Can you imagine being a fundamentalist in the days of Isaiah?
You live your life according to the rules of Scripture, you do the things it tells you to do and you shun the things it tells you to shun. Then all of a sudden along comes this guy and tells you that you are wrong. Worse, he claims that God is the one that thinks you are wrong! Just the other day you brought your sacrifices to the temple and now this guy proclaims:
""The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them."
Doesn’t that just make you angry enough to stone the guy? How very dare he? God doesn’t want your sacrifices? Poppycock!! You know this Isaiah guy can’t possibly be speaking the Words of God because you know the Bible. You know that it was God who explicitly commanded those very things in the books of Moses. Sacrifices and incense and holy days weren’t your ideas, they were what God told you to do in the Bible! So where does this Isaiah get off claiming something different? Oh but wait, listen to what else he said:
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."
Well now it all makes sense, doesn’t it? He is clearly one of those liberal socialist hippie types who care more about “social justice” than about the Truth of the Word of God.
Yeah, somehow I think the Jewish equivalent of a Bible Thumper at the time of Isaiah may be shocked to see how the Bible eventually turned out…
The point I’m trying to make here is that it is very possible to be doing what the Bible tells you while completely missing what the Bible is telling you. The reason I’m doing this is because I finally figured out what why the Manhattan Declaration bothered me so much.
See, from the moment I first heard about this document the wrongness of it made we want to blog about it and yet I had trouble pinning down exactly why it upset me the way it did. Here you have this document signed by thousands of Christians, including hundreds of the most prominent leaders of the Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox churches and it basically states that the focus of Christianity should be the following 3 things:
Being against abortion,
Being against gay marriage and
Being for “Religious freedom” – which basically translates to the idea that Christians have the right to legislation against abortion and gay rights as well as the notion that they must fight all legislation supporting the legalization of abortion and gay marriage.
There is just so much wrong there that I had trouble knowing where to start! I finally get it now though. The big problem here is not the hypocrisy that characterizes so much of the “pro-life” and “sanctity of marriage” proponents. No, the problem here is the heartlessness of it all.
Basically, it tells Christians to be like my fictional Jewish Torah-thumper, to care more about bits of Biblical Law than about people who actually need our care. The Manhattan Declaration really shows its heartlessness by telling Christians not to care less about the heavyweight concerns of Scripture – the poor, the disenfranchised and the lost – and rather invest their energy in fighting against the featherweight concerns*. Claiming that sexual matters constitute a major theme in the Bible is like claiming Tom Bombadil is a major character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you take every verse in the Bible even tangentially related to sexual matters and place it on one end of a scale and then drop every verse on poverty, money and social justice on the other end the sheer weight of those verses would launch the sex verses over the horizon like a catapult. How weird is it then that I can find large numbers of Christians who would happily condemn me for not condemning homosexuals but pretty much none who would condemn me for owning more than one warm jacket when there are people around me who have none?
I don’t know about you but I don’t have to try all that hard to imagine being a fundamentalist in the days of Isaiah – I already know because in many ways that’s exactly who I am. If Isaiah was here now, he would be pointing his finger at me and telling me that I am the one missing the will of God. He would be completely correct too, I am completely out of touch with the lion’s share of Biblical teaching – I don’t share with the poor, I’m not looking after the orphans and widows, not clothing the naked or feeding the hungry or seeking justice for the wronged. I have no defense, I’m guilty.
Its easy to make your religion be about following the parts you like with and only opposing those sins that actually offend you or set off your personal “ick” factor. Actually caring about people the way God commands on the other hand is really hard! Loving the unlovable doesn’t come naturally, at least it doesn’t for me.
I think we need more Isaiah’s. Or at least we need to listen more to the ones we already have.
* Think I’m exaggerating? Here is a quote from an interview with one of the men behind the Manhattan Declaration:
“They say they also want to speak to younger Christians who have become engaged in issues like climate change and global poverty, and who are more accepting of homosexuality than their elders, the same source informs. They say they want to remind them that abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom are still paramount issues. “We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues,” said Charles Colson, a prominent evangelical who founded Prison Fellowship after serving time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. “A lot of the younger evangelicals say they’re all alike. We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues.””
See? He comes right out and says it, opposing the gays is more important than dealing with poverty.