40 Lashes for 5 Loaves of Bread?

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27 ESV)

There’s a story by Maggie Michael of the Associated Press in today’s Toronto Sun that seems to fly in the face of James’ definition of true religion.   It appears that a 75 year old widow in Saudi Arabia asked her late husband’s nephew and his business partner to save her a trip to the market and bring 5 loaves of bread around for her.  Seems like a reasonable request to us, but the Saudi religious police arrested the trio after the bread was delivered and charged the woman with “illegal mingling” with men who are not close relatives.

The 75 year old Syrian woman (her late husband was Saudi) was convicted as a result of “citizen information” (she was ratted out by her late husband’s brother) and her conviction was confirmed because “she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi.”  She has been sentenced to 40 lashes, followed by 4 months in jail to be followed by deportation back to Syria.  The two men also were sentenced to lashes and jail time.  Her lawyer will appeal.

Now I will be the first to admit I’m no expert on Islam or Mohammed. I’ve only read the Koran once and that was some time ago. But I really have a hard time believing that lashing a 75 year old widow for “corrupting the morals of young men” because they did her the favour of delivering bread was what the Prophet had in mind. And to be sure it would seem that even in the Muslim world this level of fundamentalism is pretty much restricted to Saudi Arabia and is garnering criticism even from Muslim quarters.  But this post is not about the horrors of fundamentalist Islam.

It’s about Christian fundamentalism and the separation of church and state.

As I mentioned in my review of ‘Nine Parts of Desire‘ (see book list) whenever I read about Muslim abuses I find myself thinking about the sordid history of my own religion.  Since the days of Constantine whenever the church has found itself in the role of Head of State it has inevitably led to abuse of the general populace.  It has been said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and it would seem the church is even more susceptible to this since they feel they have a direct link to the source of absolution. (pun intended)

And it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference what flavour of Christian you may claim to be.  The Reformationists in Europe where fully justified in throwing off the ‘shackles of Rome’ because of the corruption that had found it’s way into the papal system; however, once in power their persecution and execution of ‘heretics’ for such infractions as baptizing an adult soon came close to making the Spanish Inquisition look like a sleepless night a Guantanamo.

It’s no wonder that the Anabaptists started pushing for separation of church and state. Even though the idea appears to fly in the face of Old Testament theocracy, given the predisposition to tyranny displayed by so called Christian governments, it does seem to be the better option. Of course this too was opposed with many European monarchs, such as Austria, effectively declaring open season on anyone even suspected of being a “separatist”.

Which brings us to the present day. The lines being drawn in the U.S. and Canada between believers and humanists, conservatives and liberals, and the barrage of rhetoric being lobbed back and forth between them lead me to believe that a “Christian” party in power in a modern democracy would be no less tyrannical then their neo-Roman predecessors; only the manifestation of that tyranny would differ.  This has led me to the conclusion that ‘Christian politics’ is just not a great idea.

Not that I think Christians shouldn’t hold politicians accountable on moral issues, we are certainly called to be the collective conscience of the nation. And the best way we can do that is at the ballot box voting out those whose professed neutrality actually leans more to the dark side.  But when I hear talk of ‘Christian government’ it makes me cringe just as much as the idea of Saudi religious police. The greatest ‘real and present danger’ we face is when we try to translate personal morality into government policy. People being people, I just don’t think it can ever work.

The only Christian government that will ever succeed in achieving true justice will be the government led by Christ himself in the next age. Until then, as much as I hate to admit it, politics might possibly best be left in the hands of the morally neutral.

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