Friday, January 07, 2005

Striving to Be an Equal Opportunity Offender: Ticking Off Some in the Christian Right and Christian Left in One Post!

On Christmas Day, our son's girlfriend, a wonderful young woman who's a bright Poli Sci major and a preacher's kid, visited with us. At one point, she looked over the books that constitute a part of my personal library and said, "Hmmm...Even though I see a biography of Kennedy, your books would seem to indicate that you're a conservative."

"I suppose that I am," I told her. As she too, is a conservative (she interned at the RNC last year), she was pleased.

But one thing I have found is that I seem equally adept at offending people from both the Christian Right and the Christian Left.

That's because I don't think that in political terms, Jesus is either a conservative or a liberal. In fact, I think that Christians who insist that Jesus is in agreement with their political, social, or economic agendas--irrespective of the direction in which they tilt--are guilty of subordinating Jesus to their ideas, or their countries, or their isms, or themselves. In other words, it's their ideas, countries, isms, or themselves that they devoutly worship, turning Jesus into a subservient acolyte for their real gods.

Here's where I offend the Christian Right, or at least some elements of it. James Dobson has recently issued a warning or an ultimatum or a threat to some Democratic senators. If they don't hue to his preferred conservative line, he's going to politically upend them.

Back when our kids were young, we found great value in James Dobson's books and tapes on family life and child rearing. He combined top-notch psychological scholarship with Christian faith in ways that truly helped me to understand my roles as husband and parent and I will always be grateful that I was made aware of him at a critical time of my life. But in recent years, I have watched with rising alarm as he has become an increasingly reckless spokesperson for a kind of Christian Pharisaism.

I understand Dobson's frustration with contemporary US culture. It breaks my heart to see how, like lemmings moving inevitably toward self-destruction, so many of our neighbors across America, move mindlessly away from the God made known through Jesus Christ. For anyone who has experienced the new life that comes from Christ, there is a deep desire for others to know and follow Jesus, too.

But even if you successfully use the political process to get legislation passed by the Congress which you think of as being "Christian" (though other Christians may disagree with you), you won't bring people any closer to walking with Jesus, Dr. Dobson! They'll still be lemmings heading for eternal destruction. Only now, they'll be lemmings who deeply resent Christian coercion and mistakenly think that you and your ilk actually speak for Christ on these issues!

The problem with Dr. Dobson's approach is that it's really functional atheism. Jesus has given us a strategy for positively changing people's lives. It's called "making disciples," gently, kindly, and reverently sharing the love of Christ by our words and our actions. (Check out Matthew 28:16-20; First Peter 3:15; Romans 2:4) This is the means by which turn from rebellion against God to relationship with God, as offered by Christ. This strategy requires patience on the part of believers. It requires trusting that, in spite of setbacks, frustrations, and maybe even persecution, God knows what He's doing. It means trusting God, not our ability to raise more money than some other politico or to smash opponents. You see, we're called to believe in God, not power. Christians are meant to be spiritual healers, not ward heelers.

But in Dobson's approach, there is so little faith in God that Christians of a particular persuasion decide to take the levers of political power instead of trusting God's Spirit to use our faithful wooing of others in accordance with Christ's will and direction.

(For more on the Dobson situation, see the following: Sidesspot; A Believer's Thoughts.)


Having said that, you should know that I've apparently managed to offend folks on the Christian Left in recent days. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the questions of whether to ordain practicing homosexuals or to sanction homosexual unions have become front-burner issues. I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that some behaviors are sinful, including the practice of homosexuality. While we are all sinners (including me), I don't believe that the Church should be asked to depart from the teaching of Scripture, selectively sanctioning some sins simply because society's mores have changed, especially in a Christian movement that is committed to the authority of God's Word.

This is not the same as saying that states should not have laws sanctioning some sorts of unions of those engaged in homosexual life styles or that the civil rights of such persons shouldn't be recognized by the state. Those are altogether different issues from those with which the Church is confronted these days.

Well, after making my comments, I got accused of hating gays, of not reading the New Testament, and of not loving my neighbor. While I totally own up to being imperfect, I found some of these arguments not only unfair and over-the-top, but intellectually lazy. By the way, for a really good discussion of these issues, you might want to check out Robert Gagnon's web site and his excellent book, mentioned there. You could also look at some fabulous articles on this subject on the blog of Mark D. Roberts.

Now that I've probably offended everyone who has ever read this blog, I'm going to hit the sack.

(Here's the original post and the comments from I Am a Christian Too.)

1 comment:

sidesspot said...

As I recall (and as I mention in my debate with Ray at Sacking Rome), Jesus offended one or two people in His life as well. Sadly, it goes with the territory, although it is not desired.