We once again face a national election. As an Evangelical Christian I watch along with my fellow countrymen at some of the political dynamics of our national parties and government and wonder just what is wrong with us?
I suppose some can observe the political drama and think American democracy is healthy since many people seem engaged, and that things will continue to move along as usual. I don’t necessarily share that opinion. I do have other opinions that I would like to share, for what they are worth.
I observe various views in the Evangelical camp (and anyone who claims to believe the Bible is true I would pretty much include in that camp) about how to engage or not engage with politics in our country. Some have the view (I will call them Group 1) that politics don’t really matter because essentially America doesn’t really matter, that we are just one among many countries in the world and certainly not the Kingdom of God on earth. This group takes umbrage at those Christians (I will call them Group 2) who keep claiming the Bible verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14,
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Group 1 doesn’t like this use of Scripture because they insist that America is not Israel, and not the people of God. They believe that is healthier for believers to see themselves as a minority in the nation, as a “peculiar” people within the nation, and that we are here to love the sinners and preach the Gospel and win as many as we can to Christ. We are not necessarily to want (politically), nor to hope, and neither to expect that the government or the majority of sinners will ever do right. We are not here to tell sinners to live righteously because in essence they can’t, so we should win souls and stop getting so upset about how evil things get. This group does tend to preach “prophetically” against social injustice but does not necessarily preach “prophetically” for social morality. This group is a combination of folks who think, “it is all going to burn,” and those who are intimidated by unbelievers despising their Christianity because it seems to have cultural implications. They want to sneak up on sinners and not tell them about righteousness until the Holy Ghost can help them actually have it.
Group 2 believes that America has a special place in the plan of God, and that the country can be changed both through the conversion of the masses and by the reformation of our laws so that evil is condemned and prohibited and righteousness is increased. To them it is important that abortion be made illegal, homosexual marriage be outlawed, and that Christianity be allowed to flourish if not by government protection then at least not by hindrance. They see America as great when mostly closely aligned with a Biblical and Christian cultural influence. Group 2 tends to align with conservative political parties.
Group 2 tends to preach morality but leaves social justice alone, and tends to see those issues as outside of the role of the church. It can be very political in terms of morality and yet almost apolitical when it comes to justice, thus sustaining the status quo. Group 2 believes that judgment will come on the United States if it keeps getting further and further away from Christian morality but that it will be blessed and protected if it stays true to that morality. Group 1 pretty much feels that the judgment is inevitable, but they seem to act like the judgment is not their fault and will not affect them, even though they live here. Group 1 tends to disdain any political party affiliation.
I would suggest that some Evangelicals don’t fit either group exactly, while holding on to a little bit of both. Let us call them Group 3. These folks think America isn’t Israel, and is not the Kingdom of God, but that since it is the country they (we) live in it is important. They like the verse from Jeremiah 29:7,
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
These people think America is not only important for those of us who live here, but that America is a significant idea and experiment in the history of the world. That America’s success affects the world because we are, at this time, the most powerful nation on earth. These folks do think the American people personally need Jesus Christ, but they also think even sinners need to practice justice and morality. They like the verse, and take it to have universal and world-wide application, from Proverbs 14:34,
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
People from this group think it is wrong to abdicate political responsibility solely based on the idea that our views might not be popular with unbelievers, or that it will offend them. Folks in this group don’t think having an opinion about public justice or morality is tyranny or condemnation of others but essential for the prosperity of the nation. People in this group tend to feel they have as much right to the formulation of law, public morality, and positive culture as any other voter. Accusations from non or anti-Christians that we might wish to impose our beliefs on them are to some degree correct, or at least as much as they have been imposing their moral and cultural beliefs on the rest of us.
Group 3 doesn’t equate political success with the advancement of the Kingdom, but they do think the advancement of the Kingdom coincides with public justice and morality, as well as conversions. They also realize that sometimes both the conversion of unbelievers and a call to righteousness comes in the context of not only opposition but persecution. Group 3 tends toward activism, sometimes with liberal parties and sometimes with the conservative ones.
One of the complications for all of us is that it is very difficult to have one’s political desires met unless it is through a political party. Once a party decides on its candidate and platform we are all pretty much stuck to take the bad with the good. Political parties are of necessity coalitions with people who have some similar opinions and agendas as well as some fewer that are in conflict. It is the tendency of political parties to give influence to the most ardent and radical of its followers, to allow them to filter out candidates (through the primary season) who are not as vigorous on the issues as they insist, even if that means they end up with some of the worst personalities and offensive personal histories.
What has happened in this cycle is that many good candidates were rejected, though they were better people, but they did not have the most extreme opinions, even if they had name recognition and deep pockets of cash. The candidate that captures the anger of the people best, the lust and arrogance of the people, or whose message resonates with the fears of the people seems to have the best shot in this country. So, in a sense, we get the government we deserve. Christians have to be true to their conscience as to when a party or a candidate can or cannot be supported. Some tend to be more utilitarian in their voting decision, “I will take this bad in order to get that good since it is better for all in the long run.” As is usually true with Utilitarianism some cannot give up their principles so easily.
