Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Church and Politics

"If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away."
-Mat 5:40-42

When was the last time you settled with someone who was suing you, for more than what they asked for? Have you always given to those who ask from you? Have you never turned away the one who wants to borrow from you?

For me, the answer to all of these is negative. Christ set a high standard of giving and charity. However, I am convinced that the Christ's reasons for telling us to give extend beyond simply meeting needs. Remember how He said,

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."
-Mat 6:19-20

Money isn't important in the kingdom of God. We are promised that "all these things" will be given to us if we seek Him first. Remember how He advised the rich young ruler,

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
-Mat 19:21b

Our giving is as much a matter of meeting the needs of the poor as it is of conforming us more to His image.

Here's my point: I don't see how you can be a Christian, and be one of the right-wing "Tea Partiers." I don't see how you can be a Christian, and rant and rail against the government for redistribution. The government wants a percentage of your money to give to the poor. Christ told you to give it all to the poor. Even when Christ had a legitimate reason to NOT pay taxes, He produced money from the mouth of a fish to pay it (Mat 17:24-27).

I find among political conservatives a callousness of heart that is out of keeping with true Christianity.

"inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me...inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."
Mat 25:40b,45b

But for the right-wing, the "least of these" aren't deserving of our compassion. They are probably just going to do drugs or take advantage of you, they say. Echoing the heretical prosperity gospel teachings, they blame the poor for their own situation, claiming that if they would just get right with God, and get some character, they could lift themselves up out of their situation. Upward mobility is yours if you will only persevere, say they. What a contrast to Scripture:

"I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."
Php 4:11b-12

Even the great Apostle Paul was in need, at times in his life.

How come conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism has come to be so closely allied with a political party that seemingly contradicts the attitude of Christ? Republicans have committed to a type of governance that enforces their vision of morality. It was an alliance born of the American culture war. But Christians are not called to change culture, or attempt to legislate their views. They are called to live and preach the gospel, and encourage other Christians to follow in Christ's footsteps and commands. The world will always live by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Any attempt to change that outside of the proclamation of the message of the gospel boils down to legalism, pure and simple.

The conservative Christian culture warriors that have aligned with the GOP in attempt to accomplish the same, are making a mistake far greater than legalism. They are quite literally sacrificing Christ's vision of the kingdom of God. They are trading softness of heart for a shot at legislating traditional roles. They are diverting time and resources better used for preaching and edification. They are watering down the mission of the church at large. Even more horrific, this melding of church and politics is an echo (maybe even a precursor?) of the Babylon system of Revelation.

... and we haven't even begun to touch on the plain fact that all factions of today's GOP are merely different shades of the ideology of Ayn Rand, something that ought to shock any discerning Christian.

Let me finish by telling you about my position and experience in relation to politics and the church. I grew up on the right-wing side of the culture war, not merely in belief and lifestyle, but also in worldview and outlook. The 60s counterculture was completely vilified. Growing up in an extreme-right-wing fundamentalist church, most mainstream and even conservative evangelicals were vilified as well. Even Bob Jones University was "liberal." The Democrats just wanted to let people be ungodly and stood against family values.

The back room handling of what should have been open "church discipline" issues was what really turned me off, especially when it happened to one of my best friends. After spending three or so years working through all the theological nuttiness like King James Onlyism, trying to give my conscience an exit from that group, I was free to settle in where I wanted. The lessons learned from my saga gave me an appreciation for being accurate and faithful to Scripture. Because of this, I found myself thoroughly in the conservative evangelical camp.

...and increasingly grated upon by the constant drum-beat against Democrats and "big government." Oh, and the idea that a vote for Democrats is a vote to kill babies. Most frustratingly, I found myself wincing at endless email forwards of political right-wing sensationalism. It began to get so bad during the 2008 presidential election that I was getting nonsense that major fact-checking sites like FactCheck or Politifact hadn't even picked up on yet. I become a regular contributor of rumors to their inboxes.

At this point, my discomfort wasn't so much rooted in any studied political persuasion as it was in the fact that these tactics bore an uncanny similarity to what I dealt with in more extreme fundamentalism concerning King James Onlyism-- uncritical, mudslinging, ad hominem, simplistic, end-justifies-the-means, gut-response attacks. (I continue to find it amazing how the KJVO debate taught me pretty much everything I need to know about "dirty" argumentation.)

Understandably, everything inside of me kicked in the other direction. In an attempt to be compensate for the unfairness of my fellow believers I became a devil's advocate for the Democrats and the left-wing--at least in my head.

Today, my church is a bit of an irony to me. As far as church stands and practices, they are very much liberal compared to my upbringing. As far as the overall political sentiment within the church, they are solidly red, more so than the churches of my upbringing. So much so that men who have been called up to offer public prayer have mentioned political battles over abortion and even healthcare reform in their prayers. So much so that after the movie Avatar came out, a stack of flyers was placed on the announcement table containing an article written by a right-wing political hack putting it down (incorrectly attributed on the flyer to the "Midnight Call"). And yes, around election time, the Family Values voter guides make their appearance.

I truly believe politics and church don't mix, so I don't make it an issue. However, I can't avoid feeling a bit uncomfortable. I wonder how far to left I would have to go theologically to find a church that isn't participating, formally or informally, in the culture wars.


Chris Cole said...

You are correct that we are commanded to give of our substance to aid our less-fortunate brethren, e.g., the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18 and James 2:15-16. However, to go from voluntary charity to forced government redistribution of wealth is an unwarranted leap of logic. For one thing we are further commanded not to contribute to idleness in I Thess. 5:10-12. For wnother, the majority of government welfare goes to finance the bureaucracy, actually reducing the amount available to the needy. And finally, voluntary charity and forced welfare have opposite effects. Since it is a voluntary activity, charity is part of the free market, and contributes to the overall prosperity of the community. The governmental force of welfare undermines that prosperity, increasing the need. If you want to assist the truly needy, rather than subsidize bureaucrats and the idle, then seek the shrinking of government and its resulting tax burden (see I Samuel 8:10-18).

David T. said...

@Chris: You make some good points. Specifically, the Christian should not depend on government to fulfill his obligation to care for the needy. Even if the government did a 100% efficient job at charity, us Christians should be personally involved as a heart matter if nothing else.
I don't seek to defend government redistribution _per se_; however, my view is that it becomes a moot point when you examine the Scriptures regarding charity, material possessions, and the kingdom of God. We are blessed to live in a country were us citizens can still somewhat shape the function of government--an ability we should use wisely. Nonetheless,I believe the Scripture would teach us that if the government chooses to take our money, we should consider it Caesar's; if the poor request our money, we should give above and beyond. Our major concern as Christians should not be the money or the circumstances of the request but love and peaceableness toward all, as befits the kingdom of God.