Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who's Faith Is It Anyway OR How the Press Impacts Evangelicals

Who’s Faith Is It Anyway or How the Press Impacts Evangelicals

I recently realized that many of us Christians are indeed “sheep”. And I don’t necessarily mean the kind that Christ calls His own (although He calls us that). I mean the kind that are dumb, willing to be led around by anyone and everyone that wants to ‘shepherd’ us. The latest example is how the media and some politicians, rather than we ourselves, are defining the role that evangelicals and others have played in the past and will be playing in the next American election. Here are a few examples I’ve picked up from both the media and partisans on this very point:

• “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.” – Alan Keyes, Republican Senate candidate in 2004.
• “Obama is emerging as the candidate with the greatest chance in decades to coax at least some Christian evangelicals and other churchgoing voters away from the Republican fold.” – MacLean’s magazine, July 7, 2008.
• “If this election turns out to be as close (as the one in 2004), religious groups could make a big difference.” – John Green, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
• “There are signs of a potentially historic shift.” – MacLean’s magazine, July 7, 2008.
• “Evangelicals are waking up to the idea that abortion is not the only moral issue.” – Stephen Mansfield, author, The Faith of George W. Bush.

With Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy dead, and Pat Robertson awfully quiet at age 78, the press (again not us) points to popular preachers of today and tells us Joel Osteen simply urges people to vote, T. D. Jakes has not endorsed any candidate, and Rick Warren is not openly partisan and seems to be embracing broader social concerns than what evangelicals have traditionally worried about. It tells us that more and more Christians feel that neither political party made a difference on abortion, but the Bush administration was immoral on the issue of war and terror. It tells us that evangelical organizations like Sojourners out of Washington are devoted to fighting poverty and ending the war in Iraq. It (not us) tells us younger evangelicals care more about the environment than their elders. The implication is clearly, “What’s the matter with the rest of us?”

The Pew Forum tells us that the greatest loss of support for George Bush between 2001 and 2007 came from white evangelicals aged 18 to 29. A recent Pew poll says that only 57 per cent of white evangelical Protestants support the Republicans, down from 62 per cent in 2004. The press says this is an opportunity for the Democrats and Obama to gain votes – enough to win the election.

Why is this happening? Well, for starters all of the above are true. Bush has lost many Americans over the war. Current popular preachers are staying silent. Christians are giving up on winning certain issues, and focusing on those for which the Democratic Party seems to have a stronger platform. The ‘moral majority’ is dead and the Christian left is starting to take charge once more. But there’s another reason.

Barack Obama is speaking more openly about his ‘faith’ and feeling at ease doing so. John McCain considers it a personal matter. In addition, he has alienated many Christians on his stance on certain traditional Christian issues. With nothing to gain in those areas by sticking with McCain, many are investigating the move to the left.

Here’s what the press wants us to think and believe and they say it through the words of Douglas Kmiec, a pro-life conservative Roman Catholic: “You should not have blinders on about the rest of your obligations to your fellow neighbors: addressing the needs of health care, to provide a family wage for a working person, and it certainly requires that you pay attention to the use of warfare, and whether it has been justifiably applied in a limited circumstance.”

However, they clearly seem to also be telling us, by their silence, that Christians, especially evangelicals, can have blinders on about the very “faith” of the candidates in the upcoming election. Take a closer look.

I believe there’s enough evidence that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. But he also takes a postmodern, theologically liberal approach to scripture putting less weight on some of Paul’s instructions on lifestyle and more on the Sermon on the Mount. While the press admits this approach is not for everyone, it points out that it is gaining popularity. It then suggests that Obama’s type of faith may be just the ticket at this time when the face of evangelicalism is changing.

Okay, so how does all this relate to church leadership? I believe as leaders we have a responsibility to encourage our congregants to think for themselves and not be led like sheep by anyone else, including the press. I believe we also have a responsibility to help them ask some questions, in fact some of the same questions the press asks. For example, “Regardless of a candidate’s own faith, what is his attitude towards Islam?” Some of Bush’s troubles with evangelicals started when he spoke of the Muslim and the Christian God as one. Or “What is the value of a candidate’s faith when he totally misunderstands the difference between O.T. law and N.T. grace?” as Obama did in his famous June 2006 speech in which he said it is difficult to translate the Bible into secular law. He spoke as follows: “Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith?” I, for one, place no value on any man’s comments about his own faith when he talks like that. His very questions indicate he has very little of any true understanding of Scripture and God’s plan for man. He wants us to allow our faith to inspire, but not to dictate, public policy.

Hopefully, we don’t want just an inspiring faith that cannot be applied to life and reflected in public policy in a nation that is predominantly Judeo-Christian. And besides, tell the Muslims that their faith should only inspire, and not dictate. Tell them that Sharia law is no good. In Obama’s thinking, being against abortion because God is against it is not good enough; he wants us to explain to everybody’s satisfaction, including an atheist’s, why abortion violates moral principle. As for John McCain we may well ask, “Why is he so silent about his faith? Could it be he really does not have anything substantial to offer in that department?”

I also believe we have a responsibility to get together and speak with one mind on this topic authoritatively for ourselves. If not, we should at least get together and say, “what’s going on in American politics today, or at least the abuse and misuse of true faith in American politics today, really does not concern us because it does not change the Truth!”

But then again, that’s my take. What’s yours? Are we really in a “damned if we do and damned if we don’t” situation? What are you telling your congregation as the election nears? Although I do not for a minute believe any of us have an in on what our Lord would say or do in any situation, the famous adage “WWJD?” seems to fit well here. And most importantly why has there not been a definitive voice for Christian church? Is it because we’re to not bother with all this? Help me out.

Until next time,

Ken Godevenos

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