so...politics, eh? how 'bout them candidates? how 'bout this election? i am backing a candidate...hoping he wins. me and 250 million other americans. me and 100 million evangelicals (so says wheaton college...a number i'm highly skeptical of).
where i come from, there's really only one viable candidate. and there's really only 2.5 reasons why. i believe highly in those 2.5 reasons...and yet i'm going to vote against those 2.5 reasons. not without some amount of wishing i didn't have to choose in such a manner, and not without a considerable amount of huffing and puffing from the places from which i come.
it is the places from which i come that have landed me on the other side of the imaginary line drawn by politicians, pundits, and pollsters. actually, i think they just took up sides on a line drawn long ago. the line was drawn by the church. Glen Kehrein's work on the Church, primarily the white evangelical church (those numbered at 100m) in the country, is an excellent historical look at when and how the Church split in this country...when and how it went in two different directions. one group went "right" and opted (and i'm summarizing greatly here) for a personal piety faith. it was one of a personal relationship with God. you can hear that all across the country still today. it spawns lengthy worship services with hands raised, praising God. it causes people to have difficulty in different worship styles because they don't "connect" personally in that style.
the other side went "left" and they could not understand how a person could claim to know God and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries of those God had so clearly told us to help. what was personal piety if widows, orphans, prisoners, infirmed, workers, naked, hungry, and thirsty were left to their suffering. they rejected the rationale that because God said "the poor will always be with you" that there was nothing that could really ever be done. and in their pursuit of a corporate responsibility for "the least of these" they began to ignore the part of God that called each of us into relationship with Him.
over the past 100 years, this dividing line became a gulf. still today, in many churches, mention the words social justice as a viable extension of the Church, and you'll be told you're slipping into liberalism. the implication is that social justice causes include acceptance of homosexuality, acceptance of abortion, and a disregard for the sanctity of marriage. these are the 2.5 things the right cannot stand for (the sanctity of marriage/homosexuality thing have some overlap). and truthfully, i cannot either. i am clear on what the Bible says about each of them, and i fully agree with that. but the truth remains that they are 2.5 things out of many. it's also true, in my opinion, that the conservative (right) church has mishandled these 2.5 things..along with a couple thousand other things. nobody's perfect. i get that. but my disagreement over that, combined with the mindset of the conservative right on the balance of the social justice issues is enough to sway me the other way. it's enough to make me desire core change in how they view the world, this country, the church, and themselves.
i do not guess at this mindset. i come from it. i know there are many different swathes of thought even among the broad stroke that is this evangelical right. it can run anywhere from the extremes of "let's cause disruption in the middle east because it's the land of armegeddon and such, and prophecy shows that when a certain series of events happen there, the end will come and Christ will return" (if you doubt it, just look across the web...it won't be hard to find) to those who believe that America is the new Israel, and that God has put a special blessing on us because of the people and the way in which this country was founded. most don't have specific thought-out positions on those sorts of things. what they do have is the main points of a worldview that is the interweaving of the Kingdom of God, and the American Dream. it gives us access to God in a deep, meaningful, personal son and daughter kind of way, and lets us live comfortably, knowing that God blesses those with whom He is pleased.
there is no doubt that God blesses His people. but we have come to equate blessing with comfort...with lack of pain. and we have come to equate pain with lack of a close relationship, or at worst, a testing of our faith. James does tell us to count it joy when we encounter pain, because the testing of our faith produces endurance. he never says that the pain will end...not here. but we have made a life free of pain the goal. and for many of us we've acheived it...for the most part. that gives a numbness to the pain of others...and it gives us a reason for why they have that pain, whether it be poverty, poor health, lack of education, or consistently facing a different heirarchy of jurisprudence than the rest of us. the reason is simple. a lack of a close personal relationship with God. if it was there, He'd bless those people. after all, this blessed nation, founded on clear biblical principles, has, as one of its benefits, the equal chance for success for every person who lives here. why, we even know some people who own a __________who came here just 10 years ago with nothing. it's proof positive that the system works. it's God's system, after all. freedom, free will, the ability to make it, to become self-sufficient...which is what we are. God helps those who help themselves. pull yourself up by the bootstraps like everyone else had to do (which is entirely not true) . the evangelical worldview places clearly the responsibility...and blame...for anyone's condition on them.
unfortuntely what's missed in that personal relationship with God, hand raised, songs sung, prayers lifted, is the thousands of places God tells His people to care for that long list of "the least of these". if you ever want to try to justify your stance on this, take a long hard look at Matthew 25. it's not talked about too much. we hear all about the time Jesus said "you must be born-again." we've adopted that phrase to more clearly describe the process of salvation. but Jesus does tell another man who inquires after salvation "sell everything you have and give it to the poor." that guy went away sad. and from what we know, he never did it. back to Matt 25. Jesus says, in that chapter, that our salvation will hinge on that list of people. we don't believe it. we're saved by grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. but what of "you show my your faith without your works and i'll show you mine with it"? another James quote. read those verses in Matthew 25 and try to figure out a way to follow Jesus (as if just simply living like He did wouldn't take care of this) without involving yourself with "the least of these". american theologans are making a living at it. they turn out pastors who turn out sheep who know nothing of the seriousness of this call. in fact, most would probably say they're doing something...serving, giving, whatever. the stats don't back it up.
christians give less than 2% of their incomes charitably, and that includes to the church, where they're being told to give 10. the white evangelical church is loosely connected, at best, with homeless, imprisoned, poor, oppressed workers. there are missions trips for a week once a year. there are serving trips to make dinner once a month at a homeless shelter. but connection? knowing the least of these? caring for the least of these? fighting for the least of these? it's not happening. if we serve, we usually find ways to do it in the church...the church full of people that look, smell, work, behave, worship, and love just like us. i know. i did it. for a long time. i still get the urge to do it sometimes. it will probably never go away.
