7 Ways to Keep the Election in Perspective

1) Pray for the other guy.  Whether you’re a fan of Governor Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, or whether you’re like me and can’t vote for either man in good conscience, take some time to pray for “the other guy.”   Pray that God will guide him and give him wisdom.  This is especially necessary if “the other guy” is President Obama.  He’s our current President, and will be leading this country at least until January, and we are urged, as Christians, to pray for the leaders of our nation. [1 Timothy 2:1-2]

2) Realize that neither guy is gonna blow up the world.  As Americans, we tend to make every election into an epic battle between good and evil, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.  Neither Obama nor Romney is going to “launch the nukes” on January 21st.  World War III isn’t coming.  They’ll keep bombing “militants” with Predator Drones, in countries (even allies like Pakistan) that are too weak to stop us, but they won’t pick on anyone our own size.

3) Remember that neither guy is Nero or Caligula (or Hitler, or Stalin …).  Political partisans and Evangelical Christians have at least one thing in common: we’re all really quick to see ourselves as persecuted.  As Christians, we’ve survived much worse leaders, especially in the early days.  And there are much worse leaders in the world today, in places like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.  Neither man is going to bring back the Spanish Inquisition or the KGB. 

4) Remember that we’re fighting over 10%.  Obama and Romney agree on a lot of things: the basic shape of government and entitlements, military interventionism, corporatist “capitalism,” and so on.  Most of the time, when one or the other party says they’ll “cut” a program (whether welfare or military spending), they mean they’ll reduce the rate of increase, not actually reduce (or even freeze) the current levels of spending.

The two major candidates mostly disagree about things they have limited ability to change: gay marriage (which will be decided in the courts) and abortion (which has already been decided in the courts, and which the last four Republican Presidents managed to do almost nothing about).  Neither man is going to radically reshape America.  Governor Romney has even said he’d keep many of the Obamacare provisions, and Obamacare was far less of a radical government takeover than the healthcare systems most other industrialized nations have.

5) Democracy, at least at the federal level, is mostly theater.  Nobody reading this blog has the power to make any difference at that level: it’s all multi-billion dollar corporations and political action groups.  You can make a difference at the local level.  If you want to get involved, there’s the place to start.

6) Our hope is not in Washington DC.  Our hope, as Christians, is in the God who comes to us, the God who dwells within us.  Jesus is still our hope, our real leader.  As Dave Ramsey often says, we have to beat the recession in our own lives before we can expect America to recover.   It’s a cliche that we have to “be the change we want to see,” but it’s one that actually bears repeating.  If you want a more just, compassionate, industrious world, build those virtues in yourself and encourage them withing your personal sphere of influence.

7) No matter who votes for whom, we are still one.  As Americans, we are one nation.  As Christians, we are one people in Christ.  And ultimately, our humanity makes us one with every person on the planet.  If we love as God loves us, we can transcend partisan bickering, transcend Facebook flame wars, even transcend big money bought-and-sold politicians.  We have hope, and we have to live that hope. 

Beyond that, vote how you want.  Or don’t.  And Tuesday night, join in the Election Day Communion at a church near you.

Election Day Communion

Election Day Communion 2012

Over 500 churches across the nation are gathering on election day, November 6, 2012, to hold communion.

We gather to remember that whoever wins, God is still in control.

We gather to remember that whoever we vote for, we are all still one in Christ.

We gather to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, who don’t get to vote, who don’t get to gather publicly.

We gather to pray for our leaders, whether we voted for them or not, that God will give them wisdom and compassion.

We are gathering at South 28th Avenue Baptist Church.  We may be few in number, but we will gather.

It’s not too late for your church to join the communion, to remember our unity.

Remember, we are all one in Christ – liberals,  conservatives, independents, Evangelical, Reformed, Mainline, Catholic.  We are all one in God’s love, all saved by the same Son, the same Redeemer.

Learn more here, at http://electiondaycommunion.org

 

What I Am Sure Of

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about questions, writing about the push and pull of mysteries of the faith, things so many people take for granted.  It may be frustrating to some of you that I don’t always come to a conclusion.  To borrow a phrase from Donald Miller, I don’t “resolve.”  But please bear with me.  There are some things I do believe…

The charge has been leveled that evangelical Christians, and conservative ones in general, can’t stomach ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  And surely bumper-sticker catchphrases like “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” only add to that image.

But the truth is, people aren’t great with ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  That’s why, once we choose a political party, we ignore almost any horrible deed by our side, because it’s “better than the other guys,” whether it’s torture – I mean, “enhanced interrogation” – or drone strikes on Pakistani civilians and U.S. citizens abroad.

Similarly, when we settle on a religious framework, we tend to stick to it, minimizing or exceptionalizing its problems, from ‘crack that limp wrist’ to ‘build a fence so they’ll die out‘ to the ongoing abuses of complementarian fundamentalists.  But much of the time the problem isn’t the theology so much as the certainty itself.  None of us is immune to confirmation bias.  The problem comes when we don’t fight it, but instead sanctify it.

It’s true that we go through times of transition, mostly as young people, when we examine our parents’ beliefs to see which ones are really ours.  The children of conservatives may become socialists, the sons of hippies, Young Republicans, the daughters of butchers, vegetarians.

