Christians and Politics in America
This is a tough topic for me to write about because it so easily becomes an emotional issue filled with very strong opinions for people. But I do want to make some comments about a growing trend in America that concerns me on several levels. That is the trend for well-known Christians to speak out politically in ways that confuse the issues surrounding our faith and our nationality.
Let me go on record right from the start by saying that I am not supporting any particular political party or view in this discussion. While I am registered to vote under a particular party, I am finding myself more and more at odds with the whole political scene, no matter which party is doing the talking. So this is not about Republican vs. Democrat. It is about the difference between being a Christian and being an American.
I consider myself to be first and foremost a citizen of the kingdom of God. I am an American by birth, and so that is my earthly citizenship. But I do not consider the two to be somehow intertwined or inseparable. They are two different things, and when there are conflicts between the two, my citizenship in God's kingdom wins out hands down every time.
In recent years, we have seen an ever-increasing voice politically-speaking coming from certain Christians. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a slew of charismatic preachers from Kenneth Copeland to Rod Parsley have all been very outspoken about their agenda for America: namely to make it a "Christian" nation. (I realize that many view the start of our country as basis for considering it a "Christian" nation, but let's not forget that our founding fathers specified freedom of religion, not state-sponsored religion. There really is a significant difference there.) Most recently, and what has prompted this essay, were the controversial comments made on the air by Pat Robertson regarding Venezuelan president Chavez.
My question is this: Are we called to be outspoken politically, or are we called to be outspoken evangelistically? Now, obviously, I don't see anything wrong with a Christian having political views, and as American citizens, we are certainly entitled to those views. But my issue comes when Christians are using their "ministry" time, money, and clout to speak their political views to large audiences.
Last year, following the presidential election, James Dobson announced that he was forming a new organization with political focus. He named it "Focus on the Family Action". I have already seen news accounts where it is referred to as "Focus on the Family" which is actually his non-profit ministry, not the political action group. But you can see where the confusion comes into play.
(I actually had a lengthy phone conversation with a very nice young man working for Focus on the Family Action where I questioned the ethics of them using their Focus on the Family mailing list in order to jump start the new political action organization. He denied it, but I see no other way in which they could have gotten my name and address since I never requested information from them. However, I was at the time on FOTF's mailing list. Coincidence? I think not.)
Additionally, Dobson frequently uses portions (or even entire episodes) of his daily radio broadcast to discuss political issues. This causes, in my opinion, way too much confusion, and I find it hard to believe that he is really able to separate out every dollar spent on non-profit work vs. political work. But that's conjecture. I'll try to stick with the facts.
Pat Robertson recently, as I mentioned, made some highly controversial comments on the 700 Club broadcast. This is a "religious broadcast" which includes reporting on world news, but again, I believe that the lines are completely blurred when the leader of that "ministry" goes on air calling for the assassination of a world leader. (Incidentally, Robertson has now "apologized" for his remarks, but has stated that he was "misinterpreted" and that he never called for the assassination of Chavez -- rather just that he be "taken out". Unfortunately, video footage of his comments does actually show him calling for an assassination, so his "apology" leaves much to be desired.)
With this and other examples I could give, I get the clear impression that these leaders think that somehow their political views are inseparable from their faith and that their faith is expressed fairly in their political views. That concerns me greatly.
In the United States, ministry organizations are almost always set up as non-profit corporations. Part of their status as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization includes requirements that they not endorse political candidates, etc. While most ministries, even when outspoken politically, tread that line very carefully (and I don't intend that as a compliment), usually very little is left to the imagination. I don't believe anyone was left to wonder who James Dobson wanted elected as president of the United States last fall! Without actually "endorsing" a candidate, he and others like him did everything they could to make sure people voted Republican. So, there appears to me to be a bit of an integrity issue.
OK, I've identified some problems, but haven't offered much in the way of solutions. That's because I'm not sure I actually have any solutions handy. But I do think that there are a couple ideas that could bring about solutions:
- Christian leaders should be held accountable for how they utilize their air time and ministry funds when it comes to political situations. Not only are they accountable to the United States government, since they have voluntarily placed themselves under submission to the corporate laws of this country, but they also are accountable to the Body of Christ.
- When leaders state political views, they should fairly represent them as their personal view, and not claim to speak for all of Christianity. I may agree with a lot of what Dobson believes, but he does not speak for me!
- Christians in America must recognize that our Christianity does not come from being an American. Nor does being a Christian make us any better an American than anyone else. The standards of judgment for Christians and Americans are two different standards.
These are mostly just rambling thoughts, to be honest. I'm not even sure what point I'm trying to make in this post. But I do feel a growing tension that I think will eventually lead to some kind of definitive moment for us here in America. My hunch, however, is that the definitive moment will not be of the sort that Dobson, et al are seeking.
Until next time,