Engaging Without Becoming: A Christian Perspective on Politics

One thing that I’ve noticed in my recent posts is the amount of political content in them. Which is actually really funny to me, because I’ve never actually considered myself a political person. Sure, I would cast my vote, and would hope for my candidate to win. But after the election, I would do what I’m sure most do after an election, “Now that that is over with, let’s get back to regular life.” I would disengage until the next election. 

But one thing that I’ve noticed, looking back, is that I was either a single-issue voter, or I would blindly trust that my candidate of choice would do what they said, even if I was completely ignorant of what they said. So, for example, I wasn’t old enough to vote in the 2000 Election, but I wanted Ole Dubya to win because 1) he was a Christian and 2) he was a pro-life candidate. So when he took office, I paid attention long enough to see him take measures against abortion, and then I just thanked God for a Christian in the White House. Literally the only other things I can say Bush did during his Presidency were start the War on Terror, invade both Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11; fall woefully short in humanitarian aid in the aftermath of Katrina; and build several hundred miles of fence on the Mexican boarder. I can’t tell you a single policy plan, promised or accomplished. 

Due to the fact that so many of my pastors and Christian leaders taught me that the GOP is “God’s Party,” I took this same blind devotion into the ’08 election, despite thinking that John McCain was not really what I was looking for in a candidate. Obviously, Obama won that election. And once again, I paid attention long enough to see him take his own actions with abortion (I use that term very loosely, because I’ve started to learn that saying that being pro-choice means that you’re pro-abortion is to completely oversimplify what it means to be pro-choice), and then I waited for the next election, as usual. But by the time 2012 came around, I had completely disengaged with politics altogether. After all, both parties still take my money, and use it for things that I’ll never condone. 

And then, as I’ve said, the 2016 Election and Donald Trump happened. It still doesn’t seem real! Like at this point, with all that’s gone on, I keep expecting him to say, “This was all just one big prank, folks. Come on out Ashton Kutcher, and tell America they’ve been punked, so we can elect someone who is actually qualified for the job! Electing me is a DISASTER for this country. Very bad hombres voted for me. And they mean for bad things to happen. And they use the bad finger. And they use bad words. And that’s bigly bad. But before I go, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, you’re fired!”  And then our educational system would then set about teaching people logic and reason, and how to do research and fact check. And we would see a reawakening of what our system of government was designed for. And American Utopia would be achieved!

But my political engagement actually started a little before that, with the passing of HB 2 here in North Carolina. What got me engaged was not the politics of it, but the morality of it! Christians (both local and celebrity) came out and said that HB 2 was honorable before God, because God calls homosexuality a sin, and we don’t want men pretending to be transgender so they can sexually assault women and children in public restrooms. It was “common sense.” So I began to speak up, Facebook style! Because, like being pro-choice, being transgender is not “common sense.” Common sense is what you would call catching on fire next to a lake, and jumping in the lake instead of calling the fire department to put you out. To be transgender is a very complex thing. To be transgender does not mean that a man or woman is gay. It means that a man or woman identifies themselves as a woman or a man. (And even that is to oversimplify it!) And to say that this bill was good and right because God says homosexuality is a sin, is to refuse to understand what it means to be transgender. 

Sadly, many Christian friends only focused on the transgender language of the bill, and not its implications. Not only did this bill allow for businesses to descrimate against the transgender community, it also made the transgender community a scapegoat for sexual assault! What was particularly frustrating about this, is that it took me all of 3 minutes to look up the statistics and myths of sexual assault. Myth #1 is that sexual assault is a crime of opportunity, and that it happens in everyday settings “where the people are.” When in fact, according to the CDC, most victims knew their perpetrator (51% reporting that they had a close relationship with that person, 41% reporting that they were at least acquainted, and 12% were family), and the assault took place in a familiar location (the home of either the victim or the perpetrator). In other words, the scary thing about those who commit sexual assault is that they usually know their victim, and they want privacy while they commit their crime. What this means in the case against HB 2, is that a man dressing up as a woman brings uneccessary attention to a would be perp, and a public bathroom provides too much risk of being caught. So the argument that this bill protected women and children against would be rapists and molesters falls flat when compared to the actual data available. Adding to that, the legislators who spearheaded this bill did not provide any evidence to justify their claim, and Governor Pat McCrory always dodged questions pertaining to this lack. This would suggest that it’s a fair assumption that they knew they didn’t have the numbers, and were banking on blind evangelical allegiance to keep this bill in place. 

