Monday, March 25, 2013

Politics, Christianity and Cal Thomas

 Should Christians abandon the political arena? To put this question another way – Is there any arena where the light of Christ shouldn’t shine? Evangelical Christian and widely read columnist, Cal Thomas, seems to answer “yes.” For one thing, he claims that Christian attempts to bring about political change have been for naught:

  • We’ve tried to change culture through government for thirty years, since the forming of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition and all these other religious/political groups…and what happened? Nothing. (Salvo, Spring 2013, 29)
Even if Thomas is correct about the “nothing,” this shouldn’t represent a reason to abandon politics. Perhaps instead, our failures might serve as a call to reexamine ourselves, our methods, and the need to better prepare the societal ground through reasoned argumentation.

Besides, perhaps we use an unbiblical measure to assess “failure” and “success.” Fundamentally, for the Christian, success is a matter of faithfulness:

  • This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:3-5)
The world’s response should not govern our assessment of success and failure. Instead, we should measure it in terms of our responsiveness to our Lord, and this might be a matter of being the light, whether individually or corporately.

If we are to use Thomas’ measure of success, then the Prophets of Israel were utter failures. Ultimately, Israel rejected their measure and Israel went into captivity.

Thomas’ measure of success is extreme in other ways. He argues against political involvement because it fails to change hearts:

  • You cannot convince the unredeemed to behave in a way that is pleasing to God absent conversion. (29)
Although conversion is the optimal change-engine, we shouldn’t disdain more modest changes. In this regard, I like what Martin Luther King stated:

  • “It may be true that a law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
There are many things that are important that fall short of conversion. In another breath, Thomas admits this:

  • People talk about William Wilberforce [and how, as an MP, he was instrumental in outlawing slavery] and use him as an example. But what they don’t really focus on is that Wilberforce prayed for hours every day…That’s why he was effective. (29)
I certainly agree with Thomas, and for this reason, we can and should infiltrate all areas of society with the light and in prayer!

When Thomas was asked about same-sex marriage, he responded:

  • I think they ought to fight harder to protect their own marriages. (28) 
This is certainly true! Our morality begins at home. If we leave our wives, we have sacrificed the right to speak out against same-sex marriage, and we also make the church look like a hoard of hypocrites. (However, once we confess and renounce our sin, we then can speak.)

However, Thomas seems to want to restrict sexual issues to the home and church:

  • Even if we could organize and harness the entire Christian population of America and even if they all agreed about everything – which they never would…- this still wouldn’t achieve the goals we seek, because such goals are not reached through the political system…You don’t cure societal breakdown through the government. You cure it through the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. (28-29)
However, I wonder if people will listen to us after we show them that we are utterly uninterested and uninvolved in the social-political arena – the horrors of slavery, communism or National Socialism come to mind – and thereby confess that the Christian faith is irrelevant to these public matters?

While it is true that our detractors deplore our involvement in politics, they also hold us accountable for our non-involvement! One atheist wrote:

  • “European Christianity failed to prevent the mass slaughter between the faithful in the Great War and actually contributed to World War II, insofar as conservative churches supported fascism. The failure of the churches to provide sound moral guidance may help to explain the [European] Continent’s postwar lack of enthusiasm of religion.” (“The Big Religion Questions Finally Solved,” Free Inquiry, Jan. 2009, 29)
Darned if we do; darned if we don’t! Perhaps instead, we need to refocus on what our Lord would have us do. Perhaps we need to revisit the Hebrew Prophets and their prophetic calling before Israel.

Even today, many point the indicting finger at the Evangelical Church for its silence in the face of injustice and victimization. This shouldn’t be! We have a mandate to expose evil (Ephes. 5:11) and to be the light and the salt of the world (Mat. 5:14-16) not only within our own homes and churches. Meanwhile, many evangelicals are understandably praising the Catholic Church for its public stand on various social issues.

Sadly, our silence has given the Muslims ample political and religious capital. With some justification, they point to the moral decay of the Christian West – condoms, pornography, sex-trafficking, abortion, promiscuous sex, single parent families, drugs, crime – as evidence of the failure of Christianity.

Even when conversion is not in view, we still have the obligation to pursue what is right, irrespective of the arena:

  • Amos 5:14-15 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts…
I wonder if some of the weakness of the church is the result of abandoning our responsibilities. Amos promises that if we seek what is good – and this even includes “justice in the courts” – “then the LORD God Almighty will be with you.” This principle is true even apart from the likelihood of conversion!

Today, there is much talk about partnering in politics as opposed to oppositional politics. This seems to be Thomas’ favored approach. He has just written a book – Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War that is Destroying America – with his friend, the liberal Democratic strategist Bob Beckel.

While partnering – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours - might be an answer to the “Partisan War,” it also presents many dangers to the Christian witness. I cannot imagine Elijah partnering with King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Nor can I imagine Jesus partnering with King Herod or Agrippa. How could we resist the temptation to compromise our message and calling and become “unequally yoked” in the context of such partnering?

Although there are Biblical precedents for partnering – Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah – and opportunities to promote the Gospel (Daniel’s witness before Nebuchadnezzar), too often, we send Christians into these trenches without adequate preparation. We send our children to “partner” with the university, and they return as their clones - not partners - while the university remains as secular as ever. But even the trenches belong to our Lord and are places to illuminate with His light.

Lord, grant us wisdom:

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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