Good Shepherd Community of Faith
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Politics Without Principals
7 Deadly Social Sins: Politics Without Principles
1 Samuel 8; Matthew 23:1-12
I originally delivered this message on Transfiguration Sunday. Usually we would read Luke 9, which describes Jesus’ ascent to the mountain and his transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. At this time, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a new light; he literally glowed, and God spoke, declaring Jesus as God’s “Chosen” one. Just as these three disciples saw Jesus in a new light, we, too, can see him anew. As our prayer of invocation reads, “We may be refreshed in faith as we see you with different eyes and know your presence.”
Seeing Jesus with different eyes is not only a result of the transfiguration but also a result of looking more closely at the words and actions of Jesus. One thing that has been made clear in my studies at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School is that Jesus was a revolutionary. Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, known more simply as CRCDS, is a justice-oriented school. So, it stands to reason that classes would be geared to looking at justice and righteousness issues. Some of my classes, for instance, have been on racial justice, gender issues, and, most recently, globalization of the market economy and its effects on society. Anyway, much of what Jesus said and did was counter to the ruling class and was quite political in nature.
Just as a teaser, I will give you an example—the Lord’s Prayer. I say a teaser because at some point in the future, I am going to write a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. In the meantime, keep in mind that the use of “debts” and “debtors” has a very specific meaning that deals with the injustice that was part of the milieu in which Jesus lived and ministered. In fact, one of my professors calls the replacement of “debts” with “trespasses” heretical.
Now that I have laid that groundwork, let’s look at the scripture readings I have selected for today and the first in a series of seven sermons. You see, Mahatma Gandhi identified 7 deadly social sins. Some of you will remember that I preached once on the 7 deadly sins of greed, sloth, wrath, gluttony, envy, pride, and lust. In a way, all of these sins play into Gandhi’s 7 deadly social sins, which are: politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. Today, let’s look at politics without principle.
First, we have the warning offered by God through Samuel. The people of Israel had decided they wanted a king. Samuel had made his sons judges over Israel, but the elders were concerned that the sons did not follow in Samuel’s ways. Also, they saw that other nations had a king to govern over them, so they wanted Israel to have a king also.
When Samuel approached God with this request, God gave his warning. He said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves.”
In other words, this king would bring with him politics without principle. He would care about maintaining his standard of living but would care little for the average person. And God’s warning came to pass. In Jesus’ day, not only the kings but also the Pharisees and the religious scholars practiced politics without principle. In Matthew 23, we find Jesus making pronouncements against the Pharisees, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He said, “They talk a good line, but they don’t live [God’s Law]. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer… They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery…”
Thus, too, those who are involved in the politics of today—whether they be kings or presidents or governors or senators or church leaders—conduct much of their politics without principles, without a standard of moral or ethical decision-making. In fact, regardless of the rhetoric about “family values” and “morals”, morals and ethics seem to be left out of the decision-making process. Gandhi saw this in the first half of the 20th century, and we can see the same in the first half of the 21st century.
If we were to read further in The Message’s version of Matthew 23, we would find “If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious… If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious.” I don’t think God appreciates being invoked for the political arena—whether it be government or church—when there are no principles behind the political action.
For instance, while the war in Iraq rages on and while the political campaign is estimated to cost each candidate over $500 million, half the world (nearly 3 billion people) live on less than $2.00 a day. The Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 48 nations is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000, and yet it didn’t happen.
Fifty-one percent of the world’s one hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations. The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation. The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money. Twenty percent of the population in the developed nations consumes 86% of the world’s goods. The lives of 1.7 million children will be needlessly lost this year because world governments have failed to reduce poverty levels. A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.
Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific. According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty (in other words, 210,000 each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age each year). Water problems affect half of humanity. Now listen to this: In 1998, the world spent $6 billion for basic education for all, $9 billion for water and sanitation, $12 billion for reproductive health, and $13 billion for basic health and nutrition. By comparison, the U.S. spent $8 billion for cosmetics, Europe spent $11 billion on ice cream, and the U.S. and Europe spent $12 billion on perfume and $17 billion on pet food. Japan spent $35 billion on business entertainment. Europe spent $50 billion on cigarettes and $105 billion on alcoholic drinks. The world spent $400 billion on narcotics, and finally, and this is a big one, the world spent $780 billion on military spending.
Remember, these are 1998 figures—prior to the war in Iraq: $780 billion on military spending as compared to $13 billion on basic health and nutrition! Politics without principles! You can do the math, but I’ll tell you that’s 60 times more on the military than on health and nutrition. Now, in 2007, it’s probably more like 100 times more! The war in Iraq, in fact, is costing $6 billion per month, while in one year only $1,872 million was spent on health and nutrition, $628 million for disease prevention and control. Another comparison figure to consider is that while only $1,872 million was spent on health and nutrition, pharmaceutical companies spent (in 2005) $7.2 billion promoting drugs to doctors and $4.2 billion on consumer advertising. Where is the equity in all that? Where are the principles in the politics?
These statistics do not fit God’s plan for the earth and its inhabitants. God’s prophets spoke out against injustice and condemned “those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp… who drink wine from bowls… but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (Am 6:4-6, NSRV). As Richard Lowery says in his book Sabbath and Jubilee, “When the kings and leaders of Israel failed to support the poor and vulnerable, they dishonored themselves and shamed Yahweh. Social justice was a matter of divine honor. Social injustice was blasphemy.”
And I say, “When the kings and leaders of the world today fail to support the poor and vulnerable, they dishonor themselves and shame Yahweh. Social justice is a matter of divine honor. Social injustice is blasphemy.” Like the prophets of old, we must let our voices be heard. We must take a stand against the wrongs perpetrated against us and our fellow citizens. We must stand up against politics without principles. Amen.