Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is Politics Trumping Mercy?

In this age of the demise of many magazines because of the great growth of information on the Internet, a small Christian community in New York known as the Bruderhof has bravely begun to publish the Plough Quarterly, an excellent new publication said to be “breaking ground for a renewed world.”
The theme of the Winter 2016 issue, which I received earlier this month, is just their seventh one, and it is a good one. Each issue has a theme expressed in one word, and the theme of the new issue is “Mercy.”
A week ago, on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (about which I wrote in my previous article), the Jubilee Year of Mercy began in the Catholic Church.
Back in April, Pope Francis issued a public statement that the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy would begin on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. And he went on to declare, “The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive.”
I don’t fully understand all that is meant by the Jubilee Year, but I do comprehend that Pope Francis is calling upon Catholics, and all Christians, to “live lives shaped by mercy.”
According to Catholic teachings, seven types of actions are called “the corporeal works of mercy.” They include the seven things you see in the following image:
 So even though they are on a vastly different scale, a small Protestant group and the large and powerful Catholic Church are emphasizing mercy at the very same time. That seems to be highly appropriate, for in the Bible the prophet Micah spoke these powerful words about God’s desire for us humans:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8, NIV)
Acts of mercy are central to the Christian faith.
One definition of mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” The dictionary’s third definition of mercy is “compassionate treatment of those in distress.”
As I understand it, the Bible’s emphasis on mercy is particularly of the latter type—and that is the type of mercy found in the Catholic Church’s list of “corporeal works of mercy.”
Recently (here) I was critical of Kentucky’s new governor and the other (mostly Republican) governors who are so negative about accepting Syrian refugees. Of course there has to be extensive checks on those coming into this country and the safety of U.S. citizens must always be a matter of great concern.
But why does anyone think the President or the (mostly Democratic) governors who want to receive Syrian refugees are not concerned about the safety issue? Of course they are.
Like so many other current matters, the acceptance of Syrian refugees into this country is to a large degree a political issue.
Among other things, the Republican presidential candidates have greatly exaggerated the number of Syrian refugees being considered. Donald Trump even charged that the President wants to bring 250,000 into this country. But the real figure under consideration for 2016 is around 10,000.

It is a real shame that politicians (and the segment of the public supporting those politicians) put politics ahead of mercy. I have it on good authority (see Matthew 5:7) that it is the merciful who will be blessed; for to them mercy will be shown.

21 comments:

  1. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is quoted in the current issue of Time (where she is also person of the year) saying, back on Sept. 30: "Fear has never been a good adviser, neither in our personal lives nor in our society. ... Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear will without doubt not get a grip on the future."

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    1. My apology; the date was actually Sept. 3. (Freudian slip, I guess, since my birthday is Sept. 30.) :-)

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    2. Thanks, Anton, for your comments, and thanks for making reference to the statement by Chancellor Merkel.

      Perhaps you also noted this statement in the Time article about her:

      "By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom. The pastor’s daughter wielded mercy like a weapon."

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    3. Indeed, I noticed the quotation.

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  2. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, I commend to you (Central Baptist Theological Seminary President) Dr. Molly Marshall's "The urgency of mercy," a recent article about the Pope's declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the great need for mercy at this time.

    Here is the link to that article: read:https://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/30741-the-urgency-of-mercy

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    1. Dr. Marshall graciously responded to my email to her mentioning the above link to her article:

      "Thanks so much for linking to my article. I am inviting Central to a year of mercy, which has the possibility to shape our community in new ways."

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    2. Later this morning Dr. Marshall posted a related article on her Trinitarian Soundings blog. The link is http://mtmarshall.blogspot.com/2015/12/mindful-of-your-mercy.html

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  3. You might also enjoy a posting on facebook by Robert Mann - https://www.facebook.com/themastershift/photos/a.132528563557104.29488.123685654441395/470875049722452/?type=3

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    1. This is a good sentiment, but the sad fact is that 100 (or even 1000) "random acts of love" don't come close to having as much impact on society as just one act of terror--partly because the latter gets covered by all the news media.

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  4. Politics is generally a mediocre to horrible platform for change. However, I have been impressed with positive reforms and changes of President Magufuli of Tanzania. I expected something like this from his general election opponent, not the leader of the revolutionary party. The only US candidates who bring any ethics to the Presidential race are Sanders and Carson. I doubt either could or should win.

    The Church is not much of a platform anymore either. Too political across the board. Many call for change, but their disciples just seem to bring that back to politics, regardless of brand. The same is probably true of most religions. May we with our own selected place within the Church find our niche to make a difference, for the glory of God. Thank you for your niche with this blog.

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    1. What to make of mercy vs justice?? I see that throngs of Wahutu are once again fleeing to Tanzania. But there are also many going to Rwanda to join the rebels, in hopes of overthrowing tyranny. Troubles abound in the homeland, and around the world, including "Christian" against "Christian" (or other "peace-loving" groups). Sometimes it is hard to define who the "enemy" is, since perceptions vary. Mercy probably works best one on one.

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  5. Mercy is not getting much of a hearing politically these days. Not only from the candidates, but also the citizenry. Donald Trumps poll numbers have only gone up since his very clear statement about closing the borders to Muslims.

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    1. Thanks for your pertinent comment, Charles. What disturbs me most is not Trump leading the polls but that his numbers have, indeed, gone up since his statement about keeping Muslims out of our country--and that now 40% of Republican voters apparently support him.

