In an obscured version of Christianity, it appears as though you have to do particular things that are not actually the gospel in order to follow Christ, because all the Christians you know do them.
It could be as simple as a change in dress or hairstyle or musical tastes; or it could be bigger issues like political bent or a particular worldview. But, it could be a hundred other things—I just gave two examples. Ultimately, seeing these things as the gospel is actually a false gospel.
Now think about Jesus announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom with the proclamation of his counterintuitive Beatitudes. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” how was that received? Well, it depends on who is hearing it. The poor Galilean peasant would hear it as good news (gospel), while the Roman in his villa would hear it with deep suspicion. (I know it’s an anachronism, but I can imagine Claudius saying something like, “sounds like socialism to me!”)
And that’s the challenge I face in reading the Bible. I’m not the Galilean peasant. Who am I kidding! I’m the Roman in his villa and I need to be honest about it. I too can hear the gospel of the kingdom as good news (because it is!), but first I need to admit its radical nature and not try to tame it to endorse my inherited entitlement.
And when we use phrases like “The Bible says,” we miss teaching opportunities. For instance, Every time I teach from Paul, I say, “Hey, if you’re new to church or Christianity, you will love this guy, because Paul hated Christians. If you hate Christians, Paul’s your guy. Paul hated them so much he wanted to put them in jail. I bet you know Christians you wish you could have arrested.” Everybody laughs. “That’s Paul. And then he became a Christian. Isn’t that interesting? Now let’s see what he has to say.” To me, that’s way more engaging than saying, “The Bible says.”
I struggle with election season in context of my spiritual life. Instead of trying to flesh my thoughts and struggles out into anything coherent, here are some scriptures that have been running through my head.
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
So much negativity gets thrown around leading up to elections, even relatively minor ones. Each side tries to vilify the other, and we Christians can get caught up in that. How may Christians still perpetuate lies about President Obama’s birth or religion as a result of past elections? We cannot let such things rule our minds.
I Timothy 5:21–22
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism. Don’t be too quick to appoint anyone as an elder, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
When we get involved in politics, we usually choose a party, and then we end up marching in lockstep with everything that party stands for. We let favoritism guide our steps and we may implicitly approve of sin, especially the lies and hatefulness that often go into campaigns, for the sake of defeating different sins.
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
Whoever comes out in front in an election, God is still in control. God allows those in power to have the authority they have. When we Christians allow election season to fuel our anger at public officials or cause us to treat them disrespectfully or even to pass on lies about them, we are not behaving as God would have us.
These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
This world is not our home. Getting too caught up in politics can make us behave as if this world is all there is. It makes us forget that we are strangers in a land that is not our final home. This is a layover on a greater journey.
I Corinthians 13:1–3
If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should vote. That’s between you and God. But if you are going to participate in an election, be motivated by love. If your vote is based on hatred, anger, or animosity, it’s time to take a hard look at how the world and its influences are affecting your spirituality.
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!
And it’s better to turn off political news shows, ignore the PACs, and abstain from politics entirely than it is to let those things drag you away from God.
My husband and I saw the signs. We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis. It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected. If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum. There. Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect – in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous. And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there? If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths? Out of desperation, helplessness? The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear. It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.
…Of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.
The problem with this view, though, is that it’s actually a heresy, or at least a seriously false teaching. Leithart again: “Americanism is a heresy; in certain respects it is simply idolatrous. Jesus, not James Madison, brought in the ‘new order of the ages.’” Indeed. To set our ultimate hope and give our ultimate fealty to anything other than Christ alone is false worship condemned by the first commandment, America included.
There are a myriad of reasons why this matters, as Leithart points out. Americanism of this type blinds us to America’s very real, human, failures and sins. Historically, we’re tempted to whitewash things like slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, or Manifest Destiny and the brutal, un-Christian treatment of the Native Americans (you know, the Canaanites standing in the way God’s New Israel.) What’s more, it has a tendency to blind us to some of the dark stains on our current foreign policy record such as consorting with tyrants for the sake of American just cause in the world.
The problem with Huckabee’s brand of American exceptionalism is that it’s idolatry, plain and simple. It’s crafting a god after our own image, turning our values into his values, and making our enemies into his enemies.