The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD. 8 But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, "You must die! 9 Why do you prophesy in the LORD's name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?" And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.
10 When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the LORD and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the LORD's house. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, "This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!"
12 Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: "The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. 14 As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. 15 Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing."
In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the national priests had a metric for authentic words from the Lord. If the words were for the city, they were okay. If the words called the people of the city to repentance, they were naturally against the national religion and its speaker worthy of death. Do we have a similar metric today among practitioners of national religion?
The "Lutheran Zephyr" blog has this remarkable analysis of the recent debate between McCain and Obama at Saddleback, the church of Rick Warren. He quotes from the CNN transcript of the event.
Here's McCain's answer to the question of evil:
WARREN: How about the issue of evil. I asked this of your rival, in the previous debate. Does evil exist and, if so, should [we] ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?
MCCAIN: Defeat it. A couple of points. One, if I'm president of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that. And I know how to do that. I will get that done. (APPLAUSE). No one, no one should be allowed to take thousands of American -- innocent American lives.
Of course, evil must be defeated. My friends, we are facing the transcended challenge of the 21st century -- radical Islamic extremism.
Not long ago in Baghdad, al Qaeda took two young women who were mentally disabled, and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and, by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn't evil, you have to tell me what is. And we're going to defeat this evil. And the central battleground according to David Petraeus and Osama bin Laden is the battle, is Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and Iraq and we are winning and succeeding and our troops will come home with honor and with victory and not in defeat. And that's what's happening.
And we have -- and we face this threat throughout the world. It's not just in Iraq. It's not just in Afghanistan. Our intelligence people tell us al Qaeda continues to try to establish cells here in the United States of America. My friends, we must face this challenge. We can face this challenge. And we must totally defeat it, and we're in a long struggle. But when I'm around, the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform, I have no doubt, none.
Here's Obama's response:
WARREN: OK, we've got one last time -- I've got a bunch more, but let me ask you one about evil. Does evil exist? And if it does, do we ignore it? Do we negotiate with it? Do we contain it? Do we defeat it?
OBAMA: Evil does exist. I mean, I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil, sadly, on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who viciously abuse their children. I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely, and one of the things that I strongly believe is that, now, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God's task, but we can be soldiers in that process, and we can confront it when we see it.
Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for to us have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because a lot of evil's been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.
WARREN: In the name of good.
OBAMA: In the name of good, and I think, you know, one thing that's very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think that our intentions are good, doesn't always mean that we're going to be doing good.
WARREN: OK. All right.
Before I get started in my commentary on these responses, let me affirm that I support the churches faithfully following documents like evangelicals' The Lausanne Covenant and the Lutherans' Book of Concord. If persons in such churches have something to teach me, even about public policy, I'm all ears. What gets under my skin, however, is when folks settle for a nominal subscription to the documents but are ultimately about affluence and personal peace. (Two things that Francis Schaeffer, evangelical theologian, excoriated Christians for in his writings.)
One thing that Obama will probably not do is leave folks alone in their affluence and personal peace.
If you know anything about Christian doctrine, there's a marked difference in the theologies of these two men as expressed in the above quotes. Obama sees evil as something in all of us. McCain readily identifies evil with the enemy of the nation-state and dresses his military campaign against them in theological rhetoric that should make believers shudder.
It's sad that so few did.