There has been a lot of antagonistic debate over Obama's health care reform, and I am all for good debate, but what happens when someone throws in a curve ball and starts marrying politics with religion? Is that fair? Aren't politics and religion rather like oil and water? Statements like what came out of the mouth of House Minority Leader John Boehner would make you think so. On March 21, the eve of the passage of the health care bill, Boehner was quoted as saying that the next 24 hours would be "Armageddon" because the health care bill proposed by Democrats would "ruin our country." Boehner has apparently drawn his line in the sand, but should he have used scripture to get his point across? What does Jesus have to say about politics?
Herod was Rome's puppet-king over the Jewish nation of Israel. Rome controlled the political climate of the time. They ruled by the credo of Pax Romana, a relatively quiet period during which Rome ruled the world as it was known. The major difference was that Rome ruled with an iron fist. If you disagreed publicly with Rome, over time they would find a way to crucify you or impale your head on one of the rusted metal poles hanging outside the city gates. It was in no way a peaceful time; it was only peaceful if you listened to what they said.
Yet Jesus has something to say about the political perversion that was going on at that time. I think this is important to note because sometimes Christians don't know if they should ever be political. They think the two are separate. Politics and religion tend to be two subjects not to bring up at family get-togethers. It's simply taboo to share your views on either. But Jesus did so candidly. Jesus was even politically subversive at times -- but not destructively subversive, and trust me, there is a difference. When a man requested to follow Jesus, the latter responded, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20). In Hebrew, the word for fox (which is an allusion to the king) is also the same word for jackal. Jackals fed on dead bodies. Feeding on dead bodies is a no-no in Jewish culture, and in any culture for that matter; it's just not kosher!
Jesus was essentially saying that Herod was destructive. He was only out for himself at the expense of those in need. And there are those in religion and politics even now who fit that bill. The bird represented Rome, the government who oppressed needlessly. Jesus was commenting on the political atmosphere visibly present in his day. He was saying that the government was only looking out for itself at the expense and injury of those who were barely hanging on. And if anyone was going to follow him, that they would need to realize the vulnerability they were walking into. This guy who wanted to follow Jesus wanted to be just like him, and Jesus was telling him that if he started down this road, it wouldn't be the prestigious way of Rome; he risked becoming public enemy number one.
Being political doesn't mean that we are cutthroat or hell-bent on the destruction of the object of our criticism. Being political doesn't mean that we try to manipulate others to embrace our agendas, which happens in the White House as well as in our cathedrals. Being political in the shadow of Jesus means that we realize who we are, what is currently going on, and what could be, and that we find creative, relevant ways for the three to meet. Maybe a better way to redefine politics is to see it as a religion. Not as a religion in the traditional sense, but as a way of life that humanity can learn. Maybe then being political could be more about collaborating with one another to make the world a better place. Maybe our faith traditions can help guide the process. Gandhi said it this way: "Religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion."
Quoting scripture in the public arena to sway politicians isn't a good way to heal the unnecessary division between politics and religion. We have a history of people doing just that, perpetuating acts of terrorism in the name of Jesus and using scripture to justify their decisions. Using any holy book to exact vengeance or violence is detrimental to the flourishing of societies. Manipulating words in the Bible to get what you want isn't a charitable act; it doesn't help anyone. So when John Boehner speaks of Armageddon in relation to health care reform, this is one example of someone who is attempting to use the Bible as it was not intended to be used. The ancient scriptures talk about the importance of loving your neighbours and enemies and paying to Caesar what is Caesar's, even if Caesar is cheating you out of your taxes.
So how is John Boehner doing any of this by perpetuating fear-ridden, dogmatic approaches to scripture? If anything, he is committing a sort of biblical terrorism. He is using a spiritual document that speaks of healing and hope and using it to instill fear and misinformed confusion in those who support him and his political allegiances. Scripture isn't meant to hurt; it's meant to heal. It isn't meant to force; it's meant to inspire. Lying in the wake of centuries of biblical terrorism are bodies upon bodies of innocent people, events and moments that are screaming for justice. When we unintentionally conspire to criticize others with scripture, we directly denigrate the healing words that Jesus offered to everyone, irrespective of their political views. Through the manipulation of his own spiritual views, Boehner is attempting to convert himself and others to his way of thinking. This is incredibly pervasive and not a good use of scripture or politics.
I think it's also important to recognize at this point that when we come across verses in the Christian scriptures that refer to what some Christians call the "End Times," they deal with events in their time, space, and culture. It is bad stewardship to use them to coerce others to believe what we think they should be believing. It seems to be against the fabric of the message of Jesus. Maybe we need to offer something different.
At one time, embedded within the fabric of our history, there was this worldview that welcomed the body politic into conversation with religious ideology, and like brothers and sisters, they didn't always get along, but they found a way to support each other rather than manipulate each other. There must be a time of renewal and rebirth, and in light of the Easter season that was recently upon us, maybe we can all come together and embrace the resurrection of Jesus as a new kind of resurrection of this old worldview.