This weekend will be an interesting one for me.
No, nothing really special is happening. It’s just that this weekend I will be preaching from a passage that many progressive Christians take to heart: Micah 6:8 (Actually I’m going to preach on Micah 6:1-8).
You know the passage:
He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
-Common English Bible
A lot of people who are into social justice issues love this passage and I can see why. Micah 6:8 is probably one of the most well-known verses in Scripture. It is used especially when talking about political and social issues. More often than not, the verse is used to address the whole of our society. It has been used when, for example there are planned cuts to a welfare program or for things such as the raising of the minimum wage.
But is this what that passage is all about? Are we saying that God supports the Affordable Care Act or raising the minimum wage to $15/hour?
I’ve been thinking for a while that we are doing this wrong.
Progressives get on conservative for cherry-picking Bible verses to suit their worldview. While I think that is a legitimate complaint, progressives don’t have clean hands on this either and Micah 6:8 is evidence number one.
People use this verse separated from the rest of the book of Micah. It is taken out of any context and people unwittingly use it to support their own political agendas. We forget that this passage was written to a society in Israel that had fallen away from God. Chapter 6 shows a God in pain, wondering why the people of Israel have gone their own way. In verse 6 God is saying to the people that grand displays of piety are not what God is interested in. God doesn’t need a large sacrifice. What God wants is found in verse 8: God wants the people to act just, be kind and be humble. God is calling the people of Israel to repent and follow God. It’s difficult to use this passage to speak to 21st century American society, because that is not what it was intended for.
Methodist pastor Allan Bevere has made this misuse of Micah and other prophetic verses the subject of many blog posts and one book. This is what he had to say last year in response to a progressive Christian’s blog post:
If the religious right and the left want to get the target of their hermeneutic correct, they need to understand that the commands of Scripture in the Old Testament are, by and large, directed toward the people of God Israel, and in the New Testament it is the church. It is the people of God that is to embody the prophets’ concern for justice and the Torah’s concern for morality and purity. And it is by that biblically based way of life that the church engages in the politics of witness that it is God and not the nations who rules the world. The church by its example bears witness to the nations what God wants of them as well. The church by its witness is not a prop for the state, but its alternative. Once the nation becomes the primary hermeneutical target of Scripture, the primary community of faith becomes the state. The church is eclipsed in this world and so is the kingdom of God, and thus Christians will in the end functionally identify more with what it means to be progressive or conservative than with what it means to be the church.
So, this passage is not about getting universal health care any more than 2 Chronicles 7:14, a passage used by conservatives to justify their agendas.
If verses like Micah 6:8 have a purpose today, it is relating to the church- the inheritors of God’s covenant with the Israelites. So, we aren’t using this to go against Republicans, it was meant for all of us in the pews and those in pulpit.
In America today, we are good at using Bible passages to justify are own views and condemn others. It is another thing to really sit down and think about what this passage is saying and what it has to say to me and to the church.
Progressive Christians misuse of this passage has in many ways weakened us. We have used it to justify our progressive politics and dress up God in left-leaning garb. We end up worshipping the state (at least when it agrees with us) instead of worshipping God.
None of this means people shouldn’t be concerned about health care or war or what have you. But we can’t just take a passage that was meant for a different people in a different time to justify our own agendas. Because when we do that, we threaten our witness in the world.