a friend recently posts a couple of status updates on his facebook page disparaging the idea of the redistribution of wealth. it was worked over in the media, and by mccain, as well. socialism...that's what it was branded. to take what one has earned and give it to another...that's definitely not capitalism. that's definitely not free market economy. what it is, oddly enough, is the Acts 2 church. what it is is Jesus telling that man to sell everything and give it to the poor. it's not socialism. it's gospelism. it's just not the church doing it in this case (see the stat below on how badly we don't do this), it's the goverment.
the governement will take our taxes either way. and Jesus told us to follow through with that. so...if the government takes our taxes either way, then do i want them taking taxes from the poor to give to the rich? the "trickle-down" theory? reaganomics would tell you that works really well. but go ask the people who were affected by massive, unprecedented cuts in social programs while that money was taken from them and given back to the corporations and the rich. find out how they felt about it. a word of warning. you're gonna have to leave your neighborhood/suburb to find the people affected. no...i think i'd prefer that if the government is going to tax me either way, that the first people to benefit from it are not oil companies and brokerage firms, but school lunch programs and music/arts programs, and legal aid attorneys and health care for kids. i feel the personal responsibility people getting rankled at that. the idea of welfare will raise the blood pressure of your everyday average white american. you know what? it bugs christians more. why? (well, for the best answer, go read Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson) because it's their fault those people need welfare, and it's their fault they don't have or want jobs. if they'd just take some responsibility for their lives, they'd be living a much better life.
i have also been amazed and appalled at the things i've read linking sarah palin to esther, from the Bible. what does this have to do with "the least of these?" you ask. first, it comes out of that idea that we are a christian nation...that america is God's chosen nation...God bless america and all that. the quotes i've seen and heard have God speaking to pastors telling them that sarah palin is His chosen instrument. they have people applying the "for such a time as this" line from mordecai to esther, saying that this evangelical woman is the instrument God has called out for this time of salvation. could she be? sure. is it likely? no. is it probably a gross misuse of scripture? yes. and here's why.
first, america is not God's people. it is not the new Israel, or the new Jerusalem. christians are God's people. Peter says we, believers, are a chosen people, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood. if sarah palin is chosen for such a time as this, the drawn out application would be that she was going to be put in this place to save her people. that's us believers. from what are we being saved? we have the greatest freedoms of christians probably ever on this planet. do we need to be saved from the judgement of God because of the increased acceptance of homosexuality and abortion, and increased disregard for marriage? maybe. but there are some interesting places in the same Bible that lend a lot more thought to why God is not hearing the cries of His people, if He indeed is not. read Isaiah. the whole book. but specifically read Isaiah 58. it's a dear chapter to me. those who know me know that much of the rebuilding of my faith came from reading Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58 and realizing i did not know those people, and yet i offered my songs, fasting, and worship, wondering where my blessing was.
Isaiah 58 is to the people...to God's people...to us. it was Israel back in the day. it's us now. not america. believers. america has nothing to do with it. but you do, christian. you who wonder where your blessing is. you who lift your hands in 3 hour worship services, loving to sing with all your heart and might, soul and strength. you who fast before the Lord to let Him know how deeply you desire Him, or the thing He can give. and what does He say in response to that fasting, praying, worshiping? it's the proverbial slap in the face. it's what He somehow communicated to Cain. it's "you think this is what i want? then you haven't been paying attention to the hundreds of places I've spoken to you telling what i want." and then...essentially the same list found in Matthew 25.
how is this a plan for the rescue of His people? how is this more applicable than sarah palin? He tells us. if you stop oppressing your workers, if you care for the widow, if you seek justice for prisoners, etc, etc, then your salvation will come like the dawn. then you will be like well-watered gardens. then you will rebuild cities and walls. not sarah palin will bring your salvation like the dawn. but we choose a vote and a verse because what does that take compared to an altered life? nothing. we can hope that mrs palin gains power and changes the course of history. and we can sit in our cars that are too big and cost too much, park them in houses of the same, and do a little something here and there. and never, ever see our salvation come like the dawn.
and so i choose to vote for a candidate whose message says we need to do more for each other. it's not a perfect situation. i am troubled by the 2.5 things. abortion is awful. homosexuality is a sin. marriage is sacred. but these things will not be solved by a conservative vote. mccain will not reverse roe v wade. the agenda promoted by the GLBT group will still be pushed, on a state level, if the federal level doesn't succeed. and marriage will continue to lose it's hallowed position as an instution given by God. but that institution is failing at the same rate among evangelicals as it is everywhere else. homosexuals have been singled out by the Church as commiting a sin that is intolerable. but when God listed the reasons He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, the perversion was not first on the list...or second...or third. the first things on the list were that the people of those cities had no regard for those in poverty and who faced injustice. and while we cry out against abortion as murder, we, as believers, aren't even caring for the mothers, fathers, and babies who didn't go that route. and why would we? they made their choice...if they only would give their whole hearts to God, then they would be rescued.
i believe in the interweaving of the personal and corporate responsibility to God as followers of Jesus. unfortunately, the "right", which has the personal down, has lost touch with any idea of a corporate conscience. i have issues with the "left", too...lots of them. i have not added liberal theology when i decided to vote with what is commonly thought to be the liberal candidate. the closest truth is that Jesus is my candidate. i will follow Him regardless of what person wins tomorrow. but when it comes to the election, i will take my conserative theology, which i believe includes more of what liberal politics is about, and i'll make my choice by that.