Over at Patheos, I just blogged on who I’m voting for this presidential election season. This topic afforded me the chance to talk more broadly about how abortion is not simply a position, one among many that we could choose. It is instead a holistic theology. It is, specifically, a theology of death.
Category Archives: politics
In my first piece over at ThoughtLife, I tackle this question. As I did on Thursday, I urge you to, in the words of Tina Fey, “go to there.” Subscribe to ThoughtLife, sign up for it in your RSS feed, and generally patronize this new blog, which is now the home of my “content blogging.”
Here’s a snippet:
Here’s what caught my attention in this segment, though: can anyone reasonably expect to “resurrect” liberal Protestantism? Forget the political issues involved here and the rather soft journalism at play in this piece. This is one of the more interesting questions one encounters in the study of modern American Christianity. Richard Wightman Fox, progressive Christian and author of a classic biography on Reinhold Niebuhr, once mused out loud in a fascinating essay that the dynamic of liberal Protestantism–specifically, its shaping by the culture–set it on a collision course with enlightened secular thought.
In other words, the liberal Protestants were so shaped by cultural mores that their project was essentially destined to merge with the culture. This is a brilliant insight, and it tells a great deal of the story of liberal Protestantism in the last 100 years.
If you’re so inclined, use the hashtag code #youngcons on Twitter while Tweeting in Twitteresque ways about the second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
A bunch of, well, young conservatives used this hashtag for the VP debate and saw a major response. It may just crack the Twitter top ten tonight, and that might inspire visions of global domination. You never know (not that one wants to aim too high or anything).
Here are a couple of Christianity Today pieces I wrote recently on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, by the way. And here’s a very good one from my buddy Denny Burk on the importance of bringing pro-life convictions to bear on voting. Evangelical conservatives are of course “whole life” advocates–we wish for holistic human flourishing at all stages of life. But to get to all the stages of life, of course, one has to exist, and not be killed in the womb.
Last night, in the Vice Presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the recent debacle in Libya which culminated in the horrifying killing of a U. S. Ambassador with barely a whisper from executive office (full transcript here):
RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why — why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on (inaudible)?
BIDEN: Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there are any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again.
RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.
BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around these words. A sitting Vice President of America blames the intelligence community on what happened in Libya? Perhaps intelligence was lacking–that’s way above my pay grade. But this blame-shifting seems problematic.
In my view, a good leader takes the blame and spreads the credit. A bad leader spreads the blame and takes the credit. Surely there is complexity in major matters of state, just like there is in business, spiritual life, and elsewhere. But at the end of the day, a virtuous leader will fall on the grenade. He won’t pass it to others.
The emblem of this kind of others-centered leadership is Jesus Christ. In the most profound metaphysical way, he took our blame and gave us his merit (see Romans 4-5). This is the image of leadership that animates us as Christians. It changes the way we move and act and inspire and repent. We are those who are free to acknowledge our sin, our failing, because God has been lavish with his grace, and nothing can separate us from it.
For those of you who like basketball, here’s an interesting parallel. Now that Steve Nash, 2005-06 NBA MVP, is on the Lakers (swallowing bile now), Kobe Bryant–alpha male of alpha males–took the opportunity to tell Nash that he won his trophy because Bryant was playing with subpar teammates: “I tell Steve, you won MVP but I was playing with Smush Parker,” he said. This is a perfect illustration of what we’re discussing here. Never mind that Kobe is the NBA’s worst proponent of “hero ball” (and not terribly good at it, statistically) and that he is nursing wounds from six years ago despite the fact that he has won five rings, been MVP, and Nash has won no championships. He has the temerity to dog an ex-teammate (one who, granted, didn’t play very hard) nearly a decade later.
So kids: don’t be like Kobe. Actually, all of us can learn from these two examples of poor leadership. Fathers can lead with humility, confessing their sin; business leaders don’t have to project invincibility; even professors (uh oh!) can show their students that they don’t know everything, and that that’s okay. Humility, after all, is not weakness. It is strength, much as the world–and major debates–say otherwise.
I recently had the chance to be part of an exciting panel on “Millennials and the Future of Political Engagement” at Values Voters Summit. The panel featured young evangelical thinkers like Matthew Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy; Andrew Walker, Kentucky policy analyst; and Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration. Chris Marlink, Jeremy Renner look-alike, moderated the 40-minute discussion.
This from Chris Marlink of the Family Research Council:
I had the pleasure of playing something like the intellectual equivalent of John Stockton to a panel of young, evangelical Karl Malones. Our discussion on the millennial generation and the future of political engagement was wide ranging and included everything from the history of Church and state, to the offering mercy in the so called “culture war.”
Unfortunately, the audio recording of panel discussion isn’t great, so in addition to the recording, you’ll find this helpful transcript of the panelists’s remarks. Listen to the panel audio here.
Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy posted a great article on the panel which sheds some additional light.
