The columns will be submitted by a dear friend of mine that many in the Northern Monmouth County area know well, former publisher of the Courier, turned Baptist minister, Mr. Jim Purcell.
His first colum is titled: The Christian message is a political one that is both complex and straightforward.
There is politics within the message of Jesus Christ, and it is the stuff of powerful controversy. Born a poor Jew within Roman-occupied Palestine, God made a choice to introduce Himself physically into the history of mankind in a purposeful, guided way.
He did not decide to arrive as an earthly king, or a noble of Rome or even as a clergyman locked away from other people. Christ arrived where He was needed most – to people who were desperately in need of salvation and, above all, redemption.
During the 1st century AD, Palestine was expecting a savior, but not exactly the kind that appeared. Many occupation-weary Jews hoped the savior would come from the model of the Maccabees, the militaristic Jewish family that led a rebel army and vanquished the Seleucid Army during the 2nd century BCE. Upon victory, the Maccabees went on to found the Hasmonean dynasty, which was in power from 164 to 63 BCE. So, the experience many Jews had with salvation was not of the kind that Jesus brought. Prior to Him, salvation was seen in militaristic, even nationalistic ways.
Then came Jesus, and His message of peace, tolerance, good will and the work of God. He did not ever say He was here to found a new religion. Commonly, Jesus instructed upon reforming the Jewish Law, and informing perspectives about the will of God.
He had politics and they were amazingly simple, and hard, all at once: Love God, care for the widows and the orphans, heal the sick, feed the hungry, look after the poor, welcome the stranger, care for your neighbor as you would yourself, and liberate one’s self and others not with violence and war but with peace, love and determination.
The God that Jesus spoke of did not believe in creating earthly empires, nor of watching people oppressed and left to cruel fate or, worse yet, being exploited by others. Jesus informed us that each of us has a personal relationship with our Creator, and that He is our link – our bridge – to God the Father.
Where’s the controversy in this? Simple enough: No one was ever killed, harmed or even berated for preaching war. War is the easiest thing to preach, because the orator can wrap him or herself within a flag and play a catchy tune and the crowds do tend to love that show. Yet, to speak of God and His intent in a way that runs counter to the music and the great speeches by allegedly honorable men and women is seen as a so-called “perversion of religion” because God doesn’t have a team, a flag, a nation or even a favorite football jersey.
Peace is a political problem. War is an activity that people seem intent to engage in, and try to rationalize it and discover the God in it. But there is no part of God in it.
Just as controversial are ideas about giving voice to those who are marginalized, even oppressed by the politics of hate and derision.
If there is a Devil, it does not seek the physical, psychological, spiritual or social health of humans or their communities. It would revel in dissent, epidemic, social stratification, exploitation of peoples and the demonization of groups for the sake of division alone. And, this is the state of politics today.
The common ground that is needed in government and politics is not the agenda or platforms of parties, but rather the agenda of God as made apparent in the Word. And, that agenda is caring for the health, welfare and physical/spiritual development of not a few people, or some people, but just people. It involves tolerance and, dare I say, something better than is being commonly offered by or to each of us.
God is neither Republican nor Democrat and favors nor advocates for either party, and for good reason. But, as community leaders and allegedly people of conscience, it should be the business of people to adjust their agenda to faith and not use faith to market what is not about faith –greed and evil.
If God is to bless America, it will not be because that saying is emblazoned upon a bumper sticker in red, white and blue, but because it is America that observes its alleged relationship with God. That begins not at political rallies but with long looks in the mirror.
(Jim Purcell is a former journalist who is a licensed Baptist minister. His book, “Faith Outside the City,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com for $14.95. He also operates a website focused on Christian faith at: www.FaithOutsidetheCity.blogspot.com.)