A few days ago, my post about Rush Limbaugh's divorce hit the hot button of a few folks. It wasn't a particularly favorable review of Rush, although I don't think it was mean-spirited in any way, but I wouldn't have been surprised to have gotten some flack for it. No flack was received - the commentors agreed with me pretty much. One commentor made reference to all of the political blogging that goes on especially among Christian bloggers and I thought I would jump off of that and share some thoughts. This commentor raised a valid concern about blurring the line between what we call "conservative" and what we call "Christian."
That's an issue that definitely needs to be addressed, and here are a few thoughts on that.
First of all, the Bible is a big book and the Christian worldview is big worldview. The Bible and the Christian worldview have something to say about every sphere of activity in creation. In that regard the Bible has principles which can and should be applied in the political realm. For example, there are ethical principles that can be applied across the board in any sphere of activity, be it political, economic, social, media or what have you. Also, I would argue that you can derive some philosophical principles from Scripture that can inform political beliefs. For instance, I think a case can be made, biblically, that government has a limited and restrictive function in society. Therefore, I would be willing to argue in favor of a political party that at least tried to adhere to this, or that adhered to it more than another party.
Secondly, since the Bible is such a big book, with so much to say about so many things, it is appropriate that Christians who are well grounded in the Scriptures speak about principles derived from the Word of God in whatever sphere they find themselves in. So, Christians should be bringing the Word of God and Christian worldview to bear in the media, education, sports, entertainment, and yes, politics.
Third, there is the matter of calling. Some are called to preach, some are called educate, some are called to build, some are called engineer, some are called to the arts, and some are called to politics. If someone has a calling from God to the political arena then they need to fulfill that calling.
Fourth, blogging is conducive to this kind of stuff. Some are called to the arts, but blogs aren't a good place for Christian artists to express themselves. Some are called to mercy ministry, but blogs aren't a good place for that. Some are called to counseling, but again, blogs aren't a good vehicle for that. Blogs are great vehicles for those whose calling is in the arena of ideas, and poltics is an arena of ideas. So, it is reasonable to assume that there would be many Christian bloggers who major in politics.
With all of those things in view, it is entirely appropriate that we have a contingent of Christian bloggers who are addressing political issues from a Biblical standpoint.
The issue my commentor brought up, about blurring the lines between what we call "conservative" and what we call "Christian," is a different matter. By the by, I would also say that there are many who blur the lines between "Christian" and "liberal," just so that we know this is not a problem of one group of people. But, the issue of blurring the lines is reminiscent of the problems that Paul faced with the church in Galatia.
The Galatian heresy is to piggy back extra-biblical matters onto the Christian faith, and make those extra-biblical matters tests of saving faith, or sanctification. In Galatia it had a particularly Jewish flavor. I have always described the problem at Galatian in these terms - the Judaizers said that to be a good Christian you had to be a good Jew. What is interesting to me is that when obeying the Jewish customs is treated as a matter of indifference, Paul submits to them. In Acts 16:3 he has Timothy circumcised because of some Jews in Lystra and Iconium. It seems that, though this was not required, Paul felt it would be reasonable to do it so as not to hinder the spread of the gospel. But, in Galatia, Paul fought tooth and nail against such a thing, because the Judaizers had taken that matter of indifference and made it an essential matter.
We face similar things in all kinds of places and all kinds of ways today, and politics is one area we face it in. I can remember years ago, when I lived in Orlando, FL, a talk show host on a Christian radio broadcast did a show titled "Can you be a Democrat and still be a Christian?" I didn't listen to the show itself, but am disturbed that he would even raise the question, because this is clearly crossing the line into Galatianism.
