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.

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  1. Emil January 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I am learning from you. But I still have a difficulty: If the government (yours and mine) pursues a policy that is immoral, surely one can resist it. Right?
    I find nothing in your comments (or your son’s) that is objectionable. But how does one resist the recent decision to expand the USA support of abortion internationally except through political means? Yes, I agree that Christians should act locally to get the message out concerning, for example, elective late-term abortions; I doubt that many people know what happens and Planned Parenthood resists attempts to educate people. But when a national policy is announced that includes what fair persons see as infanticide, what is the church to say?
    Is the President aware that a third to a half of pregnancies of Black women in the US end in abortions? (Ironically this was precisely the published, racist goal of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.) Is he aware that premature births are more common among women who had previous elective abortions? These premature births are not the fault of American medical care.
    Yes, I see the point of changing people on the local level. But, the USA changed racial policies and voting policies via the national government. Yes, there was lots of local change, but major action was done legislatively. Was that a mistake?

  2. jls January 25, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Hi John,
    I do not disagree with what you have said. But politics at the local and national levels are different, and it seems more difficult to engage in the latter without getting mired in partisanship. I do believe that our last president tried very hard not to speak ill of his opponents. When people called him evil and denounced him in the harshest of terms, he did not retaliate, either in public or in private. He got essentially no credit for this, and in response his critics did nothing to moderate their tone. Some on the right interpreted his silence as weakness. History may or may not regard him as a good president. But I admire the man for turning the other cheek on countless occasions. Based on this observation, it seems impossible for Christians who believe, for example, that abortion is wrong to participate in the national discussion at all without being accused of divisiveness. We need not retaliate. We need not speak ill of those with whom we disagree. But the partisanship is going to continue, unless something like a national tragedy, another 9/11, causes it to stop for a while.

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