POLITICAL COOPERATION FOR CHRISTIANS (Introductory Course 101)
Does politics affect our witness? Is it best to be apolitical? Can Christians with polar political positions do the work of the kingdom together? Let's take a closer look.
For quite some time, many Christians never bothered to vote. They saw politics as a dirty business (you don't need glasses to see that they were right), they believed that nothing would really accomplish the goals of the kingdom of God in this temporal frame. Sl they concentrated on singing "I'll Fly Away" and songs of golden streets and a whole different life. Meanwhile, those in politics were changing the country from one in which God was acknowledged and some moral standards were in place, albeit even the 1950's were far from idyllic, to one in which Christians are the scum of the earth and whatever is the opposite of what the Bible teaches is the thing to do. Stung by the thought of "losing" the country they never possessed, they joined the Moral Majority and other organizations. This was a misnomer, of course, since by that time the majority of Americans were sleeping together before marriage, the Lord's name was taken in vain with impunity, and most young people tried marijuana or other drugs at least once.
The Amish and some others still kept out of the system, but many Christians were determined to make a difference,. This happened on both the right and the left. Parallel with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Rod Parsley and others were Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Tony Campolo, and Tom Skinner. The latter three told Christians to join the system and be sabateurs, with ideallism breaking the chains of racism and inequality and making us citizens of the world.
Unfortunately, both movements were rapidly corrupted. On the right, the line against abortion and homosexuality was well guarded, but the fight against racism was not on the main agenda until relatively recently. Standard conservative positions on economics and gun rights became just about as sacrosant as being pro-life. The Christian Voters' Guide somehow made the "Christian" vote the GOP vote. While to be sure the Bible teaches capitalism in at least an idealized form, with God rewarding the hard worker with the most and taking away from the unproductive, there is also a strong emphasis on systemic injustice and castigating the insensitive rich. The Bible says that injustice is part of why the poor have so much fallow ground. One could only imagine how our country would have been different had this movement decried shameless conspicuous consumption and worked hard for racial equality as well as holding the line on abortion, homosexuality, sex education, etc. A coalition of white and black and Hispanic evangelicals, Catholics, and conservative Jews would have been hard to beat.
As it was, people were shouting for prayer in the schools. I prayed in school. In fact, there was a prayer meeting before school across the street in a Christian couple's home (great idea, but the way - have a home near EVERY high school in your church open to students to pray.) It was a Godsend in high school. People tell me that;'s when American started going down the tubes - the day Madelyn Murray O'Hare won in court. Well, we did school prayer in Horsham for 4 years. 2 hours once a month. We prayed for the coaches, the teachers, the administration, the students, the teams, the transportation. the curriculum, the book-choosing committees, everything. We have NINE churches and probably 35 was the most we had. More often 8 to 12.
Where were all the people wanting prayer in schools? M.I.A. Despite that, the school had fewer issues, was at the forefront of banning interstate travel to get girls abortion, and having a classroom open for lunchtime Bible Study. There was a community gospel concert (the school district next door didn't want their gospel chorus singing about Jesus), the school plays were decent (another neighboring school district had a gay play which attracted national pickets). There was prayer before basketball games. There was prayer in the name of Jesus at the basketball banquets, Even one of the vilest coaches who loved to use the "F-word" on his players got saved. That was with a tiny remnant. Imagine what could have happened if we had 100 parents interceding in our district AND the neighborhood districts. FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!
People complain about the neighbors. Do they actually PRAY for their neighbors? Do they check on them, help them, and show the love of Jesus to them? They complain about the culture. Do they go were people hang out and share the love of Jesus and the gospel of Christ? Do they work out the issues with their spouse instead of divorcing just like the world. Others idolized their country. I love my country, but my citizenship is in heaven, and I have more in common with a minister in Tanzania I have been emailing than I do with my next door neighbor in Horsham, PA.
