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Author Topic: Should the Christian right be involved in politics?  (Read 784 times) Average Rating: 0
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sinjinsmythe
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« on: July 17, 2004, 11:30:57 PM »

The following are some interesting articles on the role of Christians and politics from the libertarian side of the coin.

Our Hope Is in the Gospel, Not Politics and Government

by Bill Barnwell
       

Five years ago I was convinced that Christians could change the world. I was convinced they could end the major social ills that plagued society. I was convinced they could make America a "Christian nation" that would be found honorable in God’s eyes. Not only that, but many more people would be brought to the faith as a result. Everything was going to be glorious and wonderful if Christians just got mobilized.

But mobilized to do what? Share our faith? Testify about the glory of God? No, instead I wrongly assumed that political activism and getting "our" guys in governmental positions of power were the best solutions to most problems facing America. Whether the problem was porn, alcoholism, drugs, abortion, gays, modernism, etc., government seemed the best and most viable solution.

While I did not believe that laws and legislation would "fix everything" I saw the political system - not Jesus or Scripture - as the most potent vehicle to reform America. My answer was government and politicians. How incredibly silly and naive. The goal of this essay is to persuade other Christians to realize, as I eventually did, that our hope for reforming society is not found in coercive government policies. Nor is it found with politicians. Our hope instead should be in Christ and spreading God’s Word and love to our fellow man.

That is what will reform society. Government cannot do it. Fruitful ministry should be our motivation and main focus. Not fruitless politicking.

Looking back, it is clear that I was incredibly ignorant. I held the position that many Christians continue to hold today. I wrongly believed (despite overwhelming evidence) that society could be strengthened and improved through political action and government control. Many Christians take offense at such a statement, still holding out much hope that America can be Christianized if only the right legislation is passed and if only the right people are elected. The last 25 years tell a much different story, however.

The so-called "Religious Right" first became a potent political force in the late 70’s. The most prominent of the religious political action groups was the Moral Majority, headed by Jerry Falwell and supported by other well-known evangelical figures. Over the next decade, the Moral Majority eventually disbanded. What exists today is a loose confederation of conservative Christian organizations such as the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and many others that push for pro-Christian legislation. The results have not exactly been promising.

Let me say that even as a Christian libertarian, I do not oppose all the policy initiatives of these groups. While I agree with most of these groups’ theology and moral values, I am split on their policy proposals. Some of their political objectives I support and some of them I do not. An example where I do not is federally funded programs to "strengthen marriage." Considering the government’s track record screwing things up, do we really want them playing marriage counselor? But rather than getting into specific policy debates, it is more appropriate at this point to point out the fact that the Christian Right has achieved very little.

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?

The reality is nothing much has changed in society as a result of all your hard work. The Christian Right has wasted a colossal amount of time, money and energy in the 25 years since they became a potent political force and they've accomplished little of purpose. Think about it. Religious liberties continue to be lost; the huge issues we yell about are not getting any better (abortion, homosexuality, feminism, etc.) and are just continuing to be more and more accepted. If anything, things like homosexuality are more accepted now than they have ever been.

Millions and millions of dollars, and hours and hours of manpower have gone into dividing people through politicking when it could have done much better showing others the love of Christ and preaching the Kingdom of God. Not only that, but Christians are looked upon more negatively today by non-Christians than they were 25 years ago. Just ask yourself, zealous Christian, how much more could we have accomplished if all that money and time was pumped into church plants, missions work, evangelism, and meeting social needs instead of wasting it on failed political endeavors?

My guess is that there would be many more converts today if we followed the alternative route. I further presume that much of that money could have been better spent on less fortunate individuals rather than on rich and very fortunate politicians. If it’s a matter of priorities for the Christian, then things are clearly out of whack when more effort goes towards spreading the gospel of the Republican Party than spreading the gospel of Jesus.

I am not saying that Christians should not vote nor am I offering the "I’m personally opposed to (name the issue) but don’t think we should get involved" approach to public policy. If you think it is a high civic duty to vote, then vote. If you want to get involved in this or that political cause, then get involved. But don’t be ignorant to the clear limits of your activism. If the past 25 years are any indication, political activism is not the best way to serve the interests of Christianity.

