She was talking to an assembled panel asking their thoughts on the brouhaha between Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee regarding Governor Huckabee’s conservative credentials. Andrew Levy, a contributor for Fox News’ Red Eye program said, “Huckabee isn’t running as a conservative, he’s running as a Christian.”
What Levy said stood out to me since I had just finished reading Chapter 7 – “Too Political” of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters, though probably not in the way Levy intended. Is everything that conservatism represents Christian? Is the Right always right? I would submit to you – no. Now before I get scathed by my fellow conservatives, and yes I do identify with them (full disclosure), the Left certainly misses the mark as well.
The cartoon above I think addresses the issue that most young outsiders have with Christianity in general, and evangelicalism in particular. We are seen as beholden to the GOP. The Republican Party has become known as the “God and Guns” party, and Christianity is now seen as too political. According to the authors of UnChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, the perception is that “Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.”
The authors made it clear that their goal was “not to suggest that Christians should neglect or ignore politics. The political arena is a crucial setting for influencing culture and an important domain for expressing a Christian worldview.” We need to be open to the criticism instead of dismissing it or becoming defensive.
Reading this chapter I have had to do a gut check myself. This year I’ve become very politically active, endorsing a candidate publicly for the first time. I’ve also been involved in grassroots issues in Iowa concerning some bad legislation that has come before our General Assembly writing letters to the editor, blogging and even going to the Statehouse to do some lobbying. I’ve even prayerfully considered running for public office myself (not at this time, but won’t rule it out for the future).
In all of that my chief desire was that I wanted to honor Christ with not only my intentions, but my actions as well. I’m sure that I have fallen short in both areas on occasion. This chapter in UnChristian reveals that perhaps evangelicals have acted in an “unChristian” way when it comes to politics. The authors state:
Though Christians have won votes and shaped legislation, this does not ultimately define the success of a Christ follower. We are representatives of Jesus to every person in our culture, regardless of whether we agree politically. Our lives should reflect Jesus, which includes not just how we vote, but every element of our political engagement – our conversations about politics as well as our attitudes about ideological opponents.
The perception problem is widespread with Mosaics and Busters, both outsiders and churchgoers alike. Three-quarters of young outsiders and half of young churchgoers describe present-day Christianity as “too involved in politics.” Nearly two-thirds of outsiders and nearly half of young born-again Christians said that they perceive “the political efforts of conservative Christians” to be a problem facing America. They go on to say…
Christians need to be aware of their reputation in this arena, not only because it influences their political engagement, but because it affects their ability to connect with new generations who are innately skeptical of people who appear to use political power to protect their interests and viewpoints. This perception may not always be accurate, but it contributes to outsiders’ mistrust of Christians.
The stakes are high. Future elections are likely to be shaped by these attitudes, as well the outcomes of the spiritual search of millions of young adults.
They also discussed that not all self-described evangelicals hold to a foundational evangelical worldview (see a previous post that explains that in detail), and that affects the political sphere. This has significant implications. Beliefs matter, the authors give some examples of how one’s worldview affects how society is perceived and how they interact with the political environment.
- “Without a conviction that the Bible is accurate in its principles, it is difficult to be motivated or informed by biblical ideals when casting a ballot.”
- “Without the belief that Satan is a real spiritual adversary, it is easy to lose sight of the larger spiritual realities and confrontations that exist.”
- “If as a Christian, your faith is not your driving motivation, if you do not believe God is still involved in the world today, if you do not not perceive any motivation to influence others spiritually for Christ, your political engagement will ring hollow.”
Our efforts to be politically engaged without a consistent and thoughtful biblical worldview will lack an appropriate foundation according to the authors.
Also the younger generations’ mindset has shifted concerning politics:
- Their views on political and social issues are less traditional than their parents at the same age.
- They tend to be driven by a “do-what works” mentality, so pragmatism trumps principle in their decision making.
- Mosaics, in particular, are more skeptical about the role of the Bible in public life.
- Less likely to support a “Christianized” country.
- Young adults, by and large are embracing a worldview at odds with Scripture.
- They are less likely than generations before to start their political explorations as Republicans (the older people get, the more politically conservative they tend to become).
Bottom Line? “If we expect to have influence merely by relying on numerical advantage, we are in for a rude awakening as the weight of our views dwindles and the role of those outside the Christian faith increases.”
Outsiders’ view that we are too political does not mean we should stay out of politics though.
Many outsiders clarified that they believe Christians have a right (even an obligation) to pursue political involvement, but they disagree with our methods and our attitudes. They say we seem to be pursuing an agenda that benefits only ourselves; they assert that we expec
t too much out of politics; they question whether we are motivated by our economic status rather than faith perspectives when we support conservative politics; they claim we act and say things in an unChristian manner; they wonder whether Jesus would use political power as we do; and they are concerned that we overpower the voices of other groups…. An important insight regarding politics and unChristian faith is that it influences people’s lives… Many issues keep young outsiders from committing to Jesus, but one key barrier is their experience with Christians in politics.
Is our political engagement Christ-like? What would that look like? The authors give some ideas of what that might look like.
- We are cautious not to place too much emphasis on politics. (Balance is needed we need to encourage people to impact culture through the arts, media, internet, etc. – the late Bob Briner wrote a book called Roaring Lambs that spoke to that issue.)
- There is nothing gained by winning elections if we lose our soul in the process.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul, (Matthew 16:26, ESV)?
- Respect those with whom we don’t agree and be aware of our capacity for myopia. Earlier in the chapter they discussed our usage of “battle” and “warfare” language that is often misunderstood by outsiders and churchgoers alike. Our battle is NOT against the DNC and the Left (Shane’s paraphrase).
- Respect and listen to our leaders and pray for them (regardless of party affiliation or whether or not we agree with them).
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (1 Timothy 2:1-3, ESV).
- In trying to solve problems in society, be vigilant about our own capacity for hypocrisy.
Christians, evangelicals in particular, are known more about what they are against than what they are for. By our complaints rather than our solutions. We should be engaging. The Church should retain its “prophetic voice” (as Jim Wallis of Sojourners would say), but we should do so in a winsome way. The authors end the chapter with this exhortation:
What are the issues and problems that God is leading you to address? It may be the rampant access to and use of pornography, issues of justice in the United States or in developing countries, the plight of the poor in our community, educational policy or curricula in our schools, the moral perspectives exhibited in today’s media, the care and nurture of the environment, the need for more Christians to adopt and provide foster care to children in need, exposing more Christians to the international church, increasing awareness of human trafficking around the world. Being involved could range from working for a campaign to serving on the school board.
Rather than being known for criticism, let’s learn to step in and work toward a solution for the problems we see. As Michelangelo said, “Critique by creating.”
I’d love to read your comments on this topic.
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