Being prosperity centered, just about as materialistic as the world (10% for God, 90% for me), and in many ways indistinguishable from the world except for a cleaner mouth, slightly better TV and movie habits, and pro-life and anti-homosexual, there is simply a lot to be desired. Many still have racial antagonisms - I STILL here them in 2009. They often have little sympathy for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. They will give charity, but never enough to solve the problem. PRAISE GOD for those who work to train and actually help people improve their lives, but to most it is simply "work hard", that's how I did it. Good enough for me is good enough for you.
The Christian left did no better. I was a member of the Christian left, so I have first hand experience. I was a subscriber to Sojourners, had friends who took over buildings in the 1960's, and who held candles marching for peace. What was different was that we were all Pentecostals and of course avidly pro-life. Homosexuality was despised by both right and left then, but the Vietnam War was the major issue. While I detested the way it was run, I really felt for the Vietnamese. I detested those who jumped on the anti-war bandwagon saying horrible things like these people weren't worth dying for. Of course they were worth dying for! But fighting a war had to be to actually win. Playing not to lose never works. Further, I believed that war was for non-Christians to fight, as Christians historically were pacifistic. I went to be a Conscientious Objector, but after my number wasn't called, i dropped the appeal as it was moot.
I generally thought most Christians were boobs when it came to politics, and the endemic racism present at the time by so many Christians and support for the status quo simply reinforced it. I had become a VISTA volunteer, been trained in passive resistance techniques by the Quaker Project, and dedicated many years to working in the North Philadelphia Community near Zion Baptist Church. I was greatly accepted by the community because I accepted the community and treated it as my own. One of my fondest memories was tutoring a girl from Deliverance Evangelistic Church who was a Temple student and extremely proud of her black heritage. She had little use or respect for whites and liked to talk about it. One night, she was going through her thing, and stopped. She became a bit irritated at herself, saying "I forgot you were white." It was one of the highest compliments I have received. Isn't that the way it should be going both directions? I noted that most other liberals said all the right things while on the job there, but the true nature came to the fore when with their own. The repeated hypocrisy of people pretending to be one with the people while maintaining a separate identify made an impact. Either we are one or we aren't.
Politics did not seem to make much difference to the human spirit. I admired so much about the black community, and from then on, almost everyone I dated was black. After I started dating Verileah, who is now my wife (whom I was concerned was too conservative), we went together to the "radical discipleship" conference at Messiah College. It was there that I met the core of the Christian left. I did not like what I saw. It was so different from my college experience and my work in North Philadelphia. I remember being in a seminar about righting a certain wrong. Most of the diagnosis was inarguably correct. However, it was all about how the participants were going to change the world. Most of the techniques seemed similar to the worldly left. Someone used the "s-word". Others didn't go there, but weren't exactly speaking in tongues either. These were some hard folks. I remember volunteering the fact that the Holy Spirit was more concerned about justice than they were and we had to move at the direction of the Holy Spirit instead of exercising reflexive worldly techniques. I'm glad I got out of the room alive. That was the last of that.
SInce then, Sojourners has taken their cues from the secular left. Tony Campolo wants Christians to take a different tack with homosexuality, and Tom Skinner is in heaven. Periodically I check them out, but there is no driving force of the Holy Spirit, and they are oh so quiet about core moral issues. They are trying so hard to please their non-Christian peers. Not a plan.
SO, DOES THAT MEAN WE SHOULD BE APOLITICAL? No really. After all I do write this blog and stick it in your email every so often. I avidly follow politics. I am longing for Christians to band together to make for an effective political force. It has happened in other countries, even though the movements there tend to become corrupted as well. I have no confidence in the two major parties today. The Democrat party is monolithic. Pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, naive on foreign relations, immigration, and corruption. It is funny how they always accuse Republicans of being monolithic. They aren't. They have quirky people like John McCain whom NO ONE I knew actually trusted. They have people like Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snow (or should I say had in the case of Arlen Specter), who was apologizing for their party almost as much as Barack Obama has been apologizing for America. The Hampton set is embarrassed about the pro-life stand of the white evangelical base. McCain's campaign manager and his own daughter are jumping into the pro-homosexual arena. While no one wants to pay excess taxes, somehow the tax cuts weren't as egalitarian as one would have hoped for. I'm not advocating supporting Obama's mad spending and draconian tax increases which have to follow, but there is a balance here.