Here’s hoping that this panel, and efforts like it, helps drive young evangelicals to think well about political philosophy, to vote, and to vote according to a robust whole-life ethic that prioritizes dignity, life, and the holistic flourishing of the American polis. There is a great deal of bad thinking on offer among evangelicals about politics; in fact, I think there are few areas in which our collective thought is more muddled than this one. Yes, politics can be corrupt; no, elections do not determine our eternal destiny; yes, politicians regularly fail to deliver on their promises.
But Matthew 5:13-16 and 25:40, Mark 12:12-17, and Romans 13:1 all, in different ways, call us to participate as much as we can in the civic life of our countries. That means voting, involving ourselves in our society, realizing that real human lives are affected by political decisions, acting on your convictions, contending for the weak among us, generally supporting the government insofar as we can, supporting candidates who come closest to our own beliefs, and basically caring.
Young evangelicals: please do not buy the media myth that you’re disinterested, disconnected, and unneeded today. Push away from apathy and fear. Be like Wilberforce, Lyman Beecher, Jonathan Edwards Jr., Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and act on your faith in the public square. Motivated by Christ and the gospel, be salt and light in the broader culture.
Reuters has called Values Voters Summit, staged by the Family Research Council in Washington, DC, “a ‘must attend’ on the political calendar of any serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.” This year’s event started yesterday and continues through today. Heavy hitters like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Bill Bennett, and Eric Cantor will speak at this year’s gathering.
Some of you are aware of the passionate debate that has taken place in the blogosphere on millennials and political engagement. Folks like Tim Dalrymple, David French, Matthew Anderson and myself have weighed in, among others. Today at 3:15pm EST at VVS, Anderson, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration, and Andrew Walker of the Kentucky Family Foundation will speak on a panel about “Millennials and the Future of Political Engagement.” Chris Marlink of Family Research Council will moderate.
I’m excited for this panel and would direct you here for more info. Pray for this discussion if you can, particularly that the church might figure out a way to be gospel-flavored salt and light even as we hold fast to our central mission, the promotion of Christ’s gospel.
I just had the opportunity to write a Christianity Today piece on whether the American president is a pastor or not. Judd Birdsall and I wrote point-counterpoint essays for the site. As with our previous exchange, I enjoyed the experience and thought Judd made some good points in his article. It’s interesting to think this through in light of the fact that the Republican ticket is led by a Mormon and a Catholic.
Here’s the core of my argument from “Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land”:
What of the upcoming election, which features a Mormon candidate for the presidency? However charitable and even constructive in certain ways, recent Mormon-Christian dialogues have not necessarily assuaged the doctrinal concerns of many evangelicals. The President, however, is not a pastor. As recent books like Could I Vote for a Mormon as President? argue, it is conscionable to support and vote for a Mormon.
…America is a unique country, one that has accomplished tremendous good in its relatively short life. The “almost pastor,” the President of this nation, seemingly an “almost chosen” land, has the opportunity to extend this legacy or to quash it. Christians have a chance to play a role in this great matter, even as we remember that our disappointment in even the best of leaders is only temporary. Soon, a figure will rule the world who gives us far more than telegenic looks and searing oratory.
There’s been a lot of talk about evangelicals opting out of the culture wars recently. Some of that could be good. Few of us want to identify the church with the Republican Party, or to act as if anything is more needful than the promotion of the gospel.
But some of this discussion, led by folks like Jonathan Merritt and Rachel Held Evans, is deeply harmful. Why those strong words? Because there is a desperate need for the church to be the church in this fallen world. Now is not the time to back off from a robust cultural ethic. Now is the time to engage.
Some will read this and still think that they have the luxury of sitting out the national debate over homosexuality. They’ll think, well, the battle over marriage is for those frothy-mouthed Christians who send out the weird newsletters and are always sounding the doomsday bell. I don’t really have the stomach for that; I don’t want, after all, to be weird, or unliked, or out of tune with the New York Times + NPR crowd. I’m educated and above the fray. Culture wars, as I’ve come to understand from the media, are for hillbillies and fearmongerers, the God-and-country set. Nope. No thank you.
Others will be more biblical in their convictions, but still will think that they can opt out of the conflict over marriage and homosexuality. They’ll think, I don’t want my Christianity to be political. The church should do what the church does. I’ll sit this one out, as I usually do, and go on my way, trusting in a sovereign God.
Both positions suffer from a common flaw: lack of moral realism as it relates to our cultural moment. You see, there is not going to be an “opt out” option in coming days. Actually, let’s change that–there no longer is an “opt out” option. The conflict over homosexuality and marriage is here to stay. It’s only going to pick up steam. Barring a miracle from God, the clock will not be turned back. Most every Christian in every place in America is going to face a direct, confrontational challenge on this issue. You can’t escape this.
Do you see this? It’s different from abortion, which everyday Christians didn’t have to really get involved with. Because abortion happens behind closed doors in nondescript clinics, Christians like you and me could pretend it didn’t happen. We could occasionally pray, and occasionally give and serve, but because this menace was unseen, we didn’t have to get whipped up about it. We could leave that to “weird,” “in-your-face” Christians, who we would subtly demean for their outspokenness.
