Thursday, November 29, 2012

"How Christians Should Vote"

So the article from my previous post was the impetus I needed to finally download Tony Evans' How Christians Should Vote. I'm really torn as to whether the book is great, or more political propaganda in palatable packaging.

This book highlights a recent revelation I've been having around the importance of subtext. In this case, I really can't say there's anything I disagree with in his advice on how Christians should approach the voting process. He considers voting and civil involvement a Biblically mandated social responsibility (I've had a couple of friends insist that Christians should remove themselves from the process altogether to remain uncorrupted in God's sight). He insists that character matters and that conduct outside of the political office cannot be 100% separated from conduct within. He advocates allegiance to God over party (my non-party affiliated self swelled with pride at that point) and many times explains that we are to carefully and prayerfully weigh issues and candidates individually. So yeah...all stuff I agree with.

...still...there were two points that stuck in my craw. First, he makes a point...points rather, of clearly laying out the demons of socialism...the sloth and reliance it can create...the worship of government over God that it may grow to foster. Yet, there is no mention of the potential dangers of capitalism (the word "capitalism" appears 0 times and when something isn't named, it's much less likely to be critiqued in the reader's mind) in potential for self-worship and its fertilization of greed. This leaves the faint and lasting impression that systems of socialism, fascism and communism are "not of God" and the alternative is. Considering that all man-made systems of government and economics are subject to the same failings we posses, I found this a bit (or possibly highly) telling. I was glad though, to not see him fall back on the cop-out of touting theocracy as the preferred system of government. We know that would be preferable, but God has left us to rule ourselves and we must make decisions, difficult though they may be.

The second...I got the feeling that Dr. Evans is reaching when he claims that "A constitutional republic is the biblical form of government God gave to Moses." He goes on to explain that the founding fathers emulated this system when setting up the American government because they wanted a government founded on the will of the people, but subject to a constitution which in turn was interpreted by leaders guided by God. He then explains that in Exodus 18:17-27, Moses set up a "bottom-up system" of rule where the people had representatives who were lead by God. This all follows his stating that "democracy" isn't mentioned in our founding documents (neither are "Jesus" or "capitalism" by the way) and how democracy can easily result in 51% "mobocracy" in a section labeled "The Tyranny of the 51%".

The concept had me curious though, so I had to check out Exodus. It's quite apparent that Moses selected the representatives, leaving this system, from what I can tell, anything but bottom-up. It was inherently top-down...from God, to Moses, to the representatives, to the people. Which left me wondering how this system could be described by anyone as a government "of the people". This is where I think, Dr. Evans ran into the conundrum that faces so many American Christian conservatives. Much of the Bible points to top-down systems of governing...from the spheres of the personal, to the home to the church to society as a whole. The logical progression here, is to monarchs and popes--people supposedly appointed and lead by God...the very things America's founders fled. But, no one west of the Atlantic wants to say that the Catholics and the English got it right, or worse, that American and Protestant ideals of government are no more effective or Godly in the long run.

I am no huge fan of democracy...I see too much stupidity in individual decision making, too much prejudice, too little thought and too much laziness of character to be one...BUT, I do still believe that, if we are to govern ourselves, that all of us should have a say. I believe democracy should play a part in our governmental processes. What put me off most in his critique of democracy though, is that it implies that God's power is somehow limited if we choose if a choice in government is our way of giving God permission to influence our political lives.

As I was writing this, I ran across a statement that I missed. Dr. Evans says, "...the church could influence through uniting and offering up its own party candidate". I find the idea of the church uniting almost humorous in a country that houses more that 40,000 Christian denominations. I also find it a bit puzzling as to how a candidate would be selected considering that relatively few issues of government are actually moral ones--but that's a topic for another day.

My stuck craw boils down to this--while Evans outright says that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, his writing is bent quite squarely against the central tenants of the Democratic party--and so I have a hard time calling this an even-handed book on anything but a superficial level (perhaps that wasn't his goal). It's definitely a good read though, especially for Christians that tend to be 1-issue voters or plagued by conscience when they don't give in to moral bullying around one or two fad-issues. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Why God Isn't Blessing the American Church"

That's the title of this interview with Tony Evans that I just finished reading. It addresses his book, Oneness Embraced and his take on the issue of racial segregation and confirms something that's been eating at me for a while now...that racial and cultural division within the church is nothing to be taken lightly. This answer jumped out at me the most...

