Thursday, November 29, 2012


My inner conservative has had its say concerning the election (See here). How should God’s church respond to the results? From a secular conservative viewpoint, one can take to heart that the margin of victory for President Obama was razor thin, that supporters of same-sex marriage barely outnumber those who are against it. Yet considering what this election means for the unborn, for the rights of Christians to participate in the culture, the Church can’t find much good to be gleaned from the results. The Church is getting advice from the evangelical left and the evangelical right on how to respond. The Church needs to ignore much of the advice from both sides.

The evangelical left tries to convince Christians that conservative Christian involvement in the political process has caused a mass exodus of young people from the Church as well as a rise in atheism. This has been the theme of many posts and comments on the Out of Ur blog and Scott McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. According to these blogs and those like them, the religious right’s goal is to take control of the political process to advance its agenda. The results of the election supposedly show that the American people have finally said no to this religious right power grab. The results are supposedly confirmation that the Church should no longer prioritize pro life causes and the defense of traditional marriage; younger evangelicals are more interested in social justice for the poor.

There is indeed an exodus of young people from the Church. There also exists a much higher public profile for atheists. Yet are these trends attributable to evangelical Christian political activity? Lifeway did a study on why adults who grew up in the Church left when they became adults. 59% of the respondents cited “changes in their life situation.” Two of the specific life situations mentioned was hectic schedules and family responsibilities. In other words, what is drawing most people out of the Church is not the Church’s stand on social issues, but the lure of contemporary culture. “If you were of the world,” Jesus told his disciples, “the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19). The allegiance to the culture is what drives most people to withdraw from church. The young, who like to think of themselves as non-conformists, are the most conformist of all. Evangelical political activity in and of itself doesn’t offend the young in churches; the young are offended when evangelical stands on social issues threaten their standing with their peers. When Roe v. Wade was decided, the majority in this nation supported abortion,including evangelicals. But now opinion has changed. The debate over partial birth abortion helped change so many minds that there is now a pro life majority in the U.S. Even the former president of the National Abortion Rights Action League has admitted that abortion advocates have lost the battle for the hearts of the young. Polls show that the majority of young evangelical Christians are pro life. Being so doesn’t cost them in terms of acceptance with the culture at large. But a large percentage of young evangelical Christians are accepting of same sex lifestyles. The evangelical left states that this acceptance is the result of increasing contact with friends, relatives, and co-workers who are involved in such relationships. This assertion is correct. But what the evangelical left does not realize is that in making this assertion, it is admitting that the young are being influenced by the culture. Young evangelicals don’t want to be hated. As they are increasingly drawn into the culture, they will become less, not more, interested in the poor. A friend who is a youth pastor told me that the young don’t want to be bothered with pastoral visits. They prefer contact through social media. Social media is causing people to withdraw into themselves and become less social. They want to be left alone. The tweets, e-mails, and Facebook posts of young evangelicals are filled with God’s name, but their hearts are far from Him. They want to be identified with God’s brand name, but they don’t want to follow Him. As young evangelicals withdraw into their own private world, they will shun true accountability and friendship. As they close their hearts so to exclude fellowship, they will close their hearts so to exclude the poor as well. It will be conservative evangelicals who will bear the burden of seeking social justice for the most vulnerable, not the young influenced by the culture.

While the evangelical left misinterprets the results of the election, there are lessons from the results that conservative evangelicals had better heed. Too many evangelicals equate conservative social values with the gospel itself. For many, promotion of conservative social values is a safe substitute for witnessing for Christ. Our churches are full of people who bring their families to church to be exposed to these values, but who never have repented of their sins. Because churches are doing good things, such as standing for the unborn and traditional marriage, churches have become complacent, thinking all is well . I know a woman who has been involved with the pro life movement for years. One day she went to a revival service at another church. It was at that service that she realized she had not been born again. She had been brought into our church through the pro life movement, but being pro life and working to stop abortion did not save her. She had been involved with our church for years, and no one knew she had not been saved, including herself. Her testimony how she was saved at that service was a surprise to me. Much of the church’s social values are accepted by society at large. I used to participate in the annual Mother’s Day Walk for Life in my hometown. To my surprise, the response from most those who drove by was positive. And this is a university town. I was all for the Chick Fil A day to protest governmental coercion directed towards the evangelical beliefs of the company’s president. Many considered Chick Fil A’s record sales that day as a witness for the gospel. Yet I am sure that many, perhaps half, of those who showed up that day were not born again, but are just as opposed to government coercion as much as evangelicals are. I was heartened by the response, as well as by the failure of the counter demonstration. Yet this success made many evangelicals think that they had won the culture war and that this success would translate into political power. The election was a rude awakening. Evangelical social values are indeed held by a great many people in this country. But those values don’t translate into the passion necessary to transform this country. Nor do they create conditions necessary for a revival. As evangelicals, we must realize that the truly born again will always be in the minority. We will never be validated by a culture that is becoming increasingly secular.

