Aug 21

The West Wing

I am a huge fan of the TV series, The West Wing.

I mean HUGE.

Over 7 seasons and 156 episodes of 45 minutes each, The West Wing charts the presidential career of the fictional Jed Bartlett. From the campaign trail and his first inauguration as President, through to the election of his successor and the opening of the The Josiah Bartlett Presidential Library 3 years after he leaves office, the programme portrays moments of flawed genius, heroic sacrifice and raw stupidity of the President and his White House staff. I love it! It is brilliant! In fact, starting in January each year, I start watching it again from the beginning. Sometime in the summer, I watch the final episode. For those 6 months, a copy of The Constitution of the United States sits on our living room coffee table as my family suffer another round of DVD’s.

It is possible that I am just a bit obsessed.

The Presidency of Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlett is fictional, but the issues it tackles are not: freedom of speech in the modern internet world; relations with poor and developing countries; women’s rights; same sex relationships; abortion and choice; nuclear power and weapons; terrorism (domestic and foreign); racism; international relations; personal relationships. It looks at how powerless the most powerful man in the world is sometimes, and it looks at how human beings make simple mistakes, which cause complex problems for both their families and the wider world. In today’s world where individual rights and freedoms are very much to the forefront of our culture, Jed Bartlett is a man who is forever re-asking JFK’s question: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

It may be because I am now a grumpy, middle-aged man, but I find myself getting increasingly impatient with the notion of human rights. I believe human rights are important, but it seems that we have separated them from the notion of human responsibilities. Cut adrift from our obligations to one another, human rights become a shrill and selfish demand for getting our own way all the time – often at the expense of others. Rights and responsibilities should go hand in hand. Freedom and obligation are two sides of the same coin. Donald Trump would do well to watch The West Wing if he could summon the concentration required for 45 minutes.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches of the Roman province of Galatia (in modern central Turkey) sometime within a decade of 50AD. (Some people go for a date as early as 45AD, whilst others go as late as 58AD depending on whether they think Paul wrote it from Ephesus during his Ephesian ministry or Rome during his imprisonment). The themes he deals with are Freedom and Obligation. (The Title of an important study on Galatians by Professor C.K. Barrett published in 1985).

Paul writes to the church to give them some amazing news of an amazing grace – they were free! Free from the curse of the Law; free from the penalty of sin; free from the ritual obligations and sacrifices of the Jewish faith. They are truly and completely free. He writes to urge them to live completely in that freedom, and to not be snared by the rules and regulation of the Law again. He warns them that there are men who are trying to seduce them back into their old way of life, and tells them to make sure that no one takes away their liberty. However, he goes on to ask them, ‘so what are you going to do with your new-found freedom?’ He reminds them that with liberty comes responsibility to live fully in Christ and for Christ.

Over the next few weeks, we will be studying Galatians in both our morning services and our small groups. As the world around us demands more rights, freedoms and freebies, it is a good time for us to consider how we respond to the freedom God purchased for us at Christ’s expense. I hope and pray that you enjoy reading Galatians again, but more than that, I pray that your studies might help you to ‘live by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:16)