CL: Do you really believe that God’s going to postpone His blessing and work in the church because of our lack of unity?

TE: Absolutely.  That’s a fundamental principle.  He does this in a number of places in Scripture:  Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3:10.  So the oneness issue is not a sideline issue.  It’s not even a sideline issue in the family.  God says that when the husband and wife are divided, tell the husband, “Don’t bother to pray.”  God’s not listening (1 Peter 3:7).

So the issue of unity has everything to do with God’s absence or presence.  God first checks with the church house before He does anything with the White House.  We want things to be better in the country, and God can’t even get them better on Sunday morning.  And one of the major divisions is racial, so in light of all this, I think that this was the time to make a big call for unity.

This is why I believe God has ingrained the church so deeply in American history. Not because we are any more holy than any other nation, but because we are natural reformers...because we tackle the big, ugly questions of human existence head on. Because we do not settle for the oft-misguided comfort of tradition and custom. I believe the political and racial division in this country is an opportunity for the church to show the world what a real miracle is.

What I like most about the interview, and what I hope the book expounds on (just downloaded...woo!), is actual action steps. I've heard people lament the segregation of the church, but the discussion usually stops there--and that's because most of us are happy with it. Not just ok. Happy.

If you ask most people, their peer group is full of people like them on some level. People like being around other people like them. It makes them feel normal, accepted and safe. That's important, but at some point, both in and out of the church, a maturing person and Christian has to walk past satisfaction with comfort and aim for something higher.

I personally have an abnormally diverse peer group. Race, age, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, income, intelligence level, belief in God, physical ability...but I have one big bias...introverts. I LOVE people like me on that spectrum. Extroverts ..I can say all I want about understanding their usefulness, but that comes from little more than half-hearted rationalization and knee-jerk efforts to be inclusive so that I feel even-handed and...nice. I don't enjoy being around extreme extroverts. Not even smart ones, or Black ones, or single ones get it. I have a few friends that are extrovert-lite, but no one I know is extreme. That is a failing on my part. I'm not saying I should be able to totally revamp the contacts list in my phone, but Jesus should be enough and I should, as a mature Christian, be able to get past my own biases against the personality type and form genuine bonds. I've just met a new VERY extroverted Christian friend and, well, we'll see. That though, ties into the comment Dr. Evans made that integrating the church isn't about congregations holding events together, but instead about people extending themselves into new types of relationships in their individual lives.

I'll admit one of the saddest things in my life. I find more connection, more acceptance, more comfort in the world of Brazilian jiu jitsu than I do and ever have in the church--any church, Black or White. I believe quite firmly that that is because the primary focus of those that train is training. It is dedication to the art. The church, with its deeply entrenched history of absorbing the faults of the world (it didn't start with attitudes toward sex) does not have the luxury of a brutally honest or physically and emotionally painful acceptance process. There is no filter for the church I believe it should be. The issue there though is, that people stay for reasons that have nothing to do with the faith.

I know that I am able to tolerate being an outlier because I've been conditioned to make my peace with discomfort. I have no expectations of feelings of belonging in any sphere accept personal relationships. I have always, and likely will always, feel like an alien observer. I don't expect this to come easily to others though, because my life has been a rare one, possibly even moreso because of my personality type than my racial and cultural experiences.

So yes, I do, very much agree with the words Tony Evans has written and I'm hoping reading his book will help me find some peace in this area, because right now, I have little.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Believers shouldn't be too quick to claim America as a Christian nation...

I believe this applies to both Left and Right...the Right seems to have romanticized a period in time when America committed some of its greatest shames and the Left seems oblivious to the diluted form of Christianity they welcome in under the guise of Love.