But does this indicate that conservative evangelicals should abandon the political arena. The evangelical left hopes that this would be the case. But so do some on the evangelical right. Both liberal and conservative Christians contend that because the early Church didn’t participate in the political arena, neither should the Church today. However, the early Christians did not have the option to participate in the political arena. They were subjects of the Roman Empire, not citizens in a democracy. But the early Church did engage the culture. In the Roman world, the weak did not survive. If someone became sick, families most often abandoned them. If soldiers became too old to perform their duties, they were executed. It was the Church’s ministry to the sick and the infirm which birthed hospitals into existence. It was the Church’s ministry to the most vulnerable which converted the Empire more than anything else. Tertullian reported that when Romans witnessed how Christians treated each other as well as those outside the Church, the Romans would exclaim “See how they love one another!" Some conservative evangelicals think the Church’s witness consists solely of declaring the need of being born again. They say our fight is not against abortion or same sex marriage, but for the gospel. How would these evangelicals have responded to Christian missionary efforts to stop the practice of burning widows in India? Would they have cautioned Mary Slessor, a missionary to the African nation of Nigeria, to just spread the gospel and not be concerned about the practice of exposing twin infants, a practice she was instrumental in stopping? I hear the Christians left and right say evangelicals have no business operating in the political arena. Do they condemn the actions of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran? Nadarkhani is the pastor who until recently released from prison faced execution. He was arrested for questioning the Muslim monopoly on childrens' religious education. Was the pastor right to petition the government on these matters? The Shouwang Church in China holds an outdoor demonstration every Sunday to protest the government’s refusal to allow the Church to have a building of it's own. Is this a sin? In East Africa, widows are often forced off their land by their deceased husband’s family. Should the Church stay out of this conflict and not petition the government on their behalf? Should the Church quit its campaign against human trafficking? The first Christians didn't have the option to democratically influence the government. However, they used what options they had to influence government and the culture. Tertullian sought to influence the culture through the written word. Here is what he wrote concerning attempts to coerce Christians in religious matters : "You think that others, too, are gods, whom we know to be devils. However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us—the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. You will render no real service to your gods by compelling us to sacrifice. For they can have no desire of offerings from the unwilling, unless they are animated by a spirit of contention, which is a thing altogether undivine." (From Dan Chapa's Traditional Baptist Chronicles blog.) Was it permissible for Christians to influence society through the written word, but not permissible for modern American Christians to engage in the legal and political process to prevent the government from coercing them in matters of conscience? Is it permissible for Christians in other lands to seek to influence their government's policy towards the Church, but not permissible for American evangelicals to do the same? Christians feed the poor in response to scriptures command. Should not Christians use every legitimate weapon at their disposal to challenge New York City's ban on feeding the homeless? Should Christians stay out of such matters and just share the gospel? Someone recently wrote (I forget who) that non involvement in the political and cultural arena indicates a lack of care concerning God’s world. Christian social values are not the gospel. But Church history shows that wherever the gospel has been preached, the Church has actively influenced the surrounding culture on behalf the most vulnerable. And this in turn increased the impact of the gospel in the culture at large. Who were those most resistant to Jesus' ministry in the gospels? It was the religious leaders. But when the Church solved the problem of feeding the Grecian widows in Acts, "Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciple multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7) It was the evangelical revival in England that spawned the anti-slavery movement as well as a host of other reforms that made society more humane. Secular historians credit John Wesley with preventing England from having its own French Revolution. Wesley said that there is no holiness without social holiness. What he meant was that as one grows in holiness, one begins to share God’s love for the poor and oppressed and becomes actively involved in lifting their burdens. Wesley’s last letter was written to William Wilberforce, encouraging him in his battle to end slavery in the British Empire. Wesley wrote, "Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a "law" in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?" (From The United Methodist Women website.) There was no counsel from Wesley to Wilberforce to leave the political arena.

Even if a great revival sweeps this land, there will be a day when the forces of secularization will triumph. In the meantime, the Church is called to engage in social holiness, which entails involvement in political and cultural engagement. Social values are not the gospel. That is true. It is a temptation for the Church to forget this, as well as to rely on the political process alone to win the war of values with the secular forces arrayed against the church. When the Church falls into this temptation, the proper response is repentance, not withdrawal, even in the face of certain defeat.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections On The 2012 Election, Part I

The election is over. My inner conservative tells me the wrong man won. Yet no one can state with certainty that God’s will was not done. While Mitt Romney was better qualified, one can say that neither was the right man for the job. Some may say that President Obama’s victory thwarted God’s will for this country. It may be that the choice we had reflected God’s will for a country that has turned its back on Him. We could say that the choice we had was what we deserved. When Americans, including those who claim to be Christ’s disciples, are incensed by bad calls from replacement refs and grieve not that the two parent family is now the minority in America, God will give us leaders that will accelerate our decline. This line of thinking will be emphasized more in part II of this post. In part I, I would like to analyze the election from a politically conservative point of view.

