Early political maneuvering by GOP presidential hopefuls has been focused on reaching out to the “religious right.” Courting the most influential voices from among the ranks of the evangelical community has become a necessity for Republicans, and no president has taken advantage of that fact more than President George W. Bush.
That’s bad news for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose past – ex-wives, extramarital affairs – has many religious conservatives uncomfortable, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, who warned that Giuliani’s pro-abortion stance and marital history will not earn the support of social conservatives.
Senator John McCain, famously smeared by the Bush campaign during the 2000 Republican primaries to give the edge to Bush among religious conservatives, isn’t about to lose that critical voting bloc again and is taking steps to build bridges to evangelical voters. Still, many do not believe the sincerity of his efforts this time around.
Ironically, the religious right – made up mostly of conservative Protestants – may be nudged by influential voices within the various denominations toward the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, who is a member of the Mormon Church, long-regarded by most evangelicals as a cult.
But I have to ask: What is the evangelical church in America doing playing the role of political power broker in the first place? I know there’s a well-intended desire to buttress the country’s moral foundation, but I think the desire to influence politics from the pulpit is symptomatic of poor priorities. Political strategists, a la Karl Rove, have taken advantage of the tendency – in many cases, the naiveté – of Christians to trust those who profess to be of like faith. Instead of flexing political muscle, the Church has been used as a pawn to sway elections.
In the interest of disclosure, I am an evangelical, born-again, Bible-believing Christian. And it is my beliefs that have brought me to this conclusion.
When I read my Bible I don’t find the prophets or apostles campaigning for political causes. In fact, I find only three principles guiding my civic responsibilities:
Pay my taxes
The Church’s Great Commission - Christ’s instructions to his followers – is clear: to preach the Gospel and make believers out of all the nations. It has nothing to do with influencing the political process. In fact, when I read the New Testament, and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles in particular, I see the power of preaching the message of Jesus Christ in spite of the hostility of the religious establishment and a Roman government infamous for inflicting intense persecution and martyrdom against the Christians. It was through the faithful preaching and living example of the Gospel that Christianity eventually gained a foothold that would change the world, not with the state’s approval or support.
Nothing about that message has changed. If churches would focus on encouraging their members to reach their surrounding communities with that message of love and truth, and of caring for their neighbors, I believe the transforming power of the Gospel could once again change the world. As in the New Testament, by living our faith daily Christians could show others the benefit of following the example of Christ. Sadly, some of the most visible recent examples of Christianity come in the personages of Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, and Jimmy Swaggart.
Legions of lesser-known and better-behaved pastors and church leaders share blame, however, when they place greater emphasis on politics than on the Gospel message. Instead of urging their congregations into the mission fields down the street, in their neighborhoods, towns and cities, the evangelical church in America has urged its members to a concentrated form of political activism. We’re more interested in leveraging political power than of giving witness to the power of God.
Jesus is known, among other names, as the Good Shepherd, and His followers have been likened to a flock of sheep. By blindly following after a political message, that analogy may be all too apt. All we, like sheep, have indeed gone astray.