The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18)
Faith has not come easy to me. Although I was raised in a nominally Christian home, secular matters were always the first order of business. My two brothers and I were pretty much forced to attend church as children, but once we were confirmed (in a Lutheran church), nothing more was said about faith and one by one we turned our focus to school and athletics. My parents seldom attended church together that I recall. My mother went fairly regularly when we were young, but stopped altogether in her mid 50’s as she retreated into discontent and bitterness. My father, on the other hand, had a deep interest in spiritual matters. And while faith, at least the easy believism of some evangelicals, was hard for him, he never stopped seeking and eventually became a Roman Catholic.
I have written in the past of my own faith journey from agnostic to Christian. About a distress prayer I made in a time of great fear. About a sign from God in the form of a rainbow. About a “chance” reading of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. About three years of intense reading and reflection. And most impactfully, about the steadfast and gentle witness of my wife Pat and several close Christian friends – people who prayed for me for many years, but whose principal witness was their consistent embodiment of the values they professed. In the words of Eugene Peterson, theirs was a long obedience in the same direction. But mostly I have written about my continued personal journey of faith as I have endeavored to learn how to live a Christian life.
Today’s post marks the 50th reflection I have written over the same number of months. It has been a good discipline for me to write like this. A month has seemed just the right length of time to collect my thoughts and organize them within some sort of coherent framework. I have never presumed to tell others how to live out their faith, but have simply used this blog as a way to publically reflect on my own journey and what I believe are the essential teachings of Jesus. There is nothing magical about the number fifty, but it feels right to me that I should take a break for a while and turn my focus elsewhere.
I have written about the pursuit of virtue because it is the way to follow Christ. Moreover, it is our principal witness to the world. I complete this series of writings with a reflection on how the evangelical church in America is straying from the way of Christ and losing its witness through involvement in politics. I have been reluctant to comment on politics in this blog because there are people I love on opposite ends of the political spectrum. I have also avoided doing so because I don’t like the controversy that often emerges from those with deep-seated opinions. What I write now is not to advocate for or against any political candidate or party, but about how Christians should play the long game in politics as the best way to witness for Christ. In any event, I appeal to your grace if anything I write causes you offense.
No political event in the past four years was more surprising than the election of Donald Trump. And no response more stunning to me than his embrace by many evangelical leaders. It is not because they like his outrageous and often immoral conduct, but rather that he promises to enact policies and appoint judges that they support. The quid pro quo that he demands and receives is unquestioned loyalty no matter what his conduct. Anyone who speaks against his character literally loses a seat at the table. To be fair, I have not heard any evangelical leader say that immoral and unethical behavior is okay, but their silence is deafening and contrary to God’s word. For example, Paul tells us, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11) Indeed, Jesus commands us to publically confront the sins of those who claim to be Christians and don’t listen. (Matthew 18:15-17) God hates sin and no doubt commands us to confront it because many people interpret silence as tacit assent, which is even more problematic.
These evangelical leaders are not bad people nor is their desire to protect their beliefs wrong. Indeed, many of their goals are laudable. However, there are two problems. The first is that God’s word is “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Evil always begets more evil, and remaining mute in the face of evil is complicity. The way of Christ is the way of love – that is the only way if we are to follow him. The second problem is that their goals are short-sighted and doomed to fail. There is no policy or judge that is worth the cost. For when political winds change (as they always do) and leaders change, policies and judges will also change. What is gained today can be lost tomorrow. And then all that remains is our integrity, our virtue, our character, our moral voice. In the words of Scripture, “The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Make no mistake, our witness is always tied to our values – to the way we treat and love others. It is certain that these values are the practical distinctive of Christianity in our culture. If we compromise our values, what remains of our faith witness is very thin indeed.
I remember well the ethical failings of Bill Clinton and the moral outrage of evangelicals. I was not a believer at the time, and had no love for the Christian right. Yet, I knew their criticism was correct – infidelity and lying are wrong. Soon after this my spiritual journey took off. Today, God’s word has not changed, but many of the same evangelical leaders who were so outraged by Clinton’s actions now embrace a president whose words and actions are anathema to people of faith. This hypocrisy is precisely what Jesus condemned in the religious leaders of his day.
Please do not misinterpret what I write – I do not opine on whom a Christian should vote for – elections always present a binary choice that must be weighed by one’s own conscience. But regardless of whom we vote for, we must never compromise God’s moral principles. We must expect our evangelical leaders to play the long game and speak the truth (in love) regardless of the short-term personal cost.
Despite my concerns, I remain optimistic about our faith because the words of the Lord are: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Even as I write about what I see as a heartbreaking miscalculation by many evangelical leaders, there are other Christian leaders who are appalled at what they are witnessing and who are daring to speak truth to power. But more importantly, I know many, many followers of Christ who are truly “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” For the most part, they are quietly going through life with all of its ups and downs while remaining faithful to the Lord. I have written about many of them. Here are some living out the Beatitudes daily. Here are some shining the light of Christ into dark areas of the word. Here are some serving immigrants and the homeless. Here are some caring for the elderly. And here are many more whose daily prayer is, “Thy kingdom come Thy will be done.”
And so I bid you farewell for a while. I expect to be writing again, but not monthly. I thank you all for your patience, kind words, and grace. May the Lord truly bless you.