Mitt Romney was not the best candidate we could have put forward. His voters were more motivated by defeating Obama than out of any loyalty to Romney. Like George W. Bush, Romney saw himself primarily as a manager who would bring his business skills to governance. While such skills are valuable in managing government, the downside of this self-image is that managers are not visionaries. They are oblivious to the need to inspire. Romney’s message was, “I have business experience. I can turn our economy around.” I am sure he had the skills. But he lacked the ability to move audiences. His history of flip-flopping on issues prevented him from gaining the loyalty of conservative voters. Here is an interesting little statistic. Over the years, I have written three blog articles concerning Romney which featured his name in the title. The page views of all three combined total less than 100. I wrote one article on Rick Santorum in December of last year. That one article has had over four hundred page views. Mitt Romney was not able to generate interest in Mitt Romney. I didn’t vote for Romney in the primary, even though he had sowed up the nomination at that point. (In truth, he bought the nomination with his own money.) With his record, Obama should have been beatable. Yet conservative voters were told by the experts that Romney was the only candidate capable of beating the President. One reason, we were told, was that Romney emphasized the economy and put social issues on the backburner. Santorum, we were told, didn’t have a prayer because his only issues were abortion and gay marriage (which was untrue). Romney deemphasized social issues and lost. Now the same experts tell us voters were turned off by conservatives’ stand on issues such as abortion and same sex marriage. I wonder which battle will be more ferocious for conservatives in 2016, running against liberals or the attempt to purge conservatives from the Republican Party. Obama’s win is certainly not an endorsement. He barely squeaked by in the popular vote. He lost eight million voters who supported him in 2008. Ever since 1832, incumbent presidents who won reelection increased their share of the popular vote. Not Obama. If three million registered Republicans did not stay away from the polls, Romney would have won by 180,000 votes (although Obama may have still won in the Electoral College). Many of these voters probably thought Romney was going to win and so did not bother to vote. A candidate who was more inspiring would have brought many of these voters to the polls.

Despite the propaganda from the Democrats and the media, liberalism didn’t carry the day everywhere. Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming passed measures limiting Obamacare. The conservative position on taxation was victorious in Washington, Arizona, South Dakota, and Missouri. Oklahoma voters said no to government race-based preferences in college admissions, public contracting, and government hiring. Montana voters voted against boundless benefits for illegal aliens. They also supported parental notification for minors seeking abortions. Republicans increased the number of governorships they hold. They not only took the governorship in North Carolina, they increased their share of congressional representation as well as took control of the state assembly. The GOP took control of the Arkansas legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. It also won super majorities in Tennessee. (I am assuming that most of these wins are conservative wins which will be beneficial to implementing policies Evangelical Christians can support.) Yes, two states and Washington D.C. approved same-sex marriage. This may, or may not, signal a trend. These are the only victories for those favoring legalization out of over thirty electoral contests. We will see if legalization will carry the day in states which have already voted legalization down, especially since Obama will not be on the ballot.

Conservatives still have an uphill battle to climb. Why is that? I’ll begin by reposting part of an article I wrote on 11/6/08 after Obama’s election. It is called The Bush Effect and the Conservative Dilemma:

"First, who is it that generally gets elected President? Those whom the public knows little about or those who have been out of the national spotlight for years. FDR was a Governor, not a Washington politician. Eisenhower was not a political figure. JFK was a Senator, yet he was an unknown quantity. Nixon had been out of office for eight years. Carter was totally obscure. Reagan was a former Governor. Clinton was a Governor. Bush II ditto. Obama is certainly the most obscure in his origins of any recent President. Ever since the election of James Polk in 1844, most of those elected President were what we call "Dark Horses." Our greatest President, Lincoln, was one of the most unknown quantities ever to reach the White House.

If we look at the roster of Republican candidates from the 1990's, almost all of them were well known Washington insiders: Dole, Kemp, Quayle, Graham. While we have two potential leaders in state office now, Palin and Jindal, why is there such a dearth of quality Conservative Republican political figures outside of Washington that can rise to national leadership?

The first element of the Conservative Dilemma is that there is a natural antipathy among Conservatives to make government a career. Conservatives distrust government and have no desire to control peoples' lives. They may consider it an honor to represent the people for a while, but they have no desire to make public service a lifetime calling. Liberals, on the other hand have an overwhelming desire to achieve control over every aspect of our private lives and are willing to spend their lives regulating you and me, patiently waiting for the day when we will have finally surrendered all our liberties to the governing class.

