The Culture Wars and the Mind of the Modern Christian

Supreme Court Hears Arguments On California's Prop 8 And Defense Of Marriage ActI was at an ecumenical LGBT meeting several years back.  What we were talking about, I can’t remember, but I remember saying something about the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.  Accross the room from me was a middle aged man from Canada.  I could see him mouth the words “Great Commission” and he had this quizical look.  It was easy to realize that he had no idea what was the Great Commission.

Maybe they do things differently in the Great White North, but I was surprised this man didn’t know something that I considered basic knowledge.

When we think about the culture wars, we don’t really think about what happens when we place something other than Christ at the center.  Warriors are interested in winning the next battle.

The decades long fight over issues like abortion, homosexuality and the role of women have taken their toll on we Christians.  We get so focused on the disagreements, we start to forget why we gather.  We forget that this faith we say we are defending is important. It matters.  It should be making a difference in the lives of the faithful.

I think most of American Christianity has been affected by the culture wars and has left us all the poorer.  A professor at a Catholic university shares her experience:

About five years ago, I taught a course called Christian Beliefs at a Catholic university. During each class period, we would discuss a different topic that connected in some way to the ideas presented in the Nicene Creed. On the first day of class that semester, I gave the students index cards and asked that each fill his/her entire card, front and back, with as many responses to the following question as possible: “What do Christians believe?” I taught that course twice and have not since been assigned to teach another like it, but being the pack rat that I am, I kept those cards and flipped through them last week while planning an activity for my current freshmen. I had almost forgotten just how troubling the responses where…

As I perused these index cards last week, I was taken back to the shock I experienced as a second-year teacher reading the responses my class had provided. A few were easily predictable:

  • “Christians believe in Jesus.”
  • “Christians believe in Jesus as the savior.”
  • “Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins.”
  • “Christians believe that baptism washes away sins.”
  • “Christians believe you need to ask Jesus into your heart to go to heaven.”

But those accounted for such a small percentage of student responses. When asked “What do Christians believe?” almost every student in the class included at least two of the following on his/her list:

  • “Christians believe gay people are going to hell.”

  • “Christians believe gay people are sinners.”

  • “Christians believe gay people are pedophiles and shouldn’t be priests.”

  • “Christians believe that if you’re gay, you can’t have sex.”

  • “Christians believe that you have to choose to be straight if you love God.”

  • “Christians believe abortion is a sin.”

  • “Christians believe abortion is murder.”

  • “Christians believe in protecting unborn babies.”

  • “Christians believe you have to be pro-life.”

  • “Christians believe you have to vote pro-life.”

What saddens me is the reality that a group of young Christians in their late teens and early twenties—most of whom had been Christians their entire lives—were in need of such a basic introduction to their own religion. I see this need emerging again and again in my theology courses, but I’m less surprised by it now after having gained a few years of teaching experience.

Lest you think this is only affecting conservative Christians, “Sara” shares that liberal Christians have the same problem:

With some regularity, I encounter students who identify as liberal Christians but know only about Christian principles of social justice and little to nothing about the theology that undergirds those principles.

The sad truth that I have learned over the years, is that churches are more and more resembling our political zeitgeist instead of trying to be followers of Jesus. We place emphasis on who can or can’t get ordained, who can or can’t get married and so forth than we do on learning about the Trinity. We have fights about the minimum wage, but don’t talk about baptism or evangelism. To echo a recent column by David Brooks, most churches in the US are “streamlined,” a place that places more emphasis on utilitarian things over spiritual ones:

Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.

The life of the church, the questions we have about God, each other and ourselves are pushed aside for the latest news or controversy. Being that I’ve been around the mainline/progressive church, I have seen churches where political issues get upfront and spiritual questions are pushed aside.

I’m not saying that we should not talk about social issues; but we need to be careful that we don’t sacrifice our interior life in the process.

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The Anger You Don’t Understand

gay_s640x427One of the bloggers that I love to read is Rod Dreher.  While we share some similarities politically, we are on different sides of the same-sex marriage issue.  Rod has written a number of posts on what he sees as the coming troubles facing social conservatives as the opinion on gay marriage changes.  I decided to comment on a recent blog post.  One of the things he is bothered by is the meanness on the pro-SSM towards social conservatives.  While I agree that there has been a lot of spiking the ball on our side, I thought Rod needs to understand where some of that anger comes from and it doesn’t come from nowhere.

