Jim, if in your opinion the Bible is neither liberal nor conservative, if God truly is non-partisan, if He isn’t in sympathy with Democratic more than with Republican policies, would you tell me the last major Republican candidates you voted for?
Before proceeding, we should also get clear on the nature of the tragedy narrated in 1 Kings 12. It indeed had to do with the tax burden that King Rehoboam sought to place on the people, as all the classical Jewish commentators agree.
A delegation of citizens came to Rehoboam to ask that he lighten the “hard service and [the] heavy yoke” placed upon them by his father, Solomon. Rehoboam refused and even increased the burden. But the text indicates earlier that Solomon did not enslave the people of Israel (1 Kings 9:22). Thus the “yoke” was one of taxation not, as the translation you consulted mistakenly indicates, forced labor.
The rebellion of the northern kingdom against the southern was signaled when “King Rehoboam dispatched Adoram, who was in charge of the tax, and all of Israel pelted him with stones, and he died” (12:18). The Hebrew word used here, mas, means “tax.”
As you know from reading the first-century historian Josephus, in Jesus’ time too, the Jews included a strong anti-tax party. Led at first by a rabbi called Judas, the tax-reformers ultimately sparked the great revolt against Rome in 66 CE.
The socialist-activist role for government that you prescribe would be impossible without imposing just the sort of hard service and heavy yoke that the Bible warns against.
Yet I agree with you, of course, that we can’t directly and simple-mindedly map policy issues from two or three millennia ago onto a 2008 American political landscape. Instead, a Scriptural worldview seeks to provide what you rightly call “priorities.” Or one might call them “prejudices” – not in the negative sense of harsh feelings about people different from ourselves, but meaning, instead, correct and timeless instincts we can bring to bear in evaluating modern problems.
One prejudice would be, as you say, in favor of dealing with problems “at the lowest possible level.” Yet the liberal instinct is always to push things to the highest possible level. It’s like a panic response: “Neither families nor communities can muster the resources to respond to a given social need! Quick, call in the Feds!” The priority is on voting Democratic and paying my taxes. The Bible would urge a healthy skepticism of an ideology that lets me, as an individual, off the hook so easily.
Let’s move on to your characterization of the political style you favor as “traditional or conservative on issues of family, sexual integrity and personal responsibility.” I hope readers already see that, in an America governed by liberal “prophetic” politics, “personal responsibility” would in fact be deemphasized.
It kind of says it all that, as Syracuse University’s Professor Arthur C. Brooks pointed out in his recent book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, conservative households give on average 30 percent more in charity than do liberal households. A worldview, whether Biblical or secular, implies an ethical orientation that can be measured statistically.
“Traditional or conservative”? As expressed in your book God’s Politics, your hoped-for Left-Right fusionism tends to dissolve into a large-scale conceding of ground to the Left.
On abortion, your idea of being “anti-abortion,” as you put it, would oppose “criminalizing an agonizing and desperate choice” – the standard position of pro-choice, a/k/a pro-abortion, advocates.
Your notion of “family values” means decrying “large corporations that push down wages, cut health benefits, lay off workers, and export good jobs overseas; they are the biggest violators of ‘family values’ and the principal force destabilizing family life in America.” However, on same-sex marriage, conventionally thought of as a family-values issue, you would grant civil unions — gay marriage under a different name. For the churches or the country to “stop fighting” over sex, as you advocate, would mean institutionalizing the gains the Left has already made in normalizing behaviors once considered corrosive of society’s moral health.
Which is exactly what the Bible would have us fight against. That would be the true “priority” of the Hebrew prophets — the classic suite of pre-9/11 culture war issues that have gotten lost even among many conservatives.
The theme, again and again, comes back to moral responsibility. The Bible is manifestly comfortable with a nation taking the responsibility to go to war, even without U.N. approval; with a nation taking the equally awesome responsibility of executing a person convicted of a capital offense; with a nation asking a would-be immigrant to take responsibility for assimilating the country’s moral values.
Gay marriage confronts us with the question of whether homosexuals are morally responsible for their actions, given an un-chosen sexual inclination, or whether they can’t help doing what they do and thus deserve to have their relationships formally approved by the government, even against the will of the people, which is what’s happened in California.
Abortion is fundamentally an issue of whether of a woman must take responsibility for the life growing in her womb. It’s a most helpful litmus test, allowing us to gauge whether a candidate really feels God should have a say in the ordering of our laws.
And so on and on. Please choose among these issues and we can discuss the precise Scriptural basis for any or all. Jim, you’ve done such an amazing service in helping to legitimize the idea that’s the most basic premise of my book, that spiritual values deserve a role in shaping political values. If only you would step back and look at the Bible holistically, discerning the obvious pattern in the carpet!