Sadly, many Christians have a similar mentality to far-left liberals. They believe the government should be involved in just about every aspect of life. Many also make the mistake of believing everything immoral should be controlled and regulated by the government. They take offense to libertarian suggestions that government force will not make everything better. They think that if a law is not passed, then the government is sanctioning an immoral action or behavior, and hence is dishonoring God. Well, not quite.

From a public policy standpoint, there are many things that people can freely do in a civil society that I don’t like and arguably are not good. Yet that does not mean that there should be all sorts of laws to regulate such unwise behavior. I don't think it's smart to sit on the couch and eat potato chips all day and gain 300 pounds (I also believe it’s sinful, since such an individual would not be treating their body like a temple of God). But for the civil government to legislate against it is silly. Such laws do nothing to further Christianity and only further the State’s ability to harass individuals and increase in size and power.

The same logic can be applied to laws against smoking and alcohol. Prohibition laws on alcohol resulted in violence, an underground economy, and legal tyranny. Same goes for the modern day "Drug War," which also receives wide support from conservative Christians. The result has not been less drug abuse and more Christians, but more widespread government abuse of power.

I do not oppose these overreaching laws because I want to condone and sanction bad behavior. I oppose them simply because they are bad public policy and if anything they lead to more harm than good. There are certain initiatives that I as a Christian agree should be fought for. Yet even if they did pass, I recognize that the root problems will remain. We must understand, fellow Christians, that government simply cannot address these deeper, more complex problems which can only be dealt with in the spiritual realm.

I often hear from other pastors that they are distressed because not enough Christians are voting. I think it’s more distressing that not enough Christians are taking their faith seriously. I think it’s more distressing that not enough Christians are sharing the love and hope of Christ with their neighbors. I think it’s more distressing that too many Christians are pinning their hopes on political activism rather than on the Gospel and God’s sovereign power.

It would be very interesting to see what would happen if the millions of Christian activists put forth the same efforts for ministry that they put forth in political activism. I imagine that many more people would be reached in much more meaningful ways. How I wish conservative Christians possessed the same zeal for advancing the Church that they have for advancing the Republican Party and various politicians.

Notice that nowhere in this column did I tell Christians to neglect what they feel are their "civic duties." Nor did I totally discount the merits of engaging in the political process. Yet I have been freed from my former ignorance. I now realize that even the most simplest acts of Christian love and virtue can be used in a much more significant way to establishing my overall goals than trying to impose a Superstate for Jesus on the unwilling masses.

In my Wesleyan-holiness theology, salvation is a free gift of God that must be freely accepted by man. It is not forced upon him. My great Anabaptist heritage sought to largely sever itself from the State. We believed that spiritual revival was the hope for America, not judges, politicians, and elections. In all of this, there was no forced government coercion. There was no massive federal welfare state. These Christians actually took care of one another and took seriously the responsibility to provide for unmet needs, instead of handing that responsibility off to the government. War was denounced and peace was proclaimed. The ultimate hope was in Jesus.

Today that has all changed by and large. 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?

It is long past time for Christians to wake up and realize that their hope is not in State coercion and government programs. Nor is it in war. It is in the Prince of Peace. It’s time to give this Peace a chance and turn away from the fruitless solutions of the past.

July 9, 2004

Bill Barnwell [send him mail] is a pastor in Swartz Creek, Michigan and a Master’s of ministry student at Bethel College
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sinjinsmythe
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« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2004, 11:32:07 PM »

Christianity’s Problem Is Not Lack of Political Involvement

by Bill Barnwell


My previous column "Our Hope is in the Gospel, Not Politics and Government," evoked a large response from readers. A few dissenters wanted to know exactly what my solution was for Christians who are failing to have a substantial impact on their culture. The issue on a whole is complex and to adequately address it requires much more space than can be given here. Two destructive pillars, however, are seriously hampering Christian influence on a whole. Those pillars are laziness and mediocrity. If our ultimate hope is in the gospel, then the gospel carriers need a strong jolt to refresh their lazy and lukewarm faith.

Let’s be frank, Christians are becoming increasingly irrelevant in society. Congregations continue to shrink. Negative perceptions of Christians are on the rise. Society continues its drift away from Christian values. Yet where do many Christians turn to find their solution to this mess? They turn to the government and its coercive bondage instead of to Christ and His liberating freedom.

