Tuesday, October 24, 2023

What God Wants From Politicians

 If I ask several random persons today, what is the purpose of a ruler, governor, or head of state, I would get similar answers. (I have asked some people). So far, the answers I have gotten list such purposes as to guide, to bring order and stability, to protect or to judge. Some say to just rule. Much of what reasonable people expect from a head of state is what God expects from a head of state also. I will go a step further to say that God has created and inspired the system of authority for a surprisingly similar reason.
Some people think the purpose of a head of state is simply to rule. However, my question is then, “to rule what?” Do men/women need to be ruled just for the sake of having someone to lord over us? There certainly needs to be a distinct purpose for governing someone. Answers that express the necessity of order, stability and the need to protect and judge are important distinctions. These responses are very telling because they represent the awareness that without a political leadership structure in place, there would be an expectation of disorder, instability, lack of protection and lack of judgment. 

If I close my eyes and imagine a society without a political structure, I would very quickly envision scenes of dominant disorder and all of the issues aforementioned. I am sure other unsavory issues would arise, but let’s suffice it to say most would be related at least to some degree, those mentioned above. Out of the issues mentioned here, I find the lack of protection an interesting one to probe. It is because a glaring thought that would come to the  mind of the reader would be, “who would need protection?”
It would seem that those who are powerful or wealthy would not lack much in enough resources to afford some healthy level of protection. I recall reading that a wealthy man named Job, who God referred to in the Bible as the most righteous man on the planet in his time, felt that way. Job piously acknowledged over 3,500 years ago, that he had more influence than others in court because of his wealth(Job 31:21). Today, it is no different.
 In a society lacking order; a free for all, every man for himself type of realm, it would undoubtedly be most disadvantageous for those that are weak and vulnerable. Those that are no longer able to defend or fend for themselves, or simply have the least amount of resources to protect their personhood and those things that pertain to their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, would be most at risk, I think I can safely presume. In other words, there would be the injustice.   Usually, injustice is exacted on people based on various types of classism, racism, sexism, or anyone else that would, for one reason or another, fall into a weaker or more vulnerable status in society.

Justice is the mark of an orderly society. Any society that lacks justice is in disorder. A society can be organized, yet have an organized system of injustice. The movie, The Book Of Eli, featured a realm that lacked the governing structures we experience today, yet had an organized system of injustice that preyed on the weak. Consider the United States government who maintained an organized system of injustice through slavery during the colonial era and afterward, when establishing the formal system of government. There was the disorder. According to the scholar, Dr. Herbert Aptheker, in American Negro Slave Revolts(1943), there were a documented 250 violent slave revolts on US soil, which cost many lives. This does not include the more than 500 cases of rebellion that happened on the slave ships resulting in millions of African lives lost, although many managed to escape during the rebellions.  So, I must maintain that a society can have a ruler or rulers, yet have the disorder. The mark of the disorder is the injustice. The country of Yemen has been in a state of civil war brought on by years of organized disorder. The Yemeni Times called its country a Kleptocracy, which is essentially a government of thievery, set up as a corrupt institution to steal from the masses. This system has been supported and exploited by Saudi Arabia’s patronage mill to financially prop up an elite class of tribal leaders at the expense of the masses, to maintain its dominance of Yemen’s political affairs. This disorder kept approximately half of the population under the poverty line and maintained extremely high levels of unemployment. These conditions, along with the former President attempting to change the constitution to make him President for life sparked the 2011 Spring uprising. That revolution rages on.

So, it becomes apparent that there can be rulers and heads of state, and at the same time, be the disorder. Then, we must ask ourselves, “what is the purpose of government?” Is the purpose of government to simply rule, or is there a greater purpose for a government?

According to the Bible, the purpose of government is to establish and promote justice. The Apostle Paul wrote in the biblical book of Romans 13:1-5 and Colossians 1:16, that, first of all, God created and inspired the creation of political systems. 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., echoed this same philosophy. He once stated in the Letter From Birmingham Jail, "law and order exists for the purpose of establishing justice...and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress."

Additionally, we are taught by the Apostle Paul in the 3rd and 4th verses of  Romans 13 that the purpose of political structures is to protect society from corruption. Paul instructs us that it is in God’s design for humankind to submit to authority structures for the purpose of protection, and to establish justice. Jesus also, in his scathing rebuke to the political and religious leaders of his day, tore into them because of their neglect in securing justice through their political system. In the entire 23rd chapter of St. Matthew, Jesus unleashed his fierce anger in a litany of rebukes that focused on how the leaders treated the common people. 

Jesus knew that the purpose for political structures that God had inspired was not being adhered to. He was not concerned at all with how the leaders treated the wealthy merchants, nor did he make any mention of how they regulated people’s personal behaviors. Jesus was not concerned about those issues when he rebuked the political leaders of his day. Let’s dissect Jesus’ words to the Scribes and Pharisees, the political leaders.

Jesus started off this particular rebuke by telling his followers that the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat. What did that statement mean? What was Moses’ seat?
Moses presided over a theocracy. When God personally set up that form of theocratic government and set up Moses as the leader, he also delivered to Moses the constitution for that government. The Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy was the constitution for the government of Israel complete with it's everyday laws and set Moses up as the head of state and central arbiter of justice. 

All laws governing this new society, its economy, its foreign policy, and every aspect of trade and interpersonal dealings were contained in these books, with Moses at the helm. The priests under the leadership of the high priest, Aaron, were to preside over the religious order of worship, as Moses appointed tribal leaders to administer justice under his leadership. Moses presided over the constitution as head of state and executive leader, was the supreme court, and the top religious leader that presided over Aaron, the high priest.