This is not a new problem. During the run-up to the civil war several denominations had debates about slavery. There was a rift among the Baptists and the Presbyterians in this regard. The common view is that the Southern Presbyterians wanted to keep their slaves and the Northern Presbyterians were in favor of abolition (this "common view" is also true of the Baptists). However, those who are familiar with the Southern Presbyterian position will tell you it wasn't that way. At one point, the Northern Presbyterians made some kind of motion asking the denomination to support abolition. The Southern Presbyterians countered that the Northerners were in error to make support of a particular piece of political legislation a condition of fellowship. Thus, the Southern Presbyterians contend that they weren't so much defending slavery, they were defending against a kind of creeping Galatianism that added extra-biblical requirements as conditions of fellowship. And, if you read or listen to supporters of the Southern cause you can find all kinds of stuff where they talk about the steps they were taking to emancipate the slaves and prepare them for a better life, etc..
In one respect I am fully supportive of the Southern Presbyterian position. It is going beyond the bounds of church authority to make the support of any kind of legislation a condition of fellowship. Yet, I have to say that I can't think of any biblical defense of slavery as an institution (although I know that there are some, even today who try to do so). In our day and age, I see abortion as comparable. Abortion is an unmitigated evil and I have a very difficult time believing that someone can be a Christian and knowingly support legalized abortion. It's the same way with slavery.
But, having said that, it raises another issue - how does one address these evils in society? Do we have to make a particular position on abortion (or slavery) a condition of fellowship? What am I to do if someone comes into my church who has been steeped in worldly philosophy and has always firmly believed the arguments in favor of legalized abortion. Suppose they come to a genuine experience of faith in Christ. Do I make their stance on abortion a matter of fellowship, or treat it as a pastoral issue? It's not an easy question to answer? A new believer may simply be ignorant of Biblical principles and needs to be embraced into the fellowship and educated. To that person we might say "the official position of our church is that abortion is murder and we intend to do all we can to persuade you of that fact." If they say something like "oh, I've never really thought that through, I'm not convinced but willing to listen and learn," that's one thing. But what if we have someone who claims to be a believer and is not acting in ignorance? They've studied the issue and come to the conclusion that abortion is ok. In such a situation, we may have a legitimate church discipline issue.
Because of those things I'm reticent to make a particular stance on abortion an across-the-board condition of fellowship in the church. In that respect, I can support the Southern Presbyterians. But the fact that I am not making a particular stance on abortion a condition of fellowship, doesn't mean that I won't preach against it and call it what it is - murder. If the Southern Presbyterians not only said that you shouldn't make support for abolition a condition of fellowship, but went on to justify the institution of slavery itself, then I would have a real problem. If slavery is an evil institution in and of itself, then it would be incumbent upon them to speak out against it, and failure to do so would be failure to fulfill their Biblical duty.
This is a very difficult thing - admission into the church is contingent upon a credible profession of faith. We dare not add to what God requires. We take people where they are, not where they ought to be. But we balance this out with the practice of church discipline. These are things where tremendous wisdom is needed.
All of the above is to agree with the one who warned us about blurring the lines, while at the same time acknowledging that it is difficult to know when the the threshhold of blurring has been crossed. The questions I raised above which I didn't really give very good answers to show the difficulty in knowing when a Christian has crossed the line. An example comes to mind.
Suppose Mario Cuomo goes to his local catholic church and speaks out in favor of abortion. Would the priest/bishop/cardinal be within his rights to censure him for such speech? I think the answer is unequivocally "yes." If Mario speaks in favor of abortion on the campaign trail or in some other political forum, would the same priest/bishop/cardinal be within his rights to censure him for such speech? Again, the answer would be yes, but the priest would then be accused of crossing the line into politics when he is only holding a church member accountable for fidelity to his church's beliefs.
The church has the right and obligation to speak about matters of public policy insofar as it can be shown that the Bible has something to say on those particular matters. So, I think our political bloggers are doing well to speak on these matters.
I won't chase this rabbit for now, but the next issue that comes to mind is in discerning which matters does the Bible speak on. I believe the Bible very clearly speaks about abortion, it is much harder to discern a clear Biblical position on matters such as war and other things. But this is for another time and post.
