What do I mean by American Politics? Thanks to the news media and to the American addiction to social media, we have been slowly but steadily conditioned to adopt certain behaviors as normative and their contraries as, well, abnormal. For example, Karen Swallow Prior, a leader on the ERLC for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has said that it is unchristian behavior, in better, a violation of the Christian ethic for a Christian to call abortion murder. At the same time, KSP wants to wear the label of conservative Christian. This is not an attack on KSP. It is merely a real-life example to illustrate one of the points I want to make in this post. So here is the question for KPS: Is the child in the womb a living human being? If it is not, why should we oppose abortion? If it is, then we should oppose abortion because to end its life is in fact murder. The law governing murder for Christians is found in Exodus 20:13: You will do no murder. The Hebrew word, רצח (rṣḥ), and it means unlawfully take another person’s life. So, the taking of an innocent child’s life is to violate the law of God which governs how and under what circumstances a human life should be taken. This means that abortion is murder. And if that is the case, then it follows that anyone who has an abortion is, in fact, a murderer.
But KSP finds this language inflammatory, perhaps incendiary, and at least implied to me directly that it is unloving, or cuts against the fruit of the Spirit in listed in Galatians. Since when is it unethical and unloving to honestly describe an act for what it is? Well, since the American Church willingly walked into the clutches of American politics. This means we have to be more aware of the sensibilities of modern men. By American Politics then I mean the practice of saying things in the least offensive and upsetting way possible. We cannot call abortion murder, a prostitute, a whore, homosexuality, deviant sexual behavior, etc. We must strive as much as is humanly possible to take the stinger out of our message. God is love, after all. He only loves. He is patient. He is not angry. He looks beyond the vitriolic blasphemy and mockery and sees only a sincere, but misguided heart who really is a good person deep down inside. Everyone is, you know. Even evangelicals believe this. Sure, we give lip service to the doctrine of original sin, the doctrine of grace, even total depravity. But we really don’t believe it. We shudder at the suggestion that the violent acts men are committing against are manifestations of the wrath of God who will not be mocked. If every person in American turned away from their rebellion against God, School shootings, racism, abortion, you name it, wouldn’t be the problem they are today. But where are the preachers who will stand up and point their finger at America and tell her to repent? That the only solution to sin is Christ. It is the gospel. They are absent from the stage. Why? Busy working on their next press release about immigration, or racial reconciliation, or some other social cause.
By American Politics then, I mean the concern about public perception, image, stature, status, and the like. This has little to do with extending rebukes with gentleness and respect and everything to do with allowing the culture to shape not only the message but even some of the content of our message. We want to appear to the culture as sophisticated, educated, enlightened, loving, and so forth. If we don’t, we reason that we have lost them. Yesterday, in giving the gospel to a waitress, I asked her what the number problem with Christianity was: she said it was too judgmental. I suspect that would probably be the top answer from our culture. And we know it. So, what do we do? We accept the premise that it is bad to be judgmental, we don’t want the world to think we are Bible-thumpers, fundamentalist, judgmental people. So, we respond by changing our message as well as its content. This happens with our leaders on down. This attitude could not be more anti-Christ in its nature. Not only that, it is a serious impediment to Christian growth and learning. No one wants to run the risk of a confrontation anymore. When you recognize that we are all sinners and need to be confronted by others in order to grow out of that sin, you start to realize just how damning this American attitude can be to the Christian faith. And it is incredibly damning to Christian pastors and leaders.
What do I mean by Christianity? I mean the Evangelical and Reformed churches in America for the most part. But if the shoe fits in other parts of the world, so be it. Specifically, denominations like the SBC and the PCA seem particularly liable to this threat. This fact rings truer of the SBC than it does just about any other Christian denomination. The politics within the SBC have served over the years to make it one of the most ineffective organizations to have ever existed. This is an organization that is becoming more marginalized by the day where the truths of the gospel are concerned. She ran off course years ago, looked recently as if she were about to right the ship, but at this time, sadly, it looks like she will be lost after all. Lost to men who care far more about their own image, and accomplishments listed under their name, than they do about truly pouring their lives into the lives of those God has given them in their local communities. I suppose the attractiveness of popularity is just too much for them to handle.
The politics within the SBC are nothing short of deplorable. For example, the racial reconciliation movement is designed to “show” everyone that the SBC has repented of its racism. But the intelligent black pastor knows that this movement is nothing more than appearance. It is about casting a new image. And in the attempt to cast their new image, they are allowing the ideas of Black Liberation theology and Liberation Theology creep in unnoticed. After all, I am talking about a Christian denomination with a seminary that recently held a read-in session involving the writings of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter is an open heretic while the former is a black Muslim who holds to some extremely radical and disturbing views. Pray for the leaders of the SBC and her pastors. If the trend continues, the denomination will surely collapse, split and splinter into a number of smaller denominations. That outcome is actually more attractive from my point of view.
What must absolutely have to happen in order for us to rescue Christianity from American Politics? We must admit that it needs to be rescued. This involves additional admission and acknowledgment that there is something unattractive about American Politics that does not belong, but has yet invaded, the church. What is are the unattractive features of American Politics? Christians have to stop seeing God as a one-dimensional being: the God of love. God is love but love is not God and the more I listen to Christians, the more I think they have no clue who God actually is. The slightest rebuke of sin and heresy is deemed unloving. These people seem to be completely ignorant and uninformed of who God is and what God is like. No, it is not okay to stop calling abortion murder because the culture thinks such language is just too strong, is offensive, ignorant, and incendiary. I am not arguing that our tone and attitude do not matter when we correct or rebuke the culture. They do matter to a degree. The tone one uses is situational. There is a difference in how we correct error and immorality. But the notion that we have to sugar-coat the truth in order to make it more palatable is simply intolerable. If anything is unethical, that is.
We need leaders who are willing to be marginalized, mocked, slandered, and humiliated if we are to stand any chance of rescuing Christianity from American Politics. As long as our leaders care about results and image, we are in trouble. If you are heading into the ministry, you should know that if you do it right, you are heading into the hardest job in the history of humanity. There isn’t a more difficult job than being a shepherd of God’s flock. If you care about prestige, power, leaving a legacy, recognition, respectability in the eyes of the culture, then do NOT choose the ministry. You will make all the wrong decisions for all the wrong reasons.
God is the one to whom you report, not your congregation, not the deacons, not even the elders. It is to him that you will give an account for your actions, and yes, your motives. An example of this can be seen in who men invite into their churches to speak. Did you expose your congregation to that particular man because he is clearly a skilled instrument in the hands of God to edify and equip the body over which God has placed you or did you do it for appearance? Was he there for political reasons? Are you casting an image? Are you preaching to the needs of your congregation or are you preaching for others who are watching you preach to your congregation? Unless you are tuned in to the needs of your congregation, you are not really going to know what is pressing upon them. And the only way to know them is to get out of the office and go see them. Spend some time with time. Have your elders spending time with them. If there isn’t structured discipleship in place, it will be challenging for you to know your church.
Can Christianity be rescued from the clutches of American Politics? She can, but only if she understands who God is and what he is like and only if her leaders are willing to be social misfits for the name of Christ. Otherwise, Christianity will simply march along in unison with all the other religions and movements and causes, vying for power and vainglory while millions perish without the true gospel. But hey, so long as we can end abortion, achieve racial reconciliation, obtain economic equality, end sex trafficking, and stop all injustice in the world, that’s really all that matters. Right?