May 19, 2013

Leviticus for Left Wingers and Right Wingers


(Calvinist Humour? Oxymoron surely! – Ed)

I recently read a comment about the abject manner in which Australia treats its asylum seekers. It quoted Leviticus 19:34 to highlight how far from that reality this country actually is.  Have a read for yourself:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Imagine an Australia in which an Afghan or Tamil refugee who managed to get here on a boat was treated the same way as Bob and Sharon next door. You know Bob and Sharon, don’t you? Bob runs the local hardware store, and coaches the Oz-Kick footy team. Sharon is head of the P & C at the local government primary school and cooks a mean lasagna. Australia would be a good place to live if such a dream were made reality and universalised, right?

So far so good.

Now, imagine an Australia in which the chapter prior to Leviticus 19 (Leviticus 18? – Einstein Ed) were universalised.  29 verses about who you can and cannot have sex with, which pretty much narrows it down to a husband and wife for life, and pretty much rules out having sex with animals (take note Peter Singer aficionados). Australia would be a good place to live if such a dream were made reality and universalised, right?

Mmm. Not so far? Not so good?

Leviticus is a cracker of a book.  It’s bald and obvious in what it says about how we should treat people.  It says things that make us squirm and cross our legs. It’s not for the faint-hearted and I have yet to read much of Leviticus to my children at bedtime.  But the context of Leviticus demonstrates this much clearly: The current left wing/right wing debate in western Christianity is a furphy.  It is a distraction from the main game, in which issues dear to the left and issues dear to the right are thrown across the political divide. Social justice issues versus sexuality issues. Community rights versus individual rights.  Churches demanding that the government do something about injustices towards asylum seekers.  Churches demanding that the government do something about moral decline.

While Leviticus is not a book for the faint-hearted, it is, most significantly, not a book for the unregenerate-hearted either.  Did you get that?  It’s a tough strong, slightly scary book – for the church.  The context is everything.  There, on the verge of the Promised Land, Israel is being shown what it will look like to live counter-culturally in the midst of cultures hostile to her and her God.  Israel is going to show up the rest of the world in vital areas of social justice and sexual purity.  Israel is going to be a beacon to an otherwise dark world.  The constant refrains in Leviticus from God include “I am the LORD”, or “I the LORD am holy”, or “I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt.”  Every command in Leviticus is directed towards those who belong to the covenant people of Israel.  No one else.

Now does that mean the church should not champion social justice or sexual purity in the wider culture?  Of course not.  As a self-professed secular state Australia has room for a diversity of opinions in the market place of ideas (Australia DOES have room in the marketplace of ideas for a diversity of opinions, doesn’t it? – cynical Ed). But should the church expect, or even put most of its energy into, bringing the wider culture around to its perspective through legislation? Well, ask yourself this question, those of you on the so called Christian left: Given the chance to achieve Leviticus 19:34 universally in Australia, would you be happy for Leviticus 18 to be universalised also?  And those of you on the so called Christian right:  how about it if every asylum seeker was not only allowed in, but was allowed to live next to you, given a large hand-out to get them on their feet, and the chance to work and earn a living and gain some self-respect?

James Davison Hunter in his book “To Change the World” deals exceptionally well with the almost schizophrenic approach to Christian politics that has swept the USA and is threatening other Western nations.  The right wants to universalise the bits of theocratic law that are dear to it, while the left wants to universalise those bits that are dear to it.  These are usually divided along personal morality/social justice lines. Davison Hunter says these are both wings of the same bird: a bird that assumes that the demands of the OT law and prophets are required of the nation, when in fact they are for the church. (This is not to say that social action cannot get to the heart of politics, as the abolition of slavery through Wilberforce demonstrated, but it’s important to remember that Wilberforce made his appeal to the common, though dormant, Christianised worldview of his day, something completely absent in today’s Western setting).

To be honest that is the kind of Australia I would like to see; sexually pure and socially generous. But since the majority of Australians are of unregenerate heart and since Australia is not the theocratic nation of Israel, then the only place that we can, legitimately expect such a social covenant is, not surprisingly, among the covenant people. So when I come to the church I not only wish to, but expect to see a “nation” that is sexually pure and socially generous, right?  A “nation” led by King Jesus, after all, has the law written not on tablets of stone but written on the heart. Such a nation is called to live among the other “nations”, exhibiting what the good life should look like. Isn’t it?

Hence when we come to the church, it would only be right and proper to discover what a sexually pure covenant relationship look like, wouldn’t it? In fact we should expect it.  God does.   Adultery, sneaky porn and the merry-go-round of divorce and remarriage would be oddities among the covenant people rather than simply mirroring the national average.  Marriages should not only last, they should have a growing quality of love, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and other-person-centredness to them that makes the world sit up and gasp. 30 years on and they’re MORE in love? No way!   No point shaking our fingers at how the world wants to do marriage if our own house isn’t in order. Right?

And when we come to the church, it would only be right and proper to discover that the most marginalised of society could find a place at the table. That asylum seekers looking for love -or even simply money – would find those things among the people of Jesus.  That the marginalised under the curse of all sorts of addictions would be introduced to the one who broke The Curse on the cross and be treated as fellow sinners saved by grace because there is no “sin-scale” in God’s schema. Right?  That a young pregnant woman might just keep a baby she had thought of getting rid of, because an older couple is going to take her in and treat her as a daughter, because, well, because their kids are all living overseas and successful after being given a great education at a private school here in Australia.

The left/right struggle in our culture is a sign of a culture under duress and, if history is any indication, a sign of a culture in decline. As the social contract keeping it together starts to unravel (it would only take one big financial collapse to see it unravel completely), the church can become a place of refuge for those weary and worn out from the struggle. Or it can become a false hope, a sub-cultural niche that reflects and disdains the wider culture at one and the same time.  What a pity it would be if those fleeing the carnage were to arrive on our church doorsteps looking for refuge with the question “So, how do you people deal with the issues that are tearing our lives apart?” only to be met with a puzzled stare and the damning response: “Exactly the same way you do.”


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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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