I was at a friends how the other night playing poker (gasp!). One of the things I love about poker is that it is so interactive. If you are simply playing for chips, or even nickel and dime poker, you can have several hours of great fun getting to know people more deeply for less than the price of a movie with popcorn.

Regardless, this blog is not about the poker game but the conversation after the poker game. It was great. It was political. It was great because it was political. I think that the devil (forces of evil, etc.) have scored a great victory in defining polite conversation. What two topics are off limits in polite conversation: Religion and politics. These are are two of the most important subject a group of people could ever talk about. Our relationship with God and our societal relationships with each other. By moving religion and politics out-of-bounds, we have virtually ensured that we will continue to have greater conflict and deeper misunderstanding because we can’t or won’t discuss two of the things at the very roots of our lives.

So the game ended and the conversation turned to politics. The political leanings of the people around the table varied significantly. I will probably talk about my own political leanings at some point. Not tonight, however.

One person at the table said he was a Democrat because he believes that they are more grace-filled. Bear in mind that this is a table of Lutherans. We believe that the three cornerstones of our faith are grace alone, faith alone and scripture alone. So his following the party that seemed to offer more grace into people’s lives makes sense.

Here is my struggle: is ‘grace’ the proper posture for a government? Will a grace-filled government lead to a more grace-filled society or to a more chaotic society? In the sphere of Christian faith, individuals are absolutely called to — even obligated to — be grace-giving toward others because of God’s grace to us. Is this the sphere in which the government operates, however. This especially needs to be thought through in a country like the U.S. wherein the government is constitutionally prohibited from establishing a religion.

My current thinking is that grace is not the government’s job. The government’s job in the US is to protect us from external enemies and maintain justice within our country irrespective of a person’s color, creed, social status, etc. I would call on people everywhere to be gracious, to feed the poor, etc. But to do it voluntarily. As soon as we, the citizens, recruit the government to do our charity (that is our loving of others), it ceases to be love because it is compelled. By using the government to feed the poor, we institute a system of compulsory charity (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one). It is possible that this compulsory charity actually makes our society meaner. Instead of people having to face the poor among us, we can be sure that there is a program somewhere to care for them and as long as we pay our taxes we are doing our part. Instead of having to think about others and make decisions about charity (about love), feeding the poor becomes one more deduction on the pay stub, not worthy of consideration because there is no choice in the matter any way.

Criminals are another matter for another time.

May you recognize God’s blessings in your life.