On the political left and right in the U.S., there is a decent amount of ‘colored’ biblical interpretation going on. In a recent article by Cynthia Boaz, she ponders what domestic and foreign policy of the United States might look like if the nation applied Jesus’ teaching to such issues. Perhaps the most provocative statement comes near the end:
So if we concede that the United States is a “Christian nation,” it follows that its citizens, as practitioners of the teachings of Jesus, should be: anti-war, anti-gun, anti-death penalty, pro-universal health care, pro-taxes and pro-(democratic) socialism, while also being – to the rest of the world – forgiving, meek, humble, generous and loving of everyone, even perceived enemies.
Obviously Boaz is opposed to the religious right but concedes a point to apply biblical teaching to politics only* for the sake of argument in the article. I want to suggest that both sides need to reconsider how biblical teaching ought to be applied to politics. Ultimately, this is a question of hermeneutics (i.e., the method of biblical interpretation).
Context is Still King
There are major problems when attempting to apply New Testament teaching to government behavior, not least of which includes the original context in which the NT was written. Jesus Christ and early Christians were living under Roman rule. The NT encourages believers to endure abuse with a view to advancing the Gospel (1 Pet. 2:12-25). In Acts, the apostles stand (on trial!) before kings and governors (as promised by Jesus) to give witness to the Gospel (cf. Luke 21:12-13). Boaz rightly points out that the earliest Christians were sharing their resources with one another (Acts 2:44-45). It’s important to note, however, that this distribution is handled by believers, not a state institution. Further, hostility against these Christians would soon grow, thus the need for such sharing. But similar proof-texting is made on the right. At its worst it comes in the form of applying OT verses regarding nationalistic issues in Israel to the American context. Granted, this is easy to do in a country where patriotism is encouraged, but might we ask of the biblical text, “To whom was this written and why?”
Is America a Christian Nation?
Perhaps. The nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, no doubt. Further, history shows the dominance of Christianity among the nation’s citizens. But many religious patriots act as if God wears red, white, and blue. Of course He does not. The New Testament reveals that God is concerned about the advancement of the Gospel and the edification of believers far and above nationalistic issues. Let’s be careful (no matter our political views) to take off our colored reading glasses as we interpret the Scriptures.
Note: For my view on how the NT DOES apply to civic issues, see here.
*Addition for the sake of clarity inserted 8am CST 8-22-09. See comments below.