So, when Jesus told his followers that the current leaders sat in Moses’ seat, he was warning his followers that the scribes and Pharisees were the heads of state and had all political, judicial, and religious power over them. The scribes and Pharisees, although under the Roman empire and a Roman-appointed king, ruled the nation of Israel autonomously through a high Priest and a supreme court of 70 Jewish leaders called the Sanhedrin Council. Therefore, the people had to listen to them. Jesus gave the people this warning as a pre-text to his condemnation of them as leaders. He warned the people not to follow after their corrupt ways, although they were subject to their political order.
Mount Horeb, Sinai, Egypt
Although Jesus lamented over many of their dealings including their abuse of authority and treatment of vulnerable classes of society, namely the widows who had the least of resources; Jesus prominently mentioned the problem of justice. In the 23rd verse, Jesus complained that the political leaders were misguided in thinking that paying their tithes and other forms of outward devotion were most important while matters of justice, mercy, and loyalty(faith) were not their concern. He admonished continued adherence to tithing without neglecting the more important issues of justice.
Throughout the scriptures, there is a common thread of discontent on the part of God with leaders over the matter of implementing and maintaining a system of justice on behalf of the vulnerable classes.                                                                                                 
You see, God seems to be continually concerned with justice on behalf of vulnerable members of society. Written in the constitution of Israel, as delivered by God to Moses on Mount Horeb, are the words in Deuteronomy 27:19:

“Cursed is anyone that withhold justice from the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
These three classes of people were the most vulnerable at that time because they didn’t have the rights of everyone else. Foreigners, in most cases, had no property rights; orphans and widows mainly had no one responsible for providing for them, and often no stable sources of income. There were laws in the constitution that accounted for their protection and well-being but were often flouted on behalf of wealthy merchants and landowners. Throughout Israel’s history, depending on who was in leadership, God spoke through the prophets addressing these issues and expressed his wrath upon his political leaders. God, through the young prophet Jeremiah, spoke these words to the King Jehoiakim:

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.
Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right, and just, so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord                                                                                   
 But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”-Jeremiah 22:13-17(NIV)

The concerns God expressed through his prophet in this passage are clear. God detested injustice and exploitation. He reminded King Jehoiakim that his father, King Josiah had a blessed administration because of his justice towards the poor and vulnerable in the country. The Prophet Jeremiah also made a profound statement. He mentioned that to know God is to establish justice on behalf of the poor. He said to defend their cause. Wow!  This is interesting because today we hear voices of Christians talking about protecting systems in place that are widely used to exploit the poor rather than to defend them. The majority of Christian political voices on evangelical television pulpits and Christian radio are more concerned with criticizing and harshly rebuking low-wage workers lobbying for more pay and rights while God can be seen here in this passage complaining on behalf of workers’ rights.
Christian political leaders can be heard carrying on about outward acts of morality that Jesus labeled as “cleaning the outside of the cup,” while neglecting issues of justice for the vulnerable classes. I have yet to hear political voices of conservative Christian values echo the economic or justice concerns expressed by the prophet Jeremiah, by Jesus, or the theocratic constitution laid out by Moses.

Christian Pastors, when teaching their congregations, or proselytizing for new converts have a divine obligation to promote moral behavior among their adherents as it relates to the royal law represented by the two great commandments Jesus talked about in the 22nd chapter of St. Matthew.
However, those who have a mission and calling to preach or prophesy to political leaders must realize that God has a different message to political leaders. Their personal walk is between them, God, and their Pastor or spiritual advisor. However, as far as their public office is concerned, God is more concerned about their public policy, mainly toward the unprotected. God referred to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, as his servant, and Cyrus The Great, the Persian Emperor, as his shepherd. Neither king personally served the God of the universe, nor the religion of Israel, although the King of Babylon later acknowledged the one true God. God was more concerned about their policy toward their constituency, which in that season, included Israel. Justice is God’s priority when it comes to politicians. In the quest to dispense justice, we must acknowledge that the powerful and the wealthy have no problem obtaining justice. Power and wealth are a defense, as King Solomon declared in the book of Ecclesiastes, seventh chapter.

Solomon, who was Israel’s wisest King, had much to say about justice and proper governing. When he began his administration, he asked God for wisdom in how to rule. According to scripture, God made him rich in wisdom above all that were upon the earth, and more than any king that came after him. Solomon presided over a very prosperous economy, brought Israel to its height as the dominant economic power of the day, and established a huge trade empire. He also was the richest King regarding personal wealth. It is important to note that he did not gain wealth by ill-gotten gains.

“ By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.”
This is a profound statement because he is teaching us that justice is what gives a country stability and order. This would obviously mean that a lack of justice is the cause of instability and disorder. Solomon also warned in this same passage that the purchase of justice with wealth is what tears a country down. That is what a bribe is. To avoid being a cursed leader, we would do well to take heed to this statement and take steps to initiate justice on behalf of any segment of society that are vulnerable to injustice, and more importantly, to eliminate the ability for the powerful and wealthy to purchase “justice’ for themselves. This is poison, brings disorder and instability, and is what tears down a society. According to this Bible passage, the ability to purchase justice is a poison that tears at the fabric of society, which is injustice.

Injustice is a sign of disorder. The disorder is an indication of the desperate need for reform or revolution, depending on the severity of the disorder.
  We must remember that God is most concerned about justice from his political leaders. The whole purpose of government as stated in the several passages of scripture mentioned, including in I Kings 10: 9, is to implement justice. The purpose of power is to establish and promote justice. We must change our criteria for political leadership. When promoting leaders, we must evaluate them in their ability to promote justice and their history in promoting justice. It is time to agree with God on the issues of proper conduct toward governing.

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