Conflating (Part 2): Giving and Taking

*Posted by Kirk Spencer


In the summer of 1997, I was standing on the worn grass in “America’s Front Yard” (the National Mall in Washington D.C.)   On either side of the mall, just beyond the trees were the various buildings of the Smithsonian.  And that’s why I was there.  However, for just a moment I stood there in this long grassy room, looking around.  The mall stretched into the distance, from the pointed two-toned obelisk of the Washington Monument to the cold white stone of the Capital Building; and, as I tarried there, I suddenly realized I was standing in a basilica—a church without walls.  Here at the center of political power, I was standing in the architectural footprint of a medieval cathedral.  The grassy room of the mall itself was like the large central nave where the faithful congregation gathers.  Along the outside of the tree-lined side-aisles were the “chapels” of the Smithsonian Institution which enshrine our country’s sacred relicts.  And, in the “apse,” at the end of the nave, a congress of “priests” gathers to perform their rites of intercession.  Lately, in their “intercessions,” they have been sacrificing more than our taxes on the altar of government—they are now “asking” us to render our responsibility and rights—even our conscience and convictions. 

That a government made by (and of) Man would take more than they should, should not surprise us.  For, in Augustinian terms, the government is the self-ish “City of Man,” which, by its prerogatives, takes what is necessary to do what must be done so that the church, as the self-less “City of God,” by its commission, can give away what has been given to it.   Such a perspective can sound quaint, especially living, as we do, on the other side of both the Constantinian Compromise and the Magisterial Reformation.  Over the years, in our conflating of godliness and governing, the “city” of the “City of God” has become more than a metaphor.  The Radical Reformers and their descendants recognize that Leviathan was God’s watchdog and was never meant to be domesticated by the church.  You can still hear the faint “bark” of such a radical idea in the first two clauses of the First Amendment.

Here is part of the problem.  True “givers” give, voluntarily, from a heart that gives.  They give what they have earned or what has been given to them.  The government is not this.  Take a look at the Constitution and you will see that the American government it designed to take; and its taking is for very specific purposes—mainly defense and regulation.  Even when the government gives (pork and entitlements) it only gives what it has taken and, not as charity, but payment for services rendered—or at least that is the conceit.  In other words, when government takes the role of giving, we should not be surprised if it only gives in order to take.  For when takers give (entitlement programs) it is paid for with what they have taken (taxes and penalties); and their “giving” can very easily become an act of taking (dependency).  Not to put too fine a point on it, takers will give in order to take away the freedom, power and self-worth of those they “help” by making them dependent.  And, once they are dependent, government can take even more—things such as rights, responsibilities and convictions.  And this is not only true of governments, but can become true of any position of leadership.  This is one more reason it is important to keep from fusing and confusing giving and taking.  It is also the reason that every leader should remain circumspect about the power and responsibility that has been given to them.

If God gives, He can take.   Job understood this and blessed the LORD even in His taking (Job 1:21).   On the other hand, if a president or a preacher were to use Christ’s words “of whom much has been given much will be required” to justify a progressive tax code—while giving and taking remain distinct—there is another conflation, the conflation of godliness and governing.   In this eisegetical form, Christ words mean that what God gives, government can take—in this case money.   In Scripture, the “much” of “to whom much is given” is not money, but responsibility.  Here is the conflation maze: Leaders by way of liberation theology are using the responsibility given to them to take liberties with the very Scripture which is about leaders taking liberties with the responsibility that God has given to them.  How ironic!  The text is about a trap as old as Eden—to neglect or abuse our responsibility because the master is away—to do it because we can get away with it (or at least think we can).

So, if the Master is away and it is possible for us to get away with it, we should not be surprised if we empower ourselves with executive orders and recess appointments (even in short breaks between pro-forma sessions).  And we would certainly take advantage of the complex parliamentary maneuvers evolved over years and years of political machination.  We can shift bureaucratic power from congressional oversight by appointing czars who are only accountable to us; and, if the masters gone, we can punish whoever we want both with our bureaucratic whip and our bully pulpit; and we can spend all the resources at our disposal on as many vacations as we want, take overseas trips with a large and impressive entourage, throw large parties with celebrities.  And, when both the Master and the money are gone, we can mortgage the next generation’s future and then double down on our prodigal spending… anything we can get away with—even four years without a budget—doesn’t matter when the Master is gone.

Pretending to care in the midst of irresponsibility, takers only give in order to take.  And, as the Master tarries, in our irresponsibility, we eventually reach a point where we have a law with the title “The Federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.”  In case you can’t tell from the title, this is a law that requires medical care be given to a baby who has fought hard enough to survive an abortion attempt.  (The very fact that such a law exists is an indictment on our nation!)  We might take some cold comfort in knowing that not one of our congresspersons or senators voted against it, only until we discover that our current president (the one who spoke of “much being required”) voted against an identical law, protecting infants born alive, in the Illinois State Legislature, even after it was amended to protect all abortion rights.  http://www.lifenews.com/2011/01/02/nat-4114/   It is not just that a leader would care more for abortion rights than infants who survive abortions, which is obvious, but that this leader would let children die, just to keep the possibility of any infringement on the right of a mother to end her pregnancy, even after her pregnancy was ended in the birth of a living baby.  In moments, such as this, when I am forced to face such ideological brutality, I cannot help but see the non-conflated distinction between evolution’s taking of other’s lives to survive and Christ’s giving of His own life that others might live.  Even for those who don’t believe, at least the distinction is clear.

One day the Master will return and, in that day, to whom much responsibility has been given, much will be required.   And this requirement will not be applied to just presidents and preachers, but, in a democracy, it will apply to all those given responsibility in choosing their leaders.  And, as Thomas Jefferson (the deist?) said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and His justice does not sleep forever.”  For all the “intercessions,” of the priests of the god of Government, in their giving just to take, are now taking much more than taxes.  In rendering to Caesar, what belongs to God—our responsibility and convictions—we may soon find out that conflating giving and taking, is only one symptom of what we might call a “Moral Bubble.”  What happens when this bubble bursts?  In our common vernacular—if America were a television sitcom—the Obama episode (especially part 2), may be the moment that America “jumps-the-shark”—and falls into the mouth of Leviathan.

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