The Golden Calf

Yesterday, I stumbled across a Facebook thread between two of my college friends. The thread quickly went off the rails as one of my friends (male) brought their pet topic (abortion) into an unrelated post, and heatedly rebutted all of the comments posted by a number of female commenters including my other friend. Now, I’m totally not surprised by the behavior of my male friend, as he has morphed into an extremely politically and doctrinally rigid person since we left college, which has been a bit shocking to see considering the generous and easygoing person he was when I knew him. And as I watched him mansplain and ultimately belittle those who questioned him, I was saddened to see how small and angry he seemed to have become.

The conversation also led me to think more broadly about the moment we find ourselves in as a country. How have we gotten to a place where our opponents are no longer our neighbors who hold different political views, but that we consider them our enemies out to destroy all that we hold dear? How have we gotten to a place where we are talking about rejecting election results, civil unrest, and perhaps even civil war?

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the ten commandments, the story goes, he found that the Israelites, tired of waiting for him to finish his time with God, had constructed a golden calf to serve as the object of their worship. And some time later, established in the Promised Land, the Israelites, tired of looking weak by not having a King of their own, demanded that God give them one. In both cases, things ended poorly for Israel. Death, misrule, and exile awaited them in their impatience. But how does any of this apply to our current time?

A thought came to me after reading the thread between my two friends. It seems that Americans are having their own Golden Calf Moment. As talk radio morphed into agenda-driven cable news, blogs, and ultimately social media, politics has become more than something that neighbors politely disagree about and then get back to enjoying one another’s company at the pot luck. It has become an all-encompassing idol, crowding out grace and friendship as we draw battle lines.

A few hundred years after the impatience of Israel demanding a King, Jesus came on the scene and told us that “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44). Sadly, even the American church has gone down the road of the tyranny of the golden calf of politics, instead of the narrow gate of servanthood. Can we ever relearn to love our neighbors as ourselves? Can we ever dethrone politics from its priority place in our lives?

If we all make it through this wild election and likely post-election season, my hope is firmly placed in the church, or at least MY church, finding its way in the way of love. The way of Jesus. And not the way of the golden calf of politics.

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