Generation Of Christian Leaders Riding Into Sunset Spark Reevaluation
With the passing of Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy along with the dissolution of the Center for Reclaiming America and the Center for Christian Statesmanship, the issue has arisen once again as to whether or not conservative Evangelicals should participate in political activity. Since things have not gotten any better and if anything continued their downward spiral since the advent of the contemporary conservative Evangelical movement popularly referred to as the "Religious Right", it has been suggested by some that politically interested Christians should be herded back into their pews to once again await the Apocalypse.
Interestingly, one of the foremost voices now opposed to conservative Evangelical political involvement is none other than columnist Cal Thomas, who at one time served as a Falwell underling as vice president of Moral Majority and spoke at Dr. Kennedy's Reclaiming America for Christ conference. Thomas, in a column analyzing the passing of his former colleague titled "The Legacy of Jerry Falwell", concludes of the Religious Right, "The movement also had its downside, because it tended to detract from a Christian's primary responsibility of telling people the 'good news' that redemption comes only through Jesus Christ."
While there is a degree of truth to that as during the early to mid 90's at times it seemed Falwell's ministry did place too much emphasis hawking videotapes exposing the criminality of Bill Clinton and replaying week after week snippets of homosexual excesses to the point where one had to send children out of the room or have to explain why mommy and daddy's faces were turning red, some of this is more the fault of how the Evangelical subculture is structured sociologically than the result of Christian political participation per say.
All throughout Sunday school and the Christian day school environment, those spending most of their lives in this branch of the Christian faith are conditioned with the assumption that those holding professional ministry positions such as pastors and missionaries are some how a cut above the remainder of the congregation even though the traditional Protestant position held to the priesthood of all believers and that all moral work was as equally holy. As such, it is no wonder most believers are paralyzed unless there is a so-called "man of the cloth" there on the scene to direct their every movement. Thus, it was only natural that clergy such as Falwell and Kennedy would have to play prominent roles in these movements.
Ironically, at earlier stages in his career, Thomas was one of the most eloquent voices urging Christian youth to consider callings in fields other than professional ministry such as government, politics, and the media. He even one time quipped he did not recall any Christian being called to serve Christ part time.
However, now that he's had his career, Thomas concludes that "...a Christian's primary responsibility is telling people the 'good news' that redemption comes only through Jesus Christ." If that's the case, is Thomas going to repose himself from commenting on sociopolitical matters in favor of more monastic or missional undertakings or is it part of a more natural inclination of not wanting to share notoriety. For in another column Thomas lamented the rise of consumer choice as exemplified by the growth of talk radio and the blogosphere and instead enunciated a preference that the masses all sup of the same information from the swill placed before them by traditional journalists as the nation's media gatekeepers.
When Thomas chastises Christians for participating in politics and the media since this detracts from time that should be spent directly sharing the Gospel, is he also going to level this charge against Christian physicians if they take the time to perform surgery rather than only praying for the patient's recovery? Likewise, what about the farmer that toils away all day in their fields as this is also time that could be spent in more religious pursuits.
I Corinthians 12:28 says to some God gave to be preachers, some evangelists, others government. Not everyone is cut out for the same purpose in life. As such, their level of interest and the way they contribute to the advancement of the Kingdom of God will varying by kind and degree.
Thomas writes, "But Christians must first understand that the issues they most care about --- abortion, same-sex marriage, and cultural rot --- are not caused by bad politics, but are matters of the heart and soul." While Thomas is correct that these problems won't ultimately be solved until people have a total renewing of the mind found through Christ's shed blood, it does not follow nothing else should be done to ameliorate the social impacts of these manifestations of man’s sin nature.
All it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing. In certain communities across the United States, whether or not I steal your car at a stoplight, plug your head with a bullet, and rape your mother as you lay their bleeding to death there on the pavement are as debated as the propriety of abortion and sodomite nuptials are in others. Does that mean in such jurisdictions those of good conscience should not insist that laws against these infractions should not be enforced since, well, the unrepentant apparently have few qualms or taboos against such alternative lifestyle choices?
The tendency of the human species is to take things to extremes. Luther remarked that man is like a drunkard banging his head into one wall and then the next. Granted, many believers have come to expect too much from politics as David Frum has remarked that the debate is no longer about reducing the size of government but rather about divvying up the fiscal spoils.
Many Christians probably did become dupes of the Republican Party at one point. Frankly, though, where else were they going to go?
At least the GOP would consider individualism construed through the prism of a Christian worldview. The Democratic Party has pretty much given itself over to debauchery and collectivism. If one tries really really hard one can count the number of worthwhile Democrats such as Zel Miller on one hand.
Though some Christians are loathe to admit it as they have been conditioned by overly pacifistic interpretation of passages such as turn the other cheek, sometimes Christian involvement is not about bringing the reprobates to a saving knowledge of Christ as fundamental and essential as that mission is. Rather it is about keeping these ravenous jackals away from you and what is rightfully yours.
