After I posted part one of this blog, I looked at my inbox and saw an email from Randy Remington, the president of our denomination, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. (Read it here if you haven’t, it’s excellent: https://resources.foursquare.org/character-civility-and-christ#character). I read the first paragraph and started laughing. “Steve!” I yelled into the other room, “Randy stole all my ideas! He even used the same scripture!” We chuckled over the fact that I posted within the same hour that the email was sent, and yet if anyone read both of those posts, I highly doubted that they would think Randy stole anything from me. Probably quite the opposite, if anything. “Don’t you think that’s crazy, in kind of a cool way?” I said to Steve. “You definitely aren’t the only one thinking these thoughts, that’s for sure,” he responded.
So much for originality.
I don’t care. Actually, I’d be thrilled to death to be absolutely unoriginal in this message, I wish I was in the vast, massive, swimming majority of people thinking these same thoughts, committed to this same perspective. Unfortunately I’m not too sure that’s true, and so once more, I‘ll put myself out there in this blog, hoping my very small voice will give you a nudge towards seeing things in a new way. Or at least confirming your own heart’s convictions.
In my last blog, I talked about when politics violates the sacred space within us which the Bible calls our innermost being. We can see this is happening when we make idols (or demons for that matter) out of political candidates, thinking the only way we can have peace is if our candidate wins the election. We see the violation when our emotional state is in high agitation, anxiety, and anger instead of finding rest in Christ. The solution is not to bury our head in the sand or pretend we no longer care about the election, because for many people this is extremely important and they consider it their Christian and civic duty to vote, to be active politically, and to pray for the nation. All well and good. The caveat in all of that is that we are able to separate what’s happening in the world around us from our relationship with Christ, and we are able to trust him implicitly and wholeheartedly. That means we trust in his sovereignty and plan more than anything else in this world.
And speaking of sovereignty—I am in literal shock at how much of it some of my fellow Americans have given two human men. It’s as if the world will end on November 3rd, according to both sides. I don’t have a problem with people being passionate and fighting hard for whatever cause they have, and of course following their consciences. But it’s as if the fate of the world no longer rests with God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, but with the voting box. Sitting over here in St. Petersburg, Russia, I have to tell you, it all is very strange indeed.
That brings me to the second sacred space I believe politics should NEVER violate—the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is described as his body, in which he has chosen to express his enduring love, everlasting patience, deep compassion and kindness, unmerited favor, and unlimited mercy, grace and forgiveness. Reading that description, my immediate question is: does that describe the Church today in America? From what I understand from this vantage point, those attributes aren’t showing up too well in sermons, Facebook posts, tweets, and even so many “prophecies.” I am not saying they are totally absent—without a doubt, there are many who are choosing to fight hard to remain peacemakers, to turn away from backbiting and name-calling, who refuse to aggrandize one party over another. Thank God for them. However, for many it seems they have not been very successful in choosing a position, party, or candidate without trashing, demoralizing, or demonizing the other side.
Here is an example of what I’m speaking of that has me deeply concerned. Statements like this get thrown around quite a bit on social media and every time I read them my stomach drops. “I am a Christian, and therefore I am voting for ____________.” [Or variations such as, “I am a Christian, therefore I am a Republican/Democrat,” “If you are a Christian, you can’t possibly vote for _______”, etc.] Where in scripture, and specifically the words and deeds of Christ, can we find any justification of speaking this way? Jesus does not fall into rigid political boxes and labels created by mankind! He refused the political and religious labels of his day (even though people were constantly trying to get him to make political statements) and every time someone thought they could pin him down to a party, he would say something completely controversial and basically give them the proverbial slip. His absolute, downright refusal to be boxed in and pinned down to the systems, judgments, and labels of this world was one of the most extraordinary things about Jesus’ character that I can think of, and “as he is, so are we in this world.”
Can you please hang with me for just a moment more in this place and take this argument to its logical end? If in fact we equate a political party or a vote for a certain person with being a “Christian,” then the only logical conclusion we can draw is that those of the opposite party or vote are not in fact Christians. If you state, “I am a Christian and therefore a Republican/Democrat” then it MUST logically follow that the inverse of the statement has to be true—“I am NOT a Christian if I am NOT in that party (or voting that way).” Are you really prepared to say that, Church of Jesus Christ?
Do we as human beings really have the power and permission from the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and the Savior of ALL mankind, Jesus Christ, to equate the free gift of salvation with a political party or a vote for a certain human being? Maybe you never really thought that when people said things like that, they were cutting off about half the church in America from God’s eternal gift, but from an outsider’s perspective, that is in fact the implication of that statement.
I think I know what most people will say in this case. “No, no, of course not! I would never say the people of the opposing vote are not Christians. They are just [fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-judgmental-call-on-their-mind-and-character]: i.e., “fools,” “idiots,” “flaming liberals,” “judgmental conservatives,” “tree huggers,” “the religious right,” “socialists,” “greedy capitalists,” and of course the catch-all for the spiritually minded among us—“deceived by Satan.” I talked a couple months ago about how giving the benefit of the doubt was one of the best things about American culture, and in this case, I would like to remind us all again that not only is that “American” but actually much more importantly, biblical. When we throw names and judgments around about people, especially those who call Jesus their Lord and Savior, do we think that Jesus is ok with that because obviously, we are right? (And I mean “right” as in correct of course.) That isn’t really treating other people who think differently than us as sacred human beings created in the image of God—and not only that, brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity.
Our churches (the buildings, services, gatherings) and the Church (his body, expressing his unending love to each other and the world) are to be absolutely sacred spaces where the walls that have traditionally separated people come down and we are one in him. The apostle Paul went to great lengths to drive this point home over and over. In Galatians 3:28, he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ.” Those were the biggest dividing walls of his day, the controversial spots that were coming up over and over in the church. If he wrote the letter today to America would he add “and neither Democrat nor Republican?” I can’t say for sure, but it certainly seems likely.
The fate of the United States of America does not hang on one election: it hangs on every single person deciding to act with respect and dignity towards their fellow man, in spite of differences of opinion. The fate of the United States lies with the church within her borders, choosing to act in accordance with the gospel of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and with civility (see Randy’s post). Let’s choose to be peacemakers, to be bridges over very troubled emotional waters, to be a non-anxious, non-volatile presence in the places we find ourselves, whether the people around us think like us or not.
There is a much more powerful force in this world than who sits in the Oval Office, and that force is the Church, you and me—all who call upon him in spirit and truth!