Thursday, May 06, 2010

Denouncing in others what you have done, part 2: beware, your sins may overtake theirs

It sometimes seems as though evangelical Christians are worst about denouncing in others what they have done themselves. Ted Haggard was famous for speaking against homosexuals before being caught with a gay prostitute. Recently a relatively famous opponent of homosexuals was caught on film with a male prostitute. The full details of the story are not fully established but the editorial angle remains the observation that the irony drips too much not to be noticed.

Closer to the Seattle area Mark Driscoll has been eager to denounce fornication and yet he obviously admitted he did a bit of fornicating prior to marriage; he also has denounced stay-at-home dads as having forsaken their obligations while having admitted that for a time earlier in the history of Mars Hill he let Grace be the breadwinner, another case, it seems, of denouncing sins in others where you acutely feel guilt in yourself about your own moral failings. Driscoll's guilt about what he considers the sin of making the wife be the bread-winner of the family was so severe it colored his intepretation of 1 Timothy 5 to the point where his application of the text has pretty much nothing to do with any exegesis of the passage in question.

Paul wrote that when someone sins those who are spiritual should restore that sinner gently but to also be watchful so as to not fall prety to temptation themselves. One of the foremost problems of simply denouncing someone else's sin is that when we do this we give the impression that we would never sin in the way that someone else does. My very denunciation of "your" sin proves that I would NEVER even think of sinning in that way, right? Well, no. The lack of gentleness in the effort to restore or confront one in sin may (or may not, of course) be a sign that we are on the dangerous precipe of falling into the sin we are denouncing in others.

Don't believe me? Well, consider Ps 52 where David denounces Doeg the Edomite. Consider that in 1 Samuel 21 David lies about being on a mission from King Saul. Now I have heard it proposed that David in Ps 52 is rebuking himself and not Doeg but I admit to not seeing a ton of textual evidence to confirm this. I will leave it to actual OT scholars to tend to that for now. My observation is that despite David's passionate rebuke of Doeg the Edomite for working to kill innocent people and for his deceit David was just as capable of deceit.

Not only was David capable of the deceit at the start of 1 Samuel 21, in 1 Samuel 27 we see that David was willing to massacre village after village to keep his cover while living in Phillistine territory. Now that the Phillistines were the enemies of Israel could lead us to suppose that David was simply killing villages of the enemy camp and that that was okay. I am considering, however, another explanation for us to reflect on--David denounced Doeg for slaying innocent people and was far more accomplished in bloodshed toward women and children then Doeg.

The passion of David's denunciation of Doeg in Psalm 52 makes his own cavalier taking of the lives of others in the subsequent chapters of Samuel (1 Samuel 27 to the end of 2 Samuel) more rather than less offensive. If we see in the scriptures that the one true hero of the grand narrative of scripture is Yahweh and not people then we can learn from David as both a positive and negative example. As the apostle wrote, things were written down as a warning to us so that we would not fall prey to the same temptations. We should denounce sin but we must beware that in our denunciation of sin we are not secretly overcompensating and deceiving ourselves into thinking (and convincing others) that we are more virtuous than we actually are. Once you have deceived yourself you cannot help but deceive others.

Scripture attests in the book of Samuel that David, after lamenting that Doeg killed innocent people realized that he had failed by causing the death of innocent people. David himself would later massacre villages to keep his cover while living in enemy territory. One of the perils of denouncing sins in others is that we may find ourselves more guilty of that very sin than the person we have denounced. While David was a hero in Israelite history and killed a lot of Phillistines; while it is also true that he decimated Amalekites and so doing did the thing Saul declined to do; we should also bear in mind that as a critic of the taking of innocent blood David was more guilty than Doeg or Saul were in terms of sheer numbers.

The apostle Paul was not ignorant of these accounts in scripture, which may be why he took care to warn us by way of precept so that as we meditate on the scriptures we consider the life of a man like David as a concrete example.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

a political guess

It is merely a guess, mind you, but it seems as though conservatives have failed by attempting to hitch their wagon to two different stars. Social conservaties want government employed in a way that ultimately must pit them against fiscal conservatives, while fiscal conservatives want things that, if ardently pursued, would cull government to a degree that the enforcement of social conservative policies might simply not happen.

Meanwhile, a third stream of conservative thought holds that the actual power of government should be minimalist. There are inconsistencies amidst some of these views that puzzle me in terms of precedent. A state should reserve all rights that are not delegated to federal branches unless that state is doing something objectionable. Massachusetts therefore sets a bad precedent in permitting gay marriage or promoting it but the use of any constitutional apparatus to eliminate it would violate the integrity of states' rights. Cynically, I suppose, I make the observation that people who are into states' rights are only selectively into states' rights. States are sovereign unless they need to return a fugitive slave, perhaps. Conversely, even if a state passes a law saying it's okay for a doctor to assist suicide a doctor may simply not comply. All that is to say that neither a fiscal conservative nor a social conservative may actually be entirely committed to truly minimalist government. What liberals want may seem impossible (and it is in many cases) but they present the illusion of its coherence better because there don't SEEM to be the tensions inherent between fiscal and social conservatism.

My personal hunch is that fiscal conservatism is a more likely bet than social conservatism. Too many social conservatives bet on the Republicans doing that for them and have been proven wrong for decades. Abortion is still legal, gay marriage seems more and not less likely to gain acceptance, and so on and so forth. It is too late to change horses mid-stream and conservatives who went the social route won't get anywhere by pleading fiscal now. You can't simultaneously say "less government" and "ban abortion" because to ban abortion involves government. Simply no longer funding abortion but not banning it would probably be the most methodologically consistent form of fiscal conservatism and is defensible on the arguable grounds that a society should not invest in the pre-emptive elimination of its citizenry at either the point of birth or simply in deciding which citizens ought to be killeed to pre-empt their continuing capacity to damage to society.

But, again, it's too late for that, far too late. It was always too late, really.