I feel like I’m a candidate on the campaign trail with all the traveling and (anti) political talks I’ve been giving the last month. Last week I was down on the coast of Georgia in a beautiful resort by the ocean (suffering for Jesus!) sharing some thoughts at a conference put on by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (a sort of breakaway from the Southern Baptist Convention ). These fine folks asked me to talk about my vision of the Jesus-looking Kingdom and its relationship to government (or lack thereof) as well as my views on the open nature of the future. Over all it seemed to be well received and I had a positively delightful time.
The week before that I spent several days teaching and preaching on similar themes at Truett Seminary and Baylor University in Waco Texas. My emphasis on America as a thoroughly pagan (not “Christian) nation and on the idolatry of nationalism ruffled a few feathers among patriots, especially in the chapel, but it was all good.
The most interesting trip, however, happened the week before that. I spent several days giving a couple of talks on the historical Jesus at Crossroads College and at church in Rochester. That was just pure fun. But I also was asked to give a short talk and lead a discussion at a luncheon for evangelical pastors. It had been suggested that I give a short presentation on why I believe Christian pastors should focus their congregations on transforming the world through self-sacrificial service rather than by trying to rally their “flocks” around particular political causes, candidates and parties.
I don’t know if it happened by design or by chance, but just before I got up to speak several representatives of the Minnesota Family Council (a conservative Christian political action ministry) shared with the pastors why they felt America was a Christian nation and why it was the responsibility of pastors to encourage their church members to get out and “vote their biblical values.” (Are Christians tempted to vote the values of the Koran, Tao Te Ching or Humanist Manifesto unless their pastors remind them what they believe?). These sincere folks then handed out a booklet to inform pastors on what they could and could not say as they steered their congregants in the right direction without getting into trouble with the law. They also handed out “voter registration guides” that would help “inform” Christians where the particular candidates stood on the “key” issues (e.g. abortion, gay marriage). They finished by encouraging the pastors to distribute these guides in their churches.
I was then invited to share my thoughts with the pastors. It was a little awkward, but I basically gave a talk asking the question: “When did Jesus ever do anything like what you just asked to do? “ Given that our job is to mimic Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2) it seems like fair question. I made the case that the church’s one and only job is to look like Jesus, humbly manifesting God’s love in sacrificial service to all people at all times, including our enemies. By this criteria, I argued, the church in America is, as a whole, failing miserably. Christians are known for a lot of things, but humility and self-sacrificial love, especially for enemies, isn’t among them. (Folks, its not in the top 100!)
The tragic truth is that the church in America is profoundly broken. Instead of addressing our own massive shortcomings and sin, however, many leaders are trying to get us to focus on fixing Caesar! We aren’t doing what we’re called to do, in part because we’re so busy trying to get Caesar to do it! We’re ignoring the log in our own eye while trying to find a speck in Caesar’s! We’re doing very little of what Jesus called us to do and spending a lot of time doing things Jesus never told us to do. Instead of bleeding to transform the world through the self-sacrificial power of the cross, we’re trying to transform the world through the self-serving power of the sword. Instead of feasting at the banquet of God’s humble, servant love, we’re joining in the world’s scramble to scarf up a morsel of power that falls from Caesar’s table.
Folks, for people who profess to follow Jesus, this is pure insanity! It’s just that this insanity has been going on for so long (basically since Constantine’s “conversion” in the fourth century) that many find it to be perfectly normally — indeed, for many, its the epitome of “taking a stand for vtruth and righteousness.”
How we need to be freed from the illusion that we’re doing anything kingdom by voting a certain way every couple years! How we need to wake up to the truth that we vote for or against the Kingdom every day of our life. We vote by how we spend our money and time. We vote by where we live, who we hang out with, the kind of car we drive and the kind of clothes we wear. In the Kingdom, we vote with our lives, not in a booth expressing our opinion about what Caesar should do.
I’ll end by mentioning that all the pastors, as well as the two representatives of the Minnesota Family Council, were very gracious afterwards. We had a spirited but friendly conversation, and for this I was extremely grateful. From a Kingdom perspective, the most important issue at stake in any disagreement is not the positions taken but whether or not the disagreements are expressed in love.
Keep your eyes fixed on Christ where your life is hid (Col. 3:1-5).
Coming next: a review of Bill Maher’s scathing documentary on religion entitled Religulous.