like to remind them what Jesus DID do: he cared for the poor. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. He prayed alone. He commanded us to love our enemies. He preached peace. He ate, drank, and lived with “tax collectors and sinners,” the lowlifes and outcasts of his day, while reserving his condemnation for the religious leaders who from a place of privilege imposed their legalism and literalism on the people they were responsible for leading. He told his disciples not to oppose the healing work of those outside the ranks of his followers. And again and again he reminded us to care for the poor. (That moral issue gets more air time than any other in the gospels: 1 verse in 9.) If Christians concerned about how to respond to the grave global issues facing us all were to reread the Gospels for guidance, I think we’d find some pretty clear indications there about what Jesus would do. And what he wouldn’t. (One of the few bumper stickers I’ve been tempted to affix to my still undecorated car in recent months reads “Who would Jesus bomb?”)

      Whatever Jesus would do, given what he did do, and has promised he will do, I don’t think it looks much like what the insulated, self-congratulatory Fox News fans on the “Christian Right” are doing.

      Marilyn McEntyre is a Professor of English at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

      This is a good article as well:
      If You Read the Gospels, the Religious Right is Most Often Wrong
      by Rick Mercier

      • jason

        If we are going to ask the question “what would Jesus do?”, then I’m wondering why the debate is over how the government should be doing the doing…..Jesus didn’t come to show us how to do a better version of the kingdom of this world, he came to proclaim that His Kingdom is not of this world. He came to demonstrate a radical way of life that offers so much more to the world than any governmental system could ever offer. However, His way of life requires great sacrifice, as exemplified in his life and death. Are we willing to do the same? (that question is one i struggle with every day and an area in which i fall short in every day)

        As background, I’m not “right” or “left” or “independent” from a voting perspective. I don’t even vote anymore. My background is a conservative evangelical, but I laid that down because i saw that their approach tends to be very pharisaical and judgmental. I don’t want to see the “left” make the same mistakes. There are good ideas on both sides, so as Claiborne says “Advise everyone. Endorse no one.” Let the decision makers decide, but more importantly let the Kingdom of God be the Kingdom of God, let the body of Christ be the body of Christ. Let’s not blend the two together. As Tony Campolo says, it’s like mixing together cow manure and ice cream…it doesn’t really do much to the manure, but it sure does mess up the ice cream! If you choose to vote, vote your conscience. However, don’t declare either way of voting to be the “Christian way” to vote. That just causes division and there’s enough of that within the church already.

        To me, Greg Boyd has this issue nailed. Here’s a link to a debate/discussion between Greg and Jim Wallis from 2004.


        • Charles Toy

          I can’t sit back and say nothing when oligarchs run the show by creating unfair advantage, while the rest of the population is left to fend for themselves. Not when 45,000 people die each year because greedy for-profit health insurance companies make their money by denying care. That’s just flat out wrong and immoral. And there are many other issues like that one. The so-called “conservative” message has been so off base for so long, it must be countered with some reason, especially when it’s espoused from the pulpit (like it has been for a long time).

      • jason

        Charles, I’d like to reply to your post below( 4/10/10 at 12:38), but there is no option to “reply” there

        Again. like Kurt’s post, you are painting with a broad brush. You imply that conservatives are not using reason to come to their conclusions. You also imply that conservative evangelicals in general are greedy and uncaring. That, plain and simple, is divisive and untrue. You are ignoring the fact that two bright people who love the Lord can look at the data surrounding a particular problem and then come up with two completely opposite political solutions. That’s why i prefer to think outside of the box and not limit myself to political solutions and the nasty debates that surround them. You mention that you can’t sit back and not SAY anything. The church in America (on both sides of the aisle) is very good at standing up and SAYING how the government ought to do things and pointing out who’s fault it is. Unfortunately, the church in the U.S. is not very good at standing up and DOING something to meet the needs of those who are suffering. It’s much easier to argue about it and feel self-righteous about our positions. This is the way that the kingdom of the world does things – tit for tat. It just leads to bitterness and divisiveness, and the poor, the sick, the outcast aned the environment continue to suffer because the church is too busy pointing fingers and arguing about who has the better solutions.