But things have changed. I just saw from Facebook that gay pride groups marched in my hometown of Machias, Maine (and other Maine towns–note the picture above). Machias, for those who haven’t heard of this teeming metropolis, is a tiny coastal town. It’s a long ways from Manhattan, culturally speaking. But just a few weeks ago, in the Fourth of July parade, a group of gay and lesbian supporters marched, just as they did in numerous other small Maine towns.
I’ll ask this again: do you see this? Do you get what’s happening? This is a Fourth of July parade. Over the years, there’s no more “safe” cultural event for Americana. Everyone cheers the Shriners, the small but vigorous community band, the fire department as it blares its siren and throws candy to skittering children. Everyone. But that’s all, in a flash, changed in Machias, Maine. Here’s what I can guess: this will happen all across America. Bet on it.
There is no perfect nonbiblical argument we can make to repudiate and oppose same-sex marriage. We can cite statistics and studies, and we should. We can offer sound logic and clear moral guidance. But at the end of the day, you and I have a choice as Christians: we can either sit this one out and let our society embrace a flagrantly sinful lifestyle. Or we can stand up and oppose these efforts. That’s it. Two options: capitulation or challenge.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t fully trust our sovereign God to work out his perfect will, which may mean hardship and many earthly defeats for American and Western Christians. Sometimes God wills this for his people, who are then challenged to remember that we serve a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one. Our hope is the gospel, not a political end.
But these glorious truths should not cause us to retreat from the world. Pastors, churches, and individual Christians will all have to work out their own unique ways to engage this and other pressures. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach here. Churches are not to be political bodies or PACs. But no Christian should excuse themselves from this fight–and make no mistake, it is a fight. You can engage the other side in a godly manner, yes, and you must as a believer. But do not stoop to such breathtaking naïveté as to think that if you are clear on the issue of same-sex marriage you can avoid being disliked and even hated by unbelievers.
An hour of winnowing is coming and has come to America, even as it has already come to other western countries. Those who have previously defended marriage from a “neutral” set of presuppositions are not going to last; see one-time traditional marriage advocate David Blankenhorn’s recent defection. That will happen in increasing measure in coming days, I think. Get ready to feel lonely, Christian, and to be unliked. It’s unavoidable for ethical, gospel-driven evangelicals who know that they cannot sit this one out. Actually, we may even see a measure of unity in this battle; complementarians and egalitarians, for example, must and surely can find common cause on this issue, to cite just one common point of division. We need to do so. This is by no means only a complementarian issue.
Step up. Contribute to organizations that are contending in the political realm for biblical marriage. Contact friends to alert them to this hour of need. Figure out a way in your own corner of the world to get involved here. Collect signatures for petitions and send them to your legislators. Do whatever you can. Above all, pray. And do not–please do not–opt out. As always, engage this issue and those with whom you disagree with the love of Christ. We’re not opposing flesh and blood here, and even as we contend for biblical truth (Romans 1), we seek to win those who are lost just as we were lost before God’s marvelous grace saved us.
Lastly, remember Matthew 5:10-12. Let these familiar words ring in your ears, and let the resurrection hope of the one who said these fateful words wash over you even as you celebrate righteousness and oppose darkness.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Christianity Today just published a point-counterpoint between Judd Birdsall and me. We were asked to answer, essentially, the question of whether Obama is a Christian or not. Judd made a good case in arguing that he is; I, sadly, concluded that he does not seem to be. I’ll leave you to read both and form your own judgment.
Here’s a snatch from Judd’s piece:
Conversionism: Barack Obama has a conversion story, if not an entirely traditional one. In his bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, Obama recounts how he warmed to Christianity, and the black church tradition in particular, while attending Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. One Sunday, Obama writes, “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.” Obama’s eventual decision to be baptized “came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear.”
The culture, not Scripture, is the primary driver of President Obama’s views. With abortion, his own values matter, not Psalm 139; with homosexuality and marriage, his daughters’ opinions matter, not Genesis 2 and Romans 1. But it is not merely President Obama’s isolated policies, troubling as they may be, that give many Christians like me pause. It is the whole worldview. As seen above, there are deeply unbiblical ideas running beneath the surface of the President’s orthodox declarations. The President’s oratory sometimes smacks of Billy Graham, but those who listen carefully will also hear the dulcet tones of Harry Emerson Fosdick. His is a no-injury Protestantism, liberal Christianity enrobed in a revivalist shell.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Christianity Today just interviewed Florida Senator Marco Rubio about his faith and political views. It’s a great introduction to Rubio, who is one of the GOP’s most popular–and promising–young politicians.
Q: Would you describe yourself as an evangelical?
A: I’m a Roman Catholic. I’m theologically in line with the Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the authority of the church, but I also have tremendous respect for my brothers and sisters in other Christian faiths. I recognize, as the Catholic Church does, that there are excellent teachings of the Word throughout other denominations. The elements of salvation are found in these churches as well. Some unifying principles bind all Christians: that God became a man and died for our sins, and that without that sacrifice, all of us would be doomed.
Read the whole thing. If you want to find out how Rubio defines himself spiritually and politically, this is a good place to go.
(Image: ABC News)