Tag Archives: politics

What Is A Christian Doing in Dirty Politics?

I have a wonderful friend who tells me that she does not want any part of politics. She does not want to hear about it. She does not want to talk about it. She believes that too many participants in politics are driven by hate. She is affronted by behavior and speech she regards as venomous.

Many Christians feel that way. Some do engage in the national conversations on topics such as taxation, budgets, social services and so forth, but my friend comments that when Christians say something, it is likely to be hate-filled speech. While I disagree that the political speech of most Christians is hate-filled, I did stop and take a closer look after she made that statement. I observed a couple of disappointing truths.

First, many Christians actually do believe that Christianity has the right and responsibility to dominate the culture. Secular thinkers complain that when Christians assert their right to express their faith, they are actually asserting cultural dominance. The secular thinkers say that Christians do not want “religious freedom.” Secular thinkers believe that Christians want “religious primacy.” The assumption by many Christians that cultural norms which held firm for more than two hundred years should continue unabated into the foreseeable future fuels the secular concern. The demographics tell us that the proportion of Christians in the population is declining as the proportion of secular thinkers is increasing, and the natural consequence of changing proportions is cultural change. Most human beings resist change, especially when it is uncomfortable change, and there are a lot of uncomfortable Christians in the culture of the USA.

Second, while I reject the accusation that Christians who speak out against cultural changes that are inimical to Christian teaching are venomous, I do observe that many are whiny. The sense that somebody stole the culture while we were not looking fuels that attitude. Whatever the explanation is, it won’t pass muster as justification for whining. Christians who whine are not doing any favors for the faith they want to promote.

Without going into the history of the declining Christian demographic, it is still proper to note that there is ample evidence that the founders of this country were predominantly Christian, and that those who were not Christian nevertheless believed that the God Christians worship existed and deserved respect. That is the worldview that shaped the nation for more than two hundred years.

Today, however, there are a couple of other worldviews that compete with Christianity for dominance: secular thinking and Islam. Christians who feel pressure to stop speaking and acting like a Christian in public are responding to the pressure from those two worldviews, but they are not always responding with the grace that the Bible tells us should be characteristic of Christians. A whiny victim mentality is not a testimony to our loving, victorious Christ, the One whose name shapes our name.

Just as Christ’s s name is embedded in the name of our religion, Christ himself is embedded in each believer. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) If the Holy Spirit is living in us, then our words and deeds ought to testify to that truth. We are called to bring the kingdom of God near to everyone we meet, and whiny complaints about ‘the war on Christmas’ and other such issues do not bring people near to the love that sent Christ to the cross. It almost seems as if Christians in general have become quite Pharisaical in their views. Some seem to believe that as the appearance of Christian cultural dominance declines, Christians themselves should take offense in the name of Christ.

Jesus never did any such thing.

Christ himself constantly offended those who worried about appearances. The Pharisees complained that Jesus did not respect the Sabbath, because he went right ahead and healed people on that day. They tested his respect for the Ten Commandments when he refused to judge the woman caught in adultery. They thought he defiled himself over and over by touching lepers and eating with publicans. The truth is, Christ did not and does not have much use for “appearances.”

That does not mean that Christians should sit on the sidelines of politics in the USA. The government of the USA is quite different from the government of the Roman Empire. In this country, citizens must participate in the government, or the Constitution will not work. If citizens worry that politics is dirty, then more of them must get involved in the work of cleaning it up. Christians care deeply about the values expressed in the culture that ultimately shape the government. If Christians refuse to participate then their voice will not be heard in the decisions that are made by elected officials. The culture shapes politics, and politics shapes the government.

One problem Christians face if they do get involved is a demand that they keep their religion to themselves. This demand arises from secular thinkers who believe that all religion is bunk. They do not want to hear about religion in public, especially not in government.  A Christian who wants the government to mandate a national holiday on Good Friday will call down a firestorm on both himself and the faith he represents. Another issue growing in magnitude is pressure from Islam to incorporate sharia law into US jurisprudence. That pressure also wants to suppress Christian input, because Christian views did shape the English Common Law that is the basis for US law. Islam, a diametrically opposite worldview from secularism, believes that there is not and cannot be any separation between religion and government. Islam believes that Muslims must be governed by sharia law. Secular thinkers would say of Islam and Christianity, “a pox on both their houses.” The United States hosts a veritable conflagration of views that cannot all be simultaneously upheld.

 The people who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had great respect for religion. They respected all religions. They believed that religion had an important cultural role in shaping the values of citizens. Unlike contemporary secular thinkers, the men who wrote the Constitution believed that the culture and the government alike benefited from the moral and ethical voice of religion expressed when citizens advocate for the laws and the services that shape the government. They expected people to express their religion in the expression of their values, and they honored that contribution as a counterweight to the government tendency to operate more pragmatically than ethically.

