When Civil Servants Aren’t
In the western world, Wikipedia suggest that the term “Civil Service” goes back to 1829 and the expansion of the British Empire — namely that the British government needed people with administrative and managerial skills to manage the resources, the production, and the commerce that took place in their various colonies. The basic principle behind such management, of course, is much older and we see ample examples of this through history. One very early example of this is the work of Joseph while he was serving in Pharaoh’s court.
The word “Civil” goes back to the Latin word, civilis, which refers to a citizen in a given region or city. In turn, behavior that was considered “civil” was understood to reflect that kind of behavior that promoted good will amongst those people who happened to be living in said community. The notion that those who govern are servants, of course, is also a Biblical one, finding its roots in Romans 13:4. When you put these ideas together, you get the notion that a civil servant is someone, ordained by God, whose role is to serve or otherwise benefit the people of a given region or city, promoting the well-being of all who live in said place. They were to be both civil in their behavior and to have the mindset of a servant, seeking the good of the whole, not their own personal agendas.
While the impetus for this essay was originally the shameful behavior of Representative Brian Sims, namely in his bullying of pro-life protesters in his district, the problem is more widespread than that. Sims, himself, is a predator who accosts women and youth, mocking and harassing them in the hopes of driving them off — seeking to use intimidation to rob them of their Constitutional right to peaceful protest. He is an embarrassment to the legislature of our Commonwealth and has made himself a laughing-stock to pundits nationwide. The only thing that surprises me is that he has not been slapped with a harassment lawsuit, but perhaps he already has.
I expect that it is safe to say that most of us expect better from those in political office. The problem is that while there are numerous men and women who do seek to govern with civility and integrity, it is the noisy, ignorant minority, modeled by Representative Sims, that stand out and give a bad name to all. Rhetoric and false information seems to drive much of our modern political process rather than reasoned dialogue and debate (no dear friends, mud-slinging and sophistry is not legitimate debate; legitimate debate is the reasoned exchange of ideas in the hopes of reaching a conclusion that is logically and morally best!). Again, Representative Sims is not representative of the many civil servants that I have had the privilege of knowing over the years, though sadly he is drawing attention away from that which is good given his antics.
So, where am I going with this? First of all, shame on all of our elected officials whose work revolves around their personal agendas. A leader puts their personal preferences to the side for what is best for the whole community. A leader seeks what is true and faithful to those standards that are established for the good of the community. In other words, if you are a Federal official, the Constitution of the United States is your measure and standard. For Representative Sims and others who lead the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is the Pennsylvania Constitution. For local officials, it is the local ordinances. For leaders in church, it is the Bible and the Constitution of the Church or Denomination.
Second of all, Civil Servants should be just that. What does that mean? In Biblical language, that means they have a lot of repenting to do. In more pragmatic, political language, we, the citizens, need to take our elections seriously and vote these self-centered, hate-mongers out of office. Folks like Sims are doing little more than wasting tax-payer money and undermining, rather than promoting, the good of the Commonwealth.
And, so what is the end in all of this? Friends, get involved in the political process. Vote and actively support candidates that not only support Christian values but also who understand the role of a “Civil Servant.” And, as you do so, make sure that you behave with civility. Back when Mitt Romney and Barak Obama were debating, each running for president, my son, then about 11 years old, took an interest in politics for the first time. So, we allowed him to stay up past his bedtime to watch the debates and then to discuss them. Even at 11 years old, he kept saying to me, “Dad, he didn’t answer the question he was asked.” Yes, and it was true of both candidates. If an eleven-year-old can notice sophistry like that, why do we tolerate it? How good it would be if political debates consisted of people actually concerned about solving the problems that face our society in a civil way and not in a way centered on personal or political gain.
Our God is an Awesome God
“But they were persistent, saying, ‘He disturbs the people, teaching through the whole of Judea — starting in Galilee but even here.’ When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man was Galilean.”
Those Galileans were always stirring up trouble for the Roman leaders. This is something that the Priests knew and likely threw in to poison the well some against Jesus. At the same time, this created a bit of a loophole for Pilate to extract himself from the false trial. Galilee was not under his direct authority, but was ruled by Herod Antipas, the local king who ruled over Galilee and Peraea. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (the Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus) and a Samaritan woman named Malthace. Needless to say that there was no love lost toward this king of Galilee, especially because he was a Roman collaborator, and the shift of authority, Pilate likely thought, would be a nice poke back at these pesky Jewish priests. And, since it was Passover, it so happened that Herod was in Jerusalem … how very convenient.