Before I share the response, I want to add that I do appreciate Rod.  He is one of the most honest people I know striving to honor God in the best way he can.  He has helped me see that not all social conservatives are horrible monsters.  So, while I am offering a bit of pushback here, I don’t do it out of anger.  I just want to him (and others) to understand a little about our side and what might be fueling the anger. 

Rod,

Part of the issue that needs to be addressed is the bitterness that many in the gay rights community has towards social conservatives. A lot of this comes from the pain we have experienced from people who were religious and yet treated their sisters and brothers with cruelty. One of the things that Ross Douthat shared in his Sunday column is the abuse LGBT folk have suffered in the past. I think it is important for social cons to at least admit that some of this vitriol is a knee-jerk response to some of the things we have faced.

The other issue that is a problem is how social conservatives are viewed by the larger society. When I was coming out in the 90s, the image I saw was Pat Buchanan venting at the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston. The image most gays and allies have of social conservatives is one of hateful people bent on destroying LGBT people. It’s not a true image, but it’s there. My view of social conservatives have changed for two reasons: one I take the call from Jesus to love our enemies seriously. Second, I’ve met many social conservatives and see that they don’t have five heads and eat gay babies. Because American society is so fragmented with like-minded folk clustering together, most gay folk have never encountered a social conservative and see them as complex beings instead of caritactures. And because we don’t know you, hence the hostility.

I don’t know what the answer is. I have used my blog to express that social conservatives are not all monsters, but I have also got pushback from people who write me talking about the pain they have faced and how it makes no sense to show mercy. The negative image of social conservatives is ingrained in many gay people and their allies and that is what keeps them from showing and sense of forgiveness and love. Gay people can and should speak up and maybe even seek out social conservatives and befriend them (somthing I’ve tried to do). But I think the only way this is going to change is when social conservatives themselves reach out and be Christ to gay people. When gay people can see that social conservatives are people, things will change. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but realize that a lot of the anger is warranted. Trust has been broken. LGBT people like myself can and should reach out, but until gays and trust social conservatives such hostility will continue, even if it is not right.

Repost: We Can’t Be Friends

First off, welcome to all the new visitors who saw my post on Freshly Pressed. Below is a post from last year. 

It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC. The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today. Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.

The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff. The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills. At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.

I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up. She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor. You see, the pastor had been involved with congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other. “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on. But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.

What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today. Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore. Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other. Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.

When it comes to the issue of gay rights the two camps talk past each other, having very different objectives that the other side just doesn’t get.

For liberals, this is about equality. Framed by the story of the civil rights movement, they see any attempt to block same-sex marriage or gay clergy as akin to denying African Americans the right to vote.

For evangelicals, this is about conscience. They feel they must be faithful to what they believe the Bible is telling them when it comes to sexual morality. They see any approval of gay sex as going against God’s commands.

These differences were there 20 years ago, but I think there might have also been more opportunity to come together and meet the other. Our self-selected society allows us to basically pick our friends instead of trying to build bridges with those who might be different.

Why am I telling this story? I don’t really know, except that maybe I would like us to find ways were we can learn to disagree without being so disagreeable.

Civility is all the talk in our political culture, mostly because it seems like we have less and less of it. We have made it a civic value, but I want to lift up the fact that it should also be a moral and biblical value. We have to learn ways to respect and honor one another; not papering over our differences, but finding ways to still care for each other even when we disagree. Evangelical church planter Tim Keller said it best a year ago:

AMANPOUR: You talk about polarization between left and right. It does seem to be extreme, at the moment, in the United States politically, socially. Is there any hope that that can change, do you think?

KELLER: It will start if we stop demonizing each other. I — my — my — my elderly mother once said that up until about 15 years ago, if you voted for a different person for president and the person you voted against became president, you still considered him your president. He said — she said 15 years ago, that changed, that if you voted against that guy and he became president, you actually act as if he’s illegitimate. And I’m not sure that is a big social and cultural difference. We — and it really means the other side isn’t really just wrong, they’re kind of evil. And that’s pretty bad.

