Twisted Samaritan

Over a decade ago at the Tulsa Workshop, I signed up for a lifetime subscription to The Christian Chronicle. While I was in Brazil my forwarding secretary sent it down from time to time in packets with other mail, and now in New Jersey I continue to receive it. Normally, I take it to work and read it occasionally when I don’t have anything else to do (which is rare). This morning I had a quiet first hour of work, so I picked up this Church of Christ newspaper and paged through it. One thing I read, in an article about Church of Christ member and U.S. congressman Ted Poe. In general I was disappointed in the article, but one paragraph in particular really bothered me, and has been on my mind all day now:

“In Washington, Poe has founded the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus and helped pass a law that tracks child predators across state lines once they leave prison. In his view, the Parable of the Good Samaritan provides a biblical basis for taking care of crime victims. ‘The example in that story … was to have compassion on the guy who gets beat up and robbed,’ he said. ‘The Lord didn’t say anything about having compassion on the robber.’”

There was a time when I might have found such reasoning clever. That time is now long past, thank God.

First, Jesus did not tell the parable of the Good Samaritan in order to teach us about how to treat the assailant. This was, rather, a strong condemnation of the purist nationalism of the Judaism of his day. Jesus was saying that the prevailing notions that Israel was elect, and therefore the rest of the world was nothing but a pack of hounds that could be dumped in Gehenna (literally) were untrue. Jesus was saying a lot of things with this story, but the one thing he wasn’t saying was how robbers should be penalized.

Second, isn’t it the a cappella Church of Christ that keeps telling the rest of us how wrong and sinful (and stupid) we are for using musical instruments in worship to God, as did David and the singers in the ancient temple? Don’t they base this argument, in the main, on the silence of the New Testament, saying that we ought not “go beyond” what we are expressly commanded and taught? How, then, does this congressman who is reportedly a faithful Church of Christ man come up with an even more imaginative interpretation of silence than any ever set for by those who use instruments in worship?

Third, though I breathed a sigh of relief when I considered that this man is not currently in active ministry, I was then jarred by the realization that he is in a position of worldly power, one of the nation’s policy maker’s. The descriptions of his creative punishments for criminals seemed reasonable at times, absurd or just cruel at others, but overall left me with the impression that he knows a lot about making people feel bad, but not much about radical forgiveness or true restoration and healing.

Rep. Ted Poe is a genuine product of his religious upbringing. God have mercy on him, and on the rest of us, and help us do better with the next generation.

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