What I find interesting as I look over these events is how many people were trying to manipulate the outcome. The Jews wanted Jesus to be executed by the Romans. The Romans did not care either way about the man, Jesus, but did not want to become Jewish puppets, and now Herod will be brought into the picture. Yet, in the midst of all of these schemes of men, God is still sovereignly governing these events to a conclusion that he had so ordained from before the foundation of the earth.
We often sing in church that our God is an Awesome God, but I wonder whether we really live it out. We see from history how God has orchestrated even the smallest events and details to bring about his glory and then we worry about things we cannot control in our own lives. Jesus spoke a great deal about our not worrying, but we do anyway. The pagans, whose gods cannot answer them or affect events, have a right to worry. We do not. Trust God and when things seem to fall apart, instead of worrying or wondering “where God went…” ask yourself the question, “what is a sovereign God teaching me in the midst of this crisis?”
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God.
“Thus Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?”
Interestingly, John is the only one of the four Gospel writers that records this question from Pilate. The other evangelists simply record the Jews coming to Pilate and accusing Jesus, but John inserts the proper protocol in this context — that of waiting for the Roman official to address them before they start spewing forth hatred and lies. There is no question that there is a bit of a political dance that takes place with this trial, with the Jews seeking to manipulate Pilate into serving their ends (and thus in their minds, taking the blood of Jesus off of their own hands).
Certainly news of some sort has preceded the Jewish officials to Pilate and his aides have given him some degree of counsel as to the nature of this mob as they bring Jesus to him. The relationship between the Jews and Rome had always been a trying one and there is no question that Pilate had in the back of his mind ways in which he could maneuver this in his favor — or at least in a way that would maintain the status quo. Either way, politics as usual is about to begin.
The sad thing about political maneuvering is that we find it taking place in the church, not just in the broader culture. People forget that the church does not belong to them, but that instead it belongs to Christ Jesus. How folks fall into the trap of using church to meet their personal needs, to achieve their personal ends, or otherwise to build a reputation for themselves rather than to build a reputation for Christ. How often even pastors fall into the trap of tip-toeing over Truth because they fear it will offend or chase away members or visitors to the congregation. All of these things are no better than what we see Pilate and the Jewish officials engaged in — protocol, perhaps is being met, but personal agendas are being sought. May our lives and our churches seek Christ’s will in life, not our own.
Am I Missing Something?
Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.
It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:
1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.
Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.
One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.
Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”
As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!
This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.
When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?
3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.
And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?
Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.
The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.
“Some weather we’ve been having, isn’t it?” “Did you see the game last night?” “Did you read the paper this morning, with crime going up and unemployment going up, what is this world coming to?” “Did you hear what those democrats did?”
Conversations, we all have them every day and usually they are had around some fairly mundane subjects—weather, sports, news, politics, etc. Most of the time, we strike up these conversations without much thought and they are over almost as quickly as they begin. Most of the time these conversations are had with complete strangers with no expectation of ever seeing them again. So, of what value are they? Do they serve a purpose other than that of trying not to look unsociable and filling up dead air with useless chatter? I am not convinced that they do.
But what if even those short conversations were ones that could become significant? What if they could become eternally significant? Would we have the conversation if it contained meaning and not just noise? What if we opened our conversations with, “where do you go to church?” instead of “what do your think of the weather?
God has given us language so that we can exchange ideas with one another in community—that is what the very word, “conversation,” means—“to exchange ideas.” In addition, ideas have consequences because the ideas you offer will in turn spark ideas in the mind and hearts of those who hear them. The question is whether or not you are exchanging ideas of consequence or whether you are merely beating the air. The weightier the idea the more significant the consequence.
One of the things that concerns me, though, is that as a society we have become rather superficial not only in our conversations but in our ideas. It is almost as if we are afraid of the consequences of significant conversation so we opt to avoid it altogether. Yet significant conversations are essential for building significant relationships and significant relationships are essential for effecting change in peoples’ lives.
So, what do your conversations look like? Are they significant or do you play it safe, seeking to stay in the shallow end of the relationship pool. If we are going to effect change in our community, shallow will not cut it. We need to enter into the deepest end of the pool and speak of the resurrection of the very Son of God who came into this world, lived amongst men, died a horrible death to atone for the sins of his people, and rose again on the third day. There is no conversation more significant that that and there is no conversation that this world needs to hear more than that one. Will you be the one to have that conversation with those you meet, though?