Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: government

Government sponsored morality

“Every generation, no matter how paltry its character, thinks itself much wiser than the one immediately preceding it, let alone those that are more remote. ”
-William Shakespeare

shakespeare-67698_640

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Old Mr. Shakespeare was a pretty keen observer of human nature with all its foibles. I guess that’s why his plays remain so popular, we are still much the same as the people that he was watching 400 years ago.

Our generation is so much wiser than all who have come before us that we have set aside the spiritual foundation for morality. Now we are trying to develop a sense of morality by legislation and psychological counselling.

A case in point is a recent headline that caught my eye: the Saskatchewan government is budgeting 1.5 million dollars for a program to combat violence against women.

What are the chances that such a program will make a difference whence there are no longer any spiritual restraints in men’s hearts?

Prejudice + Poverty ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

God Save the Queen

Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015It was Wednesday morning, February 6, 1952. I was nine years old and in Grade Five. When I got up that morning, the radio was playing solemn, stately, orchestral music. That was all we could get on any radio station. The eight o’clock news told us why – King George VI had died and his oldest daughter was now Queen Elizabeth II. At school that morning we all lined up at nine o’clock, but instead of singing God Save the King, we sang God Save the Queen.

I turned ten later that month. Queen Elizabeth was 26 on April 21. Sixty-four years have passed, she is ninety today and still queen. Times have changed. School children in Canada don’t sing God Save the Queen anymore; I wonder if they even sing O Canada very often.

The fact that Canada, and many other countries, acknowledge Queen Elizabeth to be the head of state does not mean that we are  subject to England. Each country acknowledges the same monarch, but have no authority to meddle in the affairs of each others government.

The monarchy has only a symbolic authority today; some folks think it is an overly expensive symbol. I doubt if these same folks make the same objection to the billions spent on sports and entertainment. And the Anti-Monarchist League provides a harmless outlet for some chronically disgruntled folk.

There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that illustrates the usefulness of the monarchy:

Almighty God, the fountain of all goodness, we humbly beseech thee to bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, and all who are set in authority under her; that they may order all things in wisdom. righteousness, and peace, to the honour of thy holy Name, and the good of they Church and people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

People will have differing opinions about the current political hue of the government of their land, some may feel strongly that the party in power is leading the country astray. Nevertheless, we are to always pray for the rulers of our land. I like the phrase “and all who are set in authority under her,” it takes our prayers out of the political sphere. In praying for our government, we are not asking for a blessing on their political ideology, but for the well being of all the people of the land.

As irrelevant as the monarchy may be to our daily lives, Queen Elizabeth has provided a sense of continuity, stability, warmth, compassion and uprightness for these 64 years.

The transformed mind

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

The first phrase of this verse is often quoted by Mennonites; many words have been spoken over the pulpit and written in books about the doctrine of non-conformity to the world. However, after hearing this for many years we have the unfortunate tendency to focus on avoiding certain things that we identify as worldly, keeping some distance between ourselves and “worldly” people, and therewith comforting ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.

When that happens, we are missing the true import of Paul’s message. First off, “this world” is a translation of the Greek word aion, which refers to an age, or period of time. If we consider the verse as a whole, it should be evident that the antithesis of conformed and transformed is referring to the way we think. The apostle is warning us not to allow our thinking to conform to the prevailing spirit, attitudes and feelings of the era in which we live (the zeitgeist), but to allow our thought patterns to be transformed and patterned after the will of God which does not change from era to era.

Secondly, this verse is the introduction to a wealth of instruction about what it means to have our minds transformed. This instruction continues up to the first few verses of chapter 15. I will not quote what the apostle says, you can read it for yourself, I will just give a brief exposition of several main points.

Brotherly love
Paul exhorts us to love without dissimulation, that is with no hint of hypocrisy. Neither should we hold back our expression of love and appreciation for our brothers and sisters. We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of the brotherhood, let us be fervent in exercising those gifts, and in encouraging others to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.

Enemies
We should live peaceably with all men, not seeking vengeance when we are wronged, but rather doing good to those who have mistreated us.

