24 October 2012

neither by legislation nor executive order

Four years ago much of the world seemed to be enamored with the presidential nominee, Mr Obama.  The language and rhetoric which surrounded his ascendency to the American leftist and statist heights was quite remarkable, often sounding rather messianic rather than simply presidential.  Indeed, many American citizens went beyond the bounds of Constitutional thought and the ideals set forth in our own Declaration of Independence, envisaging a short-sighted freedom of instantaneous prosperity and social reform.

This reaction did not surprise me, neither during the 2008 campaign season nor in the years since the Greek columns and promises of a healed earth.  Although the case can be made that the individual is an intelligent entity, history proves time and again that the more people you have crowded together the dumber the group can become, and more willing to be taken in.  What did concern me, and still does at this later date, is that so many Christians - both evangelical and otherwise designated - started to apply biblical language to the political campaign which never defined itself from the broad categories of hope and change.  Among the politically liberal within the church an increasing acceptance of the notion that within Obama's rise came the realization of so much of the Christian faith, so much so that messianic language from the secular came spilling over into the sacred.

(Note that I do not believe this to be true of all Christians who have supported Obama and his administration, but simply that it is hard to deny that this phenomena was quite present around his campaign.)

Of course, the first reaction - even before we get to any substance - will be, 'Yeah ... Well, of course ... But the Christian right did the same thing with Reagan and Bush and so on ... '  First, one cannot justify their position by claiming that the opposition has done the same wrongs which they have.  Didn't our mothers teach us that two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right?  Second, although there is great admiration for figures such as Reagan, there was not this level of messianic rhetoric surrounding him as we see with Obama.  Those on the left want to see it, but that doesn't make it appear.  The closest equivalent to this phenomenon would be the so-called 'Moral Majority' or 'Religious Right' ... now, we could (rightly) discuss their problems and shortcomings, but any violations they have of inappropriately merging Christian faith and American politics does not diminish from the present situation.

Mr Obama was thrust into the national spotlight with very little knowledge of him or his policies, and throughout the presidential election cycle almost no vetting of his beliefs was done.  His association with a radically extreme and racist preacher were swept under the rug, and his position on policy and social ethic were all but ignored completely.  This allowed him to be a tabula rasa on which the themes of hope and change could be placed, each person able to carry their own definition of it.  For some it was that he would give them a new kitchen, for others it was the justice of rich people being brought down from their heights, for others it was the healing of the nations (and the climate).  Enter into the fray the leftist Christian community (some evangelical, some otherwise).

There are many socio-religious reasons which can be explored regarding the commitment of evangelicals to Mr Obama's ascendency, some of which prove to be quite telling.  Consider that he came on the heels of George W Bush who, due in large part to a daily media onslaught, was perceived as making the world a more dangerous place.  This was easily stated since we were in a state of war rather than one of peace.  Modern Christians have a strong emphasis on the notion that the world is broken and in need of healing, and that such is the primary ministry of the church.  This of course, is not a new trend but rather the cycling through of the themes of Christianity.  We are a church currently driven by 'purpose' and 'mission,' which often looks like a social gospel.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it does provide context for what we have witnessed.

When churches are constructed around the need for purpose there will always be a sense that the world is not operating correctly and is therefore in need of fixing.  The gospel affirms that God's world has been corrupted and is in need of restoration, but also affirms that it is Christ alone who can remedy the situation.  Churches which are in constant need of social problems will always be looking for them, thus becoming prime opportunities for the platitudes of hope and change that were presented in grandiose fashion as we saw in 2008.  Once you mix this together with a political (and often a spiritual) dislike for President Bush and his socially conservative values, you have a movement within the larger church culture which will never see positives in light of identifiable negatives.

As I consider the last decade it is amazing how the drumbeat of AIDS in Africa and Darfur went silent once the cool factor wore off.  These were oft-repeated messages throughout culture, but gave way when it again became en vogue to focus on the poor and homeless in our own culture.  It is a sad commentary on the church that it can be so predictable in its movement from ministry to ministry based upon the tides of the perceived hip.

All of this creates a situation which is ripe for the belief that where one administration has failed another will succeed.  This is a dangerous thought politically, but a devastating thought among the church.  Hence, the messianic fervor surrounding Mr Obama was that the ideals of Scripture would (finally) be implemented in our nation ... As though this is a novel idea or a new achievement.  In reality, the expectations which surrounded the ascendency was nothing more than the hope of legislating morality or worse, morality by executive order.  When then-president-elect Obama called for a mandate of helping one's neighbor, it was apparent that the expectation was for him to implement change, not actually lead people to it.  And thus it was doomed from the start.

Whether we speak of the left or right, anyone who waits for the government to set up enough programs and systems to take care of the problems of this world, or to be an agent of the church to care for those in need, has given over the faith reserved for God's kingdom alone to the rulers of this world.  No matter how good or suspect one's intentions may be, there can be no substitute for the power of God as the rightful ruler of Creation.  I see there are two reactions to the fallout that Obama has not been all that 2008 had promised he would be: Either 1) the smoke and the mirrors have become evident and we see just a rather ordinary man behind the curtain who had no experience in accomplishing anything that would qualify him to be a leader on a worldwide scale, or 2) the push all the more into the notion that government can indeed accomplish the ideals of the kingdom, thus working more fervently within the political thought world than the spiritual war that rages on.

Often the discussion of economics tells us that more people on a welfare system will ultimately diminish society's ability to provide for the system as a whole, thus collapsing the entire nation.  Spiritually, we are in a similar position ... The church lacks the capacity to be the savior of the world, and we lack the capability of building the church.  Jesus said that he would build the church, and gave us explicit instructions to make disciples.  This is a one-on-one task of lifting up those who are around us that they might have the restoration to full humanity, completed by faith.  It is not a call to save the nation from the top-down, but rather a call to impact the entire world one person at a time.  It is not a summons to create a welfare system of giving short-sighted dreams a temporary realization, but rather the call to build the character of faith within each person that can endure life's success, failures, blessings and curses - to take all seasons and find that he makes everything beautiful in its time.

Individuals have certainly lost this inner strength of character in our culture.  In large part, so has the church.  The deepening of discipleship is the deepening of character and the renewal of the human spirit.  Only when we have become so shallow and short-sighted ourselves will we be willing to hitch our church's wagons to political stars which always rise and fall.  In the process we might have forfeited a piece of the true spirit of freedom as well.  The true building blocks of our culture will be found in people of faith who recognize that Almighty God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and beckons us to see from his lofty heights as we complete the work he has placed in front of us.  Morality will never be legislated, ordered, or dictated; it will be only from the hand of the Divine.

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