Too many Christians believe that if only we can replace the "wrong" politicians with the "right" ones, we will be able to legislate our way into becoming a holy and pure nation. As I pointed out in my previous column, this method has produced little if any fruit. How then can the Christian have a meaningful impact on society?

While Christians have devoted much work to political activism, whether they know it or not they are attempting easy solutions for complex problems. While some truly believe government coercion is the sure way to bring about desired change, others simply just don’t want to deal with the tougher issues. Those tougher issues require reaching people’s hearts and minds and doing the things Scripture actually tells Christians that they should do (following the Great Commission, meeting human needs, being a vibrant church, etc.). I will argue that the reasons many Christians don’t make these efforts is (partly) because they are too lazy to do so and have settled for mediocrity instead of greatness.

The Lazy Church of Today

Christians are jumping the gun. They think they can change people’s votes before changing their hearts. Perhaps it is because the latter requires too much work. I’ve worked political campaigns. I’ve sat on Right to Life boards. I even was a campaign manager for a successful city council campaign in Michigan’s third largest city back in 1999. I know how much time and work political activism requires.

As a pastor, however, I also see how much more difficult - and important - it is to reach and transform peoples hearts and minds. This means more than changing their votes from Democratic to Republican. In short, it means taking the Great Commission seriously. Sadly, not many Christians do take it seriously these days.

I wonder how many politically charged Christians put the same amount of zeal into their efforts to "witness" to nonbelievers that they do into their efforts to campaign for a particular politician. I also wonder how many Christians period take evangelism seriously today. From my several years in ministry and being involved in different churches, the answer is "not many." It’s much easier to prattle off about politicians than it is to engage in real Christian service - which is the job of all believers.

It’s also much easier just to do nothing, which is a great bulk of what Christians do. The most productive thing many Christians do is keep a pew warm for an hour and a half every Sunday (or once or twice a month). A common saying in church circles is that "Fifteen percent of the people do eighty-five percent of the work." I’ve never attempted to empirically measure the truth of that statement, but my experience tells me it’s not all that far off.

How do Christians think they are going to make a difference in society when they can’t even perform the basic tasks that keep their churches healthy and productive? Ask anyone in ministerial leadership, it’s usually the same people who volunteer and get involved in every major and minor initiative facing the church. The churches that don’t reflect this laziness and have a strong percentage of lay member involvement are the churches that are growing and reaching people. But involvement takes effort, and that’s something most Christians aren’t willing to give.

Asking many Christians for help, time, or tithes is like pulling teeth in a church. I often wonder what the Church would look like if the 85% of uninvolved Christians decided to become as devoted and caring as the 15% of involved Christians. The result would probably be a Church that took evangelism seriously, a Church that could meet social needs (and did not toss that responsibility to the government), and a Church that reflected the love and attitude of Christ instead of the ho-hum and indifferent attitude it has today. I think a Church like that could accomplish far more than the modern day politicized Christian Right could ever imagine.

Another most peculiar reason for Christian laziness and inactivity is the current fascination with the "end-times." When one pastor was talking to a Christian woman about the need to have a greater impact on society, she replied to him - and I’m not joking - "Well if we do that then Jesus is not going to come back for us!" Since this individual believed that Jesus would only return when the world had gone to Hades in a handbasket, it made little sense to try and actually improve society and make a difference in life.

With this line of reasoning, it’s actually more desirable for Christians to be lazy and do nothing since Jesus will only come when the world is sufficiently screwed up enough. Thus horrible things like war, poverty, destruction, etc., are actually not so bad since these problems will usher in Jesus’ return. Even if it turns out that this interpretation of the "end-times" is correct, doesn’t it make sense for the Church to have as much influence as it can before all these calamities strike? It does, but again, it’s easier just to sit back and do nothing.

The Mediocre Church of Today

Another troubling aspect of Christianity today is its satisfaction with mediocrity. Let’s face it; Christians often have a deserved reputation for doing things less successfully than their secular counterparts. How many prominent Christian entrepreneurs, academics, artists, think-tanks, colleges, etc., are making a significant impact on society today? Chances are you can count them all on both of your hands.