        • Charles Toy

          I agree with much of what you say. I have a question for you. What stance should Christians have taken with regard to slavery and Government policy. How about Civil Rights? How about Women’s suffrage? How about …

    • Jason,

      I understand where you are coming from in many ways. But, here is my issue. My post was addressing the logic of the number one point of opposition that I get from my right wing friends: If we let the government do justice then God is not given the glory. I was simply trying to demonstrate that if that is the main reason to be a conservative, then I think the witness argument is pretty week. As Shane Claiborne says: we vote for policies and we vote every day with our lives. I want to do both with a concern for how to alleviate the most suffering. Show me how the church is capable of cutting the check for the sick person whose medical bills are in the 100,000’s dollars (and then multiply that number by the millions who are in this kind of situation)? Or what the church is to do about the condensed poverty in urban areas where children are left to fend for themselves? Of course we do what we can in individual situations and attempt to transform communities by becoming more missional… but this wont accomplish what is needed now on a grand scale.

      You see, the problem with this conservative argument is that I DONT SEE ANY TANGIBLE EVIDENCE of Conservatives that actually pay the bills in the two kinds of scenarios (and countless others). They preach individual choice, but then they choose to buy a bigger home or save, save, save; or buy shotguns 🙂 … What they rarely do is give beyond their 10 percent. Are you ready to pay the medical bills of the impoverished sick or for the health care of a low income child? Ideally… yes… of course you would because clearly you are full of compassion and care for the poor… BUT, idealism can only go so far in our current situation. And all idealism leads to for many is a lack of solutions and more suffering by the victims of injustice. Lets stop the suffering both now and long term!

      I believe that imagination must be unleashed to discover new solutions to help poverty decrease in our nation and world. But, I don’t think this has to mean “small government” either. Political systems are broken (whether capitalism, socialism, communism, or any other -ism), so my thought is that we ought to leverage the broken system to help the disadvantaged people in our culture, while simultaneous calling the church to live like kingdom people… who bleed for others like Jesus bled… who live self-sacrificially!

      A couple of quotes I want to push back on my friend:
      “When I read “Jesus For President,” the message that I get isn’t one that tells me how to vote. The message that I get reminds me of what it means to be The Church…the body of Christ.”

      — This is a fair assessment of the book. However, lets not forget that even though Shane believes the above about being the church (which I FULLY agree with!!!!), he was mentored by Tony Campolo and has the same political/theolgical paradigm from which I write ( See the back cover of Red Letter Christians for an example of this: http://www.amazon.com/Red-Letter-Christians-Citizens-Politics/dp/0830745297 ). Not only so, but he also is sympathetic to Jim Wallis’ views and even is part of the Sojourners movement! Lets be the church, but lets also call into account the “powers that be” so to end cycles of poverty! Shane is a both/and, not an either/or!

      Next Quote:
      “I agree with Claiborne when he said “Advise everyone. Endorse no one.”

      –Simply, I agree! Did you not read my statement about “lesser evil” in the opening paragraph?

      “I don’t mean to come down hard on you. My concern is that an article like this only serves to alienate the person who is most likely in need of hearing a message that reminds them of Jesus’ heart for the poor and the outcast and that he is a friend of sinners and that he said blessed are the peace makers. I think it’s more divisive than it is transformative because it’s an article that “preaches to the choir.”

      –Finally, I don’t feel that you are coming down on me too hard, I simply think that we disagree on politics. This is not an article that is meant to be divisive, but provocative. To re-imagine one element of how our voting/political views can be a witness, but to also expose the flawed argument to why I must be a conservative (politically) Christian or else strip God of the glory. Thanks for your challenging thoughts, they are welcome anytime. Also, I am sure that we wont always disagree 🙂

      PS – have you read “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire”?

      • jason

        i’ll try to keep my answers concise, so please don’t read “agitated” or arrogance into them….this will be more like bullet points in the form of a paragraph

        there’s alot of points here, so i won’t really try to respond to all of them specifically….what will follow will just be a stream of consciousness …..just to sum it up, we do differ politically…..i consider myself apolitical….for me, arguing over which kingdom of the world solution to a problem is the best is a waste of time and very often an obstacle to the gospel going forward…..leaning on government policies, conservative or liberal, has to a large degree robbed the church of the imagination whose absence you have recognized

        the church all around the globe has more than enough funding to alleviate much of the world’s suffering….let’s not forget, we are the church…look at what Mother Theresa was able to accomplish with inadequate funding….the key for the church is to live self-sacrificially…which we really don’t want to do…

        Claiborne is involved with sojourners, but his blogs differ greatly from wallis’ blogs…it was on sojourners’ blog that claiborne said “advise everyone. endorse no one.”….mclaren couldn’t believe what shane wrote and followed shane’s blog up with a blog talking about how claiborne really couldn’t have meant what he said….claiborne’s message, to my knowledge, has been pretty consistent since then….shane’s solution to his lack of healthcare: join a Christian health care co-op…aka, let the church be the church for each other….then we can be free to help those outside of the church….

