Taking Christ Back for America

In my last post, I wrote about The Truth Project’s practice of conflating religion and politics which was most obvious in lesson nine, The State: Whose Law. Next week, I will watch the lesson titled The American Experiment: Stepping Stones. For years, I have watched conservative Christians blur the lines between politics and religion. I’ve read the study outline so I know that Dr. Tackett claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, the nation is now denying our biblically based Christian roots, and “believers who care deeply and passionately about their country” must try to salvage a government based on Christian values. Yet today it is so easy to see the corrupting influence of politics on Christianity.

Around the same time that Focus on the Family published The Truth Project video series (© 2006), an evangelical pastor named Gregory Boyd was feeling pressure from “right-wing political and religious sources” and from people in his congregation to participate in political activities, including distributing political leaflets and encouraging the congregation to vote for “the right candidate.” As he explains in the introduction to his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, he decided to preach a sermon series explaining why his church should not join in promoting right-wing political activity. He also aimed to explain why the Christian faith should not be closely associated with any political point of view.

Boyd said that he received a lot of positive feedback from his sermon series. Some people were grateful because they had always felt like outsiders in the evangelical community for not “toeing the conservative party line.” (I know the feeling all to well.) But he also said he had never received such intense negative feedback. About 20% of his congregation left the church.

Boyd’s thesis is that “a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry.” In their quest for political power, these evangelicals have exchanged the good news of the gospel for political ideals and agendas. Like Tackett, many of these Christians mistakenly believe that they are “taking America back for God.”

How do conservative Christians aim to take America back for God? They vote for Christian candidates, oppose abortion, oppose gay marriage, fight to keep the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, fight to keep prayer in public schools and to display the Ten Commandments in public places, and make a really big deal about their right to say Merry Christmas.

Anyone who has been around the past couple of decades has observed Christians try to transform the kingdom of God to their own desired design for the kingdom of this world. The result is a quasi-religion that no longer resembles Christ.

It is heartening to find a pastor these days who is not afraid to say how idolatrous and dangerous it is to fuse religion and politics. Anything that takes the place of God in a believer’s heart is an idol. A Christian’s identity should come from Christ and not from their nation or political party. Believers who fuse their religious and political identities are easily led astray by false teachers who bring the way of truth into disrepute, twisting and distorting biblical truths to serve their own purposes. And sadly, when nonbelievers see that Christians are no different from anyone else, they are turned off by the hypocrisy.

The Myth of a Christian Nation

Why is there no such thing as a Christian nation? As J.D. Walt observed, “the only entity that can actually be Christian is a human being.” Many individuals claim to be a Christian without really understanding what it means to follow Christ. Christianity is not a cultural identity. Christianity is not a political identity. You don’t become a Christian by going to church or being baptized. You become a Christian by confessing your sins and making a very personal and life-transforming decision to follow Christ.

The Truth Project feeds the myth of a Christian nation in part by claiming that God has a specific design and purpose for government. Contrary to Tackett’s assertion, God doesn’t design worldly governments. As Boyd notes, God uses governments as they are, “in all their ungodly rebellious ways,” to serve his divine purposes. In other words, God doesn’t mandate one form of government over another. However, if governments preserve law and order in the right way (with justice and mercy), they serve God’s purpose (Romans 13).

The Truth Project believes that even though not all of America’s early leaders were Christians, they all agreed that the success of America’s republican form of government is “directly dependent upon the virtue and morality of her people, and that virtue and morality are necessarily founded upon religion – by which all meant the Christian religion.”

But the truth is, all worldly governments are flawed, even governments that proclaim “in God we trust.” Boyd points out that the god of this age is Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan inserts himself in earthly affairs and deceives the nations (Revelations 9:11, 20:3, 8, 13:14). The ways of the world are influenced by “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2).

As Boyd reminds us, the history of the world is a history of violent conflicts. Boyd used Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as brilliant illustrations of fallen humans driven by passions they cannot control – desires for possessions, power, etc. These desires and passions lead to conflicts with other humans because other people feel just as strongly about their wants and desires. And while humans fight it out, Zeus sits on the mountain amused by it all.

