The Cottage on the Moor is a place where I'll keep a fire going on cold winter nights and a breeze flowing through the windows on steamy summer days. There will be a "cup of warm" waiting for you to stimulate your mind. I'll try to keep it fresh by adding something every now and then. So come often. I hope you find it worth your while.
A case can be made for Evangelical participation in the
political sphere, but only if that participation leaves Christians and
Christian organizations in control of their own theological and spiritual
destinies. The church, through the ages, has a dismal record as a political
Mark Noll has made the case that, ironically, the history of
Evangelical political participation since before the American Revolutionary war
is a story of compromise of theology in pursuit of freedom. The freedom early
Evangelicals sought was freedom from the restrictions of state-sanctioned religion,
particularly freedom from the established Anglican Church. More and more, after
the Revolution was accomplished, freedom was defined, and defended from our
pulpits, in thoroughly American terms of land to be acquired (Manifest Destiny), wealth to be
gained (The Gospel of Wealth), and a “peculiar institution” to be preserved.
In America’s God,
Noll reveals in great detail how the largely secular revolutionaries harnessed
the anti-establishmentarianism of many of the most prominent colonial pastors to
buttress their own anti-British purposes. Noll and other historians of colonial
America have documented how the pulpit became an instrument in the hands of the
Revolution; pastors urging their young male parishioners to serve both God and
country by joining local militias and assisting the Continental Army.
Noll shows how over the next 80 years the Evangelical church
in America gradually lost its prophetic voice to the point that, by the end of the Civil War the
most cogent theologian left standing was arguably Abraham Lincoln who, in his
second inaugural address was able to articulate what no religious leader, north
or south, could find the words to say. He saw that the great struggle was not the
result of competing definitions of freedom but rather the justice meted out by
the Divine upon both North and South for their complicity in the subjugation of
an entire race of humankind.
As another political season is (regrettably) upon us . . . so
soon . . . it might do the Church – both Evangelical and mainline – good to look
carefully at the result of its marriage to political ideology. Both liberal and
conservative Christians have been taken for a ride repeatedly throughout our
history. In our current climate the Democratic Party has, for the most part
taken main line Protestant, African American and some socially liberal Evangelical leaders and
their followers hostage. The Republican Party has captured the
Evangelical/Fundamentalist Protestants and a large share of the conservative
Catholic religious community.
When we find Christians drawing distinctions between themselves,
even within the same congregations, on the basis of political alignments, we
have all the evidence necessary to conclude that the Church has surrendered its
role as the voice of Christ in the world. Jesus, who, as far as we can read
in Scripture was about as apolitical as one could be regarding the secular society of his day, gave only one criteria for inclusion in His Church: “whomever
believes on me has everlasting life.”
To add anything to that simple formula is, to use the Apostle Paul’s argument,
the equivalent of making Christ’s sacrifice of no value.
God alone knows the content of every person’s heart. It is
not the role of any individual – and seldom should it be the role of the Church – to declare another’s faith
worthless because of their political associations. When we do so we harm the
unity that comes only through our faith in Christ, never though our allegiance to a political party. Further, it
discredits the reputation of the Church of Christ when Christians engage in
slanderous attacks on each other or on various political figures.
In my nearly 80 years on the earth there have been thirteen
Presidents of the United States and all of them have professed to be Christian.
All the prospective candidates for our next Presidential race – every one of
them – professes to be a Christian. But the range of political beliefs,
lifestyle choices, and church affiliation between them is immense. How could a
Christian make a conscientious choice between them based on the idea that their
political stance is or isn’t a Christian one? The readiness with which
Evangelical Christians endorsed Newt Gingrich (hardly a paragon of Evangelical
righteousness) in the 2012 South Carolina primary, but then supported the
non-Christian who defeated him to become the Republican nominee, reveals that
something more was at work than religious fidelity. We need to acknowledge
that, agree to make allowance for differences of political persuasion, and get
on with being the kind of Christians the world will recognize “by our love.”
If you like Newt and your brother likes Hillary that may
make for some interesting discussions but it should not shake the faith of
either of you, nor should it keep you from lovingly embracing each other if you
both claim Christ as your savior.
And finally, liking Newt does not give a Christian the right
to trash Hillary, or vise versa. Remember Jesus’ final words before returning
to his Heavenly Father: “You will be
my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the
earth.” Note that He did not say, “You will be my witnesses only when you
choose to be.” We are His witnesses
from the moment we put our trust in Him and declare ourselves to be His
follower. From then on, every word spoken, every joke made at someone’s
expense, every e-mail forwarded, every unconfirmed piece of gossip enjoyed and
shared; all of it bears witness to someone about our faith in Christ – “You
will be my witnesses . . .”.
Augustine, Luther, Calvin
come instructively, methodically
theologically to bow again,
exampling that great Christian task,
teaching how and what we ought to say.
Ah that, centuries past, I still must ask,
“Master, how is it I should pray?”
Before NBC showed the gunning down of Walter Scott in North Charleston,
SC the anchor, Lester Holt, warned the viewers that what they were going to
show might be hard to watch. Indeed it was hard to watch an unarmed, frightened
man, shot in the back as he fled from an encounter with a policeman who had
repeatedly tazzed him. But it has
become necessary for us to see such violence. Without seeing such incidents we
may never be roused to do anything about the daily injustices minorities and
the poor in this country endure.
But it was ironic to see, on the same TV channel, an
advertisement for an upcoming show in which the only clips shown were those of
gun violence, all of it far more graphic (although admittedly fictional) than
the shooting of Walter Scott. The only reason Walter Scott’s shooting was more
disturbing than the fictionalized mayhem advertised later is that I knew that
Walter Scott would never get up again from that grassy boulevard to go home to
loved ones as the actors in the NBC drama would.
And now, this weekend, politicians, I presume from both
parties as well as independents, are flocking to Tennessee for the annual
gun-lovers convention of the National Rifle Association, selling their souls to
assure their mess of political porridge for the next four years. No firearm is
too lethal, too dangerous, too ubiquitous, too easily concealed, or too often
involved in heinous crimes and murders to warrant their disapproval. Thankfully
the President, always the target of
gun lovers, but especially so on this annual
celebration of mayhem, is out of the country this weekend.
As we ponder why we are such a violent society (those who do
ponder the question) we might consider how much our society loves the gun, an
instrument whose primary purpose – one could argue only purpose – is to kill. It would be sad enough if its main function
was to give mankind a greater advantage over his animal enemies but that is not the case; the main point of fire arms is to
make mankind more lethal in his encounters with his fellow man.