        to respond to charles, i have no problem with Dr. King’s response to segregation….he and those who sat at the lunchcounter and marched exposed the evil that existed in the exact same way that Christ did….they lived out kingdom of God principles and the kingdom of the world responded the same way that it did when Christ lived them out – violently….the church, unfortunately, responded poorly (to say the least) to the slave trade in the U.S (since much of the church was participating it)…the church (in general), had it understood that Christ died for all (and not just for rich, white europeans) probably could have prevented the slave trade…..only toward the end of the abolitionist movement, did the church really step up and take a prominent role….there’s a great book that i would recommend on this topic:


        kurt, i think our message is the same….however, our targets are different….boyd sums this up really well in describing the difference betweein himself and wallis in the link that i included in one of my earlier posts….if you get a chance to listen to it, it is a must

        i’m spent

        • jason

          one last thing…..we are to be a mustard seed movement…..the smallest seed in the garden grows to radically change the landscape of the garden in which it was planted……

          kurt mentions that the church can’t have an impact on a grand scale…..i think Christ would disagree with that (since he decided that it was going to be the church that would continue his work)….also, God came down to earth in the form of one man…..this one man radically changed the world and defeated the forces of evil…God often turns conventional wisdom on its head….the world thinks that only big institutions like governments are suited to fix the world’s problems…..the world expected a warrior king…..God shows up as a homeless man who was born in a barn to an unmarried teenager……Israel spoke of the cedars of lebanon, but Christ spoke of mustard plants…..Israel spoke of the Lion of Judah, but Christ came as a lamb led to the slaughter……the world expects “great” men and “great” institutions to bring about transformation, but God chooses the foolish things of this world:
          18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
          “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
          the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]
          20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

          1 Corinthians 1
          26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”


        • Jason — to clarify, I don’t think at the moment the church can have such an effect; in that I don’t see the movement happening immediately. I DO BELIEVE THIS IS OUR CALLING AND POTENTIAL, but much would have to change to make it our reality. BTW – I plan to spend the rest of my life helping the church fulfill such a dream!!!!

          My view asks: If we can support/advise the empire’s actions that sanction justice, then we ought to do so in order to address the immediate issues on the grand scale. Do I think they are ideal/of God… not necessarily. Empires are always a “power” that must be called to account. Notice the OT book of Amos where God judges various nations for how there policies oppress the poor and perpetuate suffering. All I am saying is that part of being the church, in a country that “asks our opinion” (as Boyd would say… who much of my view are shaped by even though we apply them differently), that we have the responsibility to call the “powers and principalities” to account when they cause/allow suffering to take place. The government is NOT the hope of the world. The government is NOT the final solution. BUT the government asks our opinion in the USA and just because we think the Church ought to be the Church, it does not mean that we have to remove ourselves from prophetic influence. To be the church doesn’t mean that we can’t chose to vote for programs that help hurting people. It means that whatever government is in place (Capitalism/democracy/socialism/communism/etc) that we must unlock our imaginations to discern what our prophetic role should be as we live in new ways guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, one does not negate the ‘usefulness’ of the other. Being the church doesn’t nullify our ability to be glad when anyone feeds the hungry and breaks cycles of systemic injustice. BUT, to echo your concern… it must also not become what we rely upon…. and the point of the post was not that we should rely on our government.

          Again… on Claiborne… the nature of “advising everyone” implies governmental involvement… this is not apolitical, if it were he would have said “ignore everyone.” I don’t publicly endorse anyone, I am very ready to ‘advise’ though. So, if we can give healthcare to hurting people because they deserve to be healthy, then we ought to advise in that direction. If we can advise to stay out of meaningless wars that kill, we can advise there as well. If we can advise to lessen abortions in this country, then we should advise there (and then help by partnering with low income teens who are pregnant to help them go full term and take care of the child after its born). All this to say… if our “advising” leads to some ‘big government’ programs, this doesn’t immobilize the church from her mission. We must be the church in every government system!

          Finally, in none of your responses have you answered my fundamental rebuttal? What are we to do in the meanwhile with those who are suffering if ‘realism’ is that most of the church is not caring for the hurting of society? Tomorrow is the whole church going to magically wake up (again, as we should!!!! [we agree here]) and every hurting person in our society and across the globe are going to: be fed, have clothing, adequate living quarters, have medical care/bills paid, quality education, etc? Unfortunately, probably not… so isn’t it a good thing that at least we have some broken solutions to the immediate issues? The point of this post is that having governmental programs does not steal the glory from God but can sometimes act as a “plan B” to come to the aid of the downtrodden. And to be clear, sometimes this is conservative, at other times it is liberal… I don’t fit in either category although others have tried to pin me in one 🙂 A third way is possible!!!!! Jason, thanks for wrestling with these issues with me and hopefully we will mutually ‘rub off’ on each other 🙂 An in person dialogue would probably yield more areas of agreement than we are able to flesh out here using the medium of text… Shalom

      • Black Elvis

        “Are you ready to pay the medical bills of the impoverished sick or for the health care of a low income child?”

