Prophets and Politics

If you live in the United States it is hard to avoid the vitriolic moral wars that characterize this year’s U.S. Presidential race.

The police shootings of black men and the shooting of police has fueled an added moral fear and hand-wringing that has intensified how candidates frame the candidacy’s moral vision.

Politicians often play on people’s fears and commandeer them into distorted beliefs and misjudgments that then suggest the candidate has the moral solutions. This can be with direct moral claims or more subtle as political parties propose moral, legal and social fixes they promise to bring moral solutions and order to the chaos.

The result is that discussions and dialogue often suffer asreasonableness gets marginalized by moral positioning, impulsivity and reactionary rhetoric.

We should have and cultivate moral impulses but when these substitute for a comprehesive moral judgment, it is easy for us to silence those who oppose us.

Groups start only hearing their own moral rhetoric and start aggregating their moral fears into a self-righteousness that is blind to the moral wisdom of opponents and the wrong hiding behind their own rightness.

As Adventist leader Randy Roberts noted: “We do most of our sinning when we’re right!”

To avoid moral impulsivity some run to an equally dangerous approach of moral relativism or apathy. That is also in abundance in the U.S.

Both impulsivity and apathy/relativism by-pass the necessary labor of moral deliberation and judgment, where the moral views of others temper our moral impulses into more accurate analysis and better long-term solutions.

Adventists have several religious teachings and social experiences that help avoid moral impulsivity and apathy and invite us to moral judgment. Our Adventist community has:

  • a deep understanding and respect for the moral government of God revealed in the Great Controversy teaching. This teaching saves us from two extremes: antinomianism that has no respect for natural law and moral order and God’s authority. It also makes us respectful of freedom that leads us to resist authoritarian acts that put human laws above God’s. This teaching fosters a genuine respect for the religious freedom God has made essential for true obedience. Law and freedom are married well in the character of God that gives rise to the moral government of God.  This teaching provides the necessary checks to relativism and to impulsivity.
  • a prophetic impulse for continual reform is also central to SDA teaching. The prophetic spirit is a progressive spirit of continual reform, often toward more egalitarian actions that serve the poor and needy, but also toward more alignment with the character of God and his government.
  • a settled and resting belief we are in the Hour of His judgment and that his work of judgment should inform our own judgments: individually and corporately.

I have written in these at different points in this blog.

Lately, I have been more tempted than usually to jump into the fray of presidential politics and challenge the many one-sided moral claims I hear and even reflect on which canidate is a better moral leader (my area of research).

When tempted, I try to merely retreat back to what I believe…about the Great Controversy, our progressive prophetic role, and the deep belief in the sober and redemptive work of judgment.

Daniel’s ability to handle political leaders by staying close to these three ideas has been encouragin.

Daniel’s faithful companionship with God helped him to honor leaders and avoid judgmentalism even as he had to “speak truth to power” many times.

In Daniel 1, he does the truth sharing as a social and nutritional test, subtle and inviting. In Daniel 2 he is asked to share more directly. In Daniel 5, his judgment is also invited but reaches a more direct level of condemnation as the debauched Belshazzar needed to hear a sober truth and God’s final judgment on his leadership.

Daniel’s cool headed approach in dealing with varied leaders from two regimes is a good lesson for us.

I believe Daniel’s council to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:27 stands as the best general advice we can give to most political leaders and parties.

“Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

All political leaders and parties face moral blindspots we all must face: avoiding lavish living, sexual sin, debauchery and laziness–the sin of licentiousness, or the sin of too much and not the right lifestyle but at the same time the sin of rightness that marginalizes the poor.

The prophetic people have to foster Daniel’s cool headed approach and his willingness to speak up to power. His steady service to many varied leaders and two regimes remind us how to speak to kings.

Ben Carson, our Adventist brother, tried to speak moral words at the 2016 Republican Convention and I applaud him as he reached a level of influence to be able to do that. What I found lacking is how he quickly abandoned the two-sided moral wisdom Daniel was ready to remind what makes a great leader or a great nation : a  “clean” lifestyle with propriety and purity and a gracious eye to the poor and disenfranchised.

I fear that political parties in the U.S. often get fixated on only one side of two prong moral vision of great leadership and great nations. I hope Adventist don’t.

We need to keep being salt and light during this difficult time.

The very elect often are most susceptible to deception when a promise of increased morality is made. The temptation to moral rightness that stalls the engine of moral growth is one that neglects the long-view of God’s moral government: sobriety and sensitivity to the marginalized still exalts a leader and a nation.


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