So what does all that have to do with engaging in politics? Quite a lot, actually! Because like I said before, I have friends and family who ask me with bewilderment, “Shouldn’t we stand with God? Shouldn’t we call sin a sin, as he does? And if our culture embraces sin, shouldn’t we go against the tide?” Yeah! Emphatically so. But here’s the catch: If your stance for Jesus causes you to break the second greatest commandment, then you are also breaking the first; therefore, you are not actually standing for Jesus, like you think you are. Lest we forget, Romans 2 points out that if our actions don’t match our words, we are actually driving people away from Jesus, not toward him. 

Like, I’ve never had someone tell me, “Dude, you know what really made me want to follow Jesus? Being berated by Christians about my vice. I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I was on the fence about Jesus, and the deciding factor was when Christians came in and treated me like a third class citizen.” But this seems to be the common habit amongst certain Christians. It’s like they get this idea that legislation is the greatest form of evangelism. “If we can prevent people from doing _____, they will honor Jesus.” Meanwhile, all I can think is, “So let me get this straight: God himself can’t make people obey his commands, but a hypocritical politician will? And by stripping people of civil rights, at that!” Can you imagine a police check point with that kind of mentality? “Lisence, registration, and proof of insurance and heterosexuality, please.” 

But to get back to my main point, how should Christians engage with politics? Because, as Gabe Lyons points out in his book unChristian, a popular perception of Christians is that we are overly political. We don’t just engage in politics, we demand that a whole nation abide by our rules, because they’re “God’s rules.” Which is why we see certain movements like The Moral Majority in the 80s and 90s. And one group that I’m most familiar with claims, “We must occupy until he comes.” This particular group is a fun one, because it takes a single phrase from the KJV translation of the parable of the talents, and applies it to political involvement. So they take a parable that already comes with its share of interpretive struggles, and then take a single phrase from an outdated translation, and make it mean that they must create a Christian Theocratic State. (Aren’t Scriptural Gymnastics fun?!?!)

But on the other hand, pastor and author Mark Driscoll points out in his book Death by Love, that one of the ways God  uses the crucifixion to redeem the world, is through the good works and service of Christians in the world. Jesus redeems the Christian, who in turn goes about making the world a better place. 

Pastor and author Tim Keller provides a great answer to this. Some religions, he points out, have a high view of politics, and use it to enforce their religious laws. One example of this can be seen in the Islamic States in the Middle East. Another one would be England in the years following the Reformation. But you can look to history to see that this does not work out too well for opposing parties. To use England as an example, when a catholic monarch ruled, things went really well for Catholics, but really bad for Protestants. Likewise, whenever a Protestant monarch ruled, things went really bad for Catholics, and in certain cases, for certain denominations as well. Political activity wreaked havoc. 

But then, as Keller points out, there are those religions that completely disengage from politics. But what ends up happening with these groups, is that the political machine grows more and more powerful, and runs amuck. Eventually, even these religions become victims of the state. 

But Christians have this very precarious balance between those two. We don’t completely disengage from politics, and leave room for wicked rulers to come in, and enforce oppressive laws. But we also don’t want to rule in the name of our faith, and thus oppress in the name of Jesus. Instead, Christians are to be engaged in politics, without becoming political. Because morality and social justice are non-partisan. It’s not a political strategy to do good for all people, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, or socioeconomic status. It’s common sense. 

Right now, in my experience, Christians are easy targets for politicians. Just say the right words, take the right position, and you’ve bought them hook, line, and sinker. This is what we saw with Donald Trump. The man is a moral nightmare, but James Dobson and Franklin Graham, because they have so limited their scope of faith, excused everything he said and did because he was “a baby Christian.” 

