Politics in the 6th century BC were a bit more ruthless and obvious for the inhabitants of Israel than are so much that we are encountering today, what with the subtle and off-stage shenanigans that take place on our American scene. In the 6th century the emperor Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem. As was the pretty much the norm in those days, the conqueror would frequently take captive those citizens who would be useful to his court. So, it was that this emperor took the young Daniel and his three friends back to Babylon because they were “without blemish, of good appearance, and skillful in wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

But then the other shoe drops, as the story unfolds. Yes, they did prove themselves quite useful in the king’s court, but they didn’t conform to its mores. They didn’t avail themselves of all the king’s delicacies, or its sensuous lifestyle. Rather, the proved themselves and were wonderfully fruitful, but they held rigorously to their Jewish faith, spiritual disciplines, and the moral law taught in the Torah. Two things happened: 1) their competence causes them to be elevated above their Babylonian counterparts, but also 2) to incur their jealousy, and to have plots made against them because of their Jewish faith and their non-conformity to the emperor’s religious edicts. You know the rest: the lion’s den, and the fiery furnace, and their vindication by their God.

The point is that Daniel (as well as his colleagues): 1) knew who he was; 2) he did his work in such a way that it was only explainable by God; and 3) he was able to discern the idols of that culture. He was willing to pay the price for his covenant obedience.

I long for a new generation of Daniels in this frightening American political scene. There is the illusion that we are a nation guided by a constitution, and by duly elected officials … until one begins to discern where the real power lies. Who is actually making the decisions? First off, there was the Supreme Court decision entitled Citizens United, which removed limits that corporations could give to influence campaigns. But in recent days what becomes more and more obvious is the frightening political and vast economic power of the gun lobby, of the NRA. Their money and lobbying skills seem to control not only the legislatures, but too often the courts (and the president). The huge costs of campaigning for office makes politicians very vulnerable to large gifts from the NRA, and then they become its captives. (My congressman doesn’t take any money from them. Cheers!)

So, here we have this awesome number of deaths by gun violence in this country, which is inescapably linked to lax gun laws, not to mention that heartbreaking school and church shootings by deranged persons with automatic weapons. It would seem only normal that dealing with this crisis would be a priority with elected officials except that they are captive to this contemporary expression of empire. Moral compasses are ignored. So, we have Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and those who could bring solutions only equivocate and procrastinate.

Dear God, raise up a generation of Daniels who are willing to pay the price to bring about righteousness. I look to those heartbroken students in Parkland, Florida, and I take hope. They looked the adult generation and even the president in the eye, and gave them a few choice words, and began to use their giftedness to organize. One hopes that a new generation of Daniels will emerge committed to peace and order and justice to displace those who are captive to the principalities of greed and violence and mammon. Am I an unrealistic dreamer? Maybe so, but I take hope in a whole new generation of those who do not eat the emperor’s delicacies. Stay tuned …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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2 Responses to BLOG 3/2/18. POLITICS, THE EMPIRE, … AND DANIEL

  1. Craig Wertz says:

    I strongly believe in more gun control but lately I have begun to think we need to be careful about vilifying the faceless “NRA” and the influence of their money. They don’t print their money. American citizens (and yes gun makers) give their money to the NRA to communicate their beliefs to the public and to their elected officials. Just like we give our money to the church to help it achieve our priorities. When we demonize the NRA we are attacking neighbors and family members who are already fearful of the world. I’m not sure this helps our cause. I love that the faith of these students believing that they CAN change the world has inspired me and others to wake up again and find our own faith in this cause again. I’m sending some money to Sandy Hook Promise this month.

    • rthenderson says:

      Craig: Thanks. It’s the vast wealth and lobbying powers of the NRA and its ability to cut off any efforts to ban assault weapons that frightens me. One doesn’t need an AK47 to hunt deer, or personal defense. It’s complicated isn’t it?

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