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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When Faith and Politics Collide

Something that has been rumbling around in my head the last few weeks, and more probably, years, is what happens when what the bible teaches does not seem to match up with your political views. Which takes precedent? Your faith and the bible, or your politics.

The problem can be real evident in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. If you read the books carefully, you see clear teachings on how we, as children of God, are supposed to act and live out our lives. This is especially true when we are talking about poor people, immigrants, and outsiders. Many passages talk of us being unconditionally compassionate, generous, and loving. This is perhaps most evident, at least for me, in Isaiah 58.

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter...
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Now to the political part. Living the life that Isaiah is calling for flies in the face of everything most of us have learned since our childhood. Whether we attended Sunday school or not, the Protestant work ethic, a political construction, is pervasive in America. Our rugged individualism present in the settling of the American frontier and our nation's creation narrative makes it difficult for us to set aside certain beliefs and just serve, as I see God calling us to do.

I confess, I feel the struggle. Just today I ignored a guy asking for money just because he looked perfectly healthy to me and seemed able to work. Was God happy? I think not. Was I true to His calling on my life, as expressed in Isaiah? Not at all. Was I true to some of my personal politics? Of course I was.

I know, or at least I think I know, that if I was to give to every homeless person I encountered, I'd go broke. Or would I? Maybe that is where God wants me, and if lived in that place, he would always make sure my needs were met, just as he promises.

When faith and politics collide. It is an interesting place to be, if you think about it.

Comments on "When Faith and Politics Collide"


Blogger Patrick M said ... (9:10 PM) : 

Dave, I had to think about this a couple of days to properly coalesce a thought to share with you. And it is in my conservative worldview that I found the answer. First, a quote:

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”—Author unknown

While helping those in need is important, it is by helping them succeed and prosper that you will do a far greater service. In fact, by simply giving and giving and not expecting those who can to help themselves, you leave them only more dependent on help, until they become less and less a person.

In addition, as people prosper, it allows them to free more of their time and money to help the poor. My father, for example, worked long, hard hours as a small businessman as I was growing up. Now, he has gained a measure of success, and has taken his time and abilities and money and has driven and supported many charitable things.

So it is not by simply giving to others that we can measure our compassion for those who are in need. It is by bettering ourselves, our family, our community, and the lives of all that we can reach.

And it is by that giving that we receive, and prosper.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (7:39 AM) : 

Patrick, your response brings the question into full view. Passages like this don't teach that. The weight of scripture is on serving for the sake of serving. And yet, somewhere inside, we know, or sense that your approach, at least sounds right.

As I was reading what you said, I was struck by the thought of Jesus and his service/sacrifice on the cross for us.

Nowhere is what He did conditional on us. In fact, I really believe that daily, He is on the cross for me, giving all that He has.

The political positions we all take certainly have some validity. The question is do they line up with, at least for the majority of Americans, our faith. Or does our faith call for a rethinking of our politics or how we are called to live life?


Blogger Patrick M said ... (4:31 PM) : 

The question is do they line up with, at least for the majority of Americans, our faith. Or does our faith call for a rethinking of our politics or how we are called to live life?

Unfortunately, there is no answer to that. Faith is far too personal, and it is up to each individual to reconcile their faith, their politics, and their lifestyle.

Personally, I am at peace with my faith and my politics. I know that as I become successful and my work and my ideas spread, more people will benefit.

Of course, I'm also a severely lapsed Catholic who spent eight years in Catholic school, so take it for what it is.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (7:34 AM) : 

At peace is a good place to be. Always be open though to God knocking on the door to shake you up.

I appreciate your thoughtfulness Patrick.


Anonymous Gordon Mallon said ... (12:20 PM) : 

Dave I think you are being both too hard and too easy on yourself. I have dedicated my professional life to helping poor people who find themselves entangled in the law, so I hope I have a little bit of cred. By giving the homeless guy a couple of bucks, you are acting like the folks you once told me about who were on a "mission" trip and accomplished their "mission" by driving through poor neighborhoods in Mexico, cracking open the windows on their air conditioned, luxury tour bus, and dumping gospel tracts out. By giving the guy with the sign a few dollars you are just moving him closer to his next fix or his next can of Steele Reserve. To fulfill the charge in Isiah 58 you would need to, at the bare minimum sit down with the fella and share a meal. Better to take the guy home with you, give him a place to live, get him psychological treatment, help him find and keep a job, and ultimately help him find a place to live.

"But," you might say, "I don't have the time, financial resources, ability or energy to even have a meal with every homeless person I see, let alone all that other stuff." To that I answer, of course you don't. Nobody does. So that excuses us to do nothing, right? Not so fast my friend. I believe good calls us to do all we can to fulfill the role he has for us. In your case Dave, I believe you are striving to do just that, in very real and concrete ways. Perhaps you think you could do better. I think all of us think that we personally could do better. However we have to keep our eyes on the prize and our role. Feeling bad about a situation we can't make better comes with the territory of being a compassionate person. We make a mistake however, if we let that distract us from the work God has for us individually.

Getting back to the homeless guy. I think you were to hard on yourself for felling bad about not giving the homeless guy money, and to easy on yourself by suggesting that giving the guy money would satisfy Isaiah 58.

Just I little side note: I heard an estimate a few years ago that the average "street begger" in Portland, OR made $40K a year. We can assume that is tax free.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (4:27 PM) : 

I need to change my job. Any suggestions on which corner is better?


Blogger Mike's America said ... (7:24 PM) : 

Dave: I don't know if you have ever come across Jungle Mom on various blogs. Her family lives full time in the jungles of Venezuela helping the poor Indians that Hugo Chavez has forgotten about:


I admire all of you that heed the call to serve in the way you do.


Blogger heidianne jackson said ... (12:03 PM) : 

hi dave. i just finally followed your link from dee's place and read some of your postings. this one, especially, hit home for me.

i applaud your actions and the course you are taking in your life. however, i don't see how your faith is at odds with the politics of the current day.

perhaps you have forgotten that isaiah is written for each person and not for society or governments. it is written so that we are each impacted in the manner in which will be most convicting for each of us.

throwing money at a homeless person (or a poor person or an illegal alien, etc.) is not the answer and will not truly help that person in the long run. it is doing what you are doing in your missions.

missions are carried out within this country everyday. political parties, government and/or society cannot effectively carry out these missions because their goals and motivations are not the same.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (2:19 PM) : 

good stuff heidi. you can be sure i will return to this theme often this fall.


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