        I do believe this happens regardless…I have many friends who work in hospitals and they continually tell me how patients, who are probably illegals, give fake names and numbers in the E.R. knowing full and well the information will never be checked before they receive medical attention.

  • First I want to say that Jason is dead on. I as for the government’s role in helping those in need, any help the gov gives should be specific and short term except in cases where ones handicap is so severe as to prevent one from earning a living. Unfortunately, the government has not only expanded the roles of the poor, it has created a sub-culture population of healthy people perfectly capable (physically) of supporting themselves and being productive members of society and has rendered them emotionally and mentally incapable of taking responsibilty of for any aspect of their own well being other than survival in a hostile enviornment the government has inadvertently created. In the absence of Christian-Judeo ethics, which Kurt seems have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed, government dooms those it would have us believe it is helping to perpetually hopeless existence with no motivation for the individual to change. Since the government, so concerned with separation of church and state, is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christianity in particular, this unlikely to change for the better. If government were pure in it’s motives this might be quite different, but the bottom line is that government “social justice” programs are usually nothing more than vote block buying schemes or political clubs. Jesus’ focus was to teach us that in order to live eternally with God in the afterlife, we must first “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, your mind, your strength and your soul. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” What Jesus is saying here is that we cannot be in right relationship with God unless we are in a compassionate and loving relationship with each other. After all, God creatated us in his own image so how can we love God if we don’t love each other? I don’t recall Jesus ever preaching corporate responisibility. Paul did but Jesus didn’t….but that’s another topic. Even Paul treated government as the obstacle that it was….and the Roman welfare system was eventually one of the pillars of their demise.

  • Jon Carl Lewis

    I like the notion that several clergy have told me: if it isn’t making both “liberals” and “conservatives ” uncomfortable, then it probably isn’t the gospel. or jesus.

  • Tucker

    Once again I am afraid I am coming into this conversation late. This particular blog generates so much activity I can not seem to keep up with the sheer volume of it, which is regrettable as the largest share of it is thoughtful, insightful, and heartfelt. So that being said, with my apologies to other commenters I am responding directly to the original post without having read the comments.

    First, I agree with Kurt’s sentiment that when we align ourselves too much with any earthly power, including political parties, we become beholden to something other than the Reign of Christ. Ultimately both political parties, and all of their underlying ideologies, have an interest in something less than and other than the Good News. This is why many Christian faiths simply abstain from politics altogether (e.g.- Mennonites, Quakers). I have often told my own congregation that Liberalism and Conservatism are two different answers to a question that I am not interested in. I want to have another conversation entirely.

    That being said, I don’t think that it is realistic or responsible to completely disengage from the political world. The principalities and powers are very real, and have a very real impact on the quality of people’s lives. As people who follow Jesus, the ethic of love compels us to be concerned with that impact, and to call the powers to execute their functions justly even as we avoid becoming beholden to them.

    As to the specific issue of social justice and caring those who are in need, I don’t see any good reason to have a dialectical approach here. As if the work of caring for the poor is the task of either the state or the church. Why can’t each entity do this work in its own way? Are there even times where the church and state can operate symbiotically here (while carefully maintaining the distinction between the two)? The state cares for those in need because it is best for society as a whole- less poverty means more education and production, better standard of living, less crime, less addiction, etc. The church cares for those in need because of Christ’s example of radical and unconditional hospitality. Not for the beneficial outcome, but for its own sake. Still, those two don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

    In both cases though, alleviating poverty is difficult and complicated. I think we need to extend grace on all sides here. The familiar proverb about giving someone a fish or teaching them how to fish is overly simplistic. Initially, its point is well made. Government or church programs that simply give things away run the risk of encouraging dependence and of being patronizing. You can’t just “give a fish”. However, a simple lack of life skills is not the only cause of poverty- and “teaching someone to fish” is no simple task. It may take years- and what does the person eat in the meantime? When the education is complete, what does the person do if he has no fishing pole or bait? Or if someone else has bought up all the fishing rights to the lake? These are the sorts of things that government, I believe, is tasked with. Regulating lending and hiring practices to ensure equity, reforming systems and institutions, as well as providing short term aid while the person “learns to fish”.

