Thoughts Informed by History

A Commentary on History and Current Affairs

Month: May, 2016

The Bible in American Politics

In The Political History of the Bible in America,  Paul Hanson seeks a “theo-political hermeneutic” (theocratic method for the interpretation of scripture) that can guide political life in America.  He reviewed the past application of the Bible to American society and politics and found they lacked a systematic foundation.  Too often, the Bible was simply a source of texts chosen to support a particular position.  Hanson studied Jewish and Christian history and literature, both biblical and extra-biblical, searching for an adequate hermeneutic to inform decisions in today’s world.  Hanson used modern scholarship to place texts in their historical context and determine what they meant when they were written.  Hanson believes that God progressively reveals Himself through texts and circumstances.  Indeed, as circumstances change over time, not only are new texts written, but older texts are re-interpreted.

The Bible teaches from beginning to end that God is sovereign over both Israel and the universe and that He has chosen Israel as His people.  He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and continued to bless and protect them.  But He also punished them when they failed to obey His commandments.  Hanson emphasizes the importance of the commandments found in Exodus 20:22-23:19, many of which protected slaves, foreigners, and the poor.   God will bless such a society.  The gospels show how compassionate Jesus was toward suffering people.

The kings of Judah and Israel were also to obey these laws. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)  Persians and Romans could be tolerated if they did not interfere with the worship of the one God.  Similarly, early Christians had no conflict with Rome until Rome attempted to compel Christians to worship the emperor.  The Bible does not prescribe any particular form of human government, but warns that man and human institutions are imperfect.  The apocalyptic visions of Daniel, Revelation, and the Dead Sea scrolls all agree that the future is in the control of God, and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth will be the work of God.

After his long survey of the history of Israel and the written commentaries on that history, he suggests guidelines for contemporary political discussion and action.  We should remember that human institutions are subject to error.  As individuals, we should not dogmatically assume that our positions on specific issues represent the will of God.  Because we now live in a pluralistic society, we must be considerate of alternative viewpoints.  In this way, we can contribute to a more just society in accord with the commandments of God.


Divided Republicans – Again

A century ago, the Republican Party was in turmoil.  In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt challenged President William Howard Taft for the presidential nomination.  When the Republican national convention chose Taft, Roosevelt won the presidential nomination of a new party, the Progressives.  During the campaign, Roosevelt declared he was as fit as a bull moose, thereby adding a this political mascot to the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey.  (The Socialists did not have a mascot.)  Liberal Republicans joined the Progressives; conservative Republicans backed Taft.  The Democrats nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson and the Socialists chose Eugene Debs.  With the Republicans split, Wilson became the first Democratic president of the twentieth century.  After the election, some Republicans, including Roosevelt, returned to their party, but others stayed with the Progressives and then joined the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party emerged from this crisis as a much more conservative organization.  Liberal Republicans from the Midwest and West wielded some influence, but a Republican pro tem of the Senate dismissed them as the “Sons of the Wild Jackass”.   Conservative Republicans dominated the 1920s until the Great Depression transformed the political landscape, and the Democratic Party took power in 1933.

How Donald Trump will change the Republican Party is now the question of the hour.  If he loses in November, then it is likely that his nomination was only an aberration of our political system. If Trump wins, he will certainly transform the Republican Party, and perhaps even the Democratic Party.  Global economic changes and other world events influenced by a Trump presidency could have consequences that will dwarf Trump’s domestic political impact.   It is also a certainty that the unexpected will happen, and President Trump’s response will be critical.  We may look back on 2016 as the start of a new era.