Charlie Harper: Holy Week, faith and politics

April 15, 2014 

For many Americans of faith we are in the holiest week of the year. Passover began today Monday at sunset. Christians began our observance with Palm Sunday and will conclude the week with Easter Sunday. We remain a country that allows the freedom to worship in whatever way we wish, or reserve the right not to. That is still the America we live in.

As we watch an expansive government issue more and more requirements that affect more and more parts of our lives, concern from those of us who freely practice religion in the way we choose has grown. Some is justified. Some is hyperbole. Such is the nature of politics and government. This column will not attempt to sort it all out. I don't pretend that I could.

I do know that as a practicing (and certainly imperfect) Christian my religion never promised me a life without struggle. My Bible doesn't tell me that Christians will be universally accepted or live comfortable lives. Quite the contrary.

It tells us if a government officer tells us to carry their pack for one mile we are supposed to carry it two. It tells us we need to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It teaches that we should be prepared to be persecuted, or possibly killed for our beliefs.

Holy week teaches us a bit about the fallibility of leaving the principles of our religion up to democratic processes. Jesus went from being welcomed as King by an adoring public as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to being crucified on Friday due to losing a public vote against a murderer. Or, to put it more bluntly, the last time Jesus was on a ballot Barabbas won the election.

The point of this isn't to say that people of faith -- any faith -- shouldn't participate in politics. Our representative government demands active participation from all of us so that we may have a government that reflects us.

What it does mean is that our faith should be bigger than our government. And as we are reminded by the events that Christians observe this week, people and governments are quite fallible.

There are, and will forever be, moneychangers in the temple. Sadly, too many who wish to invoke religion as a reason to vote for them see it as little more than a good business model.

The Pharisees weren't used as the best of role models in the Bible. The moneychangers were the motivation for the only time Jesus got angry. For too many who view Christianity through the lens of modern partisan politics, these are the Christian examples we provide to the skeptical and to non-believers.

For Christians, Easter is about redemption and forgiveness. It is about the debts for all of our sins being paid by our creator. It is about our eternity in another, much better place.

A God big enough to handle all of that is not a God that worries about whether we elect the right person to implement his will in the form of a human government. A God who is that big is not going to be a partisan. A God that great loves us in spite of our politics, not because of it.

We like to convince ourselves otherwise. Often it's to justify our own existence. Our own decisions. Our questionable actions. Abraham Lincoln once said, when asked if God was on our side, "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

We too often assert through politics that God is on our side. This week is a week of forgiveness, and God can forgive that too. And in the process, it may be time for a lot of us, myself included, to spend a little more time thinking about whether we are truly on God's side.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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