The second element is that Liberalism/Socialism lends itself to lofty rhetoric. Political stars are made of those who can roil the passions of the ignorant with high sounding but empty oratory. The promise to take care of everyone from the cradle to the grave is more capable of aligning itself with this oratory than a message of helping ourselves without the assistance of government. While Conservatism has a few giants of political discourse, such as Reagan, it is harder for a Conservative to join great oratory to the Conservative message.

This dilemma is the reason why there are fewer viable national Conservative candidates. This dilemma is the reason why Conservatives are the underdog in the struggle against Liberalism. This dilemma is the reason why Bush was the only viable alternative in 2000. For Conservatives to prevail in the future, they are going to have to develop candidates who are genuine outsiders to the Washington establishment who can articulate true Conservative ideals. True Conservatives, unlike Romney, Huckabee, or Paul. Reagan was elected because some wealthy California businessmen recognized his potential and gave their lives and money to getting him elected. We need the same dedication among monied Conservatives today to elevate viable Conservatives from state politics to national prominence. If this was realized sooner, perhaps Conservatives will have more than one candidate to choose from instead of being stuck with a viable but quasi Conservative."

The 2012 election bears this out. We saw conservatives in the House retain their majority, yet conservatives seem to have difficulty finding quality candidates to run for the Senate. Part of the reason has to do with what I wrote in the 2008 article. Liberals seek out promising young people who are trained to articulate liberal positions and to implement them once in power. For those of us who graduated from secular colleges and universities, we can remember when elections were held for student government. There were always certain candidates who always had the most professional looking posters. They almost always won. And many end up in political positions, mostly in Democratic administrations. Liberal political operatives fund these candidates. When I was in college, there was one candidate in student government whose tuition was paid by a local lawyer. Soon after this person graduated, this individual ended up in the state House of Delegates and then the state Senate. It is expected that this person will end up either in Congress or as governor. Liberal political science majors are given the right scholarships through the assistance of liberal Democrat political science professors. This helps these students gain greater access to the powerful. Bill Clinton was sponsored by Senator William Fulbright and received a Rhodes scholarship. Obama and his wife were also sponsored. Future liberal politicians are trained to articulate and implement liberal positions. Conservatives have no such network or training on such a scale. Many conservative candidates are new to politics. They become alarmed over the direction the country is taking and so they decide to enter the political arena. Their heart is in the right place, but to the public, they appear to be hopeless amateurs. I think Paul Ryan was an exception. This kind of trained sophistication was probably the reason why when he was asked a question on abortion at the Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan paused before he spoke. Ryan didn’t want to misspeak as Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch did on the issue. I especially felt sorry for Murdoch, whose words were twisted to mean something he didn’t intend. Yet those who publicly advocate a pro life message have the responsibility to learn how to articulate that message. Failure to do so results in ridicule, lost elections, and more aborted babies. In the 2008 post, I wrote how liberals have an intensity to regulate our lives and patiently wait until we have surrendered to them all our liberties. This intensity gave birth to the permanent campaign. After winning in 2008, the Obama campaign never closed its campaign offices. Their campaign headquarters vastly outnumbered Republican headquarters. This allowed Obama to win in states such as Iowa, where pro life conservative voters have traditionally vastly outnumbered pro choice liberals. Obama began running negative ads against Romney months before the campaign began in the fall. Romney didn’t even try to answer these attacks until the convention. Apparently Republicans still think that presidential campaigns don’t begin in earnest until after Labor Day. Haven’t they learned anything form Clinton’s election yet? Conservatives may have outreach to Hispanics and African Americans. They have conservative positions on political and social issues. But liberals have influenced them to vote according to demographics, not principle. Conservatives have yet to mold their political passion into as an effective political weapon as liberals. It remains to be seen whether they will be overwhelmed by a liberal passion which never seems to cool and will not rest until their opponents are vanquished.

After the election, some conservative writers tried to console their readers. They said for every 1992, there is a 1994, for every 2008, there is a 2010. There is some truth to that. We cannot forget that the forces that shaped the 2010 election still exist and may thwart much of the liberal agenda. Yet this may have been THE big election. Obamacare will be the law of the land. There is no prospect of Congress repealing it. If we ever have conservative control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, it may be so entrenched it may never be repealed. Its scope will only expand. Romney’s election may have been our only chance for repeal. And even then, considering his past record, it is possible he would have let it stay in place. Had he tried to repeal it, a Democratic Senate probably would have stopped him. For this, we can thank Chief Justice John Roberts, whose decision allowed Obamacare to remain the law of the land as a tax. I am convinced he did so as a political maneuver, hoping that by not striking the law down, healthcare would have been the issue that would defeat Obama. God has given us the leaders we deserve.