Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Talking the Walk We Want

By now, it should be obvious.

We evangelical Christians are in the minority here in the United States.

It's hard to look at the results of last November's elections, the omens of Obamacare, and our nation's ambivalence towards things like gay marriage and not draw that conclusion.

Personally, I suspect that true believers in Christ have always been in the minority in the United States, as they are everywhere else.  Oh sure, over the centuries, plenty of Americans have talked with churchy words and modeled - publicly, at least - a religious lifestyle, but in terms of people who've lived out the Fruits of the Spirit, the percentage relative to our overall population has likely been slim.

Now that America has apparently caught up with the post-Christian era that took hold in Europe during the Cold War, we evangelicals are beginning to stick out more.  We're not blending in with the overall fabric of society like we used to.  This new vulnerability seems to scare many of us, at least in terms of being ill at ease because our minority status is so noticeable now.

But curiously, that vulnerability isn't inhibiting the way we're conducting ourselves in matters of our national dialog.

Should We Let Our Culture Calibrate Our Dialog?

Just check out the comments your friends are probably posting today on Facebook about President Obama's executive orders regarding gun control.  For an issue that has little direct relevance to our faith in Christ, plenty of churchgoers seem to be grossly overreacting.  Like many fellow evangelicals, I don't think any more gun control is the answer to gun violence, but you can't convince me this issue is worth staking the Prince of Peace's reputation on.  By the way things in our country seem to be going, there will be plenty of issues pertaining to biblical doctrine for us to get riled up over.

It's also been easy for us this week to let ourselves get carried away over the whole Lance Armstrong circus.  Did he or didn't he?  Even today, news websites are saying that his Livestrong cancer charity is advancing its stakeholder status in the outcome of his pre-recorded interview with Oprah Winfrey.

To me, this particular saga represents nothing more than two fading stars trying to grab a fleeting glimmer of former fame.  Armstrong is aging rapidly, and will likely never reclaim the athletic dominance he used to expect.  For her part, Winfrey gambled on shutting down her popular daytime talk show and lost, and her subsequent OWN network has struggled for relevance from day one.  Normally, I like rooting for the underdog, but when situations like the one Armstrong and Winfrey videotaped get manipulated from a personal act of repentance to a generic publicity stunt, people like them loose credibility in my eyes.  It's hardly worth the space my comments take up on this blog, but since it's obvious Armstrong's desire to leverage his confession betrays his lack of contrition, why do we feel so sorry for him?

I'm not trying to bash my own faith family, but when we evangelicals participate in public discourse, shouldn't we at least be consistent?  If we're going to feel sorry for a guy who probably doped his way through seven major international championships and threw his fans, sponsors, and teammates under the bus while he did it, can't we at least withhold some of our vitriol from our president who's only responding to populist pressure like any politician would?  Yes, I think the sums of money he and Joe Biden are dishing out from the Treasury for (ostensibly) safer schools is a staggering sum, especially considering how relatively rare massacres like Newtown's are.  But if we haven't learned it by now, better late than never:  politics is a sloppy and illogical business.  Most Americans want these protections, however overpriced and ineffective they may be.

Just look at our national ambivalence towards the Transportation Security Administration.  Most any safety expert will insist that the TSA is pure window-dressing, a tissue of illusions as we're wanded through machines that take images of our physique.  But apparently, since it was George W. Bush's team that concocted this tableau of shoeless shuffling and granny-searching, Republicans are about as silent as anybody when it comes to overhauling airport security measures.

Garbage In, Garbage Out?

Which brings me to one of my familiar rants, that evangelicals spend too much time listening to what people like Rush Limbaugh think, rather than studying what Christ tells us is true and honorable.  Petty partisan politics plays too great a role in evangelical American Christianity, and all it's doing is earning us enemies on issues Christ never tells us to weigh as unequivocally as His Gospel.

Take, for example, illegal immigration.  I was reminded by a very close friend of mine today that it's not just the topic of illegal immigration that requires diligent attention from us evangelicals, but the tone of our language that needs to reflect Christ's heart on this topic.  While I still disagree with my friend on the ways we demonstrate Christ-like love to people who feel as though they need to come here illegally, and I still personally oppose gimmicks like granting amnesty to illegals, I agree with my friend that we still need to temper our attitudes and convictions in this debate so we're mindful of the innate humanity of the people involved.

But is that the message we're conveying to our watching country?  Not by a long shot.  While a group of liberal-leaning professional Christians are attempting to build bridges to the community of illegals in our country, the far-right side of our faith chuckles at reckless partisan sniping from officials in places like Arizona, and we paint too broad a brush when it comes to illegal workers and our country's high unemployment rate.  Since this is a political issue, and it deals with our government's response to a question of national sovereignty, it will be resolved by some sort of political compromise, unless factions of American voters insist on stalling any accord and letting the status quo perpetuate the problem.  How sad would it be for evangelicals to comprise one of those factions that refuses to even consider less acrimonious dogma?

Speaking Truth in Love

We believers are to "speak the truth in love," right?  That doesn't mean we don't broach controversial topics, and it doesn't mean we don't hold fast to incontrovertible truth.  But it in no way gives us license to belittle, berate, or begrudge other people who don't share our viewpoints.  In fact, the onus is on us to examine each policy scenario and evaluate it on the basis of God's Word, not what Fox News, Sean Hannity, or even Huffington Post has to say about it.

Hey, I'm preaching to myself here as much as anybody else.  Although I try hard to not offend anybody with how I say something, I realize that sometimes the viewpoints I hold disturb people who don't agree with me.  Isn't there a difference?  Evangelicals get blamed for dispensing "hate" speech all the time, and we react in confused derisiveness, instead of a realization that God's standards aren't our culture's.  Indeed, the standards for which we advocate will be disturbing - and even offensive - to people who do not love Christ, but what point is there in stacking the deck by combining those standards with vitriol, sarcasm, and contempt?

Remember, we're living in a democratic republic, which means the minority side of a particular proposition needs to be smart - not smarmy - about how to protect its interests.

If there's ever been any doubt that we evangelicals are the minority in America, there isn't any more.  We may pray to God for His will and purposes for our country, but if we're going to engage in sabotage against His sovereignty by our non-Christlike attitudes and actions, what does that say about our faith?

God never promises us low taxes, the right to hoard weapons, or a society free from evil.  In fact, He promises us that life here on this planet He created for us will be tough and challenging.  He expects us to trust Him, and He's given us Americans a rare luxury of being able to participate in the direction of our ship of state.  It's not like He expects us to win these political arguments anyway.  He expects us to honor Him by how we live our lives.  Standing up for what we think is right is one thing.  How we do that is quite another, and unfortunately, does not always honor God.

Let's not waste what voice we have as evangelical Americans!  Not simply to see justice and righteousness prevail in our country, but to honor God in the opportunities of advocacy He gives us.

This is our time and place to serve Him.  If our country can benefit along the way, so much the better.
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