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Focus Text: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation-- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
What is the requirement of leadership? How should rulers, rule? What do righteousness and justice demand? These are the questions that Isaiah confronts us with in this first chapter. He writes, “your hands are full of blood” (NRSV 1:15). In this line Isaiah draws together the material and the spiritual, illustrating how dangerous it is to disconnect them—the blood is shed in vain because the people have not truly repented. God hides God’s face from their prayers, their sacrifices, and their offerings because they are performed in continuity with practices of evil. These actions are not accompanied by any about-face and God sees the vileness of these actions when they are done without repentance. If repentance does not in fact lead to practicing justice and righteousness toward reconciliation, we are left with our hands full of blood.
Israel is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, communities renowned for their inhospitality to strangers, hospitality being a basic precept for God’s people. Israel’s rulers are directly addressed as culpable in the transgressions of the nation. The rulers are called to account in this passage and commanded to learn to do good, and cease from their evil practices. What further aligns them with the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is their failure to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow (1:17). Thus, the rulers’ hands are full of blood not only from the offerings and sacrifices, but also from the unjust treatment of those on the margins. Their lives have been sacrificed by the rebellious rulers’ inattention to justice and righteousness. The lack of care for the least of these among God’s people have left a sight that God refuses to condone. God’s forgiveness cannot be so cheaply attained through the ritual acts they have performed. But the passage does not leave us there. Isaiah makes plain the rulers’ choice to be obedient to God or to refuse and rebel. In being obedient, God demands that rulers lead with an eye towards those most vulnerable, those facing discrimination, and those without food or shelter.
In fact, this is what we must demand of our leaders as well. We are part of a representative government which means we have a say in the legislation of our country. This means we are also responsible for the rule of the leaders of our local, state, and federal governments. Part of our role in obeying God’s rule is holding our elected officials to account so that the most vulnerable among us do not become sacrifices in the exercise of unjust rule. We must oppose rhetoric and policy which seeks to define justice and righteousness on any other terms. We must demand that our leaders learn to do good so that ALL can eat of the good of the land (1:19).
Government as Judgment by Oliver O’Donovan
Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved by Richard Doster
Scriptural Commentary on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Telephone Interview with Senator Eleanor Kinnaird
July 29, 2016
How many years did you serve in an elected office?
8 years as Mayor of Carrboro, 16 years as state senator.
Can you share some experiences or moments throughout your political career where you felt that your faith informed your actions and decision-making?
When I became mayor, I was introduced to a low income* African American community in Carrboro that was very stressed with drugs and crime, and I was able to go in there with the help of our town and police and lots and lots of volunteers and turn that around, and now it is a nice, normal, lower middle-class neighborhood – as it was in its beginning. We brought in African American artists, leaders and elected officials to talk to the families and children – and I held firm to the belief that all this will come back to you “as you did to the least of these.”
It reminds me of [the Gospel of] Matthew, the wonderful story of Christ, when the disciples asked Him, “when O Lord do we visit you when you were hungry, when you were a prisoner…” While I was a staff attorney for NC prisoner services, I actually worked with women prisoners who wanted help seeing their children – this work was very much informed by my faith as was my work in this neighborhood.
In the legislature, I worked with a lot of different issues, including the first LGBT bill. And the biggest issue I would say was the death penalty – I worked for about 6 years on death penalty legislation. We would have liked a moratorium, that did pass the Senate. And while we didn’t get the moratorium through the House, we did get radical changes. There has not been an execution since 2006, and there have not been jury verdicts imposing capital punishment. All lives belong to God, and not for us to kill, and that belief very strongly influenced me.
While I was in the legislature, a lovely girl from our church – the student body president – was brutally murdered. She had taken part on death penalty workshops at my church that year, and her parents asked that the prosecutor not seek the death penalty. That was a strong memory.
There was so much around predatory lending too. One of the bills they introduced was to increase the amount of interest on small loans so that when a poor family gets into a real bind, they are only able to borrow from a storefront financial company at exorbitant rates. They are even pressured to buy insurance, which makes the finance companies millions. And that is the one time when I actually quoted Matthew [in the General Assembly]; there is a sort of unspoken rule that you don’t question other people’s faiths, but at that point I couldn’t handle it anymore. I asked, “How can you read Matthew and then say we will increase their interest rate to 300%?” You were not supposed to judge other people, but I could not help but feel outraged – how can they go to church on Sunday and then come back and make laws that so unfairly impact the lives of “the least of these” – the poorest of our citizens.
What were your greatest models or sources of inspiration?
My greatest inspiration was Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a powerful person who delivered a message unafraid, despite whom she was up against. She was also a great writer, and I just think we haven’t seen the likes of her as a leader for a long, long time. Michelle Obama is wonderful, but Eleanor Roosevelt was particularly a great moral leader and an inspiration for all of us.
What were some of the challenges you faced, particularly as a female politician in NC?
Well, as mayor, you learn very quickly that you speak more loudly than everyone else and suddenly everyone begins to listen. In the legislature, however, I learned that it was very hard for a woman to speak in the caucus. They would discount what I would say; and it didn’t help that I was from Orange County the most liberal county and the most liberal member of the assembly. Such that a lot of legislators didn’t even want to have their pictures taken with me
I also worked on human trafficking – the United Methodist Women actually took that on as a project one year. I passed the first human trafficking bills. In 2013, when the Republicans were in the majority, I worked with them to strengthen the laws. And so, despite our strong differences, we are actually all pals, we are all friends, we may often all work together.
Are there particular times that come to mind when it was really difficult to discern between what you thought was right, or Christian, and what you thought you should do politically? How did you think about or navigate those decisions?
You have to compromise a lot – there is no doubt about that. But there is a core value that you don’t go beyond. For example, we passed a bill that allowed municipalities that have traditionally provided water for their people, to privatize their water systems. I ended up voting for it–going along with the caucus leaders because I didn’t want to oppose them on every issue. That may not seem to be a big deal, but there are now companies charging huge amounts of money for water—a basic necessity that hits poor people especially. My conscience was nagging me because that was the wrong decision based on my religious beliefs.
But you know, people in politics are actually still good people. It’s just what they listen to that determines how they vote–whether it be their conscience or their constituents or someone else.
We do the best we can. That’s all I can say, really. We do the best we can.
What do you think are some of the most challenging aspects of politics in North Carolina right now?
Well I would say that the reversal of what I call progressive politics has been so great and, through redistricting, so fixed, that it is going to take years, if we can, to restore politics and governing that serves the people—and I mean all the people.
How has returning to the realm of private citizenship been for you?
After retiring, I worked on voter ID laws—I tried to do a voter project where I went to churches all over the state and told the people about all the changes in the voter ID act. We wanted to make sure they were all registered, and wanted to encourage them to do a little canvassing in their own neighborhoods. But I discovered that people really don’t like to do that kind of door-to-door work. And while I realized after the fact that this project should’ve been handed over to the Democratic party to spearhead, I really felt that the churches could be very involved as well.
But I was so excited to hear the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals announce today [July 29, 2016] that they have found voter ID laws to be unconstitutional and discriminatory. That is my life’s work right there–I was so thrilled I must have told four people at the grocery store when I first found out today. It is not the end of the issue because they may appeal it, but it is huge progress. It is so exciting.
Suggested Hymns about Faithful Leadership
Hymn: This is Father’s World
Song: Hands and Feet (by The Brilliance)