I confess that this election cycle has been troubling for me. Not so much in the electoral politics of the major campaigns, but in the response of Christians.
What has troubled me most is the way conservative political commitments and the Christian faith became conjoined for so many. For many, voting for Mitt Romney was the Christian thing to do. Conversely, for many, voting for Barak Obama was the un-Christian thing to do.
The Peoria Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church
One overt example of this in my community was a letter from Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. This is what Bishop Jenky entreated each priest to read – in each parish in the dioceses – last Sunday:
Dear Catholic Believers,
Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present. Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system. Contrary to the guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, the HHS mandates attempt to now narrowly define and thereby drastically limit our traditional religious works. They grossly and intentionally intrude upon the deeply held moral convictions that have always guided our Catholic schools, hospitals, and other apostolic ministries.
Nearly two thousand years ago, after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman Procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: “Behold your King.” The mob roared back: “We have no king but Caesar.” Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin. For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.
I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith. May God guide and protect His Holy Church, and may God bless America.
Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC
Catholic Bishop of Peoria
It doesn’t get much clearer than that. To vote for Obama and Democratic Senators is a rejection of Jesus their Lord and is a grave sin.
a cult Christian?
Another troubling example of the conjoining of Christianity and conservative politics – as embodied in the Republican party – involves the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. After meeting with Mitt Romney, Billy Graham, now 93, endorsed him as candidate for President. That’s not a problem, as far as I can tell. Mr. Graham can endorse anyone he likes for President. What was troubling was the removal of a reference to Mormonism as a “cult” on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website just days prior.
On the BGEA website it says, among other things, that they believe…
- The Bible to be the infallible Word of God, that it is His holy and inspired Word, and that it is of supreme and final authority.
- In one God, eternally existing in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- and..That all men everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God, and need to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through His shed blood on the cross.
The first two commitments are in direct contradiction of official Mormon doctrine. They have multiple inspired texts – three to be exact. At the same time, they do not believe in One eternally existing God revealed in three persons – Father, Son and Spirit. So divergent are the beliefs of Mormon’s that many orthodox conservative Christians do not even consider them to be praying to the same God, or any god at all.
On the third commitment, it is disheartening to see that the BGEA would comprise their integrity and commitment to CLEARLY presenting the good news of salvation through Jesus. The LDS church is not another sect within Christianity. Their faith understandings are not even in the same ballpark as orthodoxy. The BGEA knows this and said so through their website. Yet, for political expediency, and to defeat an openly professing, baptized, follower of Jesus who happens to be a Democrat, they muddied the waters. People are already confused by the LDS church because they do use orthodox Christian language. The BGEA didn’t help clear up this confusion.
In an article entitled The Basics of Mormonism by Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute, Hank wrote,
Even this cursory overview of Mormon history and theology should make it abundantly clear that while Mormons use Christian terminology, both the roots and fruits of their religion are decidedly unbiblical. It is crucial that Christians learn to scale the Mormon language barrier. It is my prayer that, in the process, you will become so familiar with the truth that when counterfeits loom on the horizon you will be able to recognize them instantaneously.
A troubling conclusion
All of this is to say that many Christians were willing to muddy the religious waters concerning essential, orthodox, Christian beliefs in order to identify with Republican electoral politics and positions. The Mormon candidate was considered the one with “biblical values and principles” and voting for the Christian candidate was considered a rejection of Jesus and a grave sin.
How did we get here?
For much of my life, I was taught that Jesus was apolitical. I was told that “Jesus didn’t care about politics, he only cares about saving people from their sins”. This is a position that many people, and their churches, still take to this day – mostly in conservative Evangelical churches.
However, going back to the election of John F. Kennedy, those running for office discovered an untapped voting block. Yes, you heard me right. The church became an untapped voting block. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority helped solidify conservative Christians as a voting block. Ralph Reed and the Religious Right put the conservative Christian voting block on steroids. George W. Bush and “The Architect”, Carl Rove, rode the conservative Christian voting block to two victories. David Kou’s book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction speaks, from the inside, about how Bush and Rove turned Christian faith into political support for Republican candidates.