A convenient way to avoid this reality is to wrap our failures and mediocrities up in spiritual language. When I’ve pointed this out to others in the past I’ve been charged with being "worldly." It’s very true that success in God’s eyes is different from success in the world’s eyes. But when it comes to the various affairs, pursuits, and endeavors of life, why shouldn’t Christians be succeeding in these various realms at a greater or at least same pace as their secular counterparts? If Christians are to do all things for "God’s glory," why is so much of their work mediocre?

Christians talk about how they can do "all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) but most actually strive for very little. Churches today are dwindling in size and influence. The average Protestant congregation in America is 100 people or less. It’s true that it’s not "all about numbers" and that "bigger is not always better," but there’s a problem when a group of Christians are utterly incapable of reaching anyone in their community (many of these small churches are composed of "family clans" who make up a large percentage of the membership).

Protestants in particular are so caught up in mediocrity that they are fond of criticizing those who strive for greater things. There is a trend I’ve noticed where Christians are almost embittered at churches that are larger and more successful than their own. They figure if a church is large and has a receptive audience then it must be "liberal" or that there must be something else wrong with it. Hence, they congratulate and piously puff themselves up for their mediocrity and criticize those who are actually making a difference and impacting people. How convenient.

Yes, pious Christian, perhaps some of these churches are successful for the wrong reasons. Or perhaps you are just jealous of any Christian who does not follow your same lazy and mediocre model of Christianity. Maybe instead of criticizing these churches and Christians you should learn a little from them.

Instead of accomplishing and being all we can be, all too often we Christians settle for second best and underestimate both ourselves and the potential impact of the Church. Instead of facing our problems head on we excuse our lack of relevance with spiritual excuses. The Church is capable of so much more than it gives itself credit for. Christians ought to get off their lazy behinds and claim this power of God they so often talk about but so seldom display.

The Potential Church of Tomorrow

The Christian Right needs to clean up its own backyard before it thinks it can impose a political Messianic Superstate. Greater problems face the Church than not enough Christians voting. The fact that so many Christians are Biblically illiterate (including life-long attenders!) and care little for evangelism and discipleship are bigger concerns. The fact that so many Christians prefer laziness, inactivity, and mediocrity to excellence, success, and reaching their full potentials should be more alarming. The fact that the real outreach and ministry of Christianity is being largely neglected should make even the most politically zealous Christian pause.

You want results Christians? Then motivate your people to get off their lazy butts. Take a break from the potlucks, Vegas nights, church softball games, and just plain doing nothing and get involved in what Scripture actually requires of you. That means you must learn the Scriptures. Learn what it means to be a disciple. Learn what it takes to make disciples. Learn to love and care for people (yep, even those people who don’t watch Fox News!). Learn to reflect the character of Christ to other people. Take seriously the Great Commission. Cast off your laziness and mediocrity and exchange it for diligence and excellence.

I could add things like learning the value of being peacemakers instead of warmongers (Matt. 5:9) and teaching the importance of being industrious and hard-working (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but the above is a good starting point for Christians of any stripe and theological heritage who are concerned about being a positive influence in society. To those who have written to me and complained that I have seemingly discounted the merits of political activism, I say that your activism is meaningless and will continue to bear no fruit until the Church on a whole awakens from its spiritual slumber.

Christians have failed so frequently. The Church has disappointed so often. The good news, however, is that there is so much potential. This potential is not only for the universal Church, but for average and ordinary Christians everywhere. Who says we can’t become the kind of Christians the Bible calls us to be? Who says we can’t compete with the secular world in everything from academics, to business, to the arts, to whatever? The only reason the Church is as lackluster as it is now is because it has allowed itself to be. Yet this is not what we have to settle for. We are capable of much more.

Right now, Christians needs to get their focus off of coercive government, and onto being the kind of people that the Bible says we are to be. We’re so worried about everyone else that we’ve forgotten about ourselves. As a result we’ve gotten lazy and inefficient. Let’s straighten up our own house before we attempt to straighten up everyone else’s. Sure, it might take a little more effort than political activism, but I think it will be worth it. The question is do you?

July 13, 2004

Bill Barnwell [send him mail] is a pastor in Swartz Creek, Michigan, and a Master’s of ministry student at Bethel College.

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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2004, 03:07:20 PM »

Yes!

JoeS
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