Talking Straight


Not long ago, I was conversing with a devout Christian about the state of the nation.  He was distressed regarding the direction in which Mr. Obama is attempting to lead it.  Having listened to my friend perseverate about the matter for a number of minutes, I interrupted, "Since you, along with millions of other Christians, are convinced that the Administration's policies are not only ineffectual, but are also tearing at the fabric of the country, why not stand up against these wrongs?"  His response captivated me.  "Oh, no, we could never do that," he countered, "we are commanded to be good citizens and to be in submission to those in authority over us."  Hold the thought for a moment.

A Christian clergyman took me to task the other day for authoring blogs that are pessimistic about the future.  "It is contrary to the spirit of the Christian faith," he insisted, "for us to be troubled about what the future holds.  God is sovereign and is always watching over us."

As I reflect upon these two statements, it occurs to me that there is a common ideological thread connecting them.  According to each, Christianity would appear to be, as Rousseau charged, "a wholly spiritual religion, concerned solely with the things of heaven . . . ." The great French philosopher further asserted, "[T]he Christian's homeland is not of this world . . . If the state prospers, he hardly dares to enjoy the public happiness; he fears lest he become proud of his country's glory; if the state perishes, he blesses the hand of God that weighs heavily on His people."  When exploring the subject of "civil religion" or, as I choose to call it, "public faith," Rousseau maintained that Christianity was not a viable candidate for the same.

There is no doubt about it, Rousseau made a valid point.  Throughout the history of Christendom, there has been a strong contingent of believers who eschew preoccupation with this world.  It is not altogether fair, however, to describe their belief system as "pie in the sky, by and by."  Inasmuch as the term "politics" literally means "people," many evangelical Christians are profoundly involved in politics by virtue of serving others.  They have chosen to volunteer in soup kitchens, nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, classrooms, and other ministries in which they serve those in need and in trouble. One must hasten to add that most of these Christians do not view themselves as being even remotely involved in the political process.

I admit that I have a most difficult time understanding how anyone can separate religion from politics.  The concerns of each are intertwined in countless ways, simply because the welfare of people constitutes the common goal.  While religion and politics are two distinct endeavors, they are certainly not separate ones.  When an American President argues that a baby who has survived an abortion does not have the right to community support and sustenance, how can any Christian not speak out against such barbarism?  When the President travels around the globe to a Muslim country and suggests that America has not been definitively shaped by biblical values and precepts, it is simply a lie which Christians cannot ignore without turning their backs on the Ten Commandments.  When the foreign policy of this nation conveys a naivete that emboldens dictators and endangers the lives of millions of American citizens by serving unwittingly to edge the country a step closer to war, this is a reality which should concern each and every Christian!  Do we, after all, want people to go to war and to die?

Christians who take the position that they are to obey the laws of their country without regard to whether such laws are moral or immoral, just or unjust, are sitting still for every form of social and political evil.  To that extent they are on ground that is deplorable. Should our founders have acquiesced to taxation without representation?  Should Christians have closed their eyes to the evils of slavery and to Jim Crow?  Should we have condoned sending children of tender years into steel mills and coal mines to work 15-hour days?  Should we be silent while jobs by the tens of thousands are outsourced overseas in order that greedy and avaricious CEOs can unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of impoverishing their neighbors at home?

I remind my Christian readers that Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  We too are permitted to weep over America.  It is not that God's hand of providence does not reach far beyond American public life; it does.  It is not that this country deserves deification; it does not.  It is because America was once, compared to all other countries in the history of humankind, "a shining city on a hill."  It represented a cornucopia of good and noble things.  For Christians to be indifferent to the level of culture we once enjoyed and not take every measure to restore it is an offense of the greatest magnitude against God and man.

The prophets were pessimistic.  Certainly, they were.  But, when the moment was right, they blew the trumpet in hopeful proclamation of the dawn of a new day.  They were always out of step with the thinking and feeling of others and suffered for it.  But they told the truth.  Would that there were prophets today to build a fire under a lackadaisical citizenry!

June 13, 2009