Sunday, November 11, 2012

A call for repentance

The 2012 general election proved to be a disaster for Christian culture warriors.  Not only did President Obama, whom they bitterly opposed, win another term but Democrats also picked up seats in the U.S. Senate and -- more ominously -- voters in three more states approved referenda allowing same-gender matrimony.  As can be expected, some of them have called on the nation to repent.

They, however, forget one thing:  Judgment always begins with the household of God -- that is, with His Body, the church.  And before it calls on the nation to repent of its sins, it needs to get its own house in order.  It is my conviction that its failure to address its own sins at least indirectly caused the situation about which they're complaining today.

Let's go through the Ten Commandments to show you what I'm talking about.

1) "You shall have no other gods before Me."  But look at just how many folks have made politics into a god, with folks making statements that God would judge us because we didn't outlaw abortion or send gays back into the closet.  Anyway, there is one thing that God will judge us for -- and (surprise, surprise) it's not those big two.  (I'll get to that later.)

3)  "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God."  So how do we place His name on policies that He never endorsed, even implicitly?

7)  "You shall not steal."  That also includes hope for the poor, which I'll also deal with down the road.

9)  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  If you haven't heard, the gossip about President Obama counts as such.  No, he's not a Muslim or a socialist -- the true socialists will tell you that he's certainly not that -- and he was born in this country.

To their credit, the majority of evangelical churches keep their pulpits politics-free and are not participating in the hand-wringing I referred to earlier.  Now, this is not the same as avoiding political issues -- last month the pastor of my church preached a series on homosexuality -- but he never intended it to divide people in that way.  The problem with the culture war is that every victory represents gloating and every defeat means depression ("What's going to happen to us?"); however, that speaks to a lack of trust in God to preserve His people.

The primary criterion on which God does judge is -- wait for it -- how nations treat the powerless, and that's where the church has definitely fallen short.  For the past three decades many conservative Christians have pursued a corporate-friendly ideology that has had the effect of damaging the economic and political prospects of those of lesser means, never mind that the Old Testament prophets denounced unjust economic systems; I see nothing in the Bible that suggests that following Christ means that you have to oppose, say, labor unions.  Even with Sodom and Gomorrah, God took them out primarily because of how their citizens neglected the poor; the sexual perversion came out of that (Ezekiel 16-49 and 50).  And it seemed that Lot, nephew of Abraham, even moved there because he saw it as a place where he felt he could make money.

Going farther, while many of us actually talk about caring for them, the best thing that can be done for them is to give them the dignity, opportunity and power to make their own choices.  But that also includes voting, and it's an open secret that, over the past couple of years, Republican-dominated legislatures passed voter-ID laws (many struck down or, here in Pennsylvania, delayed) ostensibly to keep them from voting again for Obama -- and, perhaps more telling, against them (their often-transient lifestyles lead to the lack of ID).  However, I can't think of any Christian leader who spoke out against the true intent of such laws -- did they really believe the spin that they were needed to combat fraud (which in practice is virtually non-existent)?

Which leads to another issue:  Why aren't we concerned about the rights of others?  I still haven't forgotten that many of the opponents of the civil-rights movement were conservative Christians -- perhaps even then they feared the loss of their privileged status -- and the words of Martin Luther King Jr., in their proper context, would still convict them today.  They've over the years tried to sanitize him, his "I Have a Dream" speech supposedly declaring color-blindness when he meant nothing of the sort and insisting that he was a Republican partisan (not in 1964 he wasn't).

Bottom line, we in the church need to repent of one thing:  Selfishness based on idolatry.  We need to remember that whatever we have -- a house, a car, money in the bank, the social status that come from them etc. -- are but gifts from God and still belong to Him to be used for His purposes.  It seems to be that, for some of us, government exists only to protect "my status and my stuff," and that has to change before God can move the way we want Him to (and in the way He Himself desires).

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