Sunday, November 09, 2008

Politics - What Have We Learned?

And so ends the protracted presidential election season that runs practically for two years but usually begins much earlier. A freshman senator with only two years of national experience has been elected as president, and even with his youth and inexperience he has proven to a formidable candidate with an unusual degree of intelligence, patience, and political acumen. Regardless of our political persuasion, we can pray for his safety and that we as believers can lead a “peaceable life”.

But watching and listening during this entire political narrative has showcased many things. The fact that an African American has been elected as president in a nation where only forty years ago he would have been denied equal rights is amazing and speaks well of the racial progress that has been made here. As long as men are still fallen racism will exist, but tens of millions of white Americans cast their votes for Barak Obama which many people thought would never happen, at least not yet. To his credit Obama ran as a candidate, not a black candidate, which in the end was what many white people were looking for.

And within the political contest there was of course the usual back and forth, the rough and tumble of political seasons. Gossip and name calling, insinuation and character assassination, old stories and new ones, were a few of the aspects of a campaign that replaced substance with slogans and themes. Joe the plumber, change we need, not ready to lead, and chants of “yes we can” were much more effective than detailed plans of future action, which judging by previous presidential campaigns, are mostly worthless promises that will fade after the election. Ah yes, the satisfying ambiance of an American presidential election that has wasted over a billion dollars with travel, campaign adds, and a general strategic plan to manipulate the electorate to vote for the particular candidate. And throughout the process, we revel in our freedom that allows us to be manipulated not realizing that usually the candidate with the most money wins. Curious, no?

But what about us as believers? What have we seen during this campaign that would distinguish us as followers and imitators of Jesus Christ? Was our speech seasoned with grace and our attitudes clothed with humility? Did the church treat Barak Obama with respect and honor, even while disagreeing with some of his moral issues? And even though many of us would not consider him to be born again, could we rejoice in his journey which led him from very difficult circumstances to be where he his? Were we as believers able to be a shining city on a hill which projected the light of God’s grace in the midst of the carnal turmoil and the ungracious cacophony of political rhetoric? Or for the most part, armed with our moral righteousness, did we blend in and participate with a tangible collaboration with unbelievers?

I have heard the most unchristian and ungracious verbiage from believers this year, including many that are usually humble and gracious otherwise. Speaking as if they are speaking for God, many have been unkind and judgmental in their castigation of “liberals” which is a derisive term meant to project people as socially immoral and economically socialist while being unbiblical silent about the redemptive love God has shown for those very people. It begins with an unbiblical “love” for this country, and escalates into an entirely unredemptive discourse during election cycles. And believers by the millions will listen to carnal murmurers and complainers called talk show hosts who accumulate wealth by attacking others mercilessly. Is there anything less Christian?

Although I am decidedly non-participatory in politics, I could never vote for someone who espoused abortion, that would seem to me to trump all other issues. However the body of Christ has rejected being quiet and prayerful, exercising their right to vote in a demonstration of faith and obedience to God while remaining faithful to His commands about being humble, gracious, and being conduits of reconciliation. Instead the “religious right” has embraced Biblical morality and joined in the roar of the political war, and jettisoned the imitation the life of Christ and the sacrifice of the cross. The profound message of the gospel is sacrificed upon the altar of national morality, which usually is only given lip service by politicians whose biblical morality runs a fresher course in election years.

Where is the gospel in all this? And I recognize it is difficult for believers to extricate themselves from such a mess since we have been told since birth that the political process is our duty and Christians must be “engaged”. Well, we are not just engaged, we are now married to a process which represents the accuser to a much greater degree than it represents the Heavenly Father. In reality, the essence of Christianity, believing and imitating Jesus Christ, has been lost through a redefining and what it means to follow Christ which is now centered primarily on the righteousness of our moral views and not the painful crucifixion of our entire lives. We refuse to be defrauded or maligned, and we will retaliate with force and self righteous portrayals of our moral and economic enemies, including nasty and hurtful labels and a general dismissiveness of all their accomplishments. Some will even go so far as suggesting that our opponents are anti-christ..

It continues to be a disgusting display of rancor and unchristlike behavior that is counter productive to the gospel and the spiritual life of the church. And speaking from experience, I know what it is to feel nothing but disdain for people like Pelosi, Reid, Kennedy, and men like Barak Obama because I used to be caught up with politics. It seems to squeeze out the worst in people, and the evil one has succeeded in hiding the light of the church under the bushel of partisan politics. Can we not see, as well as feel, that our attitudes and speech are not emulations of Christ? Have we become so “politically active” that we have become blind to our own spiritual wretchedness as we mimic the unredemptive discourse that always fuels the political debate? The hypocrisy of our own candidate is minimized while the hypocrisy of the opposing candidate is maximized which illuminates the overwhelming hypocrisy within our own hearts.

I would suggest that all believers take inventory of the spiritual productivity of participating in the political process. But if you still feel an obligation, should we not do it with a different and unique spirit that is remarkable with the general context of that process? Shouldn’t Christians use the political season the preach the gospel “in season”? Should we not vote with humility and a profound sense of God’s sovereignty and protection? And in the midst of strife and attack, shouldn’t the church be participating in that unfortunate spectacle with the message of reconciliation and not with adding to the partisan strife? Call me old fashioned, call me an ostrich, but I believe that politics can and should be used as a vehicle for lifting up Christ, not for the continuing mirage that suggests that carnal mess accomplishes God’s will.

Should Jesus tarry, perhaps in 2012 we as believers can be used of God to spread the gospel to the lost hearts of people who must be by now hungry for change in their own lives. Up till now in political seasons we have only offered them the cotton candy of political elections whose “hope” dissolves soon after the final vote is counted.