Whether Christians can impact either party enough to make it the party of choice is an open question. The GOP is a lot closer, but it often treats the Christians as lepers as well. As valid a point as many talk radio hosts make, and believe me, much news would be forever buried without them due to the fawning left-wing media that is totally biased and journalistically dishonest, I don't know one who is an unequivocal evangelical Christian. I don't know one who stands for the absolute authority of the Bible and who rejects the Evolutionary Agenda and the creeping universalistic thinking transforming evangelical educational institutions into me-too colleges hostile to Bible-believers. Bob Casey on the Dem side is still Pro-Life, but it is more personal and the subject of a much needed moral crusade. Joe Lieberman is decent on the war effort, but wrong on most else.
I'd love a third party, that is uncompromising and that takes the Bible as its authority and not the issues or the major parties, but they never win. The GOP was a third party in 1860, and won, but that was about it. Talk to Teddy Roosevelt about he Bull Moose Party. He'll tell you. We will simply have to do our best to be prophets to each party and vote for the people who best exemplify out values.
That brings us to the crux of the matter. Christians differ. Some believe Obama is the anti-Christ while others stop just short of him being the Messiah. Both can't be right. It is nuts! For too long, Christians have been the biggest proponents of relativism. They formed denominations so they would stop killing each other, but going to the church of your choice is hardly Biblical. We are supposed to have pure doctrine based upon the Bible and not tradition. Baptizing babies and adults can't both be right. Speaking in tongues can't be both of the devil and of God. Evolution and Genesis can't both be true. Christians haven't judged themselves properly, so they are not prepared to judge the world.
I believe that as we concentrate on the unity of the Body of Jesus Christ, and seek to come into unity on doctrine (see my post on my Life in the Spirit blog for a post on doctrine) and unity on practices which Paul taught, we will have the authority that comes from a disciplined, together force. Right now we are fragmented, so of course Christians go the gamut from absurd to crazy in their political beliefs. It ISN'T all right simply to be sincere about what you believe. If two things conflict, one is RIGHT and the other is WRONG. Let's drop the WRONG and hold to the right.
Is anyone honest enough to do this with politics? Can we sit down and go through the party platforms? Can be x-out everything the GOP and the Democrats say that is unequivocally wrong and move on? Can we take what is unequivocally right and embrace it together? Can we take the grayer areas and list the differences of approach and allow each to follow his or her conscience in those areas? It can be a kinder and gentler arena of ideas. But it isn't yet. People are screaming their allegiances. They are assassinating the character of those who disagree. They are calling them vicious names and saying they are unspiritual. Is there really any difference from racists and leftist ideologues? If there isn't, why should anyone listen?
I say we need to work together based upon FIRST ALLEGIANCE to the kingdom of God. I do not underestimate the difficulty of that because I am close to several people who believe the polar opposite of what I do and who refuse meaningful dialogue. I believe that demons are oppressing many who are in intransigent states and who demean others mercilessly. When I see anyone who gets all their news some the same slanted sources, who refuse to consider other points of view (Yikes, even God wrote FOUR gospels to give us different perspectives on the news of Jesus.) When I see Christians captive to ANY narrow political philosophy, or if their loyalty to any person approaches the level of devotion to a cult leader, my antennae go WAY up. That is a shame, because even GOD said, "Come, let us reason together". What do you say? If you disagree with me on anything? Post your thoughts in a reasonable fashion and let's dialogue. God bless you.