(I wrote a post last week on Proposition 8 that I had intended to be part of a discussion on the place of the church in politics, not to make a political statement or endorse a position or proposition. This is the same sort of post)
When our kids were little we read books to them. All kinds of books about all kinds of things. Many of those books were story books, works of fiction designed to captivate their imagination. My wife is a Christmas fiend and our house is transformed into a Christmas display every Christmas. The decorations used and the stories told were not only “religious” in nature, but we also used many non-religious, or not so blatantly religious symbols at Christmas, including the story and image of Santa Claus.
We never told our children that Santa Claus was “real”. We always talked about the possible origin of the Santa Claus story, and we never perpetuated the idea that Santa was the one who brought presents on Christmas morning. Now maybe that is because we have never lived in a home with a fireplace, but more to the point, we never got into the habit of teaching myth as truth. We felt that was an important parenting philosophy, especially as it pertained to the teaching of our children the truths of the gospel. We wanted to be a trustworthy source of information and truth, and we didn’t want to be seen from our children’s point of view as manipulative. When it came time for them to grapple with the parts of the gospel that were “unique”, ie. miracles in the Bible, but more importantly, the resurrection, we didn’t want our children to have confusion about our trustworthiness as proclaimers of the message. We believe the resurrection is actually true. If we lied to our children about Santa Claus, maybe they would conclude that we were lying about the resurrection.
Now on a scale of 1-10, our passion about the Santa Claus issue was relatively low. We didn’t browbeat our friends who played this silly game with their kids (we mocked them), but we did challenge them. We had friends who taught their kids that Santa was real. When they encountered our kids it was sometimes a problem and we would hear: “Don’t ruin it for our kids, tell your kids not to tell them…” Well, we never told our children to lie about it either, so there were some uncomfortable moments.
So, what does this have to do with the church and politics?
My impression of politics as a 30 year veteran of the voting process is this: Political rhetoric is rarely straightforward. I won’t go so far as to say that politicians are liars, but many of you would. Do they always lie? No. Do they always communicate the truth in a straightforward manner? No.
It is not a simple matter to understand politicians. Let’s be kind, they don’t always lie, but they most always “spin.” However you describe it, political rhetoric always needs to be “interpreted” and I have a hard time taking their message at face value. Most of their claims need to be “verified.” That is a non-partisan observation. It goes both ways.
For example: Obama says McCain wants to tax health care benefits (true) and it will amount to the largest tax increase in recent history (not so true when taken with McCain’s proposal to give an increased tax credit). Palin says she oversaw 20% of the nations gas and oil reserves as the governor of Alaska (the figure is closer to 15% and her oversight needs to be clarified, what does that mean?). This kind of political “fudging” is what we all have come to expect from politicians, there is a mitigated integrity to their language. (This is the point I was making in the earlier post as I pointed out the way the language in the video put out by AFA reflected politcal rhetoric and was therefore open to question).
This becomes a problem for everyone who joins the political process. We regularly hear “new” candidates tacitly acknowledge the reality of my observation as they promise to be different. Because of this churches and pastors cannot afford to “affiliate” with the process. It is inherently flawed, and taints the whole message: if you lied to us about Santa Claus, can we really trust the rest of your message. Our primary message is our most important message and cannot be subsumed under a political campaign no matter how “worthy.” The church cannot afford to have “mitigated” integrity as stewards of the manifold grace of God.
I am not advocating a passive position. Power and influence can be exerted in ways other than becoming a political action group, and we weaken our voice when we “align” with one party over another. When we become partisan, we lose our “otherness” in the argument. If the message of the church on abortion gets mixed up as a “Republican” position, it is watered down for many who do not align with “Republicans” and dismissed not on the merit of the position, rather it is dismissed as a political opinion that is open to discussion and disagreement. (A good case can be made that this has already occured and our challenge is now how do we redeem our message from the mire of political plankhood?)
Are we not interested in influencing Democrats? Independents? Libertarians? Homosexuals? We should be and we cannot if we are a “Republican” church. All we can do is seek political power and hope legislation and judicial appointments go our way, and then enforce our way. I for one, do not trust that system to be the vehicle for our message. If you do, I want to know why…