When a worldly ruler elevates himself above all others, tears other people down, spreads lies, sows discord, seeks vengeance against his enemies, and treats others inhumanely, I imagine Satan laughing and saying, “well done, bad and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few dastardly things; I will put you in charge of many more.” And when Christians exchange the truth of the gospel for the seductive lure of political power, I imagine that Satan is overjoyed.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Jesus – John 8:44

Power corrupts…

Boyd says that whenever you see a person or group exercising power over other people, you are seeing a version of the kingdom of the world. Boyd calls power over other people the “power of the sword.” Humans use power over people to bend other people to their will and to inflict pain and suffering on those who defy or threaten their authority. The power of the sword is exercised in many ways – physical violence, restraint, coercion, threats, and denial of rights or access to resources.

Laws, enforced by the sword, control behavior but cannot change hearts.

Gregory A. Boyd

There is a saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power can be used for good but sometimes power changes people. As Chris Benderev wrote in the article When power goes to your head, it may shut out your heart, having power over people reduces our ability to empathize with them.

The kingdom of the world is nothing like the kingdom of God. It is a tribal “us versus them” kingdom – my race versus yours, my country versus yours, my religion versus yours, my political party versus yours. The world’s way is all about winning and having the upper hand. The world’s kingdom is a tit for tat kingdom. No insult or injury goes unanswered or unpunished.

The kingdom of God is radically different from the kingdom of this world. In the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers. God’s kingdom is based on the power of the cross, that is, the power of redemption, the power of sacrificial living. Followers of Christ are to express power under people, humbly serving others. Followers of Christ are to love their enemies and to leave vengeance to God.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-5

I am among a growing chorus of believers who care so deeply and passionately about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we feel called to reclaim the name and share the real message of Christ. The hope of a nation does not depend on having a government based on biblical values. The hope of a nation lies in the redeeming power of Christ. He has the power to change people from the inside out! For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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Father, may I not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of my mind and my heart so that I can be more like Christ, loving others as I love myself.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

How will the Church respond this time?

I don’t know if my pastor realized it, but he was on trial today, the first Sunday after the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history. I read comments this week on social media from purported Christians that were quite disturbing. So at 9:00 am this morning, I was anxious to find out if my church would respond in a way that is consistent with the word of God. I wanted to know, 1) will my pastor acknowledge this tragedy and 2) will he guide his flock to respond in a way that is consistent with God’s word?

My pastor is preaching a series of sermons based on a book of the Bible that he had never preached on before – the book of Obadiah. At one chapter, it is the shortest book in the Old Testament so it is understandable that it would be overlooked. It proved to be relevant to our times this week. Obadiah delivered a message from God to the people of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Obadiah predicted that God would destroy Edom for not aiding its northern neighbor, Israel (descendants of Jacob).

Pastor Brad used the book of Obadiah to make three points that are relevant to our own nation. One, the people were prideful and self-centered (verse 3). Two, God was not happy about their violence (verse 10) and three, the people were aloof or indifferent to the suffering of others (verse 11).

My pastor assured the congregation that the church does take measures to protect our safety. The church pays for the county sheriff to come to the services and sit outside. I see them, not just guiding traffic, but sometimes coming in and walking down the children’s wing. He said there are panic buttons or alarms in different places that can be used to summon help quickly.

I am happy to say that Pastor Brad did not tell us to come to church armed. If he had said that, I would have walked out. Instead, he had us sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He gave us scriptures about not fearing, like 1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

My pastor did not lay the blame for the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas on guns. He admitted that he owns a gun himself. He said that the problem is a heart problem and not a problem of weapons. I acknowledge that there is some truth to this argument. There is something very wrong with the hearts of Americans. In some situations, we can be very compassionate. For example, witness the American response to natural disasters or the illness of a stranger.

But when it comes to the right to own the weapons that take 33,000 lives a year, many Americans turn into rabid defenders of inanimate objects. They are so afraid of losing the right to bear arms that they won’t consider even commonsense controls to protect us from the worst and most sick among us. Why is that? When did this nation become so hard-hearted and self-centered and fearful?

More importantly, when did so-called Evangelicals become so hard-hearted, self-centered and fearful? We’re supposed to be a light in the darkness and I’m sorry to say that we are not. I had to admit that truth to myself a year ago when I saw that the majority of “Christians” were willing to cast aside everything that Jesus taught us in exchange for political power.

My pastor did lay some of the blame for violence, and rightly so, on individualism. Individualism defines American culture. Pride defines American culture. Violence defines American culture. But Christianity is not based on individualism. It is not based on pride or violence.

