The Primary Season: A Teachable Moment for Evangelicals?



image An author named Bill Barnwell (whom I know little about) said something recently I found thought-provoking:

"Christians, I ask you to be honest with yourself right now instead of just resorting to righteous indignation. Realistically look at the fruits of all your efforts. Where have they gotten Christianity in America? How many successes can you point to? How many converts have you produced because of your political and governmental reform efforts? How many people have a more positive (instead of more negative) view of the faith…Deep down inside, Christians know their hope should be in Christ. Yet today many act and behave as if that hope belongs with the State. How many more millions need to be wasted, how many more politicians need to disappoint us, and how long do our wheels need to spin in the mud before we realize that we need to change course?"

How do we "change course?"  Politically, conventional wisdom says to lay aside our convictions and become more "moderate" in order to create a "big tent" for everyone to participate in a political love-fest.  I don’t think so.  Spiritually, conventional wisdom would tell us to try a new program, political strategy, or simply get more aggressive.  I believe this dodges the real issues because it’s much easier to work harder and get angrier than to deal with matters of the heart and matters of tradition.

I agree evangelicals need to change course politically, and I think it boils down to two things:

1. Tact.  I’m reminded of 1 Peter 3 and John 13:35 (see also 1 Peter 4:8, Romans 13:8, Gal. 5:13, 1 Thess 4:9, 1 John 31 John 4, and many others).  Peter writes, "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing…Let him seek peace and pursue it."

I understand how hard it is in a primary to avoid vitriolic language, disparaging remarks, and slander.  It’s human nature in competition to get tough and get nasty.  But we must shed what happened during this primary season and get perspective on the situation between now and November.  How do we ensure that the world knows us by our love for one another?  Are we giving Christians who espouse the same world view as we do room for liberty and conscience on political issues?  How much more could we accomplish if we – even in the heat of high-stakes primaries and a culture war – love each other and simply speak truth…in love?

I’m afraid we have allowed ourselves as evangelicals to develop a sub-culture that is known for anything but love.  If we are honest and avoid the "righteous indignation" Barnwell mentioned above and look at our evangelical subculture objectively, we’ll see a need to change our tack and chart a new course.

We speak Truth and educate others on our biblical worldviews well.  We just don’t do it in love.  "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol" (1 Cor. 13:1)  Apparently we can speak with the tongues of angels (with Truth and power) and have it be worthless…and annoying.  The passage continues and describes a scenario where someone does just that.  Wow.  It’s time for the evangelical movement to be introspective on this subject.

2. Faithful Pragmatism.  I believe we have lost the moral high ground in the political debate.  We rightly know our hope is in Christ but our words and actions communicate a faith in public policy and the political process.  We rightly argue that government shouldn’t be the caretaker of the widow and the orphan, the downtrodden and the poor, but we fail to put our efforts where our mouth is and meet their needs without government assistance.  We rightly point to Christ as the model for faithful living while gnashing our teeth and showing disrespect during political debates.  I’m guilty of this myself, I recognize the problem and have been working to rectify my attitude.

Another issue of pragmatism is whether a candidate is qualified.  Many born-again believers are not qualified to be an astronaut.  Many with a biblical worldview are not qualified to be CEO of a large corporation.  We’d never hire them to do these things.  So is there room to vote for someone other than the candidate with a biblical worldview if that person is unqualified for the job?  Can we disagree on whether that candidate is qualified and mutually respect each other’s choice based on the Scripture’s charge to love one another?

With these things as the backdrop, let’s talk Iowa politics:

The primary election is over.  [whew!]

There was a definite philosophical divide within the Iowa primary process.  There are Republicans and Independents across Iowa who are fired up (and rightly so!) about a Supreme Court and a judicial system with too much power working outside of its bounds.  There are Republicans fired up about a spending spree over the past four years that can’t be sustained.  And there are those that are so fired up about the marriage issue, they’ll automatically support the candidate with the "hardest" line on the subject.

They are all right to be fired up.  And it bodes well for our country that conservatives, independents, evangelicals, and the until-recently politically disaffected are all fired up about the direction our state and our nation is going.  We’ve seen "Change," but it hasn’t lived up to the "Hope" we had.

In Iowa’s gubernatorial race, Bob Vander Plaats (BVP) was the candidate waiving the evangelical flag and he had the hardest line on the same-sex marriage issue.  He, therefore, received the support of a large share of fundamentalists and conservative activists.  Bob lost.  So conservative evangelicals and other supporters of BVP have a tough decision to make.  I applaud BVP on a race aggressively run and I applaud his supporters for using the primary to solidly stand behind principles and conscience.

How do we move forward to demonstrate Christ’s love and champion truth in a Republic based on our unique founding documents?  Jesus made it clear to "give to Caesar what is Caesar’s," and to "give to God what is God’s."  I also believe He made it clear that we are not to live a dualistic life.  Our Republic demands participation.  Our Creator demands love.  How do we participate in the general election with love?

I’m going to do two things:  I’m going to vet the two candidates for Governor and decide who is most qualified for the job.  I’m also going to commit to speaking Truth and at the same time season my words with love and respect.  I know this will look differently for each of us but I’m convinced it will result in the same perception by those around us.  They will see that we are of God because we love one another, our enemies, and our neighbors.

Some will choose to sit out elections if there isn’t a Christ-centered candidate in the race.  I can respect this if: questions like this are asked, "Would it be wise to vote for a man who’d rather spend his political capital on issues other than abortion or a candidate who actually raises money for Planned Parenthood?"  Second, do we believe our unique form of government allows us to sit on the sidelines when elections have increasingly palpable consequences?

In summary, the Church has an image problem.  It’s not a problem with what we believe but in how we apply our beliefs.  May we not be so distracted with institutions of men that we fail to comprehensively address the poor, the widow, and the orphan.  Perhaps our inability to check our emotional perspective on public policy to cure social ills explains our willingness to abdicate well-fare to the welfare state.  And may we, as a Church, not only meet our community’s practical needs (thereby negating a large percentage of government spending on welfare); but may we do it with purpose, love, and empathy; that the Good News of the Gospel is made real to those around us.  When we do this, our efforts to reform public policy will be much more fruitful.

Believers should advocate for good public policy, the protection of rights, and good stewardship of resources.  But we must do it with perspective on how the Scriptures demand we represent the Gospel.

P.S. – In other Iowa news, we saw people attracted to Brad Zaun’s folksy real-ness yesterday.  His ability to relate to everyone he comes in contact with and his down-to-earth style may be the factors that will finally spell the end for Boswell.  Zaun isn’t a typical tie-wearing conservative.  In my opinion, he’s the perfect candidate to take on Boswell. Congratulations, Senator Zaun!  Congratulations, also, to the other candidates.  The 3rd District race was probably the classiest race on the ticket in Central Iowa as measured by the candidate’s respectful tone throughout the process.

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