Christians, like any other US citizen, need to be part of the political discourse, speaking, acting and voting. They should, however, be recognized in political discourse the same way they are to be recognized in all other venues. They should be known for lovingkindness that makes people see Christ in them. Christ’s lovingkindness was at work when he cleansed the temple as surely as it was at work when he faced Pilate, so Christians must not confuse lovingkindness with abandonment of truth for the sake of “getting along.” The value of “coming together” only stands if the group that comes together actually accomplishes something good. It is a considerable test of character to advocate without compromise for an important principle while unfailingly projecting God’s love into the discussion.

Christians need to stand for objectives that are good. Even more important, while a political conversation may not be the place for an evangelistic sermon, it is certainly a place where God’s steadfast love for all people should be manifest. If Christians are only known for whining and crying that things are not the way they used to be, they are utterly failing in their call to be light in a dark world.

For more discussion of the challenge to live our faith as light in a dark world, read my review of Martin Roth’s book Brother Half Angel.

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Thoughts Toward Sunday

The lectionary readings this week will be Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7 and Luke 16:1-13. I haven’t normally focused on the weekly texts, but this group was arresting.

 The texts for this Sunday’s reading are strongly fitting as a warning against the class envy and class warfare being promoted in current political action. Our president regularly castigates “the rich”and“fat cat CEO’s” and “greedy bankers.” Yet he himself lives like a very greedy showoff with parties and vacations back to back while scorning traditional American values such as hard work, personal integrity, and the ability to prosper in an environment that promotes free enterprise. Our president behaves as if his office is a mandate to destroy American prosperity that grows out of opportunity for all in the name of “spreading the wealth around.” His method for achieving this objective is to abrade the citizens with the notion that people who are poor today would be rich if only the rich had not stolen all the wealth. Any person who understands economics knows what a big lie this is. This week’s lectionary readings completely disassemble such a notion.

 To our president, Amos would say, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy.” Likewise to our congress. The policies and legislation passed by our national leaders have increased the number of “the needy” to record levels. (“Needy” means people living on incomes less than the current legal definition of the poverty level.) Our leaders continue to trample on the needy by pushing more and more people into dependence on government, while simultaneously stealing more and more of the nation’s wealth by oppressive taxation and by policies that make it impossible for free enterprise, the source of employment for everyone, to thrive. Further, our leaders refuse to do the work of government to protect the nation from invasion, choosing rather to encourage an invasion of illegal aliens by the means of a refusal to enforce immigration laws.

 Luke would say that these people are like the faithless manager. This man was accused of abusing the trust of his employer, and as soon as he was called to account, he proceeded to abuse that trust even more. When he ordered all the customers to reduce the amount owed on their bills, he quite literally stole the reduced amount from his employer. He did it to buy friends. Our leaders do the same thing by injecting the DREAM act into a bill to fund our national defense.

 What a perfectly ridiculous joke! To couple funding for defense with legislation that will legitimize the most destructive invasion we have ever experienced is an outrageously obvious attempt to buy friends from among the enemies of our nation’s already battered economy. The government leaders, like the steward who wanted to create a safe haven for himself, are buying votes, just as the “steward” bought friends, from the very people who are poisoning our economy, siphoning off the wealth of our nation to other countries and reducing the number legitimate job opportunities for legitimate citizens. Not to mention the overwhelming difficulty for law enforcement created by burgeoning drug merchandising and human trafficking coupled with the crushing load on American social services expected to serve people who ought to be demanding that their own country do a better job of serving them.

 Paul says that we should pray for people in high positions. He does not say that we should pray for them to continue to oppress us. Rather, we should pray that they will do their work of protecting us from foreign invasion and the work of keeping order domestically that we may be able to live in peace and prosperity.

 Psalm 113 puts it all in perspective. People dare not hope in the government we endure in time and space. This world’s institutions are temporary and broken. We don’t hope in government; we hope in God. We live our lives in relationship with God no matter if we are rich or poor in the time/space sense. We look at our lives in relationship with God, and we are rich. Our gratefulness for the fruits of that relationship enables us and motivates us to be kind and generous to the poor. We trust God to accomplish his sovereign purpose, and therefore, we live lives made righteous by God’s grace, loving and serving our neighbors as citizens of his kingdom.

 In the context of God’s kingdom, self-centered, arrogant, wicked government leaders will ultimately be judged for their failure to serve God and the people. As the proverb says, the wheels of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.