Friday, December 30, 2011

Lukewarm Faith or Politics?

God does not tolerate lukewarm Christians.

He says so in Revelation 3:16: "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Moderate faith is evil. We know that.

But are moderate politics?

I ask, because despite the fervent right-wing partisanship held by many people of faith, I can't find a Biblical justification for extreme politics. In other words, although we believers need to be strong in faith, political moderation is not a sin.

True, being politically moderate means that all government policy may not fit our Christian worldview. It means that compromise plays a key role in making sure enough gets done that suits our sensibilities, since we do not live in a church state, and our laws are civil, not religious. Yes, we may end up not favoring some social policies, especially since hard work, sexual purity, and living within one's means are Biblical concepts. But faith does not hinge on productivity - whether as a Christian, or as an American.

Does political moderation mean that we Christ-followers should, for example, give up the battle against abortion? Of course not. Why should anybody - whether us evangelicals or any heathen unbeliever - abdicate their Constitutional freedoms of advocating for their worldview in civic matters? It's just that since we live in a fallen world, and God never guarantees us that we will reign anywhere on this current Earth, and we all have equal rights in our country, there will be some issues of conscience upon which everyone will not agree.

However, just because Christ's Gospel does not directly address issues like the judiciary, or how much tax is too much, we do know what He expects. Christ's Gospel tells us how to conduct ourselves as we debate in the public square, since God is less concerned about the size of government than He is the size of our hearts.

Does that sound heretical? If so, perhaps that's because many Americans on both sides of the partisan aisle have bought into years of fire-and-brimstone political rhetoric that has been based on... lukewarm theology.

A Faith Greater than Politics

Politics consumes scant space in the Bible precisely because God is neither a Democrat or a Republican. This has meant that many Americans who consider themselves to be religious - both liberals and conservatives - have taken it upon themselves to craft public policy in frameworks of faith. While I agree with this practice in principle, since God's Word is applicable to all areas of life, I'm not sure it teaches that in a republic, we should be surprised if those who do not trust in Christ for salvation do not endorse the way we believe things should be done.

Isn't compromise on issues not pertaining to doctrine taught, at least indirectly, in the Bible? Remember, the Fruit of the Spirit isn't capitalism, small government, low taxes, and the right to bear arms, as good and beneficial as they may be. The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and self-control. We believers are in the world, but not of it. God wants us, as much as we can, to live at peace with our neighbors. Oh yeah - we're supposed to love our neighbors, too.

How can we do that and live out the rest of our faith? A faith that, increasingly, is at odds with popular culture? The Book of Proverbs is replete with instructions for how to interact with people whose worldview is different from ours. Wisdom and logic are taught as essential to everyday life, which implies we will encounter many situations that are not as black and white as we like to think they are.

If all we had to do in politics was make automatic decisions based on Choice A or Choice B, why would we need wisdom or logic? Remember, Proverbs isn't about intelligence - the ability to automate actions based on quantifiable facts. It's about wisdom - the ability to analyze and evaluate, even when quantifiable facts are absent.  We can be intelligent without being wise. You can be wise without being intelligent. But wisdom requires a mental dexterity that intelligence doesn't.

Picking the Right Battles

I'm all about picking battles wisely. Sometimes I pick the wrong battle, but there's an art to sizing up the opposition, crafting an appropriate line of reasoning, and knowing how long to sustain one's inflexibility on an issue. Part of picking battles wisely involves knowing the right time to start considering compromises - and how much compromise can be sustained before you actually begin to suffer defeat.

After all, in the grayness of politics, defeat isn't so much a set point in time, or dollar amount, as much as it is the perception of weakness. But Who became weak for us, at least in the world's eyes? Does God call His people to win elections and force through legislation, or does He call us to honor Him by, um, protecting widows and orphans, treating other people more highly than ourselves, not loving money, and sharing each other's burdens? Every one of these scriptural mandates involves compromise - compromising what we want to do, even very good things, for the sake of others.

When it comes to testifying before other of the grace God has bestowed upon us, which our United States Constitution gives us plenty of opportunity to do, can politics remain primarily an ideological battle? Yes, we're free to stand against civic ills like bureaucratic waste, high taxation, and unbalanced budgets, but don't forget that God didn't send Christ to save His people from these things.

Has America's evangelical church gotten to the point where we've become so spoiled by prosperity and political freedom that we feel entitled to make enemies out of partisan opponents simply because, well, they don't vote the same way we do? What yanks your chain more: listening to California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, or Redeemer Presbyterian's Tim Keller?

Indeed, perhaps a good way to judge if you've become one of the irrational evangelicals regarding politics and opinions on political moderation would be to evaluate whether you get more excited by Rush Limbaugh or the Sermon on the Mount.

And if enough evangelicals would reconsider their political priorities, not in terms of what we should value, but how we work to protect these values, maybe some real change could start taking place in the United States.

Is political moderation truly the evil evangelicals consider it to be?  Or, might political intransigence actually be a sign of spiritual moderation?
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