    As for the church’s role in this- once again giving away food (or whatever else) is a great place to start. But if that is all we do, we will eventually find that our work has become patronizing, has taken away people’s dignity by creating a set of people who have something to give and another set who can only receive our benefaction. The church must not only give food away, but move from there to create reconciliation. We must open our eyes to what the “poor” around us have to offer us, be willing to gladly accept hospitality from those society denigrates, and ultimately make a full and equal place at the table for any who would come. Don’t offer anyone a fish. Instead, invite them to a meal and serve whatever they bring.

    • Thanks Tucker! Thoughtful, generous, and “third way” are what come to mind as I read this comment! I couldn’t agree with u more 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

  • RT

    Excellent job Kurt!

    The basic problem is not one of Republican ideals versus the ideas of Democrats. It is not liberals versus conservative’s verses independents and so on.
    The basic problem is that so many of our great governmental plans, no matter how well intended, or who is in favor of them or opposed to them, simply do not work.
    You stated, “The church should fight poverty, not the greedy government who want to steal both our hard earned money and the glory that God deserves! “, and I agree with you {you may want to write this date down as the one where we agreed on something political :)}. However, the problem is that most people reading your statement are thinking, “It was that other political party that steals our money and wants the glory”. We need to understand that any bureaucracy (such as our government) takes on a life of its own. These bureaucracies are intent on one thing and that is their own existence. The governmental bureaucracy has spent billions on the “war against poverty” and yet poverty is still very alive and well.

    I have found that churches that go their own way and stay out of the governmental bureaucracies are much more effective in addressing the root causes of poverty than those who take part governmental programs.

    On last thing. You asked, “If there are suffering people that the church is not helping, shouldn’t we be glad that children are getting their basic needs met (even if by welfare and other programs)?”. The answer is yes. However, if those welfare and other programs are simply giving away fish, and not holding the parents responsible for learning how to fish, then the children are truly the ones who pay in the long run. It almost like the governmental bureaucracy wants to ensure that it will still be needed. This traps the children in the viscous cycle of poverty. I wish that more churches would take a proactive role with families to break the cycle of poverty.

  • Charles Toy

    Despite all of the above discussion to the contrary, I am not at all convinced that we as Christians should say nothing or do nothing when the laws of our country oppress the poor and the sick and glorify the worship of all things material. I think it’s a major cop out on all levels not to speak out and try to change things for the better. “Speaking Out” can be many things. I think it’s our duty to be involved and stand up for what is right, both on a personal level and in terms of what we expect from our Government. I believe scripture backs up what I say. I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced otherwise.

  • jason

    there was no “reply” option after your post, kurt, so i guess this will be tagged on at the end….

    the goal of the church is not to help legislate a utopian society…..this is a very strong temptation that satan uses…..that’s why he made the same offer to Christ in the wilderness……he offered Christ all of the kingdoms of the world because they are his (satan’s) and he can do whatever he wants with them…..Christ could have accepted and set up a utopian society…..if any one person in history had the ability to do it and do it well….it was him…..but this was not his goal…he came to transform the world….not simply set in place good policies……don’t you think that it looked pretty impossible to feed five thousand people with a couple of loaves and a few fish????? the church is called to do the same today…to have the faith to do the impossible…..the same power that conquered the grave lives in me! and in you! and in Charles!…..we have forgotten this….this is why the church is impotent…..we are to be a mustard seed who will eventually change the entire landscape of the garden…we are to be like a little bit of yeast that gets mixed into a large amount of dough that eventually gets worked all through the dough……this is how the kingdom works….not through sweeping legislative change….let’s not be tempted to fall into that trap

    Charles and Kurt, i have no problem with someone speaking out against injustice (i do it all the time) or voting (which i no longer do – because i had made an idol out of government and of voting the “right” people in to office)…..however, the problem i have is declaring one position or the other to be “the Christian” way to vote and then painting the “other side” with broad brush negativism

  • Charles Toy

    Good discussion. I’m sure we can all walk away with a deeper understanding that we may not have had before on some level. That’s what it’s all about.

    1 Corinthians 12: 14-20 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. … And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

    • jason


    • jasonekk

      No… we need to be devisive and everyone needs to believe what I believe…

      Just kidding…

      Actually, one thing I love about this blog is that people seem to be very cordial even though we might disagree on stuff. I have to say that these types of discussions have really made be think deeper about what I believe and do.

      I appreciate your comments and challenges very much!

      May God bless you all…