MANPOUR: I have to say that many would say the church plays into this highly acrimonious debate — public debate, not all church, but certainly some parts of the church. What should the church be doing different?
KELLER: At the very least, we should be creating individuals who know how to talk civilly. The gospel should create people who say, I’m loved by God but I’m — I’m a sinner. So there — there should be a certain humility and graciousness about the way in which you talk to everybody. As an institution, most of the churches have lost a lot of credibility. So I think my job is to create individuals who can participate in civil discourse.

AMANPOUR: You’re saying institutionally, the church has lost credibility?

KELLER: The mainline church identified with liberal politics, the Evangelicals have identified, at least they’re identified in people’s minds, with conservative politics. The Catholic Church has had the sex scandals. And so institutionally, each church has lost credibility. So I think it’s our job as individual congregations to care for the poor, to produce civil — people who speak civilly, to just serve our neighborhoods and serve people and be careful about speaking ex-cathedra, you know, about these great political positions on issues.

I would disagree with Keller in that I do think the church has a right to speak out on issues and there are some issues where we have to be clear where we stand. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to look at our sister and brothers as if they are evil. We can find ways to be civil in maybe in some way speak to people about what church is all about.

What a witness that would be.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Conservatives

Timothy Dalrymple

I happened to look at a sermon I wrote about 7 years ago.  It was during the time I was involved in a new church start.  Reading the sermon, I tend to think it wasn’t my best sermonizing.  The sermon seems a fitting for the current context; it was based on Micah 6:1-8 and focused on same-sex marriage, which is a hot issue here in Minnesota with the upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

What I took from the sermon is how much I’ve changed over the last seven years.  No, I still believe in same sex marriage and I think it’s a mistake to place this amendment in our constitution.  What has changed is my opinion of social conservatives.  I still don’t agree with their views, but I tend to understand those views a lot better, which has led me to be more respectful of the views as well.

What has changed is reading some social conservative writers like Timothy Dalrymple, Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat.  Listening to the viewpoints, I learn that social conservatives are far more complex than I used to believe.  They aren’t the caritacture I had easily painted them into.  While I don’t think banning same sex marriage is going to solve the concerns they have, I do realize that their concerns about the family in modern America make some sense. Here’s a part of a post by Dalrymple on gay marriage from 2011:

Those who oppose same-sex marriage do not see the fight for same-sex marriage as a continuation of the Civil Rights struggle.  The Civil Rights struggle does not even enter their minds when they consider same-sex marriage, because they do not believe that a person has a civil right to marry a person of the same sex with the imprimatur of the state, or that a person has a civil right to adopt one course of action (marrying a person of the same sex) and have it treated legally the same as another course of action (marrying a person of the opposite sex).  In other words, in this view, there is no civil right to marry whomever you please, and “equal protection” does not enter the equation; people in themselves deserve equal protection before the law, but different courses of actioncan and should be treated differently.

Most social conservatives see the same-sex marriage movement as a continuation not of the Civil Rights fight, but of the sexual revolution.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s established a trajectory of greater freedom of sexual expression, of broadening the field of sexual behaviors that are accepted and celebrated, and of disapproving the judgment of sexual behaviors or identities.  Many social conservatives see the push for same-sex marriage as the next phase in the sexual revolution, the next phase in the deterioration of moral-sexual norms, and the next step toward the dissolution of the basic and God-ordained family structure.  The sexual revolution, they claim, has already done incalculable harm.  They see a direct connection in the past five decades between the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, with skyrocketing increases in divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and deadbeat dads — and all the poverty, stagnation and malaise those things bring.

It’s a slippery-slope argument made by people who believe they’re already halfway (if not further) down the slope.  Slippery slope arguments often seem exaggerated, because they invest all the importance of the whole downward path in the very next step.  Every step down a slippery slope only takes us a little way.  But it also creates momentum.  And when you look back, you realize how far you’ve fallen, how much ground you’ve lost.  Nearly 40% of American children are now born to unwed mothers.  And the disintegration of the American family has done the most harm in low-income African-American communities, where there was less stability and social capital to start with.  Over 70% of African-American children are born out of wedlock.  For all the heroic efforts of single mothers, the children of single moms are as a general rule less healthy and less educated, and more likely to enter gangs and engage in criminal activity.