By the 2012 election, it became apparent that white, conservative Christians – by a strong majority – accepted the connection between conservative Christianity and conservative political positions and candidates.
The declaration that Jesus wasn’t concerned about politics had left the church ill equipped to engage the political realities around us from a Christo-centric place. The only move necessary to capture conservative Christians as a voting block was equating social issues that Christians care about with Republican politics. Two issues that fit that bill are abortion and gay rights. A candidate that is against abortion and gay rights, can usually get Christians to vote for them, even if their policies do nothing to limit abortion or curtail gay rights.
I know single-issue voters, who care only about curtailing abortion in America, who voted against Mitt Romney. Here’s the reasoning.
- Mitt Romney is against abortion. During the campaign he said he would do everything within his power as President to legally restrict abortion.
- Mitt Romney also said he would cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
- While we never saw a Romney budget, we do know that the Ryan budget cut social services.
These are all conservative political positions with their own ideological commitments undergirding them. Individually, they even seam to make sense from a pro-life perspective. However, they don’t work very well together when it comes to reducing actual abortions. The reality is that Planned Parenthood is the single leading provider of free, or low-cost, birth control. If Planned Parenthood goes away, so does birth control for many women who otherwise couldn’t afford it. One of the leading reasons why women get abortions, especially in minority communities, is the lack of stable income/employment. If a woman gets pregnant and is in tough economic times and cannot work, then cutting social services will make getting an abortion seem more attractive not less. Without access to legal and accessible abortion options, many women will choose illegal abortion, which is extremely dangerous. This doesn’t sound like a situation that is better for America and her children, it sounds like a nightmare.
If the end goal is to curtail abortion, there are better ways to go about it. The best place to start is through a grass-roots campaign to dismantle the social conditions that lead to abortion looking like a good, or only, solution to a difficult circumstance. Romney’s positions relative to abortion don’t do that. They do just the opposite. They criminalize abortion, cut the means by which many people avoid pregnancy, and threaten the safety net for pregnant mothers in difficult situations. Far better to rework welfare to incentivize stable, two-parent homes, in the long-run.
People don’t get abortions just because they are legal. They will not stop getting them just because they are illegal. If you want to curtail abortion, you are going to have to get to know some folks at the street level and promote policies and programs that actually reduce the appeal of abortion.
As a Christian person, my concern should be, first and foremost, the least of these. Yes, that includes unborn children, who are, perhaps, the most vulnerable (along with the elderly). What I question is the automatic, sometimes thoughtless, connection of “pro-life” rhetoric with less abortion. That is not necessarily the case when one digs deeper.
That’s just one example. There are many examples of how American political ideology – embrace by both parties – is decidedly anti-Christ.
Recovering a robust political theology
The most political statement one can make is “Jesus is Lord”. A second is like it; “Christ has Risen!” These proclamations lead us to a different kind of political engagement that transcends the partisan politics of the American political system. Saying “Jesus is Lord” is a counter-claim against all other claims made by the nation-state. The intention is to draw us out of the entanglements of the world and the world’s systems so that we can go back into those systems free and freeing.
When one has been taught that Jesus has no interest in politics, it can be a long road towards a robust political theology rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus. Yet, it is our refusal to take that long road that leaves the church vulnerable to the manipulations of the nation-state towards their ends. Their ends are not always the church’s ends, or Jesus’ ends or God’s ends.
There are some faith traditions that have maintained a counter-cultural, political resistance. Among them are the Anabaptists. I recommend reading John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus as a starting point.
The good news is, Jesus has freed us from all sorts of things! Do we dare to believe that he has also freed us from the partisan political messes of our time SUCH THAT we can actually be good news to the world and not one side of the bad news that is a broken political system?