Monday, June 1, 2015

Let's Free God from Politics

Disclaimer: All views expressed on my personal Blog "The Christian Curmudgeon" are mine alone. They are not the views of any eccelesial body.

Mea Maxima Culpa

Thad Cochran
Last summer's Republican Primary in Mississippi between incumbent Senator Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel exercised me as, I think, no Republican primaries, including Presidential, have. I cannot say exactly why. I am a lifelong political conservative and, when I first registered to vote, registered as a Republican in my home state of Florida at a time when to do so meant that I would have no say in the choice of office holders as the winner of the Democrat primary would be elected to both state and local offices. I would guess that at least one reason I became and have remained so exercised is that I hated and hate to watch the intra-party fights, having watched for many years as as the Party was built by good people such as Gil Carmichael so that it eventually came to dominate statewide offices in Mississippi. It also irritates me to have those who are conservative Republicans, measured by historical standards, called "not true" conservatives and "RINOs."

Chris McDaniel
Be that as it may I took to participating in discussions on various websites. In the process I got to know (in the way one gets to know others in the world of social media) an attorney who describes himself as a "secular humanist" and writes disparagingly of  "the Christian Collectivist Community." To be sure he caricatures Christianity (from which he apparently turned away at some point) and Christians, but lately he nailed me and other Christians about our interactions with one another:
Hey Guys: You see there what happens when Christian men of goodwill attempt to interfere in the secular business of governance. You begin to attack one another just like the heathen do to each other. That is why Jesus and Paul admonished their followers to be of the world, but not in it. It causes you to get distracted in attacking each other and to lose focus on your Kingdom service.
He followed up as he addressed the particular website's owner along with the rest of us Christian commenters:
 To be sure, I was always taught that for the “true” believer and follower of Jesus as the Christ, the Bible (and in particular, the words of Jesus himself) is the only relevant source document upon which “true” Christians should consider accounting for their lives. That is why I challenge all members of the Christian Collectivist Community to follow Jesus’ simple commandment: Seek first the kingdom of god and his righteousness, love the lord your god, and to love your neighbor (others) as yourself. Show me anywhere in the New Testament account where followers of Jesus or Christians in general are exhorted to take part or engage in the civil process, governance, or political institutions of the world. There are none! The reason is because they are anathema to the kingdom of god message that Jesus and even Paul was attempting to get across to his followers. Christianity (in theory) is supposed to bind one to another in the love of the Christ through the power and presence of the holy spirit. And yet, you and the others, all fine fellows in life who should be joined in the spirit, make accusations against each other of being liars, betraying the conservative message, etc. There is certainly no love in that.
What follows is my response to him. I have not corrected it (except for typos) or expanded it but decided to post it "warts and all":

____, you are right. You have witnessed some of the worst of Christian words and behavior here. It is horrible that we who profess to believe in Christ should engage in such vitriol, attacks, and accusations as have too much appeared in these discussions. You are right that there is no love in such. It is contrary to the many exhortations of Jesus and the Apostles to love our fellow Christians as well as all men. I apologize for my significant part in all this. I am wrong to have acted and spoken contrary to Christian love.

As you know, you and I disagree about the involvement that all of us as citizens of this world may have in the kingdoms of this world. If you say the NT has nothing about Christian involvement in the civil process as we now experience it in the western democracies, I agree for in the ancient world there was no such thing as our modern state with participation of citizens in governance. However the NT does teach the Christian about citizenship (Romans 13:1-8, I Peter 2:13-17). The Apostle Paul, who had Roman citizenship, on several occasions exercised his rights under that system (Acts 16:35-40, Acts 25:9-12 cf Acts 26:30-32); It seems to me that if Christians were instructed in duties and had rights under the Roman system, then they not only may but should participate in the systems under which they live today.

I think there are several problems we as Christians have in our involvement in politics and the civil realm.

1) We say that the world to come is the only world that lasts, but we behave as though we think this world is the be all and end all. We act and in our hearts tend to think that politics and civil matters have an importance that is contradictory to what we say we believe. Reagan, or whoever our political heroes may be, did not bring in the kingdom, but we Christians keep hoping that some politician will be our salvation. We are doomed to disappointment every time.

2) We have made a virtual holy cause of the American Revolution. I am glad that our system was established, hope it will be preserved, and want to enjoy its many freedoms. But I do not believe the British were evil and the revolutionaries were righteous. It is not that the British system was of the devil and what Americans put in its place is of God. But the way we look at our Revolution colors the way we look the causes we undertake. The Revolution was a holy war, and we think whatever battles we fight for freedom as we understand it are holy battles. (This is a mistake Christian conservatives and liberation theologians have in common.) The reality is that according the the NT teaching Christians can live at peace under just about any system of government, as did the early Christians under Rome. What we really need from government is pretty minimal (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

3) We glibly assume that whatever we think God also thinks on every matter. So we see ourselves as being on God’s side. This can lead to our attacking fellow Christians who do not agree with us, virtually writing them off as Christians and making them enemies of God over political issues. I do not connect my political beliefs, or conservative convictions, or Republican Party membership to my taking the side of God and righteousness, Other Christians take very different views from mine, and I have no right to say they are not Christians or treat them as though they are not. Just a comparison of general American and British Christians' views on matters of social welfare shows us that Christians can view these things very differently. We should be able to take different positions, debate them vigorously, and exercise our right to advocate our positions without asserting that God’s view is our view and that we are doing God’s work.

My views as expressed above have led me to try to be scrupulous about not preaching on political issues or endorsing candidates. I want a Democrat or liberal to be as at home in my church as a Republican or conservative. I want to gather at the Lord’s Table with persons of any political party, race, or nationality. The church is not a political institution. When I participate here or other places, I do so trying to keep in mind a clear distinction between myself as a Christian minister and myself as an American citizen. The trouble is, and it troubles me to the point of wondering if I should give up discussion in these forums, that it is difficult for those who know I am a minister to keep those two roles separate – to understand that my advocacy of conservatism or a certain type of it is not done by me as a Christian minister, trying to represent the Biblical view, or speaking for God. My conservatism is based mostly upon natural law, history, and prudence.

I thank you for calling my attention to the inconsistency of my words on this site and my profession of Christianity. I am just sorry that my words justified you pointing this out. I expect you do not believe it, but God and Christ are infinitely better than I.

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