Monday, June 26, 2006

Clarifying Again What I Was Trying to Say in "Jesus is Not a Republican"

I find that my post of several days ago may not have been as clear as I would have liked.

So, to clarify things a bit, I believe that Christians have every right to participate in politics. Indeed, I believe that they should participate. They should also be guided by their prayer, their study of God's Word, and their Christian sensibilities as they vote, donate to candidates and causes, and so on.

(In the past, I've also stated the belief, held by Declaration of Independence signers John Adams and John Witherspoon, that in order for democracy to work, the vast majority of the populace must be Christian. Only the Judeo-Christian view of life takes practical, realistic consideration of the sinfulness of humanity and its susceptibility to redemption through the grace offered by the God seen in Jesus Christ!)

What I object to, and object to strenuously, is the attempt by some clergy types and Christian leaders to hijack the Gospel, presuming to enlist Jesus in support of their own specific political agendas.
I object to them allowing politicians to use the church, as is happening this year in Ohio's gubernatorial race, to collect funds for political campaigns or to let candidates make campaign appearances during worship.

I object to preachers who presume to tell their flocks that Jesus Christ prefers Candidate X or Party R or D.
Faithful, Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christians can and do disagree about political issues. For example, the party to which I belong--the Republican--generally advocates an end to abortion, certainly a position rooted in Christian ethics. But Democrats frequently oppose capital punishment, also because of the value they place on human life. You could go down a list of issues like these and show the Christian underpinnings of opposing views.

Rare is the political issue on which a "Christian" position is unambiguously clear.

The late founder of a worldwide adult literacy movement, Frank Laubach, was also a man of constant prayer. Three years ago, I posted something about one of Laubach's books on prayer. It bears some relevance to this subject. Here's what I wrote:
"I keep a file of meaningful quotes drawn from the books I read. Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World is full of great quotes. In the current international crisis though, several stand out:

"'Most of us will never enter the White House and offer advice to the President. Probably he will never have time to read our letters [or our e-mails, I thought, as I read this]. But we can give him what is far more important than advice. We can give him a lift into the presence of God, make him hungry for divine wisdom...We can visit the White House with prayer as many times a day as we think of it, and every such visit makes us a channel between God and the President.'

"He also says that in our praying for the President and other leaders, '[w]e do not 'persuade God to try harder'...; it is our world leaders, our statesmen and church men [sic] whom we persuade to try harder. We help God when we pray. When great numbers of us pray for leaders, a mighty invisible spiritual force lifts our minds and eyes toward God. His Spirit flows through our prayer to them, and He can speak to them directly.'

"I laughed out loud when I read this assertion by Laubach: 'We can do more for the world with prayer than if we were to walk into Whitehall, London, or the Kremlin in Moscow, and tell those men [sic] what to do---far more! If they listened to our suggestions, we would probably be more or less wrong. But what God tells them, when they listen to Him, must be right. It is infinitely better for world leaders to listen to God than for them to listen to us.' These lines made me laugh because I thought how right Laubach was. I remembered how many times I held doggedly to an opinion about a political matter only to learn how misguided and wrong my view had been. How much better it is to humbly and trustingly place matters in God's hands, confident in His infinitely superior judgment. And how much better it is to put frail human leaders in God's hands than trying to manhandle them with my very fallible opinions and judgments!"
Of course, Christians can and should be involved in political affairs. But, except in the rarest of instances, no official church body, clergy person, or Christian leader should say more than, "As Christians, we think this. But we can't claim the imprimatur of heaven for it."

Most of the time, except on those things directly addressed in Scripture, nobody has the authority to say, "Thus says the Lord..." That's not only preumptuous. It borders on the idolatrous, idolizing either our selves and our own intellects or idolizing the ideologies to which we dare to subordinate Jesus Christ.

[For further reading, you might be interested in my series, Habits of the Heart, rooted in Alexis de Tocqueville's observations of the United States in the early nineteenth century, Democracy in America:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five]


Anna said...

