One more reason…

[This is a long post, but I hope you’ll read on.]

I don’t understand evangelicals. This post, if anybody actually read my blog, would probably get me in trouble. But since no one does (other than you), I’m okay.

Jesus for President teeThe marriage of religion and politics (particularly ‘conservative’ politics) that characterizes modern evangelicalism makes me uneasy. There’s the oft-spoken assumption (at least in the American South) that Christian=Republican. In other words, the folks you sit next to in a lot of evangelical churches are probably Republicans, maybe even hold elective office as Republicans. They talk, they ask questions, they make snide remarks about crazy ‘Feminazis’ (borrowing from one of their patron saints, Rush Limbaugh), fairies, or Democrats in general.

I’ve learned to smile and nod. A lot. And frankly, I’m starting to feel guilty about it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m relatively conservative, though I hate the label. The idea there, of course, is that we’re conserving something. But what? The American way of life? The ‘founders’ vision’ of America? Free trade? Freedom? I guess it puts me in mind of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, who were working with all their might to preserve their vision for Israel. And if that preservation required getting in bed (so to speak) with Herod or Pilate or the Zealots or whoever, they did it.Scribes and Pharisees from 'Jesus of Nazareth'

The same seems true today. If they have ‘our’ goals in mind, we can join with Democrats, or atheists, or murderers, or evolutionists (well, maybe not evolutionists) to realize the goal. That’s how we handle power. In fact, we call the powerful among us ‘power brokers’. We broker power, as if it were a commodity to be bought and sold. As in fact it is.

But where are the Jesuses of our day? Someone to say with Jesus: “Some people lord power over others. But it should not be so among you. After all, I deserve obeisance more than anyone, but that’s not part of my agenda. Instead, I’ll ransom myself for another’s freedom. I’ll take punishment I don’t deserve to relieve more spiritual and physical pain than any doctor could. I’ll surrender myself to imprisonment to lead people to ultimate freedom.” Some people get part of the message, but the pendulum swings too far. They end up brokering power on the other end, giving the top jobs to the right people. As N.T. Wright has said, Jesus said we go a different way altogether.

Instead of diving into the sack with Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Greens or Reform or the Marijuana party (I’m not kidding) or the Communists or any of the other political parties currently active in the US, what should Christians do? Above all, we must demonstrate that we are not just another religio-political movement. Too much energy, I believe, has been expended on taking over government. Now, I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, that we shouldn’t vote, or anything like that. I’m only saying that we must not focus our attention on ‘taking America back.’ We must instead focus on moving forward in and with and through Christ. In other words, we–let me make it personal–I have to find ways to announce/declare the kingdom of God in the world around me.

Instead of fighting to preserve the right to pray in school, why not just pray? And keep on praying until people start thinking, “Wow, there’s more to this than a power-grab.” Or instead of making a ruckus about art that offends me (which doesn’t sound a whole lot different from the Mohammed picture hullabaloo of last year), why not ensure that real, gospel-announcing art has hermeneutical space by virtue of its marketplace space? Why not buy some art? (And not just that blacklight Jesus poster.) Why not support independent Christian musicians and bands who have something powerful to say but little space to say it because they’re not ‘marketable’?

On the flip side of that is Sojourners, a magazine and organization I think a lot of. Unfortunately, lately I’ve felt they speak less and less for things and more and more against President Bush. I’m not really a Bush fan, a fact I neither hide nor trumpet. But neither am I going to spend all my waking life lamenting the ‘stolen election’ and plotting the takedown of the industrial-military complex and the war machine. I don’t like war, I don’t believe war is a good thing, I’m not sure it’s ever ‘just’ from a Christian perspective. But all that said, I believe our troops don’t need us taking potshots at them from behind. And my generation in the church is leaning that way.

When will we wake up? I still shudder when I think of Derek Webb‘s song “A New Law.” Read the lyrics. That’s what we’ve become about in our country, our church. “I don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy, so just bring it down from the mountain to me.” Most of my current angst (and there’s a lot of it; ask someone who has to talk to me on a regular basis) comes from this one attitude. Most of the people I know are looking to leaders (or influencers, if you prefer Emergent terminology) for what to think about whatever.

I’m tired of it. I don’t have the answers, but I want to keep asking the questions. Join me.

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10 thoughts on “One more reason…”

  1. Don’t worry i am not a bloody evangelical either, well sort of. Conservative, yes. Believe in the necessity of evangelism, yes. Embrace the evangelical culture in America & Europe, oh hell no!

    But I guess we better remain silent before we are stoned…

  2. Hang in there. I used to feel the same as you, until I finally realized that there is more to truth than the flavor-of-the-month, what’s on TV this week or what’s hot at Barnes & Noble this year.

    If truth exists, and I believe it does, then it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. I may not like it that we can’t live in a vacuum in space or on the bottom of the ocean without a breathing apparatus, but we can’t. That’s the truth. I may not like all the things that God said we should — and shouldn’t — do. If there is truth, as found in, say, the Bible, then I don’t get to pick and choose, the way I used to.

