The Dribble-Down Effect from Religion to Politics

I think it’s interesting we all know life isn’t black and white, and yet we live as if everything is. Life is painted with a subjective brushstroke, but we want it all to be objective. Politics especially falls prey to this. I don’t follow politics much, but I do observe with great interest those who are passionate about the subject, especially people in the American Church.

And for most Christians their entire lives revolve around the idea that “truth” does exist, and everything falls underneath this umbrella, which means honoring this truth in everyday life. Unfortunately, “truth” and “black and white” are often synonymous, but I’m not sure that should happen.

Because very few black-and-white concepts can be taken from the Bible. Most of it is paradoxical, actually. But of the very few foundational, at-the-very-core statements of a black-and-white nature in Scripture, one that comes to mind is, “God is love.” From that there is a ripple effect of truths (a massive list), but I’m just talking about the root.

But even saying, “God is love,” is not near as black and white as many of us would prefer simply from the fact that it’s an all-encompassing statement. And life gets messy when there’s no longer a definable line of demarcation, so to avoid that we take ideas out of context so as to make a cleaner cut. We put up walls of interpretations and theological dictums to create discrepancy in the face of totality. This generates legalism in the mind, and we begin to mimic the Pharisees.

And then we start creating black-and-white ideas that may have fractions of truth, but not something wholly true to where they can be applied across the board like we’d prefer. Some of these odd interpretations seen today are when the Church proclaims 1) God does not change and 2) God’s laws do not change.

First, God’s unchanging character. Yes, some things always stay the same—like God being love—for he can not be anything other than himself, but his love doesn’t draw any lines in the sand. We also know God can and has changed his mind at a prayer’s beckoning (see “Moses” and “Hezekiah”). Next, consider how God is accompanying us on our journey. Some people say, “He’s always on the move,” or, “God is always at work.” It’s all the same. The point is God is not fixed and rigid. That makes Pharisaical support of tradition and, thus, legalism and sectarianism tricky. It becomes slippery because suddenly we can’t put God in a box anymore, which means he’s like a dog off his leash and on the loose, and that allows him to do whatever he wants. And he just might ask us to change. But when we proclaim, “God never changes,” a lot of the time it seems like we’re breathing a sigh of relief as if to simultaneously say, “Good, then we don’t have to change, either.” But this is obviously false.

Second, a lot of Christians say God’s laws stay the same, and yet he changed the Law when Christ came. Christians will note, “Yeah, but he’s not going to do that again,” and while the writer of Hebrews seems to support that, it’s important to still keep in mind we don’t have God’s every move figured out (because then he’d cease to be God), and so God is mystery and will not cease to continue surprising us. The changing of the Law is Exhibit A in terms of evidence supporting his inherent mysticism, but black-and-white thinking leaves no room for mystery, so I think some Christians glide over that. We’d rather there not be mystery because that would mercifully eliminate the possibility of us actually being wrong on some things.

Though they bash the view I’m about to mention, I feel like a lot of Christians deep down wish Deism were true. It would make life so much simpler if you stop and think about it.

All of this relates to politics because religion is intensely personal and touches all subjects of life, especially passionate ones. Obviously politics is one of those fervent areas.

Perhaps unwittingly, a lot of us take religious ultimate truth and apply it to politics, firmly believing one political slant can/should/does contain truth and the other contains zero. But no one side of politics is wholly true and right, so it’s pretty gutsy and foolish to make an end-all statement such as, “This political view is right, and anyone who follows the other is an idiot.” Such nonintellectual verbal expressions are empty of love and, thus, bereft of the Maker since he is love. This is a massive discrepancy.

