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Politics of Scripture

When we serve the least among us, we serve God

God’s call is not to engage in politics of personal power or self-service, but engage in a politics of liberation, one that ends the idolatrous hold on power so many have.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first, and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it;
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8

“Is there any god besides me?” is a political question. The rhetorical question calls to a radical political reorientation that not only challenges us to not worship other gods, but also to divest of oppressive power. For those who worship God, whether they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, God’s call to fidelity, as is demonstrated in the passage from Second Isaiah above, finds its fulfillment in personal loyalty to God, as individuals express that in worship and prayer. And while that is valuable, God’s call is political in that it asks us to cease worship of other gods and be devoted to only God.

The writer of The Wisdom of Solomon expresses this very devotion in the twelfth chapter of the book, “For neither is there any god besides you whose care is for all people, to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly (v13).” Rather than focus on merely personal devotion, the writer elevates God’s actions and frames them as political. It is implied that God cares for all people and does not judge without justice.

In an environment where God has other cultic gods that “compete” with God, the application of the call in Isaiah is, in a sense, simpler. God asks for fidelity, so God’s followers must not betray God with the worship of other gods. It is not enough for them to demonstrate fidelity to God through sacrifice, God requires thanks and love, to use the Psalmist’s words, with “our whole hearts.” But in an environment where other gods are less apparent, or at least mutually tolerated, the call to worship no god but God may fall on deaf ears. Most of us have enough trouble worshiping one god, let alone finding devotion in others.

Are we then off the hook because we are not seeking the love of other gods? Perhaps not. Even though the gods we worship that violate God’s fidelity are less apparent, we must still interrogate ourselves where we may fall short. After all, the infidelity of Israel was not also apparent to it, either.

For Israel, worshiping or fraternizing with foreign gods was just a matter of political practicality. The frail and divided nation found itself often in a weakened state against the warring empires that surrounded it. Rather than being crushed by them, Israel and Judah’s kings often allied with them against the words of their very prophets. For Israel, and for us, finding safety in worldly gods or worldly power is often just a matter of survival and prudence. But the steadfast love of God asks for transcendings the temptations of practical matters. In fact, engaging in accumulation of  personal power in this way is an affront to the faithfulness of God. It is an action that says to God that we don’t trust God.

So the question we must ask ourselves is what powers have we turned to instead of trusting God? Perhaps we can name the more flagrant examples. Most clearly, we have right-wing Christians turning toward political office and judicial selection to codify values that protect their interests into law. A clear instance of this is in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization where the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Row v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Rather than trusting God, American Christians elected presidents that appointed radical justices that overturned reproductive rights in a brazen fashion. The faith they put in the Supreme Court, instead of God, is an idolatrous action against God, who commands us to have exclusive love and faithfulness to God and God alone.

We see the same pattern repeat itself as Christian Nationalists ally with white supremacists and fascists in the U.S. right now, their thirst for power, which could be rooted in lacking faith in God, is another example of this idolatry that is an affront to God. Rather than trusting God, they are leaning on other sources of political power for security.

These colorful examples show us that infidelity to God is alive and well in modern times, but what about people who are not far-right Christians and who even opposed the Supreme Court appointees that led to overturning the right to an abortion? They aren’t off the hook. What powers do they hold higher than God? As a brown queer cis-gendered man, I divest of masculine power; the same is true for white women divesting of whiteness, or able-bodied white gay men, divesting of the power of their able-bodiedness. 

For that, we must turn within ourselves, and consider what orders us: is it God or it is worldly power structures? Powers like whiteness, patriarchy, heteronormativity, able-bodiedness, not to mention, violence and wealth (or mammon) order us above God, sometimes without even knowing it. Being born into a world where class, race, gender, ability, and sexuality order us, we are often inadvertently worshiping other gods, an affront to God.

So what are we to do? Divest consciously from these power structures by engaging in liberation work for those who those powers oppress. Our anti-oppression work is then a delight to God, as we seek to serve God and not these other gods or powers.

As we resist self-serving politics of power, some may wonder if any political action is idolatrous. Certainly, we have seen critics of antiracism and LBGTQIA inclusion deride these movements as merely power-grabbing and political. From far exposing a double standard, these critics speak from a place of personal power and protecting it. In protecting their power, they further inequality, and the politics of God is one that calls us to pursue and enact equity.

Some have argued that the attempts by queer, poor, disabled, women, and BIPOC people are a violation of God’s call. They argue that these minorities put other god beside God, that they are just power-grabbing like the Christian Nationalists who oppose them. But these assertions are false. God is on the side of the oppressed; and uplifting them ultimately uplifts God. It undoes power structures that are an affront to God.

God’s call is not to engage in politics of personal power or self-service, but engage in a politics of liberation, one that ends the idolatrous hold on power so many have. The political work that accompanies God’s proclamation that there is no god besides God is that of liberation and freedom.

So then the powerful are called to do two things: divest of their own power by elevating the presence and voices of the oppressed, while also working against powers that seek to silence those voices. The oppressed side with God, and God with them. Empowering them is an offering to God of loyalty. When we serve the least among us, we serve God.

We then learn of our oppressive powers by listening to those we marginalize, and we never assume that we are not susceptible to the temptations of power. The resulting work is then intersectional. We make a way for God and God’s preeminence by seeing the opportunity to become more like God when we divest of our power, and cease the worship of the gods of oppression, which is an act of idolatry. Our acts of worship become whole when we accompany them with anti-oppression work. If we worship God, but still hold on these powers, we are disloyal to God. Only when we let go of those powers can we truly worship God and no god besides God. Only then can we honor God when God says, “I am the first, and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

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