Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why worry about things that don't matter?

Time for a little pushback.

I have been thinking more about the whole flap over Duck Dynasty and the implications for the church. I often find that once the initial furor dies down it is helpful to think through the issues when the "heat of battle" is not quite so hot. I used to be pretty fervent about the culture wars and while it may not seem like it, especially if we are friends on Facebook or you follow me on Twitter, but I don't care nearly as much as I used to about politics and economics. There is not a "Christian" system of worldly governance or economics and our mission transcends and supersedes those sorts of concerns. Winning the culture wars wouldn't make a single new disciple of Christ (see Eric Carpenter's post on this topic, What If Conservatives Actually Won The Culture War?). I also believe in a God who is sovereign over all things, from the smallest detail to the rebirth of a sinner dead in their trespasses. That raises a question in my mind and certainly others: why care at all about these apparently irrelevant issues like economics and politics?

I care, probably more than I should, because believe it or not I care about people, even people I don't know and who aren't even born yet. Ideas and policies have consequences. I believe as firmly as I believe anything outside of the Gospel that some ideas are harmful to people, ideas like institutionalizing children, policies like the creation of a state replacement for family and especially fathers, notions like unborn children being reduced to an dehumanizing term like "choice". Not every transgression amounts to persecution but just because it isn't persecution doesn't mean it is irrelevant.

All things being equal, a society with a free exchange of ideas is better than one without. A society with an opportunity based economic system is better than one with a false outcome based system. A nation where children are not murdered in the womb is better than one where they are. A nation that incentivizes and protects marriage with a mother and father is better than one that waters down marital relationships to an unlimited number of permutations that all demand equal recognition no matter how harmful they are. A peaceful nation state that restrains her own powers both domestically and abroad is a freer and better neighbor than one that treats all of her citizens as potential criminals and interferes over and over in conflicts that are none of her business. I believe that a people who individually, voluntarily and collectively work together to aid the poor, the widow and the orphan is preferable to one that confiscates from some to give to others and where individuals subcontract mercy work to the state or the religious institution. I believe it is profoundly immoral to bankrupt future generations with an enormous debt burden because of the greed, selfishness and incompetence of past and present generations. There are lots more but you get the idea. Just because something doesn't have eternal consequences doesn't mean it ought to be ignored. Feeding a poor person or visiting a widow doesn't make one a believer but that doesn't mean it is unimportant.

Free market economics is not the Gospel (nor are income redistribution schemes). Likewise our individualistic, "I earned it, it is my money and I will do with as I want with it" attitude is cause for concern and correction in the church. Nevertheless I honestly believe that a freer society with freer markets where people have the opportunity to take risks and be rewarded for enterprise and initiative is better for all people than a centrally controlled economy. The economic history of the world bears this out.

Here is the point I am trying to make. I can believe the above positions and even advocate for them at the same time I serve God and proclaim His Son. Granted there needs to be a prioritization because my calling as an ambassador of the King trumps every other concern. The Gospel proclamation is our highest and only eternally relevant task. Free markets are not the Gospel. Traditional marriage is not the Gospel. Even protecting unborn children is not the Gospel. That doesn't make them irrelevant or value neutral. All across the political spectrum, left and right equally, the church has tried to link the Gospel with their political cause but that error and abuse doesn't lead to a shoulder shrugging attitude of "who cares?". Because I care about people I care about issues that make their lives better or make their lives worse.

So please don't dismiss as petty any issue or position that is not directly Gospel related. Not everyone, or even very many people, will respond to the Gospel's offer of unmerited favor that forgives sins. That reality doesn't mean that we sit in our Kingdom bunkers and watch the world collapse in misery and despair. Nor does the opposite hold true, as some seem to suggest, that winning political victories and achieving cultural dominance is our most pressing concern. In this area, as in so many others, balance is of the utmost importance.


James Lee said...

As I work longer in the field of Mental Health, my interaction with different folks and different strokes has changed the manner in which I view what things matter. I always tell people that in the beginning, as an undergrad, things were very black & white theologically. Now, things are kinda graying out.

It seems to have become more prevalent in my interactions with different "issues" in different peoples lives because the "Gospel" of White American Evangelicalism does not aptly apply to the Moslem or Hindii on my caseload.

But they are still eligible for grace.

Arthur Sido said...

I am not sure what your point is James in relation to this post?