Some might respond “But didn’t Jesus say to give them your cloak?” My friends, these blatant communalists want more than the shirt off your back. For they will stop at nothing until they not only have the souls of you and your children, but also the very house that you live in and the automobile that you drive if we adhere to the recommendations of the radical pietists if we as believers refrain from political matters such as property rights and environmental policy.
And if some preacher gets up there and blabbers on about how these are just material things we should give up willy nilly, see if he ever forgets to pass the collection plate or how antsy he gets when the IRS considers tweeking something in its code not even remotely related to the survival of religious liberty in this country such as exemptions on pastoral housing allowances. If the rest of us get hosed by revenuers, why not the clergy as well? Maybe then they won’t be so quick to bend their knee before the state’s Baphomet.
While some such as Cal Thomas seem to counsel disinvolvement from sociopolitical activism out of a sincere desire to retain doctrinal purity and separation, others embodying what in Fundamentalist circles is known as Neo-Evangelicalism do so for other reasons. Seeking to get along with other theologies for the sake of getting along, this perspective is endeavoring to take hypertolerance and unity to a whole new level even if it means downplaying or overlooking some of Scripture's most obvious mandates.
Ironically, though the word “mandate” means something else, one of the issues the Christian in the pews is being urged to keep quiet about is none other than “man dates”. For in the March/April 2007 issue of The Plain Truth Magazine, in the article “I Kissed Religion Goodbye”, Greg Albrecht lists as one of his complaints is that many churches expect members to “Vote and politically agitate in absolute, lockstep with pro-life and anti-homosexual views exactly the way your church promotes and endorses them”.
Unlike the war against terror over which sincere Christians can have differing interpretations as to how to best approach the issue, there is not much wiggle room there as to abortion and homosexuality. There is not really anyway around “Thou shalt not murder” and injunctions against carnal relations with members of the same sex unless Albrecht wants to come out and say that the unborn really aren’t human beings and that God did not create marriage to be between a man and a woman.
To many, these issues probably do seem to attract an inordinate amount of attention from conservative Evangelicals. But whose fault is that?
Would most believers even give buggery all that much thought if the gay rights movement was simply about what one did in the privacy of one's home. Seems to me, activist gays are the ones trying to get up in everyone's business as they attempt to penetrate the media, education, and now even ecclesiastical institutions.
Though opposition to such perversities should not become the sole focus of any balanced ministry as Christ died for these individuals also and one wants to avoid becoming unhinged like the Fred Phelps cult, if the churches of America are not going to stand up for the traditional family and marriage as being between a man and woman as the only legitimate form of marriage out of fear of whom they might offend, then they might as well empty the baptismal font and close up shop. For if they do deny the true nature of these fundamental human relationships, it won't be long until the true nature of the God that instituted them will be denied as well.
In the opening of his article, Albrecht laments the "mudslinging and negative rhetoric that ridiculed 'Democrats' and lavished unadulterated praise on all things Republican." Of this, the discerning Christian must ask was this an outright political endorsement of a particular candidate or party (as today I have a hard time imaging there are that many pastors with that much of a spine left willing to jeopardize their tax exempt status as a friend relayed to me how he was pressured to drop the word "liberal" from an article written for the newsletter of what is suppose to be an Independent Baptist Church).
If believers and churches can no longer mention in a nonpartisan context where the Christian faith lines up with the conservative Republican agenda nor condemn those things traditionally thought of as being more liberal Democrat in nature, how much longer until we are counseled by those whose fortunes and notoriety are derived from holding lucrative positions of ecclesiastical leadership to downplay more fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. Already, operatives of Rev. Moon have convinced a number of churches to remove crosses. Those caving so easily will no doubt next downplay the need to be saved from our sins and eventually the need for Jesus as Lord and Savior all together.
However, don't think Albrecht is calling for the complete expunging of politics from the socio-ecclesiastical enterprise all together. For the influence he would see taken out of the hands of conservatives, he gladly places in the hands of more liberal causes.
In a bullet point list of what he perceives as the errors of more conservative or traditional congregations, Albrecht writes in a flippant attempt at humor, "Don't worry about the environment, the poor, or global warming --- those liberal, do-gooder churches have programs for those kinds of things."
What Albrecht is criticizing here are believers who do not necessarily think spending more money and who do not think more government intervention into our lives is going to solve certain problems, that things are as bad as elites would have us believe, or think that people do not necessarily bear some responsibility for their own problems.
As to the poor, it has been my experience that often the most conservative or Fundamentalist of churches of the "old school" variety probably spend larger percentages of their overall incomes on missions and outreach to the individual poor in their immediate vicinity than more leftist evangelical and mainline churches that probably spend a greater percentage on making sure everyone else sees what they are supposedly doing for the poor.
As to the environment and global warming, frankly the jury is still out on this issue as to the following reasons. (1) Does global warming actually exist? (2) If it does, what is its exact cause? So by edicts handed down from on high without these questions being answered, does this mean the average person should forfeit much of their physical mobility just because of some whim of someone further up the bureaucratic hierarchy?
Of course, such restrictions do not apply to the self-appointed such as Greg Albrecht since such figures are so much more important than the rest of us as we Neanderthals would be lost without such guidance.
