Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Biblical Values," The Presidency, and the Soul of Evangelicalism

Lots of political conservatives are saying that this may be the most important Presidential election in the history of the country.  I totally agree with them, but for reasons very different than theirs.

Apparently, many evangelical organizations also believe this; to the extent that they seem to be willing to allow the proclamation of the Gospel to take a backseat to politics, if only for a season.  Some of these organizations don't surprise me at all with their posture, as this is a tactic they have used before.  But last week I was personally devastated to see an organization I've loved, respected, supported, and worked with for years bow to the political spirit of the age.  That organization was none other than the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

I don't like focusing on bad news.  Furthermore, I've looked up to Billy Graham since childhood.  He was, and is, one of my heros, and his consistent faithfulness to the Gospel over the years, and his laser-sharp focus on Jesus has been an example I've tried to follow throughout my own comparatively short 20 years in ministry.  But as a guy who serves 12,000 Southern Baptists in 60+ churches, many of whom also work with and support BGEA, I felt I had to point out the error for the benefit of those I serve.

News outlets ran a story last week covering the visit of Presidential Candidate and former MA Governor Mitt Romney to the home of the famed evangelist.  The articles went on to describe a tacit endorsement of the Republican nominee by the Graham organization.  So far, no problem!  If one does a simple comparison of the two primary candidates on issues, there is no doubt that the Governor holds positions on the sanctity of life and a traditional understanding of marriage that are much more consistent with what evangelicals believe.  In light of this, it doesn't surprise or offend me that Billy Graham would speak highly of the Governor, and encourage followers and supporters to cast a vote for President that is consistent with their values.

But then came a sudden shot to the gut, as the media went on to report that the BGEA had, simultaneous with the Governor's visit, removed Mormonism from its list of "cults" on its website.  When asked to explain the move, Ken Barun, spokesman for BGEA said "We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign."  In other words, we have no time to speak about the truthfulness of the Gospel compared to the damnable heresy of Mormonism.  We have an election to win!  It was in reaction to this shocking news that I sent out the following message on my social media feed:

Brokenhearted today as I publicly do something I never thought I'd have to do: Stand against the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

As you can imagine, that post created a swarm of responses and follow-up comments, some of which understood what I was saying, and why I was saying it, while others objected on the grounds that I was simultaneously ruining the good name of a good candidate and rebuking a reputable organization built by the best known and most faithful Gospel preacher in the modern age.

So why did I do it?  For one, this wasn't exclusively about BGEA, as they are not the only evangelical organization that appears to have its Kingdom priorities way out of order this election season.  Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr, responding to questions about the invitation of LU to Governor Romney to address 2012 graduates, simply said "there are bigger issues now, and we can argue about  theology later after we save the country."  Pressed further on this issue by CNN, Falwell Jr went on to say "Liberty has no official position on Mormonism.  Our doctrinal statement does not define Mormonism as a cult.  There are hundreds of professors here.  I'm sure you can find some, like the professor here who authored that course, I'm sure there are some who believe it is a cult.  That's not part of our doctrinal positions."

I'd have several questions for Falwell Jr. in regard to these statements, chief among them being this one:  What could possibly be a "bigger issue" to an evangelical institution than accuracy when it comes to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  How many people are we willing to send to hell in order to "clear the path" for a Mormon to become President of the United States?

So in light of all this, I agree with conservative pundits that this may be the most important election in American history, because it may be the election in which the Evangelical church loses its very soul!

To clarify, I'm not saying that its wrong to vote for a Mormon for President.  I've addressed that issue here, and addressed it over and over, ad nauseum to those who have objected to my public statements on the matter.  I agree with Martin Luther and "would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian."  But those who follow Jesus must always remember that in that context, a Turk is still a Turk.  And in the present context, a Mormon is NOT a Christian!

In retrospect, this is what concerns me most about the recent Romney endorsement by the Graham organization.  Billy Graham was, and is, one of my ministry heros.  But I'm sincerely puzzled at his use of phrases like "Biblical values" and "remaining one nation under God," and alligning such phrases with a candidate whose faith confesses the reality of so many "gods" it makes Hinduism look like an Abrahamic faith!

So to be clear, I don't think its wrong for anyone to vote for Mitt Romney, and in fact, I don't think Romney is the problem here.  The problem is evangelical Christians who appear to be in pursuit of the very kind of political power and influence that was sought after by Judas, and are so enraptured by such power that they are willing to hide and minimize soul-damning false teaching in order to attain it.

I want people in the churches I serve to vote in accordance with Biblical values.  But I also want them to recognize that God's Kingdom doesn't advance by political power.  I also want them to believe that absolutely nothing--not even the fate of an entire country--is as important as the accurate proclamation of the Gospel

What will it profit the Evangelical church to gain the whole country, and lose its soul?

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