Evangelicals have been caught up in the anger against liberalism in this country, and it is a deep anger. Unfortunately that anger has been played by demagogues who have used all kinds of simplistic issues to galvanize conservatives and thus prevented them from having any ability to govern through reasonable nuance or compromise so as to gain traction for their causes. In my lifetime I don’t remember such a recalcitrant conservative effort to oppose a sitting President or his agenda. It is as if conservatives have their hands over their ears while yelling and abusing those who make any objection that they might be mistaken or overreacting.
Whether the myth of the “birther” movement, or the claim that President Obama is a secret Muslim, or a communist, or that he is an inciter of racism because he, as a black man, has not forgotten he is black, or the nascent racist idea in some that since he is black he is wrong for America, (added to the opposition many Evangelicals feel for his social policies) it is an embarrassment to the Republican Party. Their leadership has not tried to police such decidedly ignorant buffoonery but thought that it simply aided them in opposition.
In my opinion none of these things are the primary issue with President Obama. One doesn’t have to believe, speak, or repeat unproven slander or innuendo to have cause to oppose him. In fact such behavior undermines the credibility of his critics. His views on marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and the view that sexual rights are more important than religious rights are a much greater problem. His view of cultural change through the power of the courts is in some ways a subversion of true democracy. Unfortunately this is the drift of modern universities, Law Schools, and thus jurists.
His attempt to not alienate Muslim populations and countries does not make him a Muslim. By his order we have killed many Muslims who are fighting for their particular view of Islam and radical Islamists hate him as much as they hate anyone else. I think his particular view as to how to use military force is a problem. In an effort to prevent large scale mobilization and cost in money and lives his slow, piece-meal approach and his failure to move toward decisive engagements and clear decisions (except in the termination of leadership) has prolonged and perpetuated the wars we are in. I think the rhetoric about how he wanted to end these wars was a bit naive and even though he would like to distance himself from the previous administration the present wars are in fact his wars.
How about his being a socialist or even a communist? The conservatives were so committed in opposition to the President’s efforts for enlarged medical insurance that they effectively sabotaged its success, with terrible results for the American people. It was a supposed ideological battle that left us without a pragmatic American strategy (which we are usually pretty good at) that could have given us an effective compromise. Many Evangelicals were split on this issue but having chained themselves to conservative causes they were carried away by it and lost any voice of compromise. The Republican Party took this opposition to Obama-care as its main cause, miscalculated that Obama would lose his second election, assumed that no governance was good governance, and made themselves the party of “no.” Aside from their candidate, this public perception may very well prevent them from capturing the White House in 2016.
It looks now as if the Insurance Industry has prevailed, and the working class is suffering. We cannot solve the medical crisis without a unified and coordinated approach not only between both parties, but with the full cooperation of the states. It is only a crisis for those who cannot afford adequate care and until the whole country sees it as a crisis, and feels it, we are not going to solve it. Free enterprise does not have to lose for the common man to be protected; both can be accomplished if we could learn to speak with one another.
Many Evangelicals are not necessarily champions of unrestrained capitalism when it comes to Banks, Pharmaceutical companies, Insurance companies, or Utility companies. Their voice is often silenced though by their conservative representatives in Congress who think the mandate they have been given is exclusively an ideological capitalistic one. In the resistance of Congress to give the nation meaningful reform they lay the foundation for the next financial crisis.
Evangelicals are usually not champions of Unions, which are often seen as bullies to their workers and chokers of freedom when they keep people from working and force dues that pay for political partisanship, but this does not mean they are against worker’s rights. Many Evangelicals are those workers, but not usually those who are suburban middle-class Presbyterians.
I can’t pretend it is easy to be both a Christian and an American. Yet, in some ways it is the easiest and happiest of problems. Our freedoms are many and great and we live in the context of such freedom without always realizing its blessing. Since we live in a democracy we are all responsible here, and it is wrong to abdicate that responsibility. While we have it this is a government of the people, by the people, and we must always work to make it for the people. This is a responsibility for morality, for justice, for goodness, for love. We do (and I think must) have opinions, hopefully truly Biblical opinions, and if those opinions are good for all people then we should advocate them, and that means political involvement, at least as far as voting but most likely all the way toward party and office.
If one advocates for the poor and is a Democrat, if one advocates for the unborn and is a Republican, if one advocates for good policing and is in Black Lives Matter why should the rest of us despise them for sincere acts of conscience? We certainly have a right to ask questions of each other, to see if our involvement means we agree with every extreme thing the group around us seems to advocate, but it is hard to be involved in any movement without being misunderstood. We need fewer assumptions about each other and more charity from each other.
Some seem to look back almost fondly to living under the tyranny of Rome, where Christians had no say in the government over them. Yet, even there the Bible taught the difference between right and wrong, the advantage of freedom over slavery, the necessity to obey God (and this not only to preach the Gospel but to be moral and just no matter what the society taught or tolerated) rather than man, the determination to worship the true God no matter the cost or opposition. This has always made Christianity a restless, resisting, and reviving culture under any government. We might be obedient citizens to some degree, but we have always had to march to God’s agenda and we will and must do so until He comes again or they eliminate faith on earth.