Monday, March 29, 2010

Zealotism is Never Good: Why It's Important to be a Better Christ-Follower than Republican (or Democrat!)

"Zealotism" is a term that originates with a first century Jewish group who believed--essentially--that the Messiah was first and foremost a political figure who would usher in political liberation from the Romans. As such, this group was sorely dissapointed when Jesus built the Kingdom instead on service and suffering. At its most repulsive stage, the result was the selling of Jesus for a slave's wage in an attempt to force His hand at political domination. At every level, Zealotism is antithetical to the Gospel. Unfortunately, this is a fact many American Christians have forgotten.

Don't get me wrong. Followers of Jesus in a free and open society like ours have a responsibility to apply the Christian worldview to their politics, contend for righteousness in the public square, and vote their conscience under the Lordship of Jesus. To do any less in the context of a democratic republic is to abdicate one's responsibility. The problem comes when we begin to think that our "agenda" can be accomplished by buddying up to one political party, one Political Action Committee, or one candidate. Many Christians today would readily admit that the Gospel is the only ultimate answer to all that ails us. Yet far too many simultaneously make more noise (positive or negative) about the most recent topic covered on FOX, CNN, or MSNBC than they do about Jesus. Many seem more concerned about being good Republicans--or good Democrats--than good Christians.

To truly follow Jesus, one must be willing to play a prophetic role, and often that role will involve speaking against BOTH political parties. At the end of the day, both are Machiavellian to the core, and will thus say anything to their respective continuencies in order to retain power. Regrettably, Christians often assume this same power-seeking posture, functioning in a way that betrays what they truly think: that societies problems aren't solved by the Gospel, but instead by prostituting onesself out to a political party. It truly makes me wonder if we aren't assuming the same posture as those first century zealots who also believed that the answer was to simply seize political power.

To illustrate my point, I've listed several categories below . . .categories toward which Scripture speaks clearly . . .and shown how both political parties have positioned themselves against Scripture. Admittedly, many of these statements are generalized and thus do not apply to all Republicans and/or Democrats. Nevertheless, it is often the extremes of a party that best point out why such approaches are not the correct approaches in extending our Savior's Kingdom on earth.

Democrats forget that God granted us dominion over the earth. Republicans forget that this dominion is for the purpose of cultivating and caring for a planet that belongs to someone else!

Democrats refuse to value unborn life. Republicans deny a societal responsibility to care for human beings after they are born.

Republicans don't realize that race matters. Democrats don't understand the reason that race matters.

Democrats love to punish hard work. Republicans love to reward excess, greed, and overconsumption.

Democrats don't understand that "homosexual marriage" is a metaphysical impossibility. Republicans don't understand that "marriage" has a much deeper definition that just "a man and a woman." BOTH need to recognize that marriage is not a "right." It is a status of privilege.

Republicans need to stop calling America a "Christian nation." We never have been, never will be, and the suggestion that we are sends a perverted message of what the Gospel is to the rest of the world. I grow tired of doing missions in other nations and having to explain that the message of Jesus is not materialism and porn. Democrats, by contrast, need to deal with the fact that 1/3 of the electorate in this country is "Christian" and thus we are not a totally "secular" country either. Christians in America have had great influence.

Democrats should actually be proud to be American. Though not perfect, our nation is a great one, and we should not be ashamed of where we are from. Republicans should acknowledge that America is not perfect, and has made its share or mistakes in history, including an occassional display of "arrogance." Nations in the Bible are both commended and condemned, including Israel, whose nationalistic tendencies did not protect it from idolatry, or keep it from God's judgment. America, like every other great empire in human history, will one day come to an end. If not before Jesus returns, then it will certainly cease to exist at that point as the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. As a Christian, my first allegiance is to that coming Kingdom.

