Leviticus & the Political Season [GUEST POST]


Here’s another great guest post by my good friend Austin Ricketts. I love the perspective he brings to this topic. Enjoy.

Politics are difficult to escape during the Fall season.  Autumn is my favorite season, but I am irritated nearly every year with all of the political ranting and raving.  There is a point up to which politics is necessary.  Whenever you’re dealing with a group of people, be that group small or large, you’re already in the realm of politics.  Politics, in its best light, is all about establishing order and good behavior.  These are good things.  So, why do these good things bring about so much chaos with a lot of bad behavior to boot?

Perhaps we all need to be reminded of the fruits of the Spirit.  Those fruits are of the greatest importance, especially in times when differences of opinion and conviction are brought to a head.  Yet, it’s these fruits which are conspicuously absent at these times.  More often than not, people prefer the forbidden fruits of bitterness and condescension.  Fallen in sin, we all gravitate toward these forbidden fruits just like our ancient father and mother did.  We have always to be on guard.

Some Christians ask whether a Christian may be involved in State or National politics at all. Given the typical scene, it’s not a bad question.  But it seems to me that Christians may be involved in such politics.  I might even like to say that Christians must be involved.  Not all Christians should be involved.  A Christian is responsible before God for her or his own giftedness.  Just as the servants who received talents from their master, in the parable that Jesus told, we are responsible for the specific gifts or talents that we are given, no more or less.  Some Christians will have the savvy, the charisma, the honorable demeanor that would make them great candidates on a statewide or national scene.  Others will not.  This takes a certain giftedness.

But as I said at the beginning, whenever there is a group of people, there is politics.  All Christians are involved in the politics of everyday life.  It is among people of all kinds, not just our church body, that we exercise the fruits of the Spirit.  But instead of reciting these fruits, I’d rather venture into the Old Testament, to see what fruit may be found there.

So, Leviticus 19:15-18:

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.  You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.  You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

This passage from Leviticus says a lot.  It starts with fairness.  There are people who are more willing to give the poor a hearing, perhaps because they feel sorry for them.  There are others who would rather listen to the rich, maybe thinking that they will get something out of the deal.  Neither is fair; neither promotes a well-ordered society.  All types of people need justice; all people need help from time to time.

The next bit is about slandering, or speaking ill of another person.  Look how closely this is connected to acts that are against the life of a person.  If untrue things are spread about, then you might not only destroy someone’s reputation, you might actually cause them physical harm or even death.  You might incite people to rise up against this person.  That is bad news to say the least.

Don’t hate your fellow countryman.  But you should speak up when someone does something wrong.  Don’t be afraid to reprove someone, just make sure that your heart is right.  And the way to tell whether your heart is right might be by listening to them attentively, understanding where they’re coming from, why they might be doing what they’re doing.  After having the patience to do that, you’ve earned the right to say something if all is not well.  As Saint Paul says in Ephesians: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26; Ps 4:4).

Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is nothing more difficult.  There are few things more rewarding.  It is a practice for a lifetime, but I’m happy to be reminded of it this political season.

[image credit: “Le Regard des Anges” by Istvan Sandorfi]

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5 thoughts on “Leviticus & the Political Season [GUEST POST]

  1. I’d just like to add, on the Leviticus 19 bit, that the intention might not necessarily be about ‘poor’ or ‘rich’, so much as the author intended to parallel the opposites in an attempt to make his point that, regardless of who your neighbor is, that they deserve justice, particularly in a court setting (not a political one). When you (anyone) starts speaking of poor and rich in the political climate of America, often times the message of the OT is lost in translation, particularly its defense of the poor (which, if read incorrectly, you might assume is the statement being made by the author of Leviticus in this chapter). Just some food for thought.

    Uncharacteristically, I side with the ESV over the NRSV on translating this as a “court” principle (“don’t listen to one over the other”). I hope this makes sense 🙂

    Finally, I am more concerned with the parallel that this is about a well-ordered society, and not about Kingdom principles (as Xians we live in a society within… or out, depending on your theology… of a society). The chapter (though those clearly didn’t exist at the time) begins with a command to be holy the way the LORD is holy. That is to say, regardless of political rule, these are overall principles to live by. This book is said to have been a reflection during a time when there was no political rule except God himself (of course, I’m not one to argue this view either). What are the implications of that? And more than how we treat political junkies who rant and rave, how can we have this bear on our ethics toward those in our communities and neighborhoods?

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