Since the 2016 election cycle, and in fairness, even long before that, but certainly ratcheted since Trump entered the ring, has been a lot of talk about “Christian values” in politics. The latest is the Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore, who amid allegations of sexual impropriety with minors is apparently doubling down on his conservative Christian values push to get beyond the controversy. Maybe to some there are liberal Christian values and to others there are conservative Christian values, but just as Pope Francis has declared that there’s no such thing as a non-negotiable value as some like to put it, Christian values are exactly this way as well. They are definable by the very merit of the founder of the faith, Jesus Christ. And, these values can’t be politically manipulated to match an agenda. Even though it seems almost every conservative politician wants to do so.
So what exactly is a Christian value? Regardless of denomination, or biblical interpretation, or congregational creed, there’s one thing that all Christian sects agree 100% on and that is, God is love. Equally true of all in Christendom everyone agrees that Jesus personifies this love and teaches us to love God and love others. Apparently the challenge comes to play when identifying and deciding just what that love really looks like.
I suppose to conservatives that love looks like prayer in schools and places of government even if it hedges out those of differing beliefs. It look’s like a death penalty for those guilty of egregious crimes against humanity. Conservatives would generally agree that Christian values mean less access to abortion and likewise less access to contraception. Conservative Christian values would repeal even Supreme Court decision that would allow marriage to be expressed legally and freely between consenting adults regardless of gender. These seem to be a solid list of those particular top-shelf issues concerning conservative Christians.
In fairness let’s look at what liberal Christian values may include. These would have to be greater safety nets for those requiring assistance for basic needs such as healthcare, housing and nourishment. Liberal values may also encompass the free expression of religious beliefs in a pluralistic fashion realizing that not all people are of the same religious expression. Another hallmark of liberal values would be a funding mechanism that’s based fairly on those capable of contributing more actually contributing more so that all may have an opportunity to thrive, or at least survive.
So let’s look at two places in scripture where we see the most prime examples of Christ’s teaching on what he thinks is valuable for those wishing to follow him. First let’s look at Matthew 25. This chapter of Matthew’s gospel is comprised of three main parts. We have the parable of the Virgins awaiting the bridegroom, then the parable of the Talents and finally the prophecy of the Sheep and Goats. So to break these down the virgins are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive when some of them run out of oil for their lamps. Those running low have to leave to find more oil and those with surplus oil are ready and waiting when the bridegroom arrives. Traditionally all of Christendom interprets this the same way and that is to be ready and waiting. Stocked up on the goods. Whatever it takes you need to be prepared. Not to get too philosophical, but this is one of the more confusing messages in all of scripture to me. If we are to accept the free gift of grace that is openly given to all, then why would anyone need to buy oil for their lamps who were waiting for the bridegroom? Why is this even a thing? So let’s add the second parable in and see if it opens a clue or two.
The next section of Matthew 25 we find the parable of three talents. Here we have a master departing for a journey and investing in three of his servants. One we see getting three talents, the other two and finally one. The one with three goes out and makes more, same with the one with two, and the one with one buries his in the ground to await the return of the master only to find that he’s been wicked for doing this and not investing his talents to produce more? Again, this is confusing, especially in light of the prior passage. Here we are again with a very conditional situation for what is supposed to be a free opportunity. If this grace thing is open to all, then why do we see those who were trying to please their masters in the best way they knew how shunned in this fashion by the guy they were waiting for.
Let’s look at the final part of the chapter and see if the picture gets a little clearer or not. Here we see Jesus talking about what will be. He’s not talking parables here but rather prophecy. And in this example of what is to come he suggests that we are all going to fall in one category or the other. We, in the end, will either be a sheep or a goat. And in this final thinning of the flock there is only one major difference between the two groups. One, the sheep, were there for those in need. Feeding, clothing, healing, including, they saw the needs and they responded, whatever they were. The second group, the goats, even has to ask, Lord, when did we see you? Because Jesus intimates clearly that what you do for others you do for him.
So, in these oddly conditional situations where grace is supposedly given freely it’s all culminated in the end. And, you see clearly why some had oil and some had more talents. This was all hinged on your response to others in need. Much like the second prime example of Christian value in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. We all know this, at least peripherally, but there is a striking example here in the protagonist in the story. The Samaritans were considered less than human, savage half-breeds, animals, yet this is the one who becomes the hero in the story because of his simple willingness to see a need and respond.
So in the end there are no such things as conservative or liberal Christian values. Responding to needs cannot be politicized. Either we see the injustice and respond, or we turn a blind eye. We can pretend that *our* values will save us, but if God is love and if our greatest expression of the love of God is not loving God back, but loving his children and his creation, then we need to open our eyes to those opportunities that are in front of us everyday. We will be given those chances and the key to them being valuable is merely how we respond.