“High Priests of Caesar’s Court”

I came across a post by Greg Boyd today which I think makes a great follow-up to my post earlier this week – Our Faithless Culture Wars – that I hope you will go read. The choice excerpts for me:

We sadly assume our highest calling is to be the high priests of Caesar’s court, telling it how God allegedly wants it to spend its money.

Of course, being the high priests of Caesar’s court means you’ve got to get into the messy complexity of this court. How do we know that fighting for money to go to recreational facilities is the right thing to do? Maybe fighting for more funding for schools, or housing for the poor, or for more and better public transportation is a better fight. And what about the unlivable low minimum wage, or the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless, or the increasing number of people who lack basic health coverage, or the inadequate presence of police in dangerous neighborhoods? As the high priests of Caesar’s court, we have to make these tough decisions — and there’s only so much money to go around.

Not only this, but every action creates a reaction, and as Caesar’s wiser and more caring counselors we have to be experts about all of these things. For example, it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on higher wages for workers. But are we sure this won’t force many small business owners to fire workers, thereby harming the poor more than helping them? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist U.S. troops pull out of Iraq right now. But are we sure this won’t result in a greater bloodbath than there already is over there? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on preserving a pool for inner city kids, but what if the money for this has to be taken from classrooms, requiring that some teachers be let go, resulting in a poorer education for these kids? Is a pool more important than education?

It’s all very complex and ambiguous, but once we position ourselves as Caesar’s high priests, we have no choice but to wade through it all. And so, inevitably, we’ll disagree about many of these matters and we’ll have to fight each other over which battles are the “right” battles to be fighting and which ways are the “right” ways to be fighting them. The Matthews (conservatives) and Simons (liberals) in our churches will inevitably start wondering if the other “really” cares and is “really” Christian. . .

And notice this: all the while we’re wading through these issues and fighting over what we think Caesar should do, we’re still spending 97% of our wealth on ourselves and not getting anything done for the Kingdom.

This is in relation to church getting ready to protest the closing of an inner-city recreational center. I think that this is a good example of the problem with trying to both fight and serve, judge and accept, save and give. The church body will fight to preserve funding, but not sacrifice to raise funding themselves. In fact, this sort of fighting is seen as a form of service and faithfulness. Later in the piece Boyd says: “If we stopped blaming government and started doing what we’re called to do, then after 100 years maybe Caesar would be asking us for advice on how to address issues like poverty.”

I say that this is related to my post from the other day because I think that it all goes back to the way that we continually compromise when it comes to following Jesus’ instructions – particularly once politics and the culture wars come into the picture. In the comments on my post about culture wars we talked a bit about paradox and balance when it comes to things like judgment. I make the point that until we actually know how to not judge, we cannot judge properly. We want to tell Caesar how to spend its money or what policies to have without having done the requisite work of having learned to do these things well ourselves. We want to temper clear instructions from Jesus by pointing to the paradoxes and ambiguities, to which my final comment was:

We often find that we can live with paradox when it allows us to continue doing what we’re comfortable with: judging, fighting, planning, advocating. But the BIG paradox is how to simply love. How to love when it’s offensive. How to love and only love. How to love when it harms us or is risky or unacceptable. As always, I think that Jesus is our model; he spent several years giving the slip to those who wanted to kill him. He stood up for himself and his disciples and even engaged in confrontation at the temple. However, all that lead up to the point in time where he allowed himself to be caught, didn’t speak in his own defense, didn’t confront but forgave those who were against him and went to complete and utter defeat – death. I don’t think there are a lot of Christians today who would be willing to give up their battles and accept defeat like that. I guess that’s the faithlessness I’m talking about.

5 thoughts on ““High Priests of Caesar’s Court”

  1. Government as we know it may not be the best way to address a collective problem — but it’s what we have. “Throwing money at a problem” may not lead to ideal solutions, but it’s how we handle matters we seriously want to improve. Governments are far from ideal social machinery for coordinating any social endeavor — but they do claim that purpose, instead of being explicitly organized to profit from serving some people’s needs while ignoring anyone who can’t pay.