But imagine if Christians were the hardest to appease! I long for the day when I hear a politician say, “Ya know, we try to reach these Christians, but they always surprise us. They want to end abortion as birth control, but instead of just making it illegal, like we used to talk about, they want us to provide better healthcare for women, and other services for unplanned pregnancies. They want it so that pregnant women are so cared for, that abortion isn’t even an option. These guys fight crime, by making society a better place, so that people don’t want or need to turn to crime in the first place! Do you remember when all we would need to do is say, ‘I’m a Christian, I’m pro-life, and I’m pro-traditional marriage?’ Why can’t it be that easy again?”

Anybody else with me?

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Protest

Protest:          

 (Noun) A statement or action expressing disapproval of or  objection to something.               

(Verb) Express an objection to what someone has said or done. 

If you’re like me, ever since November 9, 2016, your Facebook newsfeed has been filled with images and articles about protestors. Being that I’m friends with both sides of the aisle, I see posts that both praise and condemn these protests. The ones that make me laugh the most, are the videos of dudes with a certain shade of neck, sitting in the driver’s seat of their vehicle, screaming about how these pitiful little millennials are so sensitive that they can’t handle the outcome of the election.

( I’m not even kidding. They are literally the exact same video, just with a different “driver.” A white guy wearing sunglasses, says a few things nice and calm, then gets right up in the camera, and screams out his opinion. Then he says a few more things calmly, and then goes right back to screaming into the camera. Like seriously dude, I think you need a Xanax or 20!) 

Given that these anti-protest posts have become so commonplace, I wanted to share a few musings. 

1. For folks who are so displeased with protestors, you sure do protest just as much as the people you condemn. By the very definition of protest, you are a protestor. You are expressing an objection to what a group is doing and saying. But I would counter that the difference is that those protestors know what they are protesting, while you only appear to protest a perception. 

2. Make sure you know what you are objecting to! I hate to make a blanket statement, but without fail, every person who is telling these protestors to stop protesting, are calling them “whining liberal millenials who can’t handle the outcome of the election.” This is simply not true. In fact, I would counter that if that is what you think of the protestors, you have not done due diligence to actually learn the truth about their message, and why they are protesting. And until you do so, you are objecting the actions of a characture that you have drawn up, and not reality. 

(To be fair, all of us can learn to communicate better, so that our message is clear. As one of my college English professors said, communicate in such a way that it is impossible to be misunderstood.)

3. Do you even know your own country’s history? America is a country founded on protest!!! What was the Boston Tea Party? Protest accompanied by strategic acts of vandalism! What was the Declaration of Independence? A written notice of protest! What was the Revelutionary War? An act of treasonous protest! If we had lost, we would probably still be subjects of the Crown, reading about the colonial uprising of 1776. What was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? A presidential protest. What was the Suffrage Movement? Protest. What was the Civil Rights Movement? Protest. Whole cities were economically crippled due to sit-ins and boycotts. How did we get a minimum wage, a two day weekend, end child labor? By protest!  As you object to protestors, you are using rights afforded you by the act of protest!!!

Let me finish with this: Vandalism is not protest. The videos you see of people smashing windows and setting cars on fire are vandals, not protestors. As Trevor Noah said, “Be careful that you don’t become what you are protesting. Protest is like sex. You can be loud, you can go all night long, but the moment something starts to burn, you should probably stop.”

So let us march on!

Jesus Of Nazareth, PA

The older I get (I’m only 33), the more I’m amazed at how things keep coming full circle. Most of us, I’m fairly certain, can say that we see it most often with fashion. Once, when I was in college, a classmate was rocking his brand new penny loafers with utmost pride, as if he had just discovered the latest and greatest in men’s footwear. And then Dr. Murray, who, being from Texas, only knew one way to address an issue – bluntly – said,  “Hey! I remember when those became popular when I was in grade school…IN THE SIXTIES!!!” I don’t think I ever saw those penny loafers again. 

(Note: For those wanting to bring back the 80s, you do you, but please, for the love of all things kind, leave the hairstyles and rock music alone. We never need to see those come full circle.) 

I became a Christian in the late nineties. And what I remember about every youth related material for churches, is that they all centered around the mantra “Let your walk match your talk.” (Ironically, the one man in my life who pounded that drum the loudest at that time, is very often a complete jerk. But I digress.) But, despite hearing that phrase every week for years, for whatever reason, one day I stopped hearing it for the next 15 years. 

