Don’t Blame the Evangelicals

Hot topic of the week: North Carolina votes to forbid same-sex marriages in their state, and President Obama publicly states that he is in favor of full recognition of marriage for those same couples. And, of course, people are all hot and bothered — for one reason or the other.

Some see the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina as yet another nail in the coffin of the evangelical church and its relevance to the under-30 crowd. A bunch of old, white men fighting a losing battle over issues no one younger even cares about. Nothing new here; religious people have been bemoaning this for decades: Church in danger of losing the current generation.

But my gut reaction is “don’t blame the evangelicals.” Or better put, don’t equate conservative, inflexible, irrelevant religious people with evangelicalism. The very word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “Good News”. Guess what? The Good News isn’t stale. It isn’t rigid. It doesn’t rise up to impose its own way. It doesn’t oppress people or take things away from them. It isn’t political. It doesn’t rise or fall with the turning generations. It isn’t even fixed in black and white on the pages of Scripture. Well, the Good News is, but everything the church as linked to it is not. Here is the Good News: God loves the world, and he sent his Son to reconcile the world to him. Those who believe it are reconciled. They are now his children. Done deal. That’s all there is to it. All that other stuff is unrelated.

Those people who become alarmed at the “war on marriage” or the “war on American traditional values” (as though those were handed down from Mt. Sinai), they have little to do with what being an evangelical is all about.

Being an evangelical means I’m concerned about people being separated from God. It means I believe Jesus came to re-unite them with the Father. It means I care that they hurt. It means I try to treat them as I want to be treated. It means that if God’s love lives in me, I must extend that love to others. And I want to see those others brought into the same loving relationship with God through Jesus that I have.

Hooting and hollering on TV and talk-radio, voting knee-jerk reaction measures in Congress or the state legislatures, rousing the troops to get out the vote for the next election … all irrelevant. Politics and voting belong in the civic arena. Faith and relationship with God is the domain of evangelicalism. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” — and let’s not confuse the two.

People of genuine faith are gonna have disagreements about social and political issues. We’re human. It’s automatic. But let’s not let intractable, angry, or even frightened people equate their actions with being a good Christian, defending the faith — or of being evangelical. Those actions do not represent Jesus nor his Church. They’re just the behavior of scared people. Let true evangelicals stand up and say, “we don’t care who you are, or who you love, who you vote for, or what you’ve done. That is not our concern. We just want you to know that God loves you.” And all that other stuff has nothing to do with us.

Health Care, Christianity and American Politics

faithbased_healthcareI’m angry. And I’m angry because I’m frustrated. As I write this, certain friends, members of my family, and people I know from church are in desperate need of medical care and they can’t get it. They can’t afford it themselves, and they have no insurance. They can’t afford insurance, and their employers (for the ones who have jobs) keep them in perpetual part-time or temporary status because the companies can’t afford to provide it. So these people are stuck in wait-mode. For months and years at a time. Sometimes in severe discomfort and pain, sometimes left in states of semi-disability, sometimes in life-threatening conditions, and the rest of the time left in just lingering fear that they might get sick or be in an accident.

Also as I write this, Washington DC is in the middle of a so-called Health Care Summit between the White House and leaders of Congress, and frankly, I think it’s little more than theater. The government seems to be hopelessly grid-locked in ineffectiveness. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or remain unaffiliated, as Christians what should our goal be? What should we do for those suffering among us? And what would our Lord do?

It’s hardly even necessary to ask “What would Jesus do?”. We all know it well enough. Jesus never preached about balanced budgets, or even lower taxes. He never mentioned market-based capitalism or the right to make a fair profit. What he did say was “I was hungry, and you did — or did not — feed me. I was sick, and you visited me — or not” — along with the appropriate blessing or curse: “Come, you blessed of my Father, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you,” or “Depart from me, you cursed people, into everlasting fire” (Mat 25:31-46). That’s some scary stuff.

I’ve heard conservative religious people say that it is not the government’s responsibility to care for the sick, the poor and the elderly among us. They say that’s the Church’s job. Sure. But so far I’ve seen too little church involvement in dealing with this in real life — aside, perhaps, from preaching about how congregants should vote in the next election. Maybe as individuals we should pool our money, our tithes and offerings, to care for those who need help in our communities. Maybe in our churches we should create benevolence funds to help pay for prescriptions and food for those who worship with us. Too often we look the other way even when it involves people who may sit in the pew next to us, let alone people in our community who don’t go to our church. We — each of us, all of us — need to do something.

But even if we do pool our excess resources, most of us are living paycheck to paycheck ourselves. We can barely afford our own bills (well, aside from our Blackberry or iPhone plans and our morning Starbuck’s fix). Large scale help just ain’t happening that way. And since most of us pay taxes, it DOES then fall to the government to “promote the general welfare” (as our Constitution states). We get a voice and a vote, if even a small one, in how our money is spent. Sorry, but in my opinion, this is one area where the interests of the church and state SHOULD mix.