The point is this: American society once built a bulwark around the traditional family structure.  Perhaps in some ways or for some people groups the removal of that bulwark has been liberating, but the conservatives who oppose gay marriage believe that the removal of the bulwark has, on the whole, been absolutely devastating.  The further and further we depart from the family structure God intended, they believe, the more damage we do to our society.

Rod Dreher

Do I agree with everything Dalrymple is saying here? No. But his argument is not one of a loon fortelling doom if two men get hitched.  He is bringing up some important issues: divorce rates, single parent families, the less pleasant effects of the sexual revolution.  What Darlymple along with Dreher and Douthat are talking about is what the see as a breakdown in society, a place where there are atomized individuals instead of communal groups like traditional families.  What social conservatives see is less about some kind of modern-day Sodom than it is the concern of the loss of community and the rise of individualism that is concerned more about personal fulfillment than it is about social cohesion.

No, banning same sex marriage won’t stop what social conservatives see happening.  The changes in society were already under way long before any gay person thought about getting married.  But we do need to ask ourselves how to best shore up families and how to find new ways to knit the frayed fabric of American society. In 2010 journalist Jonathan Rauch, who is gay and supports same-sex marriage, wrote an insightful article about the changing state of families in America and how that has impacted people in “red” and “blue” states.  He explains that some of the opposition is not fueled by homophobia, but something else:

We know that gay marriage is very controversial. But why, exactly?

Well, we know that some people oppose it because they oppose homosexuality, and gay marriage, in their view, would give society’s and the law’s imprimatur to a deviant lifestyle. Those opponents will, on the whole, never change. Fortunately for people like me, their numbers are diminishing with time.

Contrary to what some of my friends in the gay-marriage movement believe, however, homophobia is far from the only reason for opposition. Another group, which I think is at least equally large, feels threatened—less by the normalization of homosexuality than by the abnormalization, so to speak, of the conventionally defined family. “Nothing personal, do what you want,” they tell us, “but leave the definition of family—of marriage—alone!”

I would urge you to read the entire article.  Rauch uses the story of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in 2008 as an example of the different worldviews regarding sex:

Remember Bristol Palin in 2008? During the presidential campaign, it came out that the Republican vice presidential nominee’s daughter was having a child out of wedlock, but the family announced her betrothal to the father, Levi Johnston.

You might have thought that Bristol’s broken chastity would offend conservatives while evoking support from liberals. In fact, reactions were more the reverse. To Red Americans, Bristol was making her pregnancy okay by marrying the boy. They were kids, to be sure, but they would form a family and grow up, as so many generations before them had done. To Blue Americans, on the other hand, Bristol and Levi had committed a cardinal sin. They had children much too young. This was the height of irresponsibility, and a poor example to set!

Rauch isn’t a social conservative, but he has listened enough to see that their opposition to same sex marriage is not simply because they are mean.  Move beyond the anti-gay marriage talk and you see that there is fear and not necessarily of gays.  What they are afraid of is the disintergration of family units around them as well as the unintended consquences of the sexual revolution that has impacted them harder and harsher because they don’t have the financial resources to weather the storms of cultural change.

Columnist Rod Dreher is another example of the complexity of socons.  He is glad gays aren’t persecuted, but he lays out some fears he has, namely the fear of being forced to go against their beliefs:

Ross Douthat

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I think it’s progress that gay folks aren’t stigmatized as they once were. I don’t want to live in a culture in which they are persecuted. I am pleased that gay people can live openly, even in my small town, without fear — and if I saw someone being persecuted for being gay, I would speak out against it. In my experience, very few conservatives who have actual experience with gay friends and gay folks in general fear and loathe them, as many did in the past. I know I move personally within a pretty narrow group of religious conservatives, but my guess is that most of us share the Church’s moral teaching on homosexuality (which is within a context of a broader teaching on what human sexuality is for), but we know and like gay people, and don’t feel the visceral hostility towards gays that some on the Right do. I think this is a generational thing, mostly. This, in my estimation, is what it means to be tolerant.