And then 2016 came along, with its polarizing election. 

After the numbers were fully tallied, it was found that 80% of white evangelicals voted for The Donald (give or take a percentage or two). Either word you choose to focus on (white or Evangelical), that number is way too much support for a man who openly ran his campaign on lies, fake news articles, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. In a recent article for Christianity Today, missiologist Ed Stetzer pointed out that such a large number has potentially damaged the witness of white Christians for years to come. Both Stetzer and philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins have each pointed out that, while this number is staggering and heartbreaking, it is important to remember that not every white evangelical voted for him because of his hateful rhetoric. Some voted because they thought they were choosing the lesser of two evils (better a man who says bad things, than a woman who does bad things). Others voted out of desperation, because they felt left behind by Democrats. Still others, because they were hoping he would make good on his promise to select pro-life judges for the Supreme Court. Both Stetzer and Rollins cautioned against treating every Trump supporter the same. (Rollins himself, living in Northern Ireland, had just experienced the fallout of Brexit.) This was also a similar message that Martin Luther King had in his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he warned people of color not to treat all white people as racist, because some of them were actually in the trenches with them. 

I do not want to paint all 80% with the brush of hate. But, Christians in general, and that 80% specifically must  do some genuine soul searching. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love all people. And yet, we elected a man who wants to discriminate against certain people groups. 

As Christians, we claim that God loves all people, regardless of whether they love him back. And yet, we elected a man who promised success only for Christians. 

As Christians, we claim to love the truth, and hate dishonesty. And yet, we elected a man who, according to Politifact, lied 75% of the time, from the moment he stepped off that escalator, to his victory speech. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love the least of these. And yet, we elected a man (and a congress) who wants to strip the least of these of the basic human right of healthcare, and dump them with the weight of the nation’s tax burden. 

As Christians, we claim Jesus’ words that leaders must be humble. That to be first, we must be last. And yet, we elected a man whose whole life is a living monument to himself. 

As Christians, we claim a savior who has broken down the walls of hostility. And yet, we elected a man who wants to erect them. 

As Christians, we remember the quiet witness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And yet, we elected a man who has a long history of treating women as objects for his own sexual gratification. 

Christians, we have so much soul searching to do as it is, given our own history. But you 80% have a major uphill battle ahead of you. For you allowed a man’s words to speak louder than his actions. 

Christian leaders, especially Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James MacDonald, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, must answer for their clear partisan politics done in the name of non-profit status. Being a baby Christian does not excuse human indecency. And you must consider the implications of your choices. 

We must allow that old mantra to come full circle, especially if we are going to claim any faith in a God who wants to draw all people to himself. 

I conclude with the words of a new song. 

I met a man from Nazareth,       who called himself Jesus.             But since he was from PA,                  I knew they weren’t the same.  Just because you claim a name, don’t mean that’s who you are. There’s a Paris, Texas.                   And an Eden, Caroline.                 I’ve spent some time in Vegas,   But never crossed Nevada lines. Just because you claim a name, don’t mean you are that one. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                    a rose is still a rose.                    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart.            Call them anything you want,    they are just what they are.    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart. 

Preacher man opened The Book,  And screamed about his God.        He looked for some souls to save, But barred them at the gate.            Just because you claim a name,     Don’t mean you represent.              There’s Benedict Arnold,                 And Judas Iscariot.                             Brutus was Caesar’s friend,               But stabbed him in the back.            Just because you claim a name,         Don’t mean you will next time. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                             These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want,              They are just what they are.                These stems, thorns, and petals,         Still warm a lover’s heart. 

Actions speak louder than words,   Or have you never heard?              You can speak in angels’ tongues,    But beat your brother numb.          Just because you claim The Name,  Don’t mean you love his world.     There’s no shortage of evil,               And wickedness abounds.                 But the worst kind of sinners,          Were born and raised in church.     Just because you claim a name,      Don’t mean you really are. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                          These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want, they are just what they are.                    These stems, thorns, and petals,       Still warm a lover’s heart. 

I met a man from Nazareth,             Who called himself Jesus.                  But since he was from PA,                 I knew they weren’t the same.