As to both the environment and poverty, it is questionable that mass scale approaches are the best approach for solving these issues. Often the aide sent to Africans ends up hindering their plight.
Likewise, the best way to save the environment is not by necessarily cordoning it off necessarily into untouchable preserves and by regulating the life out of property to the point where one cannot do anything with it as most sane people tend to care for something best when they are the ones that own it and have the largest say in how it is used.
While no Christian in his right mind advocates dirty water, to a growing number of Evangelicals this concern for the environment goes beyond keeping trash off the shoulder of the highway. Though I cannot speak to Greg Albrecht's views on the afterlife, from one of the snippy remarks made in his sarcastic bullet points one could come away with the impression that he is trodding dangerously close to embracing some of the assumptions of the Emergent Church crowd that the Kingdom of God is not so much a promise of a new heaven and a new earth but the continuation of this one in its current state. Frankly, if this world is all we've got, Christianity is a big waste of time and those snookered into it deserve a refund.
The hyperpious might begin to hyperventilate at such a bold proclamation; however, it is essentially a Biblical sentiment. I Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
One can deduce that Albrecht and those of like mind in the Emergent, Purpose Driven, and Church Growth movements don't place all that much importance upon the afterlife. For while certain eras of Church History such as the Middle Ages often placed too much emphasis on what comes next, these contemporary theologies don't emphasize it nearly enough.
In his tongue-in-cheek bullet points, Albrecht writes, "You need to believe in the hottest hell with billions being tortured. And you need to believe in the Rapture, the time when members of your church (at least those who are in good standing) escape hell on earth. Some call this time 'The Tribulation' --- a time when so many who richly deserve it will 'get their's'."
Sincere souls can disagree about the sequence of some of these foretold events. However, what they cannot do is deny that one day there will be some kind of ultimate accounting.
Though it has changed considerably, as a leader in the Worldwide Church Of God, frankly, Albrecht ought to be the last one to criticize an interest in eschatology as his sect or denomination was at one time infamous for their obsession with the topic. But like a former glutton that has lost all kinds of weight now telling everyone else that they eat too much, Albrect condemns as a fanatic anyone daring to suggest that there is an eerily increasing similarity between certain portions of Scripture such as Daniel, Thessalonians, and Revelation and certain political and technological developments.
Often those that run in Emergent Church circles foment the assumption that the image of a God of justice and wrath is somehow at odds with the image of God as a God of love. It is because He is a God of love and mercy that He must also be a God of justice and wrath.
The prospect of no eternal punishment for those outside the parameters by which God allows men to be saved (namely believing that one's own good is insufficient to accomplish this and only belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is going to get one to the Pearly Gates) in fact actually tarnishes those gates and makes the streets of Heaven all the more dim. For if God ends up letting anyone in irrespective of whether or not they are sorry for what they did even though God was willing to go to the extent of sacrificing His only begotten Son in order to make a spot for them with Him in eternity, that would make for a very weak God.
Though we as human beings have an innate tendency to avoid pain at all costs even if it means denying its existence, that does not eliminate it if we are unwilling to take the necessary steps. For example, if someone diagnosed with a horrible disease simply decides to say the disease of an uneducated and overactive imagination, that is not going to prevent it from ravaging the patient's body.
Then why do Modernist, Postmodernist, and Emergent theologians waltzing along the ledges of apostasy keep thinking that wishing away Hell's flames is going to make them any cooler? It has been estimated that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did heaven; therefore, if we are to say that on this matter He is just plain wrong, then why are we to turn around and assume He's anymore correct about Heaven, His coming kingdom, or even the forgiveness of sins?
As to whether or not some Christians are vindictive about Hell has no bearing as to its existence. To say that it does is akin to saying the police department should be abolished entirely and criminals allowed to pillage through the streets simply because a few officers have abused the powers that have been vested in them.
It is only because the most orthodox of Christians believe that Hell as an actual place of torment exists that it seems to play such a prominent role in conservative theologies of varying stripes. While as fallen human beings it is easy from time to time for our anger to get the best of us and to wish someone to that dreaded realm that has ticked us off, those on the right side of the theological continuum do not emphasize the reality of Hell out of some perverse desire to see the unrepentant tossed into the Abyss but rather so that the greatest number might be able to avoid this destination of unimaginable torment.
Thus in recap, among Evangelicals such as Albrecht wanting to look cool in the eyes of the world, Heaven is downplayed in favor of a utopian kingdom. Relatedly, Hell is downplayed for fear of casting bad PR on a loving God and because it makes the unbelieving uncomfortable. Kind of makes you wonder the point of giving one's life to Christ if some saintly grandmother that loved the Lord her entire life is going to endure the same fate as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin since it is highly doubtful these genocidal reprobates pleaded for mercy on the Blood of Christ before leaving this world.
Over the past few decades, at times Evangelicals have taken political activism to extents that can understandably cause concern among the discerning. However, to disengage to the extent some now suggest would also prove equally disastrous.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.