Matt: Great thoughts. I had thought about Rex’s posts as well when you mentioned the culture war. Part of our problem is that so many of us have nothing better to do for the kingdom than rail against stuff like this. If we were as actively engaged in kingdom work as Paul was we might not even have time to be talking about these things because there would be more pressing personal and spiritual issues we were dealing with locally.
There are several issues here that have to be pulled apart:
First is Obama, as a Christian, openly embracing homosexuality and gay marriage. It seems technology has trumped Matthew 18 when it comes to a dispute among brothers. When Jesus talked about resolving issues among brothers he really did mean go to that brother. He did not say smash people you don’t know from afar. He didn’t say blog about it and air your dirty laundry first and maybe then say something to them later if you have a chance. He said go to them and trying to make things right. President Obama is a Christian. I am allowing him to define himself rather than get into all of the ins and outs of that here. If we take that seriously it would mean someone really should personally and privately go to him and talk to him about on homosexuality and gay marriage. Based on his recent comments he personally believes the lifestyle is morally acceptable and should be on level with marriage among heterosexuals. That is problematic as far as how that meshes with his faith. It does not seem that he is taking the stance that he doesn’t believe homosexuality is right but he is just trying to stay out of the way of legislating what people do in their own lives. He said this is his own personal view.
Second, how do we as Christians feel the political process and legislation play a role in the lives of controlling behavior of Christians and non-Christians in this country? That, to me, is the trickier question and I am still trying to figure that one out. I would be curious to hear more of your thoughts in regard to the first point and the second.
Third, is there a place for a prophetic voice out there in all of this? It seems the voice of the prophet would be shut out today in the name of not offending people. Imagine someone today taking Isaiah’s approach of preaching naked to show how shameful it all is. Someone would call Christians nuts if someone did that. It happened in the Bible…although it was done in Israel/Judah (insiders who should have known better) and not in the streets of Babylon (outsiders to faith). I am not sure how to balance all of that out but I think it is a valid question that I really hear people avoiding more than anything else. Thoughts?
Fourth, it is interesting to read the trial and crucifixion of Jesus and Paul’s trials and see what approach these guys took in dealing with the authorities of their day. Paul deals with Festus and Agrippa differently based on their own background as insider and outsider to Judaism/Christianity. I need to read through some of that again but it might help us to see how they dealt with these things and what their priorities were so we can further define our own rather than letting contemporary culture and politics do it for us by default.
Philip: It’s a good point about the President being a Christian. But the President is not the first person to call himself a Christian & welcome homosexual marriage. I’d contend that there are people of greater influence in circles of faith who are promoting the moral acceptability of this lifestyle.
Your second question is one I’m very anxious about for the Church. And more specifically: is the Church allowing political calculators & political actors to announce what our moral priorities are or are not? And I think the answer is a resounding yes. Look through history of our country we find that the church has a terrible record of being swept up into the spirit of it’s age. During the Civil War pulpits across the land moralized based on where they were located: north or south. (HT: Harry Stouthttps://www.amazon.com/Upon-Altar-Nation-Moral-History/dp/B005MWL7HG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337265012&sr=8-1) Our pulpits moralized over the evils of alcohol leading up to Prohibition & had no idea about the devastating unintended consequences that would result. Pulpits in the south were terribly slow to confront racism & even used passages like Ezra 9 to defend segregation.
WHO exactly were we allowing to lead us around??? Honestly! Who are we allowing to lead us around today? For Kingdom people who are on the left AND on the right? If we receive our moral marching orders from either David Plouffe or Karl Rove, then we really are the useful idiots that the Evangelical Manifesto said we were 4 years ago.
If we’re seeking a prophetic voice for this country on homosexuality then I think we’ve mistaken our priorities & venerated “Christian society” ahead of Kingdom-building. Prophets are always aimed at God’s people who have gone wayward. Are we going to persist in holding on to this notion that the U.S. is new Israel?
Again- we don’t see Paul, a Roman citizen, aiming a prophetic voice at the Empire to turn from their godless values. And just think historically for a moment: how short-sighted would that have been? For Paul to aim his energy and his talents at trying to turn around Rome? Thank God that Paul was led by the Spirit to have larger priorities.
I think the prophets that the Church needs are prophets that the Church already has. Like Shane Claiborne who invites the Church to come out from partisanship in “Jesus for President.” And like Derek Webb who proclaims that he’s never seen a Savior on Capitol Hill. I wish the Church had ears to hear those prophets.
But I think we still stubbornly hold on to this idea that we can create Christian Utopia here today. If we just pass the right laws & have just the right leadership we can usher in an age of vibrant faith. Or at the very least “keep God on our good side.” And I think political calculators & political actors exploit that misplaced hope and/or potential fear of America getting on God’s bad side.
I think the Church desperately needs to take back her moral voice from the political influences that have tarnished it historically. As you can probably tell I feel pretty strongly about this.
Matt: Much of the angst you are expressing was summed up extremely well in a book that has just come out called “A Faith of Our Own” by Jonathan Merritt. I reviewed it and did a Q & A with Jonathan about his book.
You basically summed up his book in a few paragraphs. I will quote one paragraph from my review just to give you an idea,
“Jonathan believes Christianity has bought into the game of politics hook, line and sinker rather than mapping out a more biblical approach to how Christians engage their lives in what really matters. Merritt argues that for far too long Christians have allowed the political parties to use us as a voting block to move their agendas through while we mistook our partnership with politicians as a means to advance and engage in God’s mission. His contention in this book is that our identity as Christians must shape our politics and not the other way around. He also believes that our identity as Christians overcomes the dividing lines between parties as the commonality we find in Christ can bring those who disagree on the issues together worshipping the same God.”
As far as the prophetic voice goes, prophets didn’t focus on just one thing or the other all the time. They gave air time to many issues that were causing God’s people to be far from him (idolatry, mistreatment of the poor, etc). You know the list. The loudest Christian voices out there today have three major problems in dealing with issues like this:
1 – They don’t do it in love.
2 – They target the wrong audience (in scripture the target of rebuke was God’s people nine times out of ten, not the world…there are notable exceptions)
3 – They harp on the same one or two issues (homosexuality and abortion) and give no air time to anything else.
We all need to be reminded that speaking on God’s behalf is a dangerous thing. So many people take it so lightly. In Deuteronomy 18:20 here is what God told Moses about those who say they speak in God’s name things God has not commanded,
” But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” ”
That is pretty serious business!
Philip: Wise words. And on that note I think you’ve nearly brought this conversation in for a landing. Any prophetic voice needs to be motivated by love. Not bigotry, or discomfort, or fear — but love. And that’s what our reputation needs to be. According to Jesus we are supposed to be known by our love (Jn. 13:35). And when you look at our rep in the world today it seems like it’s anything but. We’ve got some work to do.
I don’t know whether or not our country should allow same-sex marriage. There are so many issues (from hospital visitation rights to taxes; to national standards of morality) that I have a difficult time saying exactly what the right thing to do is. If each one of us were Emperor who knows what would be the right thing to do. Maybe there’s some among us who would want to, like the President, apply the Golden Rule. I know there’s plenty among us who want to stand on the side of the Biblical definition of marriage.
But the hard truth to face (for some among us) is that none of us is Emperor of America. So how do we Christians proceed? I think we’d do well to be agents of love in the world. Who knows– we might even win over a few members of the LGBT community. Wouldn’t that be a thrill? I pray for that.