Government
It should be a matter of conscience with us to be respectful and obedient to those in authority, except in those rare instances where they attempt to compel us to do something that is contrary to the faith. Governments are faced with conflicting demands from many powerful groups in our land. They cannot satisfy everyone, nor can they make the kind of sweeping changes that some Christians seem to expect. Politics is the art of compromise, it is really no place for a Christian. Yet we should pray for all those in government, at all levels, and appreciate it when our governments make small steps that protect our freedoms. Critical and derogatory remarks about the makes of our laws, and the enforcers of those laws, should never be heard from the mouth of a Christian.

Those who are weak in the faith
We should not criticize, much less ridicule, those who are weak in the faith. Rather, we should love them and be careful that our actions and attitudes are not a stumbling block for them.

None of these instructions are telling us that we should be people pleasers, afraid to say or do anything that would be a little different from the attitudes and actions of our peers. A transformed mind is a mind that is tuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed way of life. As we individually follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves walking side by side with fellow believers. Attempting to achieve this unity by our own attempts to conform to what we perceive to be the values and priorities of our peers leads only to disappointment, hurt feelings, jealousy and discouragement.

Here is how Paul concludes his instructions on being transformed by the renewing of our mind:

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

Perfidious Caesar, or is it perfidious Christians?

[I’m offering here some more tidbits from Dorothy Sayers for your reading enjoyment and discussion. Bear in mind that these words were written in England during the Second World War, around the time that I was born. I’m afraid that many Christians in North America still don’t understand what has gone wrong in the romance between them and Caesar. It is vain to search history for a time when the USA or Canada were truly Christian nations. There was merely a marriage of convenience, which Christians should always have recognized to be convenient only for Caesar, never for Christianity. Now that Christianity has been thoroughly compromised, Caesar has quite lost interest.]

“Up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin [lust], has had the active alliance of Caesar who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state. But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar no longer needs to rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously, by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance. Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church. This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man – particularly in Caesar. If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own – that is to say sacramental – grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.”

“Now, I do not suggest that the Church does wrong to pay attention to the regulation of bodily appetites and the proper observance of holidays. What I do suggest is that by overemphasizing this side of morality, to the comparative neglect of others, she has not only betrayed her mission but, incidentally, also defeated her own aims even about morality. She has, in fact, made an alliance with Caesar, and Caesar, having used her for his own purposes, has now withdrawn his support – for that is Caesar’s pleasant way of behaving. For the last three hundred years or so, Caesar has been concerned to maintain a public order based upon the rights of private property; consequently, he has had a vested interest in morality. Strict morals made for the stability of family life and the orderly devolution of property, and Caesar (namely, the opinion of highly placed and influential people) has been delighted that the Church should do the work of persuading the citizen to behave accordingly. Further, a drunken worker is a bad worker, and thriftless extravagance is bad for business; therefore Caesar has welcomed the encouragement of the Church for those qualities that make for self-help in industry. As for Sunday observance, the Church would have that if she liked, so long as it did not interfere with trade. To work all round the weekends in diminishing production, the one day in seven was necessary, and what the Church chose to do with it was no affair of Caesar’s.

“Unhappily, however, the alliance for mutual benefit between Church and Caesar has not lasted. The transfer of property from the private owner to the public trust and limited company enables Caesar to get on very well without personal morals and domestic stability; the conception that the consumer exists for the sake of production has made extravagance and thriftless consumption a commercial necessity. Consequently, Caesar no longer sees eye to eye with the Church about these matters and will as soon encourage a prodigal frivolity on Sunday as on any other day of the week. Why not? Business is business. The Church, shocked and horrified, is left feebly protesting against Caesar’s desertion, and denouncing a relaxation of moral codes, in which the heedless world is heartily aided and abetted by the state. The easy path of condemning what Caesar condemns or is not concerned to defend has turned out to be like the elusive garden path in Through the Looking-Glass, just when one seemed to be getting somewhere, it gave itself a little shake and one found oneself walking in the opposite direction.”

[Excerpted from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Kobo ebook edition.]

%d bloggers like this: