Saturday 12 May 2007

Swear Not?

I always used to wonder why mainline Christians ignored Jesus' clear instructions in Matt. 5:33-37 about oath-taking. Here Jesus plainly forbids swearing, doesn't he? Here's the passage:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

As a result, some Christians refuse to take oaths in a court of law, preferring to affirm. It seems they have a strong case.

But all may not be as it seems. The oaths mentioned - swearing by heaven or Jerusalem - were not taken before judges. Discover the actual context and maybe the passage will start making sense. Here's a clue from the book of Proverbs (20:14):

"Bad, bad," says the buyer,
then goes away and boasts.

Ancient Israel was a bartering society. If you wanted to buy something you were expected to haggle. The oaths in Matthew 5 are those of merchants attempting to convince a customer of the value of their goods. The context isn't about law but trading. This throws a whole new light on the text. Jesus was putting some first century entrepreneurs in their place: God's name is not an appropriate marketing tool.

I'm not sure swearing on a Bible (or even a whole stack of them) is a particularly useful thing to do. Affirmation is certainly a valid option. But nobody needs to feel worried about committing some kind of sinful deed by taking a legal oath either: that isn't what Matthew was writing about. If anyone needs to be worried it's probably the televangelists and tithe farmers who use God as a pretext to rake in the money to finance their lifestyles.

Malina, Bruce J. Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea. Westminster John Knox, 1993.

Malina, Bruce J. and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Fortress Press, 2003.


Lussenheide said...

It often is a matter of semantics.

Although we were instructed to "never swear a vow" in court or say something like "swear to god" in trying to backup a statement, I often heard HWA say "May God Be My Judge" when trying to add weight to a statement he was making.

I frankly do not see the difference between HWA's declaration and swearing.

I talked to a friend of mine who is a Judge here in the Southern California court system about this. He told me the following quite candidly... "when I have some loon come in here and ask to be "solemnly affirmed" or swore in by "Allah" or "Goddess of Nature" or something, I immediately take a jaundiced view of such an individual and place them in the nutcase category. I believe most other judges do too, and it probably reduces your chance of winning by 80% regardless of how slick your representing attorney presents the case".


Douglas Becker said...

Oh Lord, help us to avoid those darned euphemisms!

KScribe said...

As to myself, I have been to court several times before and the truth be known, you can swear on a bible or confirm your word, or even tap dance your way through the "oath" using what ever bullshit story as if your Danny Kaye. The truth means nothing! What matters is the way you sell yourselves to the jury or judge. Indeed sad what I have seen in a court of law. Simply a reflection of life the way it is.........

Looking for justice should be a lifetime event. The question is, who's lifetime?

Now Terry Ratzmann, please explain this, as it is you who taught me the moral ABC's.......

Douglas Becker said...

As for "oaths", it would just seem to be the case that minister who makes a covenant with the people of his church is taking an oath of sorts. Among these covenants have been:

Roderick Meredith promising to abide by the decision of the council of Global and United's articles insuring that each church could establish a local board at their option.

As we all know, these covenants were broken, as was the Constitution of the Christian Churches of God when it became inconvenient for the owner.

It would seem that the churches of God over all are incapable of making their "yay" "yay" and their "nay" "nay" [more like a "neigh" really].

Others can come up with examples, I'm certain.

The point is that the word of the ministry of the church of gods is pretty much worthless. No one can really trust them. Their "oaths" are purposeless. They have no honor.

In the end, protesting about whether to swear or affirm in court is paled by the outright lies and broken promises which have become so routine that no one seems to even notice the leadership getting away with being the fathers of lies, in complete violation of both the Spirit and the Letter of the Law.

And yet, there is no shame.

Douglas Becker said...

One more thought -- according to the perspicacious comment made by Kscribe:

I've personally had the opportunity to watch people of the church of God in the courtroom and see the fulfillment of Isaiah 59:4 come to pass right in front of me: Deacons trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the judge to protect a stalker who was stalking a married woman in the church. I watched in horror as the officers of the church tried to treat the judge as if he were a lowly member of their church, subject to them.

The judge would have none of it and very nearly ran them out of his court room for their contempt. The transcript is over on Kscribe's website. Just remember: I was there and got to see first hand just how contemptuous leaders in the church of gods really are -- how superior they are and how arrogant they act. They've had years of practice on innocents. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't work so well in front of those the Apostle Paul said were given to bear rule over us for our own good -- and good it was, for the woman and her husband got a restraining order from the member of the church stalking them and putting them in fear.

As for justice, the council of elders was fully apprised and did nothing but cover up the incident. The chairman of the ethics committee made it clear to me that he was not going to budge to help the people, but was going to protect the stalker. It should also be clear that this was not an isolated incident: There have been lots of stalkers in the church of gods -- one of whom was taking out insurance on a single woman, claiming that he was married to her. The minister who presided over both incidents [at different times in different locations] was actually helping the stalker, not the victim.

So, to Kscribe's assessment: It isn't just the court judicial system that is screwed up: It's the church of gods -- a very sick dysfunctional environment, unwilling to swear in court, but certainly willing to violate the rights of the victims of the church.

That is what Jesus was talking about when he confronted the Pharisees about "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel".

DennisDiehl said...

One of my many rude awakenings with regard to "truth" and the Church was the occasional need to finally get an answer to the countless rumours that were always swirling around the Church. I have made this point before, but bear with me.

I called Joe Tkach Sr. because I was tired of being asked about HWA getting a divorce. I knew nothing about it but it couldn't be true. When he returned the call, my, then wife, took the care and asked told him that's what I was going to ask. He screamed at her to "Squelch it." Of course, it was true and rule truly became the louder they deny the truer it is.

Church administrators tended to have the bad habit of being on the wrong side of most arguements with regard to theological questions or member/minister issues.

Once a member was told by JT (the member asked..which I told him was his first mistake) if he had to deleaven his store for UB. Tkach said yes. I told him don't worry about it and don't stress yourself like that. It's a home thing and only an object lesson. He didn't bother with it and it would have cost him a lot in many ways to do it. My ministerial assistant at the time went over my head and reiterated how wrong I was to advise that. He's now UCG minister and still stirring up the pot from what I hear.

I remember sitting thru sessions with Ralph Helge updating us on Church legal things, lawsuits, problems, etc of which there were a constant flow evidently. It was easy to notice that the "Church" never seemed to be wrong in any matter that came up. Of course it was. When it came to human issues versus protecting the church and the administration, members and ministers, by the way, lost EVERY time.

You won't find much truth in any organization in my opinion. You'll find beliefs that shift with the winds and sands of need to keep it all going, but not much truth.

Truly one of the greatest lines ever uttered was when we crow about just wanting the truth was, "You can't handle the truth." But a lifetime of seeking is still rewarding and fascinating if you can survive the dead ends along the way.

DennisDiehl said...

PS I swear the above mentioned anecdotes and experiences are help me God. No wait...I'll affirm that...:)

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

A WCG legal counsel once made the very blunt statement to me, "everyone lies". It was an off hand comment to me in an unguarded moment. I do admit to being a naive member. The comment had that jaded quality to it that spoke of years of weariness from institutional lies. It shook me to the bone.

It was then I realized that all those "dissidents" I was trained to despise by loyal WCG pastors, were the only ones telling the truth. The more devoted to HWA they were, it seemed, the greater the liar.

Hitchens says it well in his book "God is not Great".....

...... Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might be counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions.

The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is -- because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs -- not just amoral but immoral.

Alan said...

"The transcript is over on Kscribe's website."

Which website is this?

-- Alan

KScribe said...

KScribe said...

On edit to make it easy to find.....