Whisper and Relevance


When I look at the writers who examine the relation between religion and politics, most take their cues from the Bible. There are two problems with this approach.

The first is that the New Testament is a very human book, written by first-century authors who had differing opinions as to who Jesus was. The result is that you can find a passage in the Bible to support any political position you choose to take. This problem can be readily seen if we compare two contemporary writers in this field.

Wayne Grudem is the author of Politics According to the Bible. This book could have been written by a staff member of the Republican National Committee or the Trump White House. Grudem finds a biblical passage to support small government, school choice, lower taxes, a strong military, greatly reduced government regulation, an out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency, and the absolute right to own a gun.

Jim Wallis, another passage picker, comes to very different conclusions. In God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong, Wallis cites Christian scripture to support nuclear disarmament and the massive transfer of wealth to poorer nations. He supports responsible gun control legislation, and policies to reduce economic inequality in the United States as well as policies to combat racism. His politics reflect the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party with a biblical passage to support each position taken.

Let’s briefly look at the positions of the two writers on the role of government in the economy. Grudem argues that the teachings of the Bible support private ownership, free market capitalism, and limited, at best, government regulation. He cites Genesis 1: 28 to suggest that God wants economic growth. Private property is sacred as is seen in the seventh commandment “you shall not steal.” (Exodus 20: 15) Because we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1: 27), God wants us to be like him. When we own private property, we reflect his glory. (1)

In contrast, Jim Wallis points out that there are several thousand passages in the Bible calling for economic justice and support for the poor. (2) He cites passages in Isaiah and Micah promoting economic justice. The Psalms, according to Wallis, are all about defending the oppressed. Leviticus calls for freeing slaves, forgiving debt, and redistributing land. In the New Testament, the Beatitudes bless the poor, and Matthew 25: 31-41 blesses those who help the poor. The teachings of Jesus are all about economic justice and the dangers of excessive wealth accumulation. As this brief comparison suggests, the two writers find biblical passages to support the contrasting political positions they take.

The second problem for using the Bible as a moral compass for making political decisions as a Christian is relevance. Jesus’ teachings relate to a first century society that couldn’t be more different from our world 2,000 years later. When the rich man asks Jesus what he must do to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells him to sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, and then you can follow me. (Matthew 19: 16-21) That rich man had a life expectancy of thirty-five years and lived in a society which valued taking care of strangers. Followers of Jesus could expect to be provided for. Yes, serving the poor is important, but we live in a world with a much higher life expectancy which requires that we save money if we hope to live well in older age.

How does climate change relate in a direct way to the teachings of Jesus. The problem only became apparent a hundred years ago. You might say it relates to serving neighbors, but the neighbors to be most affected by a changing climate have yet to be born.

Because we know so little about the historical Jesus, a related problem arises pertaining to what some of these teachings mean. Are the teachings on nonviolence a universal ethic or a strategy to deal with a specific first century threat? The New Testament provides no clues as to what Jesus intended here.

Rome leveled Sephoris, a city three miles from Nazareth, a few years before Jesus was born. It’s highly likely Jesus lost family members—grandparents, uncles and aunts. It’s also known that Roman soldiers were stationed in Nazareth while this slaughter was taking place. Male members of this tiny village were enslaved. Female members were forced to service Roman soldiers. These atrocities could have easily included Jesus’ parents. With a vivid knowledge of this tragic chapter in the history of his people, Jesus may have preached nonviolence, not as a universal ethic, but as a strategy on how to best survive Roman colonialism. God will take care of Rome.

With such problems in mind, the Bible, at least for me, presents significant problems for providing clear norms to inform political decision making. The prophets, Jesus, and Paul inspire me. I get goosebumps when I read about the political positions they took in the societies in which they lived. I pledge each day to live and act more like they did, but I don’t take my cues for political decision making from stories in the Bible about them. My cues come from a different source.

Whisper Ethics solves that problem. The same God that whispered messages of goodness and love to Jesus 2,000 years ago whispers messages to me. The big difference is that the messages I receive relate to specific problems facing our country and the world in the twenty-first century. You don’t have to debate in your mind as to how some biblical passage might relate to a political issue. God will tell you what to do. All you need do is open your heart, listen, and then act.


Dr. Rick Herrick (Ph.D., Tulane University), a former tenured university professor and magazine editor, is the author of six published novels and two works of nonfiction. His latest books are A Christian Foreign PolicyA Man Called JesusJeff’s Journeyand A Second Chance. His musical play, Lighthouse Point, was performed as a fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Herrick is currently retired, living in Bluffton, SC. He is married with three children and seven grandchildren. You can find him at https://rickherrickauthor.com.



  1. This is just the tip of the iceberg. See chapter 9 in his book for a full listing of the biblical passages supporting free market capitalism. Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.)
  2. See Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), pp. 209-221.

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