I've reached a point in my life where I'm probably more exposed to White American culture, at least proportionately, than ever before. While I may have been more intimately entwined as a child, I do not have the large amounts of time spent in Black American church and community organizations that I did through high school and even in my predominately White college. If there is one thing I know, Blacks and Whites have a profoundly different relationship with America. As a Black Christian, I feel hesitation in claiming America as  a Christian nation--keep in mind that is entirely different than having a desire that it reflect Christian values or be blessed by God. I have no illusions that saying something is "Christian" changes anything in God's eyes. The phrase itself honestly never crosses my mind. I have no pains when someone claims that "America is no longer a Christian nation", and that's likely because I would have had to believe the phrase wholeheartedly to begin with. I know that the majority of the founders were, yes, Christian, but you have the secular humanist and deists of Jefferson and Franklin. Our founding documents refer to God, and, as far as I know, make no mention of Jesus. We can hardly claim 100% Christian lineage.

I sometimes think of how we look in the eyes of others--how could I proudly say to someone from a foreign nation...or from this one for that matter, that America has always been "a Christian nation" in the face of the atrocities of Slavery or the brutality of the American Civil War? The mistreatment of workers, children included, for the sake of business during our Industrial Revolution? Yes, every country has its failings and even the redeemed aren't perfect, but some churches' participation in, and silence during these events, is a different, deeper issue.  Plus, many a nation has seen prosperity with much less affiliation with Christ--I am no follower of the prosperity gospel and won't apply it any more to history than I will my personal life.

I really wonder if either camp, Left or Right understands what it really means to lazily utter blanket statements like "America is a Christian Nation" or "America is becoming more Christ-like", while all those who are not believers plainly see the atrocities of war, slavery, abuse and dissension that were going on internally during a time they revere so greatly--and also see how miserable and joyless we are growing in our prosperity and "freedom". I will not deny that America's best and most positively transformative leaders have been born out of the country's strong Christian roots--I find the story of Abraham Lincoln's parents' meeting awe-inspiring...I will not deny that the church has been instrumental, if not catalytic in combating some of the country's greatest sins--but it is careless and damaging to the faith to claim the ubiquitous presence and favor of God in relation to other nations. I do think though, that for me, it all comes down to the fact that I draw a harsh line between the concepts of "church-going" and "Christian", and that I believe that individuals only can be Christian.

I sometimes wonder if the evidence we see of decrease in humane behavior and our falling victim to our basest animal instincts is proof we are slipping away from our Christian roots, or just the manifestation that we were holding on to them tenuously in the first place, and that is all now being brought to light.

A passage we covered in Romans 2 tonight covered what I'm feeling suscinctly. 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Black Christians Don't Care About Abortion

OK...we do, but based on the way we tend to vote, many might think we don't. Most Black Christians are honestly pro-life (in the extended definition of the term that includes being anti-death penalty)...not surprising since we attend church at rates pushing almost 3x those of Whites. We are not liberal Christians. African Americans were heavily a Republican race until the party started courting those who were commiting acts of terrorism against us, our friends and our relatives in the name of the Christian church. While our party allegiance has changed, our religious and moral convictions have not.

This, for me, is why I find the concept of Christian=Republican so offensive. The party has allowed its extreme wing to limit the discussion of morality to one based on only two concepts...abortion as murder and Gay-rights as sexual immorality (I won't even limit that to Gay marriage). To hear that these are the issues that define the political hits my ears as being told, "Black Christian simply aren't as Christian as we are over here on the Right." I would bet Latinos hear the same. If one limits the spectrum of Christian values to two, loud, oversimplified issues, then yes, liberal church-going minorities are mostly affront to the body of Christ--however, if you consider the entire Bible, minorities simply prioritize mandates from God differently.

I'm willing to throw out a guess here...minorities classify abortion like they do unfortunate solution to a social problem that can have consequences that no-one desires. I personally see Black churches prioritizing other social issues over abortion no differently than I see the White church doing the same with the death penalty, military occupation of and conflict in so many other nations. All result in death...more clearly in the case of war and execution because the point of origin of life is among dispute even within the church (apparently the idea that life begins at conception only became a rallying cry of the church in the late 70s...1970s). I'll be honest...I used to have pangs and questions over supporting candidates/parties that were more liberal in their social stances. I still ask the questions...I still sometimes wonder if I am wrong--but I will suffer no more lost sleep over the prospect of babies dying than I will the promise of adults.

