It was Shakespeare who said “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which if taken at the flood” leads on to great things. Of course the opposite is true as well. Sometimes the tide goes out on an idea, an alliance, a dream. One of the interesting trends in the mid-term election results is that outside the South, Evangelicals were not really a decisive factor in determining the outcome of a race or ballot issue, with the exception of the gay marriage ban which passed in all but one state (Arizona). So what should we learn now that various of the mighty have fallen, or at least have fallen on hard times. Should Evangelicals be is bed with ultra conservative Republican politician and their schemes? Or does this do a disservice to the Christian faith and polarize Evangelicals? And furthermore, will Evangelicals pay any attention to the fact that the major issue fueling the change of hands of the Congress and Senate was the war--- and the growing unease with the war in Iraq. It has been said the winners win, and losers learn. We will see if Evangelicals learn, or are even ‘good losers’.
My take on all of this is that it is too early to tell, and certainly to early to say that Evangelical political clout is on the wane. But here are some thoughts for reflection. Firstly, the alliance between Evangelicals and the hard line conservatives in the Republican party has made it difficult for many Evangelicals to see the difference in our time between being a Christian and being an American, and in particular being a certain kind of an American—namely a Republican. The problem is that this reflects a certain kind of mental ghettoizing of the Gospel, a blunting of its prophetic voice on issues ranging from war to poverty, and sometimes this even comes with the not so subtle suggestion that to be un-American (defined as being opposed to certain key Republican credo items) is to be un-Christian. But Christianity must and does transcend any particular cultural expression of itself, otherwise we have the cultural captivity of the Gospel which leads to a form of idolatry. It is one thing to sing ‘my country tis of Thee’, its another thing to have a bunker mentality which makes our countries ills hard to define and our flaws even harder to critique and correct.
Secondly, the ethical content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in so far as we are talking about what the Bible actually says, and not merely what it may also imply, does not focus on issues like abortion, same sex marriage, gun control, pornography, and other related personal ethical issues. You will not find many verses that deal with these subjects in the NT. Do I think that there are implications in the NT for how we should view this issues? Yes, I do. But my point is that these are not the hot button issues that Jesus or Paul or Peter or others made their main concerns or agendas. The social and ethical issues the NT focuses on over and over again are: 1) wealth and poverty issues, including food, shelter, and clothing issues (see e.g. the Lord’s prayer and the parable of the sheep and the goats); 2) paying taxes (we are supposed to do it and stop belly-aching about it—see e.g. Romans 13); 3) sexual behavior issues focusing almost entirely on heterosexual behavior issues, though we clearly have texts like Romans 1 where there is a critique of homosexual, sexual behavior as well; 4) behaviors and attitudes that divide the people of God—envy, strife, jealousy, greed, pride, arrogance, lack of the fruit of the Spirit; 5) war. Yes I said war. The Book of Revelation is a huge warning to leave justice in God’s hands and he will sort things out in his own time and way. It is a call to be prepared to be martyred, not a call to arms. Indeed, there is no call to arms in the NT. Instead there are warnings about those who live by the sword will die by the sword (hmm, what does that imply about gun control), and a call to personal pacifism in order to emulate the non-violent behavior of Jesus. There is nothing even remotely to be found in the NT that supports war as an act initiated by one country against another. Nothing! And this brings me to my point.
Personal ethics without a larger social ethic that deals with systemic problems in society is but half of an ethical Gospel if you read carefully what Jesus, Paul and others say. But here is the kicker--- neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor others expect the government to fix these social ills. They expect that WITHIN THE COMMUNITY OF CHRIST AND BETWEEN CHRISTIANS THEY SHOULD NOT EVER EXIST. In other words, the church needs to take care of its own, bearing one another’s burdens and so on. This is why for example in Acts 2-4 we hear about the Jerusalem community who makes sure no one goes without food, shelter, and clothing, who sets up a way to take care of the widows in the church and so on. Forget social security, they believed in church security. The church had not trivialized the Gospel and turned it into spiritual mcnuggets for the week yet. Until the Evangelical Church actually gets religion about the big ticket ethical items in the NT, it will not have much of a witness to the least, the last, and the lost, never mind to our global neighbors who are tired of our saber rattling. Why should anyone believe we believe in the sanctity of life when we vehemently oppose abortion but are strong advocates for capital punishment and war!! Over and over again. Our agendas are all too often not in sync with those of the NT writers on these issues.
Thirdly, and this will have to do for now, when your nation decides to make all its biggest decisions on the basis of fear and not faith, on the basis of what might happen to us, instead of what already is happening in our midst, on the basis of Real Politik instead of vision, we are in deep trouble.
Take for instance the issue of Homeland Security. The goal of terrorism is of course to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy so they will colossally over-react, over-reach, and most of all over-spend and waste their resources on chasing ghosts and fighting rear guard actions. Well I am saying we have colossally over-reacted to 9/11 and other such threats. We are squandering our resources and we are very little safer now than we were in 2001. Indeed, we have managed to aggravate our world friends and alienate the neutral, and antagonize almost every enemy we have in the world in the last six years. We have wasted billions of dollars a year for the last six years which could have gone a long way to eliminate some of the major social problems we have right here at home, never mind building good will abroad with ministries of compassion.
Christians should never be making their major decisions in life chiefly based on fear or a desire for revenge, or both. Nor should we support politicians who do so, whether they go to church or not. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If the question is WWJD, for sure its not what we’ve been mostly doing as a nation in the last six years.
So its time to wake up and smell the coffee. Does it smell like the aroma of Christ and his Gospel, or does it smell like dirt, like grounds, like mud? I hope someone out there in the Evangelical Church is listening. We need a whole new approach to ethics and ministry in the years to come in the 21rst century. Its time for a year of Jubilee. Its time to mend fences with our neighbors and the neutral. Its time to stop sticking sticks in hornet’s nests and wondering why we keep getting stung. May God help us overcome our American and Evangelical myopia.