Some readers might think that I believe all Christians should avoid politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I do oppose is the way the Christian Right has engaged the subject of politics since 1976. This was the year that began the turn of events that resulted in the last eight years of Republican leadership, which many came to assume represents the views of most white evangelical Christians. While my own political views are more conservative than those of President Obama I think the continual attacks upon him by the Christian Right are quite harmful to the mission of the church in America. We are driving a deeper wedge between "us" and "them" and the result is making mission much more difficult in so many places and contexts that I cannot begin to explain the damage this creates for those of us who believe the church's first, and primary, task is to make disciples of Jesus in the wider culture.In making real disciples we will, and we must, teach them to "obey everything he commanded" and this includes moral issues like abortion, etc.
The simple fact is there were many orthodox Christians in Washington this week who were celebrating the inauguration of President Obama. Some of those celebrating were my personal friends and close friends of ACT 3. We will continue to have civil and fruitful conversations about governance and we will continue to have these in the days ahead. I will sometime oppose the President's decisions and ideas. This is America and this challenge is right and good. But I refuse to call him names and suggest that he is committed to a path that will destroy America. One could argue this about almost every president in our history. (Some did. Consider the way Southern ministers saw Lincoln's inauguration in 1861.)
What I oppose is the strongly partisan form of political expression that sows division in the culture and seriously flawed thinking in the church. The church will never change the culture through national politics and partisan debate. In fact, the church would do far better to engage politics in local contexts where the church stands as one community in a missionally-ecumenical way. I do not think most Christians, at least most conservative white Christians, understand this point well at all. They often see my stance as a form of moral compromise. They only have two categories: good and bad. Right and wrong. Black and white. Obama represents bad, evil and darkness. He is not pro-life in his political position so he is an evil man, building a culture of death. (Even the pope does not argue this tortured way even though he is the greatest proponent in the world of a culture of life!)
For many conservatives the whole ballgame ended in November. Unless we rid the nation of the new president, or oppose his every move, we fail. I simply do not think in such categories so I am seen, by some, as endorsing evil. This whole debate misses crucial points about the faith, the church and America. It is deeply rooted in a cultural form of Christianity that is itself captive to an ideology that most do not challenge. If you challenge it you are in trouble. I can speak to this with a great deal of firsthand experience.
One person who does understand how local churches can work together and Christians can engage in politics openly on the local level is my son Matthew, a pastor and church planter in a place where the church is uniting in mission for city change. He wrote a blog this week that says what I was thinking better than I can say it. You might want to check it out.