    Then, life gets really interesting. . .

  3. Ben, always glad to hear from you. THanks.

    Ed,

    I’m not wrestling with truth at all. I believe the truth. What gets under my skin is our marketplace church, where truth is a commodity. Or a political platform, where truth is a bargaining chip.

    I just want to see a different sort of America and world. Not that we will usher in the kingdom–that’s Jesus’ job, and I’m not post-millenial in eschatological persuasion–but we do as Jesus said and announce the kingdom come and coming.

    I also don’t want to pick and choose my truth. After all, that’s what I hate to see in the church. Whatever we decide should be championed will be championed, while the ‘weightier matters’ are ignored. It’s sickening that it took the church at large so long to notice the genocide in Rwanda, or the violence in Sudan.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. Don’t you know the church is the dispensor of religious goods? Or that God is that Great Vending Machine in the sky? Or that all the church is a cool support group to practice therapy? Why let this Jesus guy get in the way. I mean common he cann’t be that happy about being America’s tribal deity and all. And I don’t think he would be that happy even in our churches.

    Well I better hush before I get into trouble.

  5. Well I don’t know you, and you probably don’t know me. However I thought I’d step in and say something a little late 😉

    There’s one thing that bothers me and it’s the fact that you are relating Republicans with Pharisees or Saducees.

    You said… “I guess it puts me in mind of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, who were working with all their might to preserve their vision for Israel. And if that preservation required getting in bed (so to speak) with Herod or Pilate or the Zealots or whoever, they did it.”

    But the Pharisees so called “vision” for Israel was for them (the Pharisees) to have power and dominance (in a legalistic manner to religion) of a fashion similar to what the Catholic church had way back when. I’m no so sure this is the Republican mindset, or definitely not every Christian republican who sits in a pew at church. Maybe some of the political figures who are actually running the country sure, but you’ve just associated EVERY Christian with a Pharisee which I think is dangerous.

    I don’t have all my thoughts formulated to what bothers me about it, but maybe I’ll come back 🙂 Just expressing my thoughts.

  6. Frank,

    Thanks for your comments. A word of clarification: I didn’t associate Republicans with the Pharisees, but I did mention conservatives, lumping myself in to some degree. They seemed a good parallel to a “preservationist” mindset. I’ve taken great care not to generalize about either party, since there’s quite a range of opinion in both.

    I certainly didn’t associate every Christian with the Pharisees, because every Christian isn’t a Republican (though some Christian pundits think they should be). And this kind of generalization is dangerous.

    Thanks for reading.

  7. Jamie, I found your article while searching for graphics for the PowerPoint for my sermon tomorrow. I’m glad I found it! One thing I’ve noticed is that Jesus only used harsh words when speaking to people within the religious establishment – the people who claimed to be close to God. When he spoke to the people who, for whatever reason, felt alienated from God and/or the church, His message was – to paraphrase – “Come to Me! I can show you a better way!” He was unflinching at calling wrong wrong and calling right right before either group of listeners, but the tone and purpose was different. Today, in the church, all too often our harsh words and condemnation are for those who feel alienated from God and/or the church, and our praise is reserved for those within our group. Thus, we preserve the status quo, and miss the mark when it comes to passing on Jesus’ message. Thanks for a nice article.

  8. It’s amazing how people’s perceptions color their responses. It is like we have read totally different things.

    I enjoyed the post. Even more so, I agree with what you are saying because we are probably coming from the same angle (perspective is everything!). I agree with N.T. Wright when he said that Jesus would have us go another way altogther.

    Maybe I’m becoming more of my mother as I get older or her life is a testiment to God’s truth, but I don’t think we need to conform/fit-in/or become “relative” to the world in which we live. Most of us are connected to the world…we watch programming, buy stuff at malls, walk down the street, etc… We try so hard to fit into the world that we forget that we aren’t really supposed to. As followers of Christ, we are born again (eek!!), new creations, charged to live lives holy unto our Lord. We are different. When it comes to how we live our lives…faith, not politics or pop-culture, should be the standard. When we do that, it will probably look much different than what we think it should look like (i.e. not conservative, liberal, republican, or democrat).

    In the words of all the Pentecostal/Evangelical/Charismatic preachers I have sat under, that’ll preach!

  9. Have you ever read “Jesus Style” by Gene Edwards? It was written in the early 80’s but it is an amazing book. You should check it out. Also, “The Revolution-A field Guide to Changing Your World” which is a bunch of different essays by different authors.

    I agree with you about Sojourners, they are way left, but so is Jim Wallis. I read his book “God’s Politics” and it was decent but totally slanted.

    I used to drink the koolaide, I swore no Christian could possibly be a Democrat, now I don’t equate political party with Christianty. Many people have many different reasons why they vote for whom they do. Many God loving, Jesus following people are Democrats and many are republican. I have issue with any hook line and sinker judgement made against either party.

    I tell people to educate themselves. Study God’s word, then study the candidates and see which one lines up best with your convictions. We have to pray for guidence in the voting booth just like any other choice in live. We can’t just drink the koolaide anymore.

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