I said my pastor was on trial today because I was watching him to see evidence of something different. I didn’t want to hear NRA or Fox News talking points. I wanted to see light in the darkness. I wanted to see hope. I wanted to hear the word of God preached. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

The world is watching all of us who claim to follow Jesus. Jesus is not prideful and self-centered. Jesus is not violent. Jesus is not aloof and indifferent to pain and suffering. When we are tested by trials of these times, how will we respond?

SMH @ u 2

Dear Christian Friend,

Recently you shared a meme on Facebook calling CNN reporters liars because they reported that the people of Puerto Rico are not getting the aid they need. Indignantly, you commented, SMH!

Well, my dear, I am shaking my head at you too. You say you are a Christian. You frequently share posts about your faith. But I’m not seeing Jesus in you. And if I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, can’t see Jesus in you, what are all the non-believers thinking?

You claim to worship the God of Abraham, the God who gave Moses the commandment not to kill. After every mass shooting, instead of mourning the senseless loss of life, you are among the first to stand up in defense of inanimate objects that were designed to kill people. You worry that the government will take away the right to bear arms, even those military-style weapons designed to maximize carnage. It is sad to see you care more about your “rights” and about objects than you do about innocent human beings.

You portray yourself as a good, patriotic American, so much so that you were disgusted and enraged when black Americans took to their knees to protest racial injustice while the national anthem plays. Clearly, you love the flag and the anthem, symbols of this great nation. There is a lot to love about this country and about the brave men and women who have defended its ideals, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But you have made a religion out of patriotism and think you have the right to demand that others practice it. You freely express your opinions yet think you have the right to determine how someone else expresses theirs.

This nation is far from perfect. Its greatness has been tarnished by racism and other forms of injustice from the beginning. God has shown this nation what is good. And what does He ask of those who trust in Him? That we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Yet you refuse to see the injustices in the criminal justice system. You refuse to extend compassion and mercy to the oppressed. You refuse to even listen when black Americans tell you that their lives matter. It is sad to see you care more about symbols and a song than about human beings.

You have made an idol out of killing tools. You have made an idol out of patriotism. I shake my head in disgust at this. But I shake my head in shame at the mockery you have made of Christianity.

You’ve made no secret of your hatred of Obama and your adulation of Trump. You shared a meme that showed President Obama saying that this is not a Christian nation. Below the photo of Obama was a photo of your president holding a Bible.  If you believe what that meme suggests (and you must or you would not share it), you are actively making a  mockery of the Christian faith.

I don’t know whether Obama actually said that America is not a Christian nation but if he did, he would have been right. According to Barna, the organization that conducts surveys of religious beliefs, 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But only 31% of Americans are “practicing Christians” – those who attend church services at least once a month. And I am convinced, that if it were possible to look inside the hearts of church-going folks, you would see an even smaller percentage of people who actually understand what Jesus was trying to teach us about love and forgiveness, grace, justice, and mercy.

If you think that not standing up for the national anthem is disrespectful, equating your president with the Christian faith is downright blasphemous. You don’t become a Christian by holding a Bible. You don’t become a Christian by pretending to fight a war on Christianity, e.g. defending the right to say “Merry Christmas.” The only way to be saved is to confess your sins and to repent. Yet your chosen one has publicly stated that he does not believe he needs to repent or ask for forgiveness.

You claim to be a Christian with good moral values. But non-Christians see that you have put your faith in a man who is as anti-Christ as a person can be. You condone his behavior. The fruit of the Spirit, the evidence that a person follows Jesus, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is not hating and threatening your enemies. It is not anger and rage. It is not insulting and demeaning people who don’t praise you. It is not sowing discord and division. It is not uncontrolled twitter rants. It is most certainly not worshiping yourself.

Go ahead and call me judgmental. Call me a “libtard” if it makes you feel better. But please, please, please, stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t follow Christ. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t love your neighbor. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you follow an ungodly man. And most importantly, stop turning people away from Jesus with your hypocrisy.

Dear friend, we pray to the same God. I pray for you. I pray that God will soften your heart. I pray that you will have eyes that see and ears that hear. I don’t want you to be one of the hypocrites Jesus spoke about – the ones who will come to him saying, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and perform many miracles? And he will say to them, I never knew you.

You proudly say that you stand for the flag and kneel for the cross. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for justice. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for mercy. When you kneel for the cross, you walk humbly before your God. When you kneel for the cross, you love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your spirit. When you kneel for the cross, you love your neighbor as yourself.