It happens after every major election, particularly when conservatives lose. Declarations of doom and despair accompany internecine recriminations and predictions that, as bad as things are now, they will, in all likelihood, get a whole lot worse.
A few days after the presidential election in 2012, I opened the local newspaper to the editorial section where I read this headline spread across the entire op-ed page in large type: “Obama’s Leading This Country Down the Road to Ruin.” That was the title for a column written by a prominent conservative pundit who is also a well-known evangelical Christian. In the second paragraph of his column that day he wrote, President Barack Obama’s reelection mirrors the self-indulgent, greedy and envious nation we are rapidly becoming.
I know a lot of my conservative friends still embrace the sentiment conveyed by that headline despite concrete evidence to the contrary. And a red-meat sentence like that one surely rallies the troops. There’s just one problem. It was not true then, and it is not true now.
Now this is the place where I would normally make apologies for offending my conservative and evangelical readers (assuming I still have any), acknowledge that I, too, understand what a moral mess we are in as a nation, and then offer a watered-down critique, designed to be as palatable as possible to as many people as possible but which, in reality, doesn’t say anything particularly substantive or helpful.
Not so this time. I’m not going to be intentionally brash and offensive, and I hope my conservative readers will give me the benefit of the doubt and finish reading this entire post. But I’m not going to work so hard at being gentle and inoffensive that I sabotage the point I want to make.
And that is this: If evangelical and orthodox Christians will stop all their hand-wringing and tone down their predictions of calamity and chaos, they might realize that we are on the threshold of what could be a time of great advancement and growth for the kingdom of God.
I am neither a conservative nor a liberal (the preferred term these days, I believe, is progressive), although I find laudable aspects in both points of view. Conservatives emphasize the conservation of traditional values, the best of what has been handed down to us. Progressives stress the liberation of human potential and creativity. Both emphases can be noble and worthy.
In extremis, however, and without the balancing and tempering effects of the other side, each perspective hardens into a myopic ideology. That situation is only exacerbated when advocates on both sides of the spectrum seek to defend their tenets by contrasting their best ideas with their opponents’ worst.
At its best, conservatism encourages frugality and wise stewardship. At its worst it gives us skinheads and the KKK. At its best, progressivism encourages tolerance and diversity. At its worst, it produces a mindset of irresponsible entitlement.
Some within my conservative constituency are narrow-minded bigots. Most, however, are well-meaning citizens genuinely concerned for the future of our country. Some within my liberal constituency are unapologetic Keynesians who never saw a tax or a government program they didn’t like. Most, however, are well-meaning citizens who want to live in a country known more for compassion and equality than for repression and prejudice.
Many of my readers are conservatives. Their candidate lost in the last two presidential elections, and many of them had begun to fear that America’s best days were behind her. Since I used to share their perspective, I will address the remainder of this post to them.
Above all else, the focus of my life and ministry is the kingdom (or reign) of God. My only interest in politics has to do with its relationship to the kingdom. I am interested in how those who wield power (or aspire to it) reflect kingdom values in their beliefs and personal lives. Further, how do they, by the policies they support and implement, cultivate an environment favorable to the kingdom? By that I mean a context in which the gospel of the kingdom can be proclaimed and the values of the kingdom can be lived out by those who follow Jesus and identify themselves as citizens of the kingdom.
In that regard, then, I say again that if evangelical Christians will stop their hand-wringing and tone down their predictions of calamity and chaos, they might realize that we are on the threshold of what could be a time of great advancement and growth for the kingdom of God.
Despite overwhelming allegiance to the Republican Party by white evangelicals, the kingdom of God is not governed by the Republican platform. Many evangelicals, particularly those who are also members of ethnic minorities in America, were convinced that their vote for the Democratic candidate in the last election was compatible with their evangelical faith.
Many evangelicals (mainly minorities) could not vote for the Republican candidate for president because they truly believed an excessive emphasis on market capitalism, disregard for wealth and income disparity, and the equating of material prosperity with genuine success together pose a serious threat to the psychological and social health of the culture. I agree with them.
I am a Christian. At different times in my career, I have held ministerial credentials in three different expressions of Christianity: conservative evangelical, Mennonite, and Anglican. I once believed the term “gay Christian” was a contradiction, and I opposed the right of gays and lesbians to enter into legal marriage. I’ve changed my mind on that, and I don’t want to live in a country where gay Christians are shunned or demonized by other Christians.
I am a pro-life pacifist. That means I care as much about the life and health of innocent children in Syria and Afghanistan as I do unborn babies in the U.S. I believe that one immediate way to reduce the rate of abortion in this country is to provide access to universal prenatal, infant, and young child health care. I reject abortion as after-the-fact birth control, but I don’t want to live in a country where Christians condemn a woman who honestly believed an early-term abortion was preferable to subjecting a child to extreme poverty, inadequate health care, and possible malnutrition and disease.
The best way to combat the negative influence on the culture from the extreme wings of both political ideologies is to affirm that the church is not beholden to any political party. It is, rather, the agent of the kingdom of God in the world. As both salt and light in the culture (to quote Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount) the church exposes the dangers of extreme positions in either direction, illumines the way toward a balanced and holistic stewardship of resources, preserves the best of what we have inherited, and stands unequivocally for peace, justice, and equality.
This is not the time for Christians to retreat into enclaves of isolation from which they lob cynical and judgmental attacks on those whom they regard as enemies mainly because they haven’t taken the opportunity to consider how the world looks from another perspective. I’m not calling on Christians, whatever their political bent, to abandon their convictions. I am asking that we reaffirm our citizenship in the kingdom of God and renew our commitment to the law of love—as Jesus taught and modeled it—that supersedes our nationality, our ethnicity, our sectarian theology, and our politics.