Saturday, October 29, 2016

What This Election Has Revealed About The Church

Christians, let’s be honest: We weren’t ready for this election. We weren't ready for the moral quandary forced on us by both the issues and the candidates. In the next four years we have some serious soul-searching to do about a lot of things. However, I would like to focus on two that directly influence the life of the church.

1. We must recalibrate what ‘the good life’ looks like for Christians. 

"Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." George Barna concludes, "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change. We have very little time, he believes, to reverse these trends..." 

African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete.”[1]

“Overall, the economy is the top concern for Americans regardless of religious affiliation (30%). National security (17%) and personal character (17%) also are significant issues. Supreme Court nominees (10%), immigration (5%), religious freedom (2%), and abortion (1%) are less important. ‘For churchgoers and those with evangelical beliefs, their pocketbook and personal safety are paramount,’ said McConnell. ‘Moral issues aren’t a priority for many of them.’”[2]

Lifeway's survey did not ask Christians to rate the importance of every issue. When that happens, Christians show a high value for things like religious freedom and life. This survey was different. It basically asked, "When push comes to shove, if you have to place these in order, what's most important?" And when phrased that way, our pocketbook and personal safety won.

It’s not that Christians desiring economic health or safety is a problem. Who wouldn't choose stability in these areas over instability? I’t’s just hard to see how to make an argument that the Bible tells us to prioritize money and safety over the protection of human life, just immigration policies or religious freedom. I’m trying to envision Paul being handed this list and asked with what things the church should be most concerned.

"The cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete." That should sober us. We must recalibrate our moral compass toward a biblical True North. It's one thing to say economic justice is hugely important, because there is a lot of biblical support for that cause. That's not, of course, what the survey measured. It measured our personal economic comfort. It measured our desire for mammon against our desire for all those other things. And mammon won.

We need a recalibration of the things that matter most.

2. We must revisit what it means to have a well-rounded, biblical understanding of ethics.

The Christian ethical ideal involves at least four things: noble character, good intent, just means and good ends. In a fallen world, it's very hard to hit all four of these ideals, but it is nonetheless a goal for which we aim. The closer we get, the more reason we have to celebrate. The further we stray, the more we should mourn.

In this election, we should be mourning over both the leading candidates.

There is no perfect candidate. There never was and never will be. But is there no place where Chriistians draw a line? Is any immoral corruption defensible in the service of the greater good? Leaders rise and fall; policies shift; cultural norms ebb and flow. God remains the same. We must build on a firm moral foundation which directs both the means and the ends, and which demands that virtue and intent matter.

Have we really gotten to a point where Christians – follower of Jesus who make a claim to moral high ground based on the character and teaching of Jesus – not only vote as if character doesn’t count, but defend actions and attitudes that ought not be defended? Have we become consequentialists now, justifying any means to achieve our desired ends? Our heavenly citizenship demands that we take a stand for righteousness, justice, truth, and goodness, not only in the principles we support but also in the people.

We claim that Christians are the salt and light of the world. We are on the verge of being ground underfoot, of being snuffed out. A culture wondering what Jesus looks like is watching us. They assume that Jesus would not only support the policies we support but also champion those whom we champion. So what do we do in an election where there is no vote that does justice to to a Christian ideal of noble character and intent, just means and good ends? And what do we do when voting for the lesser of two evils appears to be deeply compromising our cultural witness?

Do we vote, cringing at the compromise, and scrambling to find candidates for the next election in whom the deficiencies of our current options are minimized at least or absent at best? Do we refuse to offer our good name and the reputation of Christ in the service of remarkably corrupt people and their sometimes equally corrupt actions or policies? One thing we must not do is defend the indefensible. We must not celebrate or cheer what which ought to make us mourn. If we choose the lesser of two evils, we do so while weeping at a broken world that pushes us toward an inescapable moral tension.

There’s not an easy answer. There never has been. We’ve just never been forced to see the tension this starkly before.

We weren’t ready for this election. We need to be ready next time. It’s more than just the future of our country hanging in the balance. The reputation of Christ and the church is at stake.

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