Not location, location...covenants, covenants.
Noticing that the last post evolved into an abortion/death penalty discussion, I thought it would be 'fun' to both defend and challenge what is perceived as an inconsistency on the part of those people who believe, both in preserving life in the womb, and in the death penalty. When we read our Bibles, we can't simply claim promises or apply precepts willy/nilly. Heck, if we did, we'd be killing disobedient children, forbidding women to worship during their monthly period, and cutting off our hands, among other things.
No, instead of wooden literal application, we need to wrestle with the question of whether any particular text has precepts and promises that we are to live by/under today, or whether particular promises/commands are limited in their scope of application to a particular people group. For example, Deuteronomy 28 promises wealth, fertility, and victory in battle to all those who obey God. Can we claim this promise as our own?
I don't think so, because this is a promise given to the nation of Israel in the context of their life as a theocracy, where God is King and the law is found in Exodus and Leviticus. Since neither America or any other nation is a theocracy in this moment, we can't rightly claim the promises given to a theocratic nation, nor are we bound by its laws. This doesn't mean there's nothing of value in those laws. Many of them, in principle at least, were later reiterated by Jesus with an even fuller application than that which was initially observed by the Jews. But to claim promises or be bound by Old Testament law would mean that the covenant of Moses belongs to us today; I don't think that's true, and if it were true you would need to apply it wholly and literally in every situation. Any takers?
OK, so we've looked at what is called the "Mosaic" covenant and I've explained why I don't think it applies directly to us, but is rather a place from which we gleam principles. What about the covenant with Noah? It's offered to us in Genesis 9 and includes in it, among other things, the eating of meat, the reality that animals will forever be afraid of people, the promise that God will never again destroy the earth by a flood, and... get ready for it: the notion that a person who kills a human should be punished by being put to death. There it is, right there in God's covenant with Noah, based on the notion that human life is so precious that the punishment for forfeiture of life should be 'forfeiture of life'.
You can go ahead and argue about whether it makes sense; you can discuss the problems of conviction of innocents; you can talk about the myriad of problems that arise in trying to apply this justly and consistently. But what you can't do is say that God never favored the death penalty. He did - and He did it in the covenant made with Noah, a covenant which we're told is still in place today, for all people on the earth. This isn't some esoteric precept offered to an ancient theocracy - this is a precept given at the end of the flood, ostensibly to preserve the dignity of humans, and curb violence.
Whether I agree with our particular application of the death penalty in the United States isn't the point of this entry. (I don't) But when people say that it's hypocrisy to be 'pro-life' and 'pro-death penalty', they need to think through their covenants: which ones apply to today and which ones don't? The charge of hypocrisy seems to be rooted in a cursory reading of the Bible that doesn't consider thoughtfully enough which covenants apply to us directly and which don't.
Perhaps most significantly, we need to ask if the ethic of Jesus, particularly the ethic of loving one's enemies and laying down one's life as a means of disarming violence, doesn't trump all other covenants. The author to the Hebrews hints that it does.
But even this leaves us in a quandary, for Paul would later declared that the government is granted the sword precisely for the purpose of curbing evil. There's a time for the state, apparently, to challenge oppression and violence through the use of weapons. Of course, this leads to a whole different subject, a 'can of worms' so to speak, and it's late, so I'll leave things right where they are, except to say that the one precept that seems to be in almost every covenant, from Abraham to Jesus, is the call to care for the poor. Paul and James, unarguably proponents of the covenant under which we live today, both claim that caring for the poor is the ONE THING that gives evidence to the reality of our faith. That's why health care is such a vital issue, where radical changes are needed.
PS - Mr. Obama gave a remarkable speech tonight in my opinion. Perhaps most encouraging was his capacity to find ground for consensus building on various divisive positions, ground we so desperately need to find once again as a nation. There are so very many issues at stake in this election that I pray none of us will become single issue candidates, but rather that we will listen carefully, dialog openly, and choose wisely.