But if unnecessarily black-and-white beliefs lie at our core as an individual, we make equally ill-informed choices with our politics. We see with clarity this lack of rationality when it snuggles with the Constitution. The hopeful, yet silly, belief in God’s fixed nature dribbles down to our nation’s birth certificate, almost revering it as a second Scripture because the men who wrote it, after all, were “God-fearing men.” Ignored, though, is the fact that many of those men were also Deists and atheists (see “Benjamin Franklin”), but you never hear Christians saying that. We only believe what we want to hear, it seems. But even if all of them were “followers of God,” that does not (as already mentioned) make them right. The drafters of the Constitution were still human, prone to mistakes (my friend Coleman wrote an excellent article about this very subject).

Let us always stay humble by remembering Christians get a lot of things wrong and make horrible decisions. Somewhere the present-day charred rubble of an abortion clinic is smoldering and corroborating that.

But with rational thinking left by the wayside, people tend to go a step further and fear the idea of deviating away from the Constitution, often because as they say, “That document set in motion one of the greatest nations to ever exist. Why tamper with it?” This highlights our disagreement over how we define the word “great.” Greatest nation in what sense? We’re great in power, but we’re not great ethically, morally, or socially. Look at our presence in India and the Middle East (just to name two regions). We are not great. So really what we fear is losing power? So now there’s religious fervor towards maintaining our global strength? That’s indescribably frightening.

And I don’t know what the solution is to this fear of moving away from tradition seen in the religious fidelity to the Constitution other than humility and servanthood, which were they very marks of Christ’s character. Adopting those always open us up to change. But we avoid those character qualities because they require being willing to look at that which we must shift in ourselves, and that’s incredibly daunting because we might have to let go of views and convictions we’ve held onto for decades.

But being a humble servant stands in opposition to taking misinformed biblical perspectives and creating political leanings out of it to try and strong-arm other people. It leaves no room for using our deluded fundamentalistic maxims to draw connecting lines to the world of policies and amendments because humility and the serving of others recognize what an egregious mistake that is. Without such a perspective some of us eventually come to equate our political passion with serving God, but in reality we either end up weakening God and making a joke out of him, or we end up deifying the political realm. This does nothing to honor or impress God, for Jesus was the most nonpolitical figure to walk the face of this earth. With that in mind, I often (but not always, thank God) see logical fallacies and nothing of good repute when the Church gets involved with politics.

There’s a need for Christians to understand 1) no political agenda exists that is completely noble and true, 2) anyone who reads through Scripture to garner some sort of endorsement for their political party is not pursuing the Maker, and 3) failing to understand those first two makes the American Church no different than the disciples who hoped and yearned for Jesus to be their political golden boy. He couldn’t have been farther from that.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with politics, for it is a vital part of society; however, there is a need for those in the Church to reevaluate why they do what they do. Do they defend the poor and needy because of genuine love or political fervor? Do they really believe Jesus would be against healthcare, or are they just unable to get over their own pride and selfishness?

Though I may sound like I’m saying otherwise, I believe Christians can and should be active in politics. The question repetitively in need of asking, though, is, “Are we being self-seeking or legitimately interested in serving others?” because using shaky biblical mandates to construct our political platforms starts things off on very questionable footing.

God is mystery, life is mystery, so we must remain open—open-minded, open-hearted—in all areas of life (yes, politics included). We don’t have answers, we have preferences, and those need to be reevaluated constantly. Humility is crucial. Our belief in an ultimate religious truth shouldn’t embolden our own knowledge and political confidence. Our belief in God’s sovereignty humbles us, makes us smaller, and forces us to acknowledge how little we understand. Only then can we approach all areas of life (yes, politics included) with the needed humility of a servant, one who is always quick to admit he could stand to learn from the people around him who believe differently than he does.

That goes for everyone (yes, I’m ending with a black-and-white statement), for just because someone is sixty years old and “knows things” or is fresh out of college having studied politics doesn’t mean he has somehow excluded himself from needing humility. That’s a lifelong need of ours, one we carry with us over into the eternal realm as we stand before him who judges justly and give an account for whether or not we spent our time down here in a way befitting of love, that foundational characteristic of God himself and the black-and-white mark against which we are all measured.

Much love.

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