One would think I’d be a good prospect to be a part of the Religious Right.
1. I am a conservative Evangelical pastor.
2. I first identified my political identity as a Republican in the 2nd Grade.
(My teacher at Cedar Road Elementary School, Mrs. Manning, wanting to teach us a little about Civics, listed several candidates running in local elections on the board. I mistakenly thought the Republican candidate for one of the offices was my across-the-street-neighbor, so my hand went up as being for that group.)
3. By the fourth grade I actively worked for the campaign of the Republican running for County Commissioner in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
(No I was not that advanced. My father was working on the campaign, and I delivered flyers all around our town. Come to think of it, it was probably good that I identified as a Republican in the 2nd Grade. I’m not sure how it would have been growing up if my father had a Democrat for a son!)
4. And now that I am at least a little more aware of politics and the issues than I was when I was in the 2nd Grade, and now that I think for myself, I find I share most of the social concerns expressed by the Religious Right; and I am at least sympathetic to most of their positions.
Still, I am not part of the Religious Right, and have no desire to be identified with them.
1. The Religious Right trusts too much in government.
It is odd. One of the loudest laments of conservatives is that Democrats historically favor BIG government; that Democrats believe that government will solve our social problems. So I find it ironic that those identified as the Religious Right place such faith in electing the right people. In other words, it seems to me they are putting their hope in those governing.
Don’t get me wrong. Electing qualified people is important to the functioning of our government, in its various spheres (i.e. Federal, State, Municipal, etc.). But the social problems we have are more a reflection of the heart than imposition of public policy. Further, I do believe that there are policies that are immoral. These policies are in place either as a reflection of or to address the corruption of our hearts – the effect of sin. But the policies do not shape our hearts.
Like him now or not, I remember when George W. Bush was running in the primaries of Y2K, he was asked about a particular policy- I think it was hate crimes. Bush said: “You cannot legislate the heart.” I think that is profoundly true.
Notice he did not say the typical “You can’t legislate morality.” That is an absurd statement. All legislation is an expression of morality (or lack of it). He said “You cannot legislate the heart.” I’ll go a step further, “You cannot legislate Righteousness”. Right behavior is not itself Righteousness. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Righteousness is faith expressing itself in right action – in behavior reflective of God’s character and standards.
Please understand, there are a number of laws and practices I want to see changed; and others I want to see averted. As a whole our society would be better off. This would restrain behavior influenced by our sin-infected hearts. But this is still not Righteousness. And anyone who believes that simple laws will make us righteous is kidding himself.
Civil Government has a God-given sphere. It is to provide structure for society. And Civil Government has authority to enforce the common standards for the benefit and protection of the members of society. It is an important but limited role.
Matters of faith – faith that shapes values & behavior – belongs in the other two governing spheres: Family & Church. It is God’s Word that instructs us concerning what we are to believe, and what is good & right. This faith is shaped and expressed in the family and Church. And when we live-out our faith, we express the righteousness God is working in us.
I’m afraid the Religious Right converges & confuses these God-given spheres. Consequently many are trusting too much in government, and not enough in what God does, and is doing, by the power of the Gospel.
2. The Religious Right Distorts the Gospel
The Gospel is not: “Be good and you will be righteous.” It is certainly not: “If you don’t do evil, you are righteous.”
The Gospel is: There is none righteous. But despite the fact we are not good, God has loved us. He sent his Son to take upon himself our guilt and punishment. Whoever trusts in Him – and particularly what He has done on the Cross – is not only forgiven of sin & debt to God, but declared by Divine judiciary to be righteous; we are credited with the righteousness of Christ.
All of this is a matter of faith. And faith cannot be removed from righteousness.
Faith that is genuine will be expressed in a noticeable improvement of our attitudes and actions (in other words, they will incrementally become more in line with Christ’s). These actions of faith are what the Bible calls works of righteousness. Again, righteousness is not the actions themselves.
Sadly, I believe the political emphasis of the Religious Right distorts the Gospel by too often appealing to behavior as the basis of our relationship with God, and not in faith in Christ. I recognize that the vast majority of those who identify themselves as part of the Religious Right personally make this distinction, but in the heat of political battle the message is not clearly or often enough expressed.
I also often wonder if the leaders of the Religious Right appreciate the power of the Gospel to bring change to individual lives, and thus to a society. Far better to have people experiencing the power of the Gospel that transforms our hearts, our perspective, our desires, and ultimately our behavior, than to merely restrain behavior.
Government cannot change anyone, really. That is why the efforts of the Religious Right to energize the Evangelical Church into little better than a Political Action Committee sadden me – and angers me. Too often politics has become the substitute mission of the church. But the message being proclaimed is no substitute for the Gospel.
3. The Religious Right Has Made Partisanship a Condition of Christianity
I have no idea how many times I have heard it: “I don’t know how someone can be a Christian and be a Democrat”.
I know when that is said it is almost always in reference to some of the social issues, that I agree need to be addressed and, that are supported more prominently by Democrats than Republicans. But I fear that some may really wonder if political affiliation is a condition for salvation – in other words, that receiving Christ requires Faith AND Voters Registration. NO! NO! NO!
Being a Christian = trusting in Christ + NOTHING! Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone. PERIOD.
How we live that faith out may vary. And I see both parties lacking.
Again, I am a lifelong Republican. But I must recognize that Republicans do not always have a good track record, for instance, for directly helping the poor & outcastes. I don’t think it is as bad as caricatured. Neither are the Democrat policies as good as some would want us to believe. (See Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion.) But I understand how someone filled by the compassion of Christ would choose to identify with those promising direct involvement and resources for the poor. This is an expression of their Faith. One can do this without necessarily embracing every plank of the party’s platform. And I can understand them, without necessarily agreeing with them.
I was struck several years ago by this comment byMichael Horton:
“At the risk of hyperbole, one wonders today what would be more dangerous in some Evangelical gatherings: disagreeing with someone over the doctrine of the Incarnation or disagreeing with Rush Limbaugh.”
(From Beyond Culture Wars, pg 18)
Sadly, I think the emphasis of the Religious Right, for whatever good may have been done, has had this effect on many conservatives.
Today is Super Tuesday. And now that I got all that off my chest, it’s time for me to go vote. I have been wrestling with this for several weeks, and made my decision a few weeks ago. But I’ll refrain from naming my candidate. I’ll cast my vote and pray…
“Lord, Have Mercy on Us!”