The problem is tolerance is not the goal here; mandatory affirmation is, to the point where individuals and institutions who won’t affirm are to be marginalized and punished. The other day I saw a tweet in which someone said that Ross Douthat, a Catholic who articulately defends the teachings of his Church on human sexuality, ought to be thought of as suffering from a psychological disorder. This is how religious and political disagreement becomes a matter of pathology — not a moral argument to be grappled with, but a disease to be cured. This is where we’re headed. It would be wise for conservative Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others to quit fighting a battle they (we) lost a long time ago, and start figuring out how to defend, constitutionally, our religious and cultural institutions from the coming legal assault. Ironically, if we traditionalists are going to be able to hold our ground, we’re going to have to function as libertarians.

I’ve met good Christians who are some of the nicest and honorable people and have treated me with respect.  The only difference is that they can’t cross that bridge to accept same-sex marriage because they believe their faith says it wrong.  As much as I disagree with them, I don’t want to force them to disavow their belief, either.  But that is their fear.  That leads me to ask questions: how do we treat those who disagree?  How do we handle them with grace and love?  What can we learn from their views on marriage that can be adapted to the new consensus? What authority does Christianity have in regards to sexuality? What are the limits?  What does family mean in this day and age?  How can we help shore up disintergrating families in red states and also in the ghettoes of our inner cities?

This is why in the end I’ve come to respect social conservatives.  Yeah, there are a bunch of folks that are still hateful bigots, but that is not all of them and they do have some valuable things to tell us.  In the spirit of tolerance and love of neighbor, the least I can do is listen.

Paul Ryan and Christian Discernment

Now that Paul Ryan has been selected as the GOP Vice Presidential candidate, I’ve noticed an awful lot of talk about the Wisconsin Congressman from liberal Protestants, most of it not positive.  I’ve already stated that I think Ryan’s budget was a good start in thinking about balancing the federal budget, but I tend to disagree with others on the center-right that Ryan’s budget is the end all and be all.  But I also disagree with the center-left that is making Ryan out to be the devil himself.

I wish we could have a reasoned debate about the role of government and how Christians can best respond to issues like poverty.  As Christians, we have differing opinions on how to deal with poverty.  We can be faithful Christians and have different ideas on how to carry out God’s justice.  We can disagree without resorting to painting the other side as evil.

I’m reposting a blog post I wrote about Paul Ryan earlier this year.  I would love it if we could talk about public policy without being mean about it, but that’s not gonna happen.

There’s been a lot of talk lately, criticism really, about the budget released by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. I wrote on my political blog about a year ago that I thought it wasn’t a perfect budget and even had some problems with it, but that it was a good start by the GOP. Then as now, there has been a cascade of criticism from folks about how the Ryan plan “radical” and some even questioning Ryan’s faith. What has bothered a lot of folks is that Ryan said that his Catholic faith helped shaped his budget. Here’s what he said earlier this month:

…Ryan made a moral case for his budget, saying that the government shouldn’t be responsible for lifting its citizens out of poverty — rather, that it’s the obligation of the citizens themselves to be society’s caretakers.

“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good, by not having Big Government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities,” Ryan said.

“Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.” …

Presbyterian blogger Michael Kruse is half joking when he responds to the article:

So is it possible that people from different political vantage points who genuinely care about poverty might come to dramatically different conclusions about the moral thing to do? Nah. I’m going with one side or the other has to be Satan incarnate while the other is Mother Teresa. 😉

Obviously the answer to Kruse’s question is, no, people of faith can only have one viewpoint on how to deal with poverty. Columnist Dana Milbank takes Ryan to task and lauds the Catholic bishops and theologians who have spoken out against Ryan:

There is something un-Christian about the Gospel According to Paul Ryan. So, at least, says Ryan’s Catholic Church.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody this month, Ryan, the author of the House Republican budget endorsed by Mitt Romney, said his program was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not about to bless that claim.

A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying that the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.

In fact, Ryan would cut spending on the least of these by about $5 trillion over 10 years — from Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and the like — and then turn around and award some $4 trillion in tax cuts to the most of these. To their credit, Catholic leaders were not about to let Ryan claim to be serving God when in fact he was serving mammon.