Hi Mark -

I'm quite happy to learn you don't object to Christians being involved in our Republic, which is supposed to be for the people, by the people and of the people.

Until Lyndon Johnson told churches they would lose their tax exemption if they got involved with politics, ministers and congregations were totally free to discuss and engage in the issues of the day. All this separation of church and state folderal (which is NOT in our Constitution contrary to popular opinion) is a fairly recent development.

Having lived in big cities most of my life, I've seen the Democratic party have free access to the churches to do just about anything they please. I don't see anyone objecting to this. There's a double standard here.

As far as ministers declaring one candidate's position is more in tune with moral values than another and encouraging support, once again I do not feel this violates the Bible or the Constitution. People of faith should be free to express their views and support those who line up with those views.

The Democrats have chosen to support many immoral causes. They have alienated people of faith. It's rare to find a Democratic pro-life candidate. As I've said before, if there's a Democrat or third-party candidate that's pro-life running against a pro-abortion candidate, I vote by the issue.

Are all our problems going to be solved through political involvement? Not by a long shot. I do not believe Christians expect politics to be a cure-all. The perfect world will not happen until Jesus returns. Yet, we are called to be salt and light and to stand for righteousness. Freedom without responsibility only leads to tyranny. And where there is tyranny, the ability to share the Gospel and serve the Lord according to our conscience and the Word of God is severely restricted or outlawed altogether. (By the way, the phrase, "separation of church and state," was in the old Soviet Constitution - not ours - and we all know how repressive that society was.)


Mark Daniels said...

(1) In spite of the old canard about the phrase "separation of church and state" originating in the Soviet Constitution, it is false.

It first appears in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson Baptists in Danbury back in 1802.

Jefferson is my least favorite of the Founding Fathers. But it's pretty clear to me that in this phrase, he's referring to the establishment clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

This prohibited any church or, by extension, any religious doctrines, enjoying favored status in the United States.

There were several great Christians among the founding generation. (Jefferson not among them.) It was, in part, because they were great Christians that they didn't want to force their faith down others' throats. They knew that faith in Christ happens when the Holy Spirit gently woos a person through the ministry of the Church and not by coercion.

(2) Of course, this doesn't justify another old canard, the one that says you can't legislate morality. Of course, you can legislate morality. Indeed, every law passed is justified on some moral value, whether pursued hypocritically or not whether objectionable to us or not, whether deemed moral by God's law or not.

There are speed limits, motorcycle helmet requirements, and bans on smoking in public places because of the value placed on human life, for example. That's a moral value. (The value on human life is why most Christians oppose abortion and why many others oppose capital punishment.)

So, of course, moral considerations must be a part of public discourse and public policy.

But as the Pharisees proved, you can have all sorts of laws proscribing certain moral behaviors and not change people's relationship with Jesus Christ. Laws and citizen involvement are important. But they pale in comparison with the possibility of entering Christ's kingdom of grace with a new life, an everlasting relationship with God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Who, as we engage in daily repentance and renewal, will guide our decision-making, including our poltical decision-making.

(3) Back in my youth, I was active in partisan politics and was then a Democrat living in a city. I was opposed to candidates speaking during worship services, to churches endorsing candidates or engaging recruiting or fundraising for candidates. When candidates visited churches, I didn't support them. I feel the same way today.

For the church to allow itself to be a tool of partisan political ambition is wrong.

(4) "The Democrats have chose to support many immoral causes." You're right, Anna. So have the Republicans.

In an imperfect world, each of us will make imperfect choices. So, I'm not advocating moral perfectionism.

I am calling on the Church to focus on its mission: Calling people to faith in Jesus Christ. Change people and politics will change. It's a long process, one that may cause to throw in the towel and instead, embrace the bandaids of laws. There will be times, as Paul says, when the Gospel is in season and others when it's out of season. But if we in Christ's Church gain political victories and lose millions of souls, will we have we done our mission?

Thanks, as always for your comments, and God bless you!

Sincerely in Christ,