Of greater concern to me and the commenter is the Christian's tendency to place too much hope and too much trust in politics and politicians and to tie the fortunes of Christianity to the fortunes of a particular party, or nation for that matter. For example, consider the following from Michael Scott Horton:
A few years ago, I had a discussion with U.S. Senate chaplain, Dr. Richard Halverson, and he told me how difficult it is to travel around the world and have other American believers traveling with him express their faith in extremely cultural terms. Living in Washington, he says, "No one actually says it, but it's there, and that is the idea that if we just get the right man--and it has to be a man--in the White House, and the right people in the Supreme Court, we'll have the kingdom of God. Now let's get to it!" And then Dr. Halverson quoted a penetrating question from Malcolm Muggeridge: "What if the church had pinned its hopes on the Roman Empire?" "I can't forget that," Dr. Halverson said, "at a time when the church is pinning its hopes on the good 'ol U.S.A.."Similarly, Rome was center of the universe for Christians and many Christians tied the fortunes of Christianity to the fortunes of Rome. As the Barbarians invaded Rome, Jerome lamented: "How can we be safe if Rome perishes!" Yet Augustine didn't see the Barbarian invasion as a negative because he didn't think the City of God needed to be propped up by the City of Man. In the article referenced above by Horton, he quotes Henry Chadwick as follows:
Augustine saw the Church existing for the kingdom of God, the true 'eternal city,' beyond the rise and fall of all empires and civilizations. Even 'Christian' Rome could claim no exemption from the chaos and destruction brought by the barbarians. Augustine never supposed that the interests of the Roman empire and the kingdom of God were more or less identical. In relation to the church, he thought, the government had a positive function to preserve peace and liberty. But the barbarians who attacked the empire were not necessarily enemies to the city of God. It would be the western church's task to convert its new barbarian masters.Unfortunately, many modern American Christians have the attitude of Jerome, or at least they act as if the fortunes of the Kingdom of God are tied to the fortunes of the USA or of a particular party.
So with all of that in mind, I would affirm the validity of political blogging for Christians. I for one, have several favorites who blog politically. LaShawn Barber is my favorite of the political bloggers, but I also like Josh Claybourn, Evangelical Outpost and King of Fools real well. At the same time, I would encourage them, and all of the political bloggers to remind their readers that politics are not ultimate. The nations are still a drop in the bucket, the heart of the king is still in the hands of the Lord, and God is still sovereign, not government. And the gospel is still a more powerful means of change than legislation.
For the last several elections, at some point in the process I will hear some well meaning Christian say something like "this is the most important election in our nation's history." It will be followed up with some rhetoric that makes one feel like life and death is riding on this particular election. I've even heard it said that failure to vote is a sin (talk about some serious Galatianism!). All of this gives ascribes too much power to the candidates and too much power to the political process. I would love to hear or read some Christians (bloggers or not) step back from the candidates themselves and analyze the whole political process from a Christian perspective. It's fine to argue in favor of your candidate, but we need to qualify these things by saying "God is sovereign and if my candidate doesn't win, it won't be the end of the world, we serve a God who is greater than any politician." Or something like that.
We need to be careful about our expressions of alarm when things don't go our way. As an evangelical Christian going to a very conservative church, you can probably imagine the reaction in the circles I ran in when Bill Clinton was elected. It was like a punch in the stomach, like the evangelical movement had the wind knocked out of it. It was as if evangelical Christendom was defeated along with George Bush Sr. That was the time when I saw more clearly than ever before that, yes indeed, many Christians had equated the fortunes of the Kingdom of God with the fortunes of a political candidate.
The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than a nation or a party. Yes, we need to speak to the issues and yes we need Christian voices in the political arena, but let's not act as if politics are ultimate or as if politics are our religion.
In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has his famous dream of the Colossus which represents all the kingdoms of the world. A rock comes and falls on the feet of the statue and the whole statue crumbles. This isn't only a prophecy of the destruction of a particular government, its a picture of the fact that all human government crumbles under the weight of Christ our rock. All human governmental systems are temporary and destructible by nature. While we can work for good within them, we dare not hope in them. Only the Kingdom of God is eternal, and only the Kingdom of God is worthy of our hopes and dreams.