Monday, October 24, 2011

Where should Christians stand?

In our increasingly politically and culturally polarized nation we are seeing battle-lines being drawn by two groups, groups that stand outside of the traditional political process and that are shaking the political landscape. These two groups, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, have very different goals even if some of their rhetoric sounds superficially similar. You can be sure that politicians on both sides of the aisle are running scared because these groups tend to eschew the normal niceties and rules of politics as usual. They are vocal, energized and inflexible and don’t seem interested in the ways things are done in Washington. They are also a serious threat to the church.
Many evangelical Christians identify with the Tea Party because of its emphasis on individual liberty and conservative economic policies. The message of the Tea Party fits well with the narrative of conservative evangelical American Christianity. I would be willing to say that many Tea Party supporters are church-going evangelicals and likewise many church-going evangelicals are in sympathy with the positions of the Tea Party. That is troubling to me. Not because the policies are wrong, quite the contrary by and large I agree with them and vote accordingly. Rather it is troubling because the line between a political/economic issue and the Gospel has become blurry. Low taxes are not a Kingdom issue. Opposition to socialized medicine is not a Gospel issue. An overemphasis on the relationship with an earthly political agenda, no matter how correct that agenda might be, can cause a stumbling block to unbelievers and brothers alike and we need to avoid that wherever possible to ensure that there is no doubt that the Gospel is not a right wing political issue.

Equally troubling are those who wish to anoint the Occupy Wall Street protestors with the mantle of Christianity based on some fuzzy notions of “justice” and because they carry signs poorly written in crayon decrying "greed". Predictably there are some in the church on the activist political Left who are trying to claim that the Occupy Wall Street crowd somehow embodies Kingdom values and is worthy of support by virtue of its alleged concern for the poor. Of course there are lots of groups and organizations that are concerned for the poor that are either ambivalent or antithetical to the Kingdom of God, from secular groups like the United Way to heretical organizations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which has a large mercy “ministry”. So neither mere lip service in favor of disastrous economic policies like what we are getting from the Occupy Wall Street movement nor actual care for the poor is inherently Kingdom work if it does not have its foundation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, none other than Jim Wallis made this declaration a few weeks ago regarding the Occupy Wall Street crowd….

Here are a few things I do know about the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.

When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked.

When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable.

That is an incredibly sweeping statement and one that is likewise incredibly dangerous. Is an ardent atheist who is protesting in New York City in favor of income redistribution which will allegedly help the poor “standing with Jesus”? Is a Muslim or a mormon or a Buddhist who denies Christ but is handing out food “standing with Jesus”? The order here is backward. We who are in Christ are likewise called to aid the poor and the hungry but just because someone is helping the poor and downtrodden does not put them in right standing or even emulation of Christ. Merely mimicking Christ’s earthly ministry while denying His divinity does not make one “standing with Jesus”. Jim needs to be far more discerning and probably should quit entirely when it comes to declaring who “stands with Jesus” based on a liberal political stance.

We need to walk a fine line here. On the one side, we have done a miserable job by and large as the church in caring of the poor, the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan. On the other side our failure is just that, our failure, and the solution is not to abandon the basin and towel mandate in favor of a flawed and self-defeating system of income redistribution by government confiscation. Rather we must continue to call on the church to repent and change and to demonstrate by our actions the lives of a Christ follower we see modeled in the Bible by His followers and Christ Himself. There is no worldly substitute that will do.

Where should we stand? With the Tea Party? With Occupy Wall Street? I say neither because neither movement is rooted and grounded in a risen Savior who is Lord of all.

As witnesses of Christ and ambassadors of the King we should neither identify with the Tea Party nor with Occupy Wall Street. We should identify with Christ and be awfully concerned with any overreliance or over-identification with any secular political movement. I believe that the policies we generally refer to as “conservative” or “libertarian” have the potential to create the greatest economic opportunity for the greatest number of people. I also believe that there is absolutely no correlation between economic security or economic opportunity and the Gospel proclamation. Quite the opposite. In places where people have the most opportunity (America) or the greatest, up until recently, economic security (Europe) we also see the Gospel witness stagnant and stale. Religion and ritual rule the day. Where the Gospel is exploding are in places like Africa, Asia and South America where life is much harder by almost any measure. Our focus must not be on winning political battles or utopian visions of free markets or social safety nets. Our focus must instead be first and always on proclaiming Christ and Him crucified as the only solution to the only problem that matters. In the end wealth or security will matter nothing to the soul lost outside of Christ.

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