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Paul the Republican, John the Democrat

September 6, 2011

This Sunday, I noted my last day this year to wear my favorite white/seersucker picnic skirt,* I carried my surprisingly-bright-eyed baby to church (she was a trooper yesterday), where the readings were surprisingly political.**

Romans 13:8-10

The only thing you should owe to anyone is love for one another, for to love the other person is to fulfill the law. All these: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and all the other commandments that there are, are summed up in this single phrase: You must love your neighbor as yourself.*** Love can cause no harm to your neighbor, and so love is the fulfillment of the Law.

There are at least two ways to read this. A conservative would say that this does not tell us to rescue our neighbors or support them financially, only to feel compassion for them. What an easy way out. Before Paul wrote his letters, John calls the faithful out on taking the easy road:

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18)

This passage is immediately after Christianity’s most important and most quoted verse. If proximity is any indication, John’s message was for us to take this seriously.

It is not enough to empathize. Compassion is active and faith requires action.

I wanted to keep this post separate from today’s previous entry – mostly because Uncle Ron is a fiscal conservative and not a religious conservative – but they do coincide. The tension between secular cowboys and socialists also exists within the religious community. In this case, John’s readers are far more outnumbered than Democrats at a Huskers tailgate.

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*Liberals follow old Southern fashion laws too, especially sorority girls who went to school in what their husband’s fraternity brothers frequently note was south of the Mason-Dixie line.

**Maybe not that surprisingly, last week the homily was about Gospels of Prosperity and the rise of wealthy megachurches. In short: God “wants” you to use the talents he gave you to their fullest potential, not to serve yourself but others. Also, everything is political.

***Actually, the Gospels quote Jesus as saying that the most important law was the second verse of the Shema, to “love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27).

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Other Gospels also refer to Jesus’ teachings on taxes: “…Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25). This passage was used to support separation of church and state, but the intention is not just about taxes and the duties of citizens. The moral is to separate the worldly from the divine, in other words, don’t get hung up on whether or not people like you, how cool your stuff is, or how much you dislike someone else. This is the source of a major difference between Christianity and Judaism and Islam. Christianity is the only major religion gives any indication that one can keep his faith distinct from other aspects of his life (Julie Clawson wrote a wonderful article on this last week). The very idea would offend a pious Jew or Muslim, and it should offend a Christian, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat.

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