Dear church,

Employees at a well-known global company donated more than $1 million to a political candidate. They were hoping to get the candidate voted into office. They thought the candidate’s agenda was a good one. 

This is how things work in our country. Money and politics go together. 

Then, after the candidate was elected – and even before the candidate was elected – a wave of employees from that company began to be hired by the candidate for a variety of jobs.

This also is how things work in our country. I scratch your back, and you scratch mine. 

This sometimes is called political patronage. The political candidate now was the patron, doling out gifts to those who provided service to the candidate. The supporters are compensated for their support. The candidate acts somewhat like a father, taking care of his children. And the children happily receive the gifts.

This is not an unusual practice, and no one would raise alarms. The unusual part would be if someone were to decline to participate – when a political donor then turns down the offer for a political job. 

And this kind of political give-and-take has happened for centuries. 

But Abram declined to participate. 

After the battle, when the dust settled, Abram had won back the belongings of the king of Sodom. The king offered to give Abram the winnings of war. “Take the goods for yourself,” he said (Genesis 14:21). 

Abram declined. He did not want to participate in this system of political patronage. He was not going to voluntarily – or involuntarily – fall into a dependent relationship with a pagan king. “I will take nothing,” he said (Genesis 14:24).

Abram’s actions were guided by his singular allegiance to “God Most High.” He was not about to have divided loyalties. He wasn’t going to fall into the trap of also needing to serve some worldly cause. 

We sometimes say, as Christians, we are in the world but not “of” the world. Jesus told his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Of course, the disciples were not “of” the world, and so the world hated them.

The world hates those who don’t play by its rules – by its give-and-take system of patronage. It hates those who have higher allegiances, and those who refuse to bend the knee to the way of the world and to its institutions. 

Christians need not play along in the world’s ways. We ought to think about the way in which we might find ourselves beholden to anyone or anything in this world. If we receive, what must we then give?

The government bail-outs last year to businesses and nonprofit organizations gave me pause. If a church were to accept the government’s help, what might it be asked to do in return. In an even stickier and far-reaching issue, is it possible a church’s tax-exempt status may someday put strict limits on its ability to operate? Would the government ever say, “I have made Abram rich”?

These are interesting things to think about. 

Abram declined to take any of the spoils of war. Instead, he drank the bread and the wine that was provided by the God’s high priest. And he donated a tenth of everything.

Abram’s allegiance was clear. May ours be so, too.

Chris

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