Sorry for yet another quasi-political post but it has been on my mind a lot, not from a "Vote for Candidate A!" position but more for how it impacts the church. So the language that follows will be strong, the hyperbole thick.
In the last decade or so, perhaps with a genesis in the beginning of the Presidency of George W. Bush, I have seen a major ratcheting up of the division in the church based on political preference. Maybe it has always been there but it seems that in the world of a constant media barrage, of Twitter and Facebook and blogging, of 24 hour news channels and talking heads who will do anything to keep getting the opportunity to spout off on TV, what we experience today is unlike any time in the past, even in the fairly recent past.
Case in point. CNN ran an interesting look at President Obama's religious faith and why it seems so alien to so many more traditional evangelicals, Is Obama The 'Wrong' Kind of Christian. While the story is interesting, I think it asks the wrong question because I don't see any sign that President Obama is a Christian of any sort, the 'right' or the 'wrong'. Mitt Romney certainly is not a Christian. Yet that doesn't stop many Christians, left and right alike, from claiming that "their guy" is the one who represents "Christian values".
I see this somewhat differently. I don't see two men who are polar opposites of one another. I instead see President Obama and Mitt Romney as mirror images of one another or perhaps two sides of the same coin. Both represent different types of religious American culture. Both a part of religious movements that have attempted to co-opt Christianity and in doing so have perverted the Gospel. Both use religion in the political process to advance their own agenda and to gain power.
The religious right and the religious left in this country represent two mostly political and cultural movements dressed up in pious sounding language. The religious left is the religion of self-gratification where no pleasure should be denied (which explains the defense of abortion even in the most heinous methods as the ultimate sacrament of the cult of self-gratification). The religious right is the religion of fear, fear of losing what belongs to you, fear of foreign threats (commies, Jihadists, etc), fear of outsiders and the unknown, fear of perceived threats to "security".
From religious feminist Rachel Held Evans (Ha, ha I built a menstrual tent and covered my head! Hilarious! Buy my book!) to Jim Wallis who thinks that Jesus was the original advocate of redistributive economics and who sports a man-crush for Obama that puts MSNBC's Chris Matthews to shame, the religious left in America uses the Sermon on the Mount to advocate for leftist political positions that have no real basis in Scripture (note, I truly think that Wallis is a brother in Christ, just one who is terribly misguided). On the other hand we have the Glenn Beck/David Barton types who think that America is God's chosen land and that Jesus was the original rugged individualist proto-capitalist who traveled around the Middle East with an American flag in one hand and a Colt .45 revolver in the other. For them Jesus is not only OK with smiting the enemies of America (and Israel) but perhaps even actively encourages it.
Left out in the cold are those who are faithful followers of Christ but don't see a home, and more importantly don't see their King, in either camp. Neither the rugged individualistic, flag waving, America as a Christian nation, kill them before they kill you religion of the American religious right nor the Jesus as peace sign flashing hippie, income redistribution advocating, Prius driving religion of the religious left faithfully represent the Kingdom. What is worse, this division not only does nothing to advance the calling of the church, it makes our collective mission exponentially more difficult. Rather than striving with the enemy in the realm of preaching the Gospel to the lost we are tangled up in arguments over tax policy, which wars are "just" and who should pay for birth control pills.
In just a few weeks this election will be over and one side will be excited and the other crushed. Perhaps it will be the religious left who will see the continuation of Obama's quasi-messianic reign as a sign of hope for America. Or perhaps, as I suspect is more likely, it will be the religious right as Christians celebrate the election of a pagan who "shares our values". Either way it would be a good time for both sides to have some serious conversations about what the mission of the church is and whether our obsession with politics is healthy or not. I am afraid that conversation is unlikely to happen. The rising vitriol lobbed at one group by the other only to be escalated and returned is leading to a division in the church that might someday rival the religious wars of Europe. The comfy religious cocoon of America is burning down around us and rather than preparing for evangelizing a "post-Christian" West, most Christians are preparing for the next legislative session.
We have moved beyond needing to get politics out of our religion. Today our politics is our religion. If we can't recover some semblance of perspective we might have to just eschew political involvement at all. As important as the issues facing our nation are, they are completely insignificant compared to the mission that Christ has tasked each and every Christian with carrying out.