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    2. Trump is worrisome. I think Cruz is dangerous, far more dangerous than Trump.

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  6. I have been astounded by the power of fear in the minds of dear friends/relatives. Many of these folks have been my spiritual mentors and exemplary pillars in their communities. But, in the case of Syrian refugees they have become alien to the teachings of Jesus. Though they don't see it that way. When I share my insights, it is a a growing brick wall. This is not the country I thought I lived in.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this, Steve. It is truly sad when family members and especially religious people allow fears (often fanned by politicians) to overpower the teachings of Jesus and the Bible's message about showing mercy.

      We clearly live in a country that is very greatly polarized politically. And while there are, no doubt, people of both (all) political persuasions who feel some fear and anxiety because of the possibility of more terrorist attacks in our country, it seems that the calls for rejecting refugees, keeping Muslims out of the country, etc. come overwhelmingly from one side.

      That is the reason I suggested that politics is trumping mercy. Presidential candidates on that side are fanning the flames of fear and xenophobia primarily for political purposes.

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  7. Mercy is always in short supply. Some examples I spotted in the news today: How Hedge Funds Are Pillaging Puerto Rico, at this link: http://prospect.org/article/how-hedge-funds-are-pillaging-puerto-rico and One Woman's Case Proves: It's Basically Impossible to Get Off the 'No-Fly List' at this link: https://www.propublica.org/article/fbi-checked-wrong-box-rahinah-ibrahim-terrorism-watch-list

    The first story outlines how Puerto Rico is being steamrolled for its unserviceable debt, much as is happening more publicly to Greece by Europe. One irony of the story is that all Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and are eligible to vote as soon as the land in US proper. Apparently they are being registered in large numbers as they flee to Florida.

    The second is a much smaller story in that it tells one woman's story of life interrupted by the no-fly list. The irony is that it appears she is one of the last persons who should be banned, a successful architect and professor in Malaysia with a PhD from Stanford. Her decade-long legal struggle to be allowed to attend professional functions in the United States would make a great SNL skit. Unfortunately, the Kafkaesque absurdities are all too real. Hardly an advertisement for the great USA in the Islamic world. Note: The title I posted was from the article I read on The Daily Beast, when I went back to look for the link I found the copublished article on ProPublica with a slightly different title.

    In lighter news, the San Francisco Giants spent $130 million on a six-year deal with Johnny Cueto. Which, based on his experience this year with the Royals, raises an interesting question, Can he pitch in the World Series anywhere besides Kansas City? Now what does this have to do with mercy? Well, what did you say when you read, "$130 million?"

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    1. Thanks for sharing these stories, Craig. I'll just comment on the first one. It was sad to read about the situation in Puerto Rico, about which I know little. My conclusion is that rather than being a case of politics trumping mercy it is a situation where greed is trumping mercy.

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  8. I find “mercy” to be a broad [and there is everything right with that] biblical concept (like “love”). So I chime in cautiously with only a few thoughts.

    In Micah 6:8 the Hebrew has ‘chesed’; the Greek has ‘eleos’; and in English we have several renderings with mercy, kindness quite frequent. But [we knew that ‘but’ was coming :-)] although (it seems) most of the Septuagint uses of ‘eleos’ are for ‘chesed’ [especially the construction “do/show/make ‘chesed’”], what I find important and suggestive is that ‘eleos’ (noun), ‘eleeo’ (verb), and ‘eleemon’ (adj.),) are used for Hebrew grace/favor words such as ‘chanan’ (n.), ‘chanan’ (v.), and ‘channun’ (adj.) *and* compassion/feeling words like ‘racham’ (n.), ‘racham’ (v.), and ‘rachum’ (adj.).

    [Among the stuff I’m leaving out are Hebrew ‘nacham’ words where mercy is an “easing”, a “letting-up”, a “repenting”, a “changing-of-one’s-mind”.]

    My simple inference from this brief study [please check my work]: acts of life-enhancing care (love), ‘chesed’, involve us in performing acts which need not (cannot?) be reciprocated (grace/favor); and acts which arise from our sense of deep connection [‘racham’ words are about “womb-like” feelings, frequently also rendered by ‘oiktir’-based words in LXX] when we feel like siblings to other persons (compassion/feeling).

    Matthew (5:7) says the merciful (‘eleemon’) are fortunate; Luke (6:36) challenges us to become compassionate (‘oiktirmon’) in the way God is compassionate.

    Also the comments by others have suggested to me that Godly “mercy” risks helping without compensation and calls us to put ourselves into the plight of the other: favor and feeling.

    Forgive my ramblings. “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” – Frederick Faber

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  9. Here are pertinent comments received just yesterday from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments.

    "There is no question that politics trumps mercy.

    "It is encouraging to see the seven signs of mercy emphasized instead of the seven deadly sins. I would, however, replace 'burying the dead,' which is certainly important, with 'work for peace and universal tolerance.' Of all the disasters suffered by human beings, war is definitely the most preventable and totally unnecessary. We should work to end all war as war is the cause of much of the need for the other mercies on the list."

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    1. Thanks for your good comments, Eric.

      Yes, I was a bit perplexed that “burying the dead” was the seventh work of mercy, and I wonder what the dynamic behind that was. I certainly agree with you that "work for peace and universal tolerance” would be far better.

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