I'm quite certain that after reading this, those committed to the left AND right will be angry with me. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, you should examine this anger and try to determine where it is coming from. Why does it seem we are more concerned about a political party than God's Kingdom? Why does it seem that so much energy gets expended--quite naturally--debating the recent health care bill, but so little energy seems to go toward talking with equal passion about our neighbor's need for Jesus? Why do BOTH sides seem so caught up in debating the principles of a temporary kingdom instead of seeking to instill the values of an eternal Kingdom? Could it be that we have made an idol of our political ideologies? Have we cast Elephants and Donkeys in the same gold as Aaron's calf?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glen Beck: Poster Child for Civil Religion

"Look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. . .they are code words." So said Radio and TV host Glen Beck on his March 11 radio show. Apparently, Mr. Beck has yet to familiarize himself with the actual content of the Gospels. Not only does his comment reflect a naive category confusion between political and theological issues, it betrays a perverted view of the Gospel itself mixed with a bizzare form of civil religion that Beck--and apparently millions of others--have confused with the message of Jesus.

To be sure, Glen Beck has long since established himself as a strong voice of the political right with some stout libertarian leanings thrown in. As such, it should be no surprise to anyone familiar with his show that he would be in opposition to the current administration's push toward a national health care system, or that he would highly favor extreme reforms to our country's current wellfare net. Such are political positions that Mr. Beck is entitled to. The problem comes when one becomes so committed to his or her political ideology that he or she will reinterpret even their faith in order to remain committed to that ideology. There are plenty of professing Christians in our nation more interested in being good Republicans--or good Democrats--than in following Jesus. This week, Glen Beck became their poster-child.

This is what makes "civil religion" so dangerous. Certainly as followers of Jesus, every aspect of our lives--including the political--should be examined and developed in light of the Gospel. As His disciple, how I vote should be as Biblically informed as how I choose a church family. But when my political views begin to define terms like "social justice" rather than the Bible, I've crossed the line into civil religion.

On the political right, such civil religion looks really attractive; at least on the surface. The problem is defined as a lack of prosperity and the Messiah is capitalism. My sacramental duties in this religion are to get a good education, get a good job, earn lots of money, buy a home, and consume all the good things that the economy has produced for me so as to keep the markets on an upward trend. "The American Dream" usurps the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many American homes, which is why so many like Glen Beck fail to understand the central role of social justice in the life of the Christian church.

The political left has its own corollary message. The problem as they see it is a lack of economic equity. The Messiah is a social servies/wellfare system that redistributes the wealth of the country and eventually ushers in in a utopia, and my sacramental duties include contributing my "fair share" so that the nation can evolve together. Social justice on the left is an end in itself.

The Christian faith commends a much higher view of social justice than that propogated by either the right or the left. Jesus commands mercy toward the poor, care for the widow and orphan, respect and care for the elderly. In fact, the Christian church is the reason so many hospitals, institutions of higher learning, orphanages, soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers, and homeless shelters exist in this country. To be sure, followers of Christ don't see these ministries as ends in themselves. We have no delusions about ushering in a utopia. We do, however, believe that when we seek to relieve poverty we are foreshadowing a coming Kingdom where no poverty will exist. When we adopt orphans, we are reflecting the Gospel of a God who adopted alien children into His own family and made us joint-heirs with His Son Jesus Christ. When we minister to the homeless, we do so as though we are housing the Lord Himself. Ultimately, we seek social justice because we believe it foreshadows an ultimate justice which is coming. In short, we do what we do to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our deeds as well as with our words.

So wherever social justice is perverted or loathed, you can be sure the Gospel is not well-understood.

Frankly, Mr. Beck's own Mormon faith is of no real help here. The works-based Gospel of the Latter-Day Saints, based on a fictional picture of Jesus and the promise of self-promotion to one's own state of deity, actually makes a great religious cousin to the civil religion he seeks to promote. But the Gospel isn't about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Contrary to what many believe today, the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is nowhere to be found in Holy Scripture.

Instead, the Gospel teaches us that we all--the whole human race, regardless of social status, race, language, or gender--are helpless. Our central problem has nothing to do with how much or little we possess, but instead our utter lack of the holiness required for fellowship with our Creator. We are natural rebels, who have broken the laws of the God who created us. Thus, our Messiah Jesus came to take our sin on Himself and be punished as our substitute, and grant us His own holiness so that we could be in a right relationship with God. With this in view, the damnable nature of the "pull youself up by your own bootstraps" Gospel should be made clear.

Its OK for Christians to agree with Glen Beck. But those who do should take care that they don't end up joining him in his worship of the golden calf called "The American Dream." Followers of Jesus have a higher calling, and such a calling can't be fulfilled when Jesus' commands to seek justice for the poor are supplanted by the worship of mammon.