John Mark Reynolds (hereafter JMR) recently made the following statement:
“I just read that Senator Ted Kennedy has a serious illness. I stopped what I was doing and prayed for him and urge you to do the same. This is true, even if you disagree with him politically as I do. Common humanity is more important than politics. Failure to realize this is neither conservative nor Christian. We pray for Senator Kennedy as a human being, because we recognize the limits of politics. His soul and his pain are more important than all the budgets that have ever been passed.”
There are a couple of problems with this statement. For one thing, political differences between liberals and conservatives run deeper than budgetary concerns. Just to take a few of the less morally freighted issues, Kennedy’s political positions on illegal immigration, gun-control, school choice, judicial activism, and school choice are hardly equivalent to whether a bridge is built in so-and-so’s Congressional district.
I’m not saying this is a reason to refrain from praying for Kennedy. Just that JMR is trivializing the issue when he reduces the differences to all the budgets that have ever been passed. And that’s even before we get to the morally meatier issues.
For another thing, the Bible doesn’t invoke our common humanity to erase all distinctions between the righteous and the wicked. Scripture is full of prophetic denunciations against the wicked. More on that later.
“We will all face the painful evidence of our mortality. Only a saint or a cad can fail to have sympathy for any sick man. The saint can do so because he is wise and deeply insightful enough to know when sympathy is not appropriate or helpful.”
But common humanity doesn’t distinguish between the saint, the sick, and the cad. So JMR is applying contradictory criteria.
By definition, wouldn’t saintly criteria trump common humanity? The saints would represent the best of humanity. If there are times when it’s appropriate to be unsympathetic, then shouldn’t the rest of us follow the lead of our spiritual betters?
“We pray for every person what we pray for self, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’.”
That’s would be a valid reason to pray for Kennedy. At the same time, that would be a valid reason to pray for any number of people. But there are only so many hours in a day. Only so many people I can pray for.
Suppose I pull down that dusty high school yearbook of mine. That’s been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long. I thumb through the photos. Page after page. How many of them do I still remember? For three years I saw them every day. Sat with them. Spoke with them. Ate with them.
Here’s an idea. Instead of offering a prayer for Ted Kennedy, suppose I pray for five of my old classmates everyday. Maybe a different set every day. Lots of folks are going to pray for Ted Kennedy. But what about my old classmates? Who gives them a second thought?
You know, there are some people who, if you don’t pray for them, no one else will. You’re the only steppingstone to heaven they have.
“Why pray for Senator Kennedy when we don’t know him? Are we just being ‘star struck’ and honoring the famous more for their fame? If our humanity is common, then shouldn’t we stop and pray for everyone. Would we ever do anything but sympathize with the pain of the billions around us? Partly, we should never stop praying sympathetically.”
But he just said that there are times when a saint will withhold sympathetic prayer.
“However, some men and women fall within our circle of accountability for special prayer.”
I agree with this statement. See above.
“Our leaders are some of those people. If Saint Paul can ask the Roman Christians to pray for their regional kings, there is no member of our government who does not merit this concern.”
I assume he’s alluding to 1 Tim 2:2. If so, there are several problems with his appeal:
i) When you apply a Biblical injunction to a modern situation, you need to consider the underlying rationale. 2 Tim 2:2 includes a purpose statement: “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.”
In other words, Christians were a religious minority, living in a hostile world. They should pray for benign rulers.
But if that’s the point of the command, then it hardly applies to Kennedy’s situation. He’s on the way out.
ii) When you apply a Biblical injunction to a modern situation, you also need to apply it to an analogous situation. You need to recontextualize the command. Under our form of government, Ted Kennedy isn’t my elected representative. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t even live in Massachusetts.
iii) Can we pray for every local, state, and federal employee? I don’t think so. Did Roman Christians pray for every functionary of the state? I don’t think so.
“We are honoring one of our leaders who is wounded when we pray for Senator Kennedy.”
What if Ted. Kennedy is dishonorable? Should we honor him anyway?
“Senator Kennedy chose to live a life of public service. He need not have done so. He has been a leader of the Republic for decades, for good and ill, but Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders. We also honor him for his position and for his sacrifices. The Kennedy family has given a great deal to the nation and it appropriate for all of us to honor this commitment.”
Well, that’s a very charitable interpretation. I beg to differ.
i) To begin with, when I look at the Kennedy clan, I see a lot of raw ambition. A hunger for power and prestige.
ii) But even if you think that JFK or Bobby Kennedy or Rose Kennedy made a great contribution, Ted Kennedy doesn’t automatically get the credit for what they did.
iii) Ted Kennedy strikes me as a rich kid who feels guilty about his hereditary wealth. And so he appeases his guilt by taxing the middle class, redistributing their income, and assuming the role of a national busybody. I don’t find that the least bit honorable.
Compare Ted Kennedy to William F. Buckley, another rich kid and Roman Catholic who put his hereditary fortune to a very different and far more admirable use.
But that’s not the worst of it. Ted Kennedy is an evil man. He’s an evil man in private life and public life. From Chappaquiddick through his role in the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo to his untiring advocacy of abortion, sodomy, and stem cell research, he’s right up there with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse-tung as one of the all-time enemies of all that’s good, decent, defenseless and innocent.
The Bible has some choice descriptions of crime and punishment. Before we get teary-eyed about Ted Kennedy, maybe we should ask ourselves if JMR’s attitude is entirely warranted in Scripture. What does it have to say about the fate of the wicked? A few examples might restore our sense of perspective:
31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!" 35And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. 49Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah.
21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22And the people were shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
8Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,_ like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
10They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,_ and you saints and apostles and prophets,_for God has given judgment for you against her!"
1After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
2for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
3Once more they cried out,__ "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever."
2 Kings 9:1-10
1Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, "Tie up your garments, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. 2And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. And go in and have him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. 3Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, 'Thus says the LORD, I anoint you king over Israel.' Then open the door and flee; do not linger."
4So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. 5And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council. And he said, "I have a word for you, O commander." And Jehu said, "To which of us all?" And he said, "To you, O commander." 6So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel. 7And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD. 8For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her." Then he opened the door and fled.
2 Kings 9:30-37
30When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window. 31And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, "Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?" 32And he lifted up his face to the window and said, "Who is on my side? Who?" Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. 33He said, "Throw her down." So they threw her down. And some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled on her. 34Then he went in and ate and drank. And he said, "See now to this cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter." 35But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. 36When they came back and told him, he said, "This is the word of the LORD, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, 'In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel, 37and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel.'"