It really hit me this morning that Blacks and Latinos simply prioritize Biblical mandates to care for the poor and socially oppressed very highly...and being the collectivist and community based cultures we are, Luke 6:29 (And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.) resonates very loudly for that even if we did believe the political straw man of lower-class social leeches, we understand that, as a responsibility to help others, it is a risk that we as Christians are instructed to endure.

While I find the racial segregation of the American church profoundly disheartening and telling, I believe it also offers unique insight to all Christians in the US--an opportunity to more clearly see where earthly cultural norms have polluted our vision of God's word--that, however, is only if we are willing to let go of the sin of pride manifested as prejudice and inclinations toward cultural oneupsmanship and accept that Jesus is the only hard-line requirement in getting to heaven. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

More sad, more disappointed

Ravi Zacharias is just amazing. I will never forget the time I heard him say that the church had abandoned the thinking believer. It almost put me to tears. I felt so relieved that someone actually...knew how I felt. I went on through the process of understanding the mental gifts of curiosity and skepticism that God gave me and how to use them productively for him. Understanding my own mental orientation surprisingly gave me insight into the emotional orientation of others. I began to see the beauty in the diversity of the church.

Surprisingly, I began to focus less on my mind, while acknowledging it more, and somehow, along the way, I started paying much more attention to and thinking about love and its application as part of the walk of Christ.

And then I started listening to people in the church again...and I started having issues. I'm in no way deluded into thinking that people in the church are supposed to be perfect. I understand all too well that not only are Christians sick people working their way to health with the guidance of Jesus, but I know quite certainly that churches are full of people who show up for reasons that have nothing to do with God. Something has changed recently though...and I don't think it's just that I've become more sensitive. As the country is changing and becoming more hostile and intolerant of differing opinions, people are panicking more and excluding more. It would seem, that not even the love of God is enough to unite.

Well, I just got one of Ravi's newsletters that, while it confirmed what I'm seeing, reminded me of what has been commanded us, and somehow, I'm finding it calming.

He starts off quoting 1 Peter 3:15 -- “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The fact that we see so little gentleness and respect makes me sad. Being reminded that it's a teaching of the faith is encouraging.

He goes on to tell a story--"I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted “conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other ‘ethical’ religions.” So far, his argument was not anything new. But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character."

Since I spend so much time around both the Christian Left and the Christian Right, I've come to realize something...the Right seems obsessed with the "Thou shalt nots" and the Left focused squarely on the "Thou shalts" they got split, I don't know. I imagine it comes from too much absorbing of secular culture--which, but the way, isn't just music and attitudes toward sex. Secular attitudes also include ignorance, small-mindedness, ignoring the humanity of others and a general lack of respect for the struggles those around us are facing.

I don't know what all that means, but I feel like I need some space from the "loud" Christians these days and more time with the quieter, busy, effective ones.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I don't belong to a political party...

I think these last few election cycles have done irreparable damage to the brand of Christianity in the US. Some might see that as something we shouldn't be concerned about, but when people dislike us for doing things that weren't commanded by Christ, there's a problem.

I've unsubscribed from many friends' Facebook feeds. Are they getting their scripture right? Yes. Are their posts floating on rivers of racial and nationalistic superiority? Yep. Seeing Christians behave the way they have has shaken the point where I have some very deep, foundational questions I have to ask myself about how I conduct my life and relationships with those around me.

Sad though it makes me, I'm not surprised. I grew up in an environment where the same Bible, the same scriptures and the same Holy Spirit somehow came to different conclusions about issues quite regularly...that's what doing a split shift between a predominately White Christian school and a Black Church gives you.

I do not believe that a God who inspired the entire Bible somehow only cares about abortion and Gay marriage. I believe that both major US parties neglect Biblical mandates in the social application of their faith. I feel just as, if not more so obligated to protect the poor and disadvantaged, minimize war and protect the sanctity of adult life as I do anything else.

So, end of the day, to me, the question of asking which movement, conservative or liberal is more Christian is like asking which cures cancer, Pepsi or Coke. If you're thinking like that, you're not even asking the right questions.