Of course, times of change and transition aren’t only for adolescents. Sometimes having children sparks a new period of wrestling, brought on by sleepless nights and the awesome wonder of new life.  Sometimes age and approaching retirement, with its distant rumblings of mortality, sparks yet another time of change.

But beyond this?   Most people don’t have a stomach for uncertainty.  As human beings, it’s our nature to prefer flawed, even wrong, answers to rightful questions.

It’s far too easy to stop wrestling, struggling, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  We get comfortable, and soon we find we’re no longer following Jesus across dusty Judean roads, over craggy mountains, and into the land of the half-breed heretic Samaritans.

Instead, we’ve set up our comfortable seats at the temple (always the same pew, every Sunday).  And the sad part is, we don’t even really expect Him to come to us.  We think He has come to us, and we’re good.  We’ve got it.  We got our inoculation, we’re right with God.  We’re all right.  “I’m not a sinner.  I never sin.  I’ve got a friend in Jesus…

And that certainty makes us hard.  It calcifies and ossifies, grinding our compassion and empathy to a halt.  Outsiders become, not the ones we seek out (like the woman at the well), but enemies of the faith.  Our approach is not genuine interest and sacrificial compassion, but alarm and hostility.  We cry “persecution!” from our well-cushioned pews in our air-conditioned churches every time something in the outer world slaps us in the face.  But persecution isn’t a slap in the face; it’s a bullet in the head.

There’s a reason we call it wrestling with a topic.  Wrestling is hard.  It’s sweaty.  It’s physical.  It’s exhausting.  Working out our salvation with fear and trembling requires a lot of energy.  More than that, it requires pain.  Fear and trembling.  This is going to hurt.

Wrestling with God is going to hurt.  And it should.  The Marines have a saying: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  If you can’t stomach the pain of questioning, you’ll have to accept the weakness.  But please, don’t claim that weakness to be a stronger or truer faith.  Shouting heretic and TYPING IN ALL CAPS doesn’t make you right.  It didn’t make me right when I did it, either.

This is what I believe.  I believe that Jacob didn’t wrestle an angel.  He wrestled God Himself, a pre-incarnate Jesus.  And though he wrestled all night until his arms ripped and his lungs raged like fire, though he almost lost his leg, Jacob wrestled.  He held on, and in the end God blessed him.

And I believe God still waits to wrestle with us all.  It won’t be pretty.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be painless.  But it will be worth it.

Amen.

Eet Mor Chiken and the Gratest Komandmint

Chick Fil A Chicken Sandwich

Photo by J. Reed, Creative Commons

I recently saw a letter to the editor in a local newspaper in which the author said he was tired of hearing about Chick-Fil-A.  He wanted us all to shut up about it because America has bigger problems than some fast food guy.  I sent a letter back replying that for homosexual men and women, civil rights, bullying, and marriage equality are hardly yesterday’s news.

I don’t think it’s time to stop the conversation.  I think it’s time to keep talking.  I hope I can say this with grace, and without any rancor or sarcasm.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus called us to love God with everything we have and love our neighbors as ourselves [Matthew 22:36-40].  Can we love somebody without every trying to see things from their perspective?  Can we love somebody without taking the time to understand their struggles and what’s important to them?

Samaritans were seen much like homosexuals are today: outside of the faith, less valuable, different, other.  Samaritans were half-breed descendants of Jews who’d married pagans.  They worshipped on a mountain, not in the temple, living a lifestyle that defied God’s holy law every Sabbath.  They were enemies of the faith, unnatural half-breeds, scum.  But when asked “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. [Luke 10:25-37]  When traveling, Jesus took a detour into Samaria and preached to the woman at the well [John Chapter 4], even though she was living in lifestyle sexual sin with a man she wasn’t married to (while most likely still being legally married to one of her five previous husbands).

So if we love our gay neighbors as we love ourselves, shouldn’t we think about how our actions will affect them?  Shouldn’t we consider that our massive Chick-Fil-A rally will look less like “support for free speech” and more like a raised fist to them?

If you lived in a nation where Christianity was a small minority, denounced and scorned by the majority, how would you feel about a huge demonstration of support for a rich man who vocally condemns Christians and financially supports organizations that oppose Christianity?

I’d feel terrible, myself.  I’d feel bullied and persecuted.  I’d feel like, indeed, my own neighbors had turned against me. Not welcome, not loved.

How do you think the average gay person felt when he or she saw long lines wrapped around Chick-Fil-A all day, people lining up to support a business that gives money to anti-gay groups?

But it’s different, we say.  Homosexuality is a sin, we say.  Jesus didn’t say love our sinless neighbors as ourselves.  He said love our neighbors as ourselves.  Believing that homosexuality is a sin (even if you’re right) doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore Jesus’s commands on how to treat his gay children, our gay neighbors.  Being right never excuses unloving, graceless, judgmental behavior.  Nor does it excuse thoughtless behavior that is hurtful to an already vulnerable population.

I hadn’t really written anything about this, but seeing that letter in the editor lit a fire under me.  Sometimes we are so concerned about being right that we fail to follow our Divine Master’s greatest commandments.  And I’m as guilty of that as anyone, but I’m trying to work on it.

What do you think?  In our zeal to critique our secular culture, do we sometimes lose sight of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves?  Can a critique that is begun out of love become something unloving through escalation, or perhaps through failure to see things from another perspective?