I’m an American. I’m even a capitalist. I believe in the “American dream” and in every one’s opportunity (and responsibility) to live it. But I am first and foremost a Christian. I give my time and my money where I can. But I can’t personally afford to pay for my friend’s needed MRI scan. I cannot foot the bill for that chemo treatment, or that back surgery. And my local church’s budget would be spent in a day to cover a neighbor’s hospital stay. But it seems no matter how little money I may have, my government has no problem taking its pound of flesh from me. I can’t escape the automatic tax deductions from my paycheck. So that gives me the right to demand that my government use my money in a way consistent with my values. My voice and my protest may gain little; my elected officials may ignore my wishes (and they often do). But if nothing else, I can insist that my representatives do SOMETHING to help those crying for help.

This means YOU, Congresswoman Mary Fallon. This means YOU, Senator Tom Coburn and Senator Jim Inhoffe. You all claim to be Christian — especially as you call for school prayer, banning gay marriage, and protecting my right to own a gun. Stand up now for your faith, and put our treasury to work for the desperate needs in our community. Do something good in the name of your faith, now if never again. Break the grid-lock, stop the stalling and stone-walling. Instead, break the chains of oppression, proclaim deliverance to the captives, and set at liberty them that are bruised.

I’m not a fire-and-brimstone kind of prophet, but the cries of hurting people reach the Throne of God. And you and I — as individuals, as the Church, and as Americans — will be judged for what we do next.

Christian Politics ?

ChristianProtesers2A friend and I were having lunch yesterday when he announced that he was creating a list of thought-provoking questions to challenge Christians to rethink some of their conventional and comfortable positions. The topics ranged from “who can be a Christian” to “must a Christian tithe” to social and political agendas in the church.

This morning, I read an article about a group of conservative ministers who went to Washington DC to protest against the recent expansion of hate-crimes legislation to include crimes committed against people based on their personal sexual preferences. The ministers actually WANTED to get arrested, to prove that Christianity was under attack and that Christians were being persecuted and prevented from exercising their faith.  The article left a foul taste in my mouth. I am an American, and more importantly, I am child of God, touched by His grace and filled with His Spirit. And nothing in their behavior represented me, my faith, or (from my perspective) my Lord.

As Americans, everyone has the right to voice his or her opinion about social issues and to try to influence legislation. I understand that conservatives may feel that their traditional values are being eroded in 21st Century America. And I can understand how some pastors may feel the compulsion to protect their flocks by taking action against what they perceive to be immoral forces at work in the world — I understand the pastoral instinct to protect. But I do not understand the motivation, the anger, the hostility, the provocation in stirring up political dissent.

In American history, great social movements have been lead by church leaders: the Quaker abolitionists fighting against slavery in the 1800s, hard-line Protestant preachers calling for Prohibition to combat the evils of alcoholism, leaders on both sides of the issue shouting over the rights of women to vote, or protesting for and against segregation of whites and blacks. Even in our own romanticized American Revolution, preachers played a significant role in urging the people to action (again, both for and against). But does that make it right? The fact that in each of these cases men of faith and integrity arduously fought on opposite sides of the cause, quoting Scripture and the divine will of God as their defense, ought to make us question the legitimacy of mixing faith and politics. As the Apostle Paul said, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … spiritual forces”. And Jesus himself stated at the very birth of Christianity, before his death, that his Kingdom was not of this world, that if it was, his followers would fight — and indeed the angels themselves could be enjoined to battle for the cause. But this is not who we are. This is not what we are to be about.

Did Jesus speak out against the decadent Roman culture? Did Peter or James or John or Paul stir up the flock for political action, or call for change in the social order?

“I must be about my Father’s business.”
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish his work.”
“This is my commandment: Love one another.”
“Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
“Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
“These signs will be the mark of those who believe: in my name, they will cast out devils, they will speak with new tongues … they will lay hands on the sick for healing.”

This is our job, this is our mission. To make disciples. To love. To heal. To set captives free from the bondage of sin and death. To proclaim the FAVOR of God. To call for repentance, that all people should return to God, and then announce that holy reconciliation has occurred: Mankind brought back into full fellowship with God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Anything else for a minister is a distraction. A waste of time. A hindrance to the purposes of God. And if I may speak boldly, it is prostitution. Men and women of God are called to higher purposes: the salvation of humanity, and the maturity of the saints.

As citizens of a great republic, we have the right — even the civic duty — to voice our convictions and to vote according to our consciences. But we must never dare to drag the name of our Exalted Lord into this worldly effort. He never authorized us to act for him in this arena. Not once. His instructions are clear. And they are already more than we can handle, already more than enough for us to do. Let congregations — even pastors — march on Washington. But don’t wave the banner of the Cross in your crusade. It is not a holy fight. And, as shepherds of His flock, commissioned with a sacred trust, if that’s where your energies and efforts are devoted, then you have lost your first love. You have gone AWOL from your duty, and abandoned your calling. We walk in two worlds, and we must never confuse the two.

Is there such a thing as Christian politics? Not according to my reading of Scripture.