“Your budget,” a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown University faculty members wrote to Ryan last week, “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

What bothers folk is that Ryan uses his Catholic faith as reason for his budget. Frankly, I don’t see anything heretical about that arguement. Just as say, someone like Congressman John Lewis is grounded in his Baptist faith. It is possible to be people of faith and yet come to different conclusions on issues. That doesn’t mean that I love his budget wholesale. But I do think its important to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust that two people from the same faith can come from different conclusions on the same issue. It’s one thing to think his budget has issues and needs refinement, it’s another to basically slam him for coming to different way of seeing things from how you see them.

What bothers me about the criticism against Ryan is the assumption that to governmental support to care for the poor is supported in the Bible. The thing is, the Bible talks a lot about caring for the poor, but it never says how to do that. For some, caring for the poor means giving to local and international charities. For others, it means creating government programs. I’m not arguing that we should never use government to help the poor, but I am saying that the call to aid the least of these with government help is not supported in Scripture. God doesn’t tell us how to care for the poor, but demands that we get it done.

Which gets me back to Michael Kruse’s “joke.” The bile that has risen against the Ryan budget makes me think that debate even among Christians on public policy is becoming increasingly impossible. If we can’t debate the merits and demerits of this budget without delving into demonization, then what can we discuss?

(I need to add that conservatives are not better when it comes to debate and discernment either.)

What I long for is finding ways that people of faith can come and debate an issue and be open to where the Spirit of God leads instead of immediately pointing fingers, hiding behind the Bible and condemning others that don’t agree with them. I wish we’d stop seeing ourselves as Mother Teresas and the other side as Satan incarnate. I long for the time when the people of God are more willing to discern than to demonize.

A Table, A Cross, An Elephant and a Donkey

Christ of the Polls by Stushie.

There was a time in my life when I really loved talking about politics. I come from a family where my mother talked about politics constantly and still does.

But these days, I don’t enjoy politics as much as I used to. I still enjoy and I still blog about politics, but something has changed over the years, at least within me.

I think I know why. It’s that people take politics way to seriously. So seriously, that we don’t know how to be friends with those we might disagree with. The 2008 bestseller, The Big Sort goes into detail how we have become a nation that has segregated itself into ideological ghettos where we never encounter those who might have a different political outlook than others.

While the larger story of how society has sorted itself is disturbing, what’s even more troubling to me is how Christians have segregated themselves into like-minded groups. Evangelicals started first, with their flirtations with the Republican Party and in more recent years, Mainline Protestants have become more explicit in their support of Democrats. This new segregation has made it very easy for Christians to be nasty to others. Since I’m a Republican that is a pastor in a Mainline denomination, I’ve seen how my fellow clergy, who can preach tolerance until the cows come home can say some of the worst things about Republicans.

I tend to think that it has to be the same thing only in reverse in evangelical circles. Either way, the idea is that the other side is filled with horrible people who run over dogs and cats and take candies from babies. While all of this postering and fearmongering makes each team feel better, I wonder what its doing to the Body of Christ. Both liberal and conservative Christians think they are doin’ the Lord’s work; standing up for family values or caring for the poor. But frankly, I don’t think either side is doing a lot to further the cause of Jesus, they are just whoring themselves for their masters.

I can’t say anything about what happens in evangelical circles, but I can speak to my own tribe and I have this to say. Stop it. Just stop it. I’m tired of all the political mudslinging in the name of Christ. You see, I am one of those horrible Republicans you talk about and the fact is, some of the people in your churches are Republicans too. You have the right to share your opinions, but remember that there are others who believe in the same God you do and have very different opinions on government and society. That doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes them different.

But this really has to be about more than partisan politics; it has to be about being the church- the Body of Christ. In my Disciples tradition, we place a lot of emphasis on the Table. It’s at the Lord’s Table that everyone is welcome and everyone is equal. Distinctions end when we come to God’s table. I tend to believe God isn’t asking for party affiliation when we come to have communion.

My Lutheran friends remind me that the Cross is also a great leveler. We are all sinners, all of us. We are all in need of grace and love. We are all damned by the cross, but it is also in the cross that we are saved and made whole.

So when we read or watch the latest “outrage” on Fox or MSNBC and you are ready to hit the “send” button and share your two cents on how bad the other party is, I want you to stop and think for a moment: how is this building up Christ’s body? How is it showing that we Christians are different? Do we really need to dress up our partisan leanings in God talk to make it look pretty? Can we find a way to remember the Table and Cross as much as we hold fast to Donkeys and Elephants?