Wednesday, October 15, 2008

McCain or Obama?

I, like most of the people I know, have been very attentive to the upcoming presidential election. In what has been the longest campaign of its kind in history, so much distortion, half-truths and outright lies have been told (by people on both sides) that I find myself succumbing to politics fatigue. Less than 3 weeks left and I wonder how much more political palaver I can take.

The only thing worse than the political campaigns are the apocalyptic warnings that are being sounded from the right and the left. Somehow, it seems to be more fitting coming from the latter than the former--not because I agree with the left. Hardly. But because so many on the right are quick to invoke God, the Bible and Jesus in getting out the vote.

Lest I be dismissed as a pietist or a liberal, let me simply restate my views on these issues.
I recognize the church has a prophetic role to play in relation to political powers. "Speaking truth to power" may have been sloganized by liberals but it is an apt description of the church's responsibility to civil authorities. This is a part of the church's calling as the pillar and ground of the truth.
As "citizen-kings" I believe Christian Americans have a responsibility to try to direct public policy and laws toward justice and mercy. I have written on that before. But I do not think that any church should allow itself to be co-opted by any political impulse that results in the confusing of its message of Jesus Christ crucified. Yet, such confusion emanates from well-meaning but misguided political activism by churches done in the name of Jesus.

My wife and I sat next to a young man from Hawaii on an airplane a few years ago. The conversation we had with him illustrated the mixed messages that too often are being sent by conservative Christian churches. He was raised by his parents to be atheistic, but he was very open to discussing what the Bible says about Christ. When he finally pegged us as "conservative Christians," I asked him what he knew about Christianity. He responded by saying that all he know about "conservative Christians" is that "they want to force their political agendas on everybody else."

Caricature? Of course. But his perception is far from unique. It is too common, and much of the presidential political activism that churches are promoting feeds those mistaken ideas. That is why I think it is vitally important to distinguish between what a church does and says and what individual Christians say and do in the political arena. I largely agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this point when he said, the rise of evangelical interest in politics is "sheer folly" because "you can't reform the world."

The church is the only institution that has been commissioned with the task of preaching the Gospel. God forbid that we should trade that mandate for any level of political influence held out by either Democrats or Republicans.

As the campaign winds down (and no doubt, heats up even more), I will work to remember Psalm 146:3, which says,
Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
Whether McCain or Obama wins the election, the kingdom of Jesus Christ will continue on. If your man wins, he will not be able to do what we desperately must have done. If your man loses, his defeat will not be even a speed bump in slowing the advance of the eternal cause and purposes of Jesus Christ.

Remembering that will help get us through not only the next 3 weeks, or 4 years, or 8 years, but also the rest of human history.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Racism, the Gospel and Presidential Politics

I grew up in racially volatile times. Racial integration came to my elementary school in 1967. It was a confusing time for blacks and whites alike. My high school had race riots for six consecutive years before my senior year (1975) broke the cycle. Both my mind and body were scarred during those times.

In one particularly painful (and bloody) episode, while being admitted to the Emergency Room at the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, the Lord gave me a glimpse into the perverse racism in my heart and exposed my superficial understanding of sin and grace.

That experience built upon an earlier one that came when, as a middle-schooler, I chose to read and write a report on John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me. Griffin helped me understand that I did not know what I did not know about racism.

I resolved then, as a young teenager, that I would forever stand against racial bigotry. I stood up for black friends who were threatened by white friends. I wept and burned with anger when my white pastor refused to baptize my black friend, Josey. At the principal's request, I gave a speech over the Public Adress system of South Park High School, pleading for racial harmony. I gave another one, after asking our coaches to leave, to my racially divided football teammates.

So, I thought I was racially sensitive and enlightened and free from bigotry, until that Christmas night in th ER. But the bitterness, hatred and rage that poured out of me against not just the black men who had beaten me but against a whole race of people shattered my self-righteous delusions about living above the fray of racial tensions that characterized so much of my context.

Since then, I have learned something about the doctrine of remaining sin and have come to understand that there are some things that I simply cannot understand about the insidious sin of racism. That is why I read Eric Redmond's post today with such interest and appreciation. It is entitled, "How Can Any Christian African American Vote for Obama? Throwing the Race Card on an All Black Table."

Eric, who served us very well in his Founders Breakfast address last month, thoughtfully analyzes this issue from an insider's perspective. You may not agree with the arguments that he highlights--indeed, he doesn't ask you to--but you can gain helpful insights into many of the racial issues that are woven into the fabric of American society. He gives several thoughtful reasons why sincere African American Christians will indeed vote for Obama. It is a very helpful read, especially for white folks.

I commend it to everyone who believes that Jesus Christ "is our peace who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16). The same Gospel that reconciles sinners to God also reconciles sinners to each other and is able to build blacks and whites and every other race and ethnicity into the one body of Jesus Christ.

As that happens, God's wisdom and glory are put on display in His church.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

The Audacity of Hope: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

I received the following from Kairos Journal today:
Dr. Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, has been one of the great defenders of the sanctity of life and traditional marriage in our time. One of his students, Sherif Gergis, a 2008 Princeton Graduate and Rhodes Scholar, has written a powerful letter to U.S. Senator Barack Obama on the subject of the protection of unborn human life. Professor George has asked that the following letter be read carefully and distributed widely.
Sherif's letter is brilliant in its simplicity. Here is the final paragraph:
Can we provide every member of the human family equal protection under the law? Your record as a legislator gives a resounding answer: No, we can't. That is the answer the Confederacy gave the Union, the answer segregationists gave young children, the answer a complacent bus driver once gave a defiant Rosa Parks. But a different answer brought your father from Kenya so many years ago; a different answer brought my family from Egypt some years later. Now is your chance, Senator Obama, to make good on the spontaneous slogan of your campaign, to adopt the more American and more humane answer to the question of whether we can secure liberty and justice for all: Yes, we can.
Read the whole letter here.

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