    So why is it that we can’t get the government to address our public’s many crying needs, can’t get enough money applied to such needs, can’t keep whatever money does get allocated from being diverted to privatized tapeworms?

    “Not hassling Caesar enough”? True, but beside the point. “Hassling poor Caesar too much (We should give him all our money and trust him to help the Deserving Poor)?” Give me a break!!!

    How about: ‘Not putting our faith in Mars & Mammon’? The disadvantage of government (as with the corporations it ‘charters’, which then capture it for their own ends) is really ‘reliance on force and money.’

    We need the government to keep the corporations honest — but then they eat it out from inside and bully us with the shell; and both conditions exist to the extent that people keep relying on armed troops & cops for ‘safety,’ gold and paper for ‘security.’

    1. I stopped having faith in our government a few years back. I just don’t think that we own it anymore. At this point, I do think that Christians need to stop itching and moaning and grasping for control and simply do whatever work they see needs doing on their own.

      1. Well, duh, yeah! But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a calling we should try to get them to recognize. If they want to masquerade as the ‘Power’s God delegated authority to, that gives them an obligation to put out.

        Consider Katrina. A little pre-disaster money, well spent, and New Orleans wouldn’t have been ripe for the disaster a Scientific American article anticipated (Their scenario was actually worse!) a few years previous. If the agency designated to respond… hadn’t been assigned as a political plum to a True Believer in Economism, a man who liked the salary but didn’t think the government should tax the rich or apply funds to any public purpose, we might have had a better evacuation plan than “Everybody drive away in vehicles they didn’t have over freeways that routinely clogged in a normal day’s traffic.” And the survivors might have received faster aid than fund-raising specialists with 501 c (3)s managed to supply.

        Consider an economy hit by a vast Ponzi-scheme clean-out. A government that wasn’t paralyzed like a spider full of wasp eggs… could have responded with something akin to Roosevelt’s WPA, put people to work on some of the useful and humanizing tasks we “can’t afford”; people would be employed and their kids would be eating at home instead of couch-surfing & urban camping; they’d be spending money at real businesses (so that these could be hiring).

        It’s a dysfunctional system; it didn’t need to be as dysfunctional as it’s become. An ideology that says it can’t be good for anything — that we shouldn’t expect anything of it except having it ‘lord it over us’ — has been part of the corruption process.

        I’ve ‘lost faith in’ government by the simple process of observing it closely over a few years of poverty-issue activism. But the people I observed were not at all incompetent at what they actually did; it was doing that so well which rendered them useless for any human need. We shouldn’t have to micromanage; but we ought to expect more, not less of them.

      2. Ideally, all you say is true.I’m not at all opposed to government as a mechanism for addressing problems. But the reality is that there’s nothing we can really do. I vote. I write letters. I keep informed. Unfortunately, the levers of control for the citizenry just aren’t there. I wish it were different. It ought to be different. But if you want to make a difference, your only real chance is to deal with local government and put in your two cents about putting in new sewer lines and stop lights. Other than that, their bread is buttered elsewhere.

        Also, while I do think that government is a perfectly legitimate way to address problems and meet needs, Christians cannot allow the tides of governments to be tied to their own work of serving and caring for people. We need to be much quicker to say, “I see a need and I’ll work to address it myself if that’s what’s going to get it done.” Too often we’re trying to move the levers of government rather than just moving ourselves.

      3. Yeah, I think we’re agreed on those ‘levers of control’. Toy steering wheels!

        But your local government is likely to move very efficiently to stop your good works, if these threaten to lower anybody’s ‘property values.’ (Or if anybody fears they might.)

        Hand out sandwiches, one at a time, at random times & places? No problem. Weekly food line? “You can’t do that here.”

        I don’t think we can expect ‘to figure out an Answer’. I don’t think one exists.

        But following the leadings we’re given, we ought to do better than anybody’s fixed ideas…

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