If you aren’t aware, we here in America are in the climax of one of the messiest elections in our history. In just a few weeks, Americans will head to the polls and cast their vote to re-elect our current President, Barack Obama, or to elect the republican nominee Mitt Romney. Most Evangelical Christians view the election process as a highly religious and spiritually motivated decision. And we all know that when you mix dogmatic religion with religiously motivated dogmatic politics, trouble lies just around the bend. The majority of Evangelical Christianity believes that it is our political duty to “Vote the Bible”, which means to take the morality we find throughout the Scriptures and attempt to legislate it as the standard for our country. This normally translates to “Vote Republican” because the Republican Party has built its entire foundation on “Judeo-Christian” morality. Likewise, more progressive Evangelicals believe in a similar “Vote the Bible” conviction, however they choose to focus on the more “social justice” edge of Jesus Christ’s ministry. Therefore, instead of focusing on issues like abortion or homosexuality, they spend time campaigning for any candidate who vows to feed the poor, end the war, or fight for racial or gender equality. And likewise, the Democratic Party has a very large leg of its platform situated firmly on the religious progressive’s values and organizations. With a setup like this, there is bound to be conflict. The lines between religion and politics, commitment to Christ and a commitment to a candidate, and what is biblical versus what is constitutional has been blurred. Instead of seeking what is truly good for our nation both spiritually and politically, we have allegiances that are unshakeable and stubborn that makes us not able to see the reality of our nations issues which in reality further the issues instead of ever resolving them.
Every year around election time churches and ministries go all out with political propaganda that make it clear that if you want to be part of “us” (our church, denomination, network) then you must vote like us. Some churches even participate in events such as Pulpit Freedom Sunday where preachers openly endorse political candidates despite the IRS’s clear prohibition on such speech from the pulpit. Others write blogs and publish books offering “the Biblical” way to vote. In this election, over two dozen new political books have been published (that I have found) by Christian publishers. But what is the purpose of all of this? What good comes from this blending of our religious ideals and political convictions? And is there a better way to do this?
Now I am not claiming to be above reproach or have any real answers. I have many times very publicly stated what my political views are. And many times I have been told that I was not a good Christian because of my views. For instance, I recently commented on one prominent conservative evangelical blog and the author responded with a lengthy rebuke which could be summed up in his statement: “If you are a follower of Jesus, you shouldn’t be (based on their current platform) a Democrat.” So, if I follow Jesus, (and I do) I shouldn’t be a Democrat? (Which I currently am) Really? Now this same kind of rhetoric comes from the opposing side to. And as we draw nearer to the election, I suspect this type of speech and interaction will continue to increase in its severity and division- and that is deeply painful to think of.
Both progressive and conservative evangelicals are sinning, for we have made something that is so far removed from the Gospel an issue of “in or out”, “saved or unsaved”. Now many people would say that I am over exaggerating. But am I? What does it mean when someone told me that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t be a Democrat? I believe it means, at very least, that I am a poor follower of Christ. That I am working against Christ’s kingdom. That I am leading people astray. But am I? Really?
The reality is that as an Evangelical who happens to be a Democrat, I do believe that the unreasonable killing of anyone is a sin. But that’s not my biggest concern. As an Evangelical, my biggest concern is seeing the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed in word and deed and seeing God’s Kingdom established in the midst of this kingdom. I want to see lives changed by encounters with Jesus Christ. That is what my heart beats for. And I think that evangelicals across the spectrum would give that a hearty “Amen” of agreement. But how then is it that every year at election time the most important thing gets buried under the weight of political dogma?
I also believe in the separation of Church and State. I believe this along with a large host of witnesses throughout the history of Christianity. I also believe this along with, I think, Jesus himself. Jesus worked within the system of Roman Government. Certainly he was not pleased with what he saw and was subjected to. Sometimes he spoke out against it. But most of the time it seems that Christ complied with the Roman system. He even taught his disciples to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. In saying this, Jesus sets a standard for his disciples- obey and live within the system of the world and as you live in the kingdom of man, be busy bringing forth the Kingdom of God. My understanding of how evangelicals, and indeed Christians are to engage politically is to be faithful citizens of our respective companies. To uphold the laws, pray for the leaders, and participate in the political process. We are never called to legislate the Bible or to try to create a “Theocracy”. We are called to live in a world of sin and within this world be about spreading the Gospel and loving our enemies, feeding the poor and healing the sick. We are called to live as citizens of heaven in the midst of earth, realizing that these kingdoms are distinct and yet one day will become one- but that’s God’s job, not ours.
In other words, we are called to obey our nation’s laws and constitution and to legislate based on that. We shouldn’t be trying to legislate Christian morality for non-Christian peoples. Christian morals are only possible by the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian and by legislating what is only possible for Christians for everyone we are placing a huge stumbling block in the way of the Gospel. We are saying that in order to follow Christ you can’t be gay, you can’t have aborted, and you can’t have received welfare and so on. But that is the exact opposite of the Gospel. We do nothing for God’s glory by legislating Biblical morality other than hardening hearts towards the Gospel. Instead of forcing our morals on to our whole society, we should focus more on living as the power, person, and presence of Jesus to our nation. We, the Church, should be feeding the poor and not relying on the government to do so. We should be advocating peace instead of relying on the government to do so. We should be preaching the Gospel to homosexuals and abortionists in love, with grace, instead of protesting and trying to impede upon what we may see as their “sinful lifestyles”. We believe salvation is by grace alone, not of works. So why would we legislate Christian values and expect people to want or even be able to come to the Gospel? For the message we are actually preaching is “give up your sin and get right before you come to Jesus” which is antithetical to the Gospel.
I don’t think one party represents a better way of legislation. Both parties have groundings in the constitution and both parties have intrinsic flaws. I believe evangelicals can be faithfully following Christ and be a member of either party- for our faith and our political beliefs are very different. They are not, or rather, should not be fundamentally dependent on each other. So as we enter in to this election season we must be careful not to forget our first calling- to be Jesus to our world and to preach the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t republican or democrat. Being Jesus certainly isn’t legislating morality. It is the message of God’s unconditional grace and love for all those who will call upon His name and turn from their sinful ways. Being Jesus is loving those we disagree with fundamentally and not slandering them but accepting them for who they are and allowing them to see the power of God moving through us to love them and draw them to Himself.
I think the (Re)vangelical vision for politics is one that says that at the end of the day, we could care less who you vote for or what you stand for politically. What we care about is loving each other as brothers and sisters and seeking unity that comes through the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church as well as seeing Christ lifted high that he may draw all humans to himself. If we focused as much time, energy, and money on Jesus and his Kingdom, just imagine what a testimony we would be to our nation and world in the midst of such a divisive season in our nation’s history. Maybe they would truly see the light and salt of Christ in us. Maybe they would see the true difference Christ has made in our lives. Maybe they would get a glimpse of the radical loss of identity that we experience as we gain new identity in Christ. Maybe, just maybe, they would see the Church being the Church for once. And that would be an honor to our God and for our nation.
Just my thoughts.
Grace and Peace-