Sunday, August 5, 2012

When Christians Get It Wrong: Science & Politics

When Christians Get It Wrong
Christians, Science and Politics

When Michael and I were deciding which one of us would tackle the topics of our latest sermon series, he asked if there were any that really spoke to me.  We had already decided to tag team the topic of homosexuality and the final topic of the series – when Christians get it right.  I said that I would like to tackle the topic of when bad things happen.  He said that he would introduce the series and take different religions and then suggested that I tackle the sermon on science and politics.  THE BIG CHICKEN!!!

Two big, hot button topics – especially right now in light of this being an election year and the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson – the god particle.  Like I said – the big chicken!

Well, I think I’ll tackle the one I think will be less likely to get tempers flaring – Science.  For some Christians, science is a mortal enemy of faith.  After all, if science is able to prove how things came into being and how things work, what use is there for our faith, our creation stories, our belief that God is in control of the universe?  And conversely, if a person puts all of their energy into science, how can they acknowledge that there is a God that can’t be seen or explained?

The battle of science vs. faith is a long one.  After all, it was June 22, 1633 that Galileo was labeled a heretic for his preposterous idea that the earth moves around the sun and not the other way around.  Today of course, we know that Galileo was correct and not only does the earth revolve around the sun, but that there are potentially millions of other galaxies out there.  Now, I don’t know about you, but having this knowledge certainly hasn’t shocked my faith – it hasn’t wavered or changed anything.

And yet for some Christians, this is a battle that they feel they must continue.  After all, if the so-called God particle has been located, that means that God didn’t create everything, doesn’t it?  How sad it must be to have such weak faith that the words Higgs Boson can destroy it.  How sad it must be to have that much fear that one’s faith can be destroyed simply by a scientific discovery.

It’s a good thing that God is not threatened by science!  I don’t think that God is threatened if science is able to explain how he went about creating.  I wonder if God is actually saying, “Let’s see if they can figure this one out!” 

Last year when the choir went to Rome, we were able to tour the Sistine Chapel and see the beautiful artwork that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling.  Our tour guide was able to showcase the chapel and explain many things about it.  Now, how did he paint the ceiling?

Laid on his back on the scaffolding, right?  No!  We found out that he actually stood and cocked his head.  Does the fact that the ceiling wasn’t painted the way we thought it was negate the impressiveness of the art?  Not at all!  In fact, it make a person appreciate it even more – because standing there with his necked crooked back had to have been far more uncomfortable for Michelangelo that laying on his back!

In much the same way, scientists act as the tour guides of God’s creation.  By helping us understand God’s handiwork, they add to the majesty and glory of creation that can leave us with a greater sense of awe about the One who created it all to begin with.  Or it can even prove God’s existence.  Here’s His eye as taken by the Hubble telescope.  Don’t believe me?  Here is his other eye!  OK, OK I’ll quit joking around.  But then again, maybe it really is his eye!

The other side of this story is that Christians often misinterpret or misunderstand the biblical creation stories.  They read and interpret them as historical texts – science books if you will – instead of the poetry that they are.  The stories were not written as lessons in biology or physics.  They were written to say that behind all the magnificent beauty of creation, there is One who created.  The creation stories were not meant to teach us how God created, but that God created. 

Christians get it wrong when they see science as a threat to faith or when they try to make the Bible a scientific textbook.  They get it right when they see science as a companion to finding knowledge and truth.

OK, let me get ready for the next one!

Politics is a topic that I avoid.  Period.  You won’t hear me talk politics from the pulpit.  You won’t even see it on my Facebook page. You won’t hear my sharing my political beliefs and opinions - first, because it’s just too dangerous:  If I share my political theories, I have the potential of alienating perhaps as many as half of the congregation.  Second, it’s not my job as a spiritual leader of a church to tell you what I think about the political climate or if I think the president’s – whoever it is at the time - latest legislation is good for our country or not.  Third, the church is under pretty strict restrictions as to what we can and can’t do in the political arena and be able to keep our charitable status.  When I speak as a pastor of a church – this church – I can’t run the risk or doing or saying anything that could get us in trouble.  So it’s easier just to avoid it completely rather than run the risk of doing something I’ll regret later.

The unfortunate thing is that many of my fellow clergy and fellow Christians do not abide by these same rules.  And the result of this has manifested itself in the following ways.  We have people believing that a person cannot be a democrat and a Christian: in fact, some people even believe that a person’s political views will keep them out of heaven. 

There is no doubt that when it comes to politics, some Christians say and do things in the name of God that are the antithesis of the Gospel.  In fact, Adam Hamilton received a note from a parishioner that said,

“We have close friends who are passionate about their politics. They regularly profess their strong Christian commitments, but somehow have a blind spot when it comes to how they react to views and opinions of those with whom they differ.  When we get close to that political arena, I have trouble sensing any Christian love or tolerance of any perspective but their own…”

When you think about our political system and how it works – or doesn’t work – there are some biblical aspects to it.  And they aren’t good.  Because, in essence, politics is about power: who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it and who wants to keep it.  And whenever there is a power struggle, no good can come from it. 

Slander, gossip, malicious talk, mean-spirited rhetoric, disrespect – these are just a few of things that come out of our political system. 

Jesus wasn’t a democrat or a republican.  In fact, Jesus had some strong words for the politicians of his time – the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The Sadducees were the wealthy and powerful in Jesus’ day.  They held the majority of seats within the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of the time.  They were more concerned with politics than religion – concerning since they were also the religious rulers as well.  These men were the chief priests and the high priests.  They didn’t relate well to the common man.  The Pharisees, in contrast, were mostly middle class.  They were the minority in the Sanhedrin but wielded a great deal of power because they had the support of the people.  These two groups – these two political parties, if you will – were in constant opposition to each other.  History shows that they came together in solidarity for one event – the crucifixion of Christ.

If we turn to Matthew 16:5-12 we learn that Jesus was wary of the political leaders of the time. In fact, the people that Jesus had the most problems with were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
  When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them,   "Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They said to one another, "It is because we have brought no bread." And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, "You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!" Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
 No, there was definitely no love lost between Jesus and the politicians of the day!

Now, I’m not saying that we as Christians should have nothing to do with politics.  But, as Christians we do have a moral and spiritual responsibility not to slander or send out what we believe to be correct political statement or opinions that support our own political agenda.  And we definitely have a responsibility to not let our political beliefs become too closely associated with our faith.  Of course, our faith plays a role in what we believe to be correct politically.  But if those political beliefs superceede what we believe and know to be correct as Christians, we have a HUGE problem.  When we lay aside our Christian ethics or God’s call to love our enemies, choosing instead to engage in slander and mean-spirited partisan politics, we have a HUGE problem.  That’s when we get it wrong.   We get it right when we work for justice imparted with grace, truth and love.

Christ probably doesn’t care about your political views.  What we know he cares about is how we treat people.  Do your political views and how you share them reflect this?

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