Originally posted December 17, 2010, at The Lutheran Zephyr. Republished with permission of the author.
“Jesus is a liberal Democrat.”
So says Steven Colbert, the wise-cracking comedian who gives a regular dose of God to a generation that is largely absent from the pews, mostly by revealing the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives.
In last evening’s show, he took aim at his favorite target, Bill O’Reilly.
Of course, Bill O’Reilly is low-hanging fruit. Picking apart O’Reilly’s theology is about as easy as getting a cold by walking through a child-care center in January.
The two lines that Colbert highlights from O’Reilly’s piece — about Jesus not advocating any kind of service to the poor that is self-destructive, and the “God helps those who help themselves” quote — could be identified as theologically fraudulent by any Christian who has even a basic grasp of their catechism and Bible.
So I’m not sure that Colbert’s rant here is very significant, except perhaps for the rather public smackdown of Bill O’Reilly’s odd theology that it represents.
But there is something else that bothers me.
Yes, Colbert rightly highlights that many of those who would claim this country to be Christian seem to give little credence to the social dimensions and demands of the gospel.
But those who champion Colbert as some sort of political genius and social prophet for our times seem to miss a very important dynamic in this whole equation: what can the government realistically do, and what should it do?
Just because Jesus fed the 5,000 and told his followers to give their cloak and go the extra mile, should we expect such actions always to be taken by our government?
I’m not sure that the words of scripture necessarily relate in a one-to-one correlation to the mission and tasks of government … do they?
Jesus is not a liberal Democrat. But neither is he a conservative Republican. Any attempts to squeeze him into one of our 21st-century political boxes is pure idolatry.
I’m a pastor, and in my line of work the words of scripture do apply in much more of a one-to-one correlation than they do in government.
Yet in my congregation, how often do we send the poor away — to the government — to find assistance, because we don’t think we have the means to help?
We who are committed to the words of scripture and the way of Christ often feel that we cannot do what our Lord commands us to do, because of limited resources or priorities that might place paying the electric bill or the pastor’s salary, or buying the youth group’s foosball table, above feeding the hungry or giving money to the poor.
So if our churches, with crosses on our steeples and gospel words on our lips, cannot do what they are commanded to do in relationship to the poor, why do we expect any more from the government?
Not everything that is good and holy and just can be accomplished by the government, just as the church cannot do everything that it is called to do by God.
So while it is fun to point out the speck of holy hypocrisy in our neighbor’s eye, have we figured out what to do with the log that is in ours? When we’re done scratching at — or scratching out — our eyes, perhaps then we can figure out, however imperfectly, how to work together to do to the things our Lord calls us to do.
And yes, as if you couldn’t tell from this post, I’m still trying to figure out a satisfying political philosophy.
Find a link to Chris Duckworth’s blog The Lutheran Zephyr at Lutheran Blogs.