Monday, February 25, 2008

A Few Minutes on a Soapbox

It's campaign time. You've probably seen or heard about the email attacks targeted at Barack Obama. Before that became a public debate topic, I received a few different versions of it in my inbox. I clicked delete as usual the first couple of times, but this one hit a nerve, so I responded. The subject line was...

Can a good Muslim be a good American?

Here is how it began:

Theologically - no. . . Because his allegiance is to Allah, The moon God of Arabia.
Religiously - no. . . Because no other religion is accepted by His Allah except Islam (Quran,2:256) (Koran)
Scripturally - no. . . Because his allegiance is to the five Pillars of Islam and the Quran.
Geographically - no. . . Because his allegiance is to Mecca , to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

After a long litany of other bullet points, the conclusion was this:

Therefore after much study and deliberation, perhaps we should be very suspicious of all Muslims in this country.

They obviously cannot be both 'good' Muslims and good Americans.

I'll spare you the rest of the details, but a similar e-mail is described fully here. Here is my reply:

Dear Sister in Christ,

I've seen this forward before. It is interesting, but I wonder if you couldn't say the same things in similar ways about Christians--our citizenship is not of this world, and we declare our purpose to be that of establishing a heavenly kingdom. If we can question Muslims' ability to show patriotism on the basis of these statements, wouldn't they also have grounds to question ours? And why would we promote the building of walls of suspicion against our Muslim neighbors rather than the bridges of love that Jesus taught us to extend? To protect ourselves, rather than trusting Him to be our Protector as we take risks to make Him known?

There is a video of Barack Obama's response to the allegations of emails such as this at the end of this article (same as the link above).

I'm very concerned that the credibility of Christians, and our ability to impact our society for the kingdom of God, is undermined when we spread condemning allegations in the face of very public evidence to the contrary. I am not in any way endorsing Barack Obama as a presidential candidate, but I will say that the only God I have heard Obama honoring in this campaign is the God of the Bible. See his testimony (along with faith statements from the other candidates and links to more information) in this overview. I can't argue for or against the authenticity of Obama's faith, but since the fact is that he was sworn into the senate on a Bible and has led them in the Pledge of Allegiance, the rest of the claims of this email (which states that Obama was sworn in on a Koran and refuses to salute the flag or say the Pledge) and others like it are also in question. And we can be sure that as one who professes to be our brother in Christ, and simply by virtue of the impact he has as a government leader, he needs our prayers.

I hope you'll take this in the right way and not as a criticism. I've had others challenge me on things that I've sent, and honestly it stung a little, but I'm grateful that they cared enough. I've been convicted about really thinking through what I send along to people, and about the impact that our email activity has on our witness. I wouldn't bother responding to anyone that I didn't think cared about that too, and I know you do!


I don't fear the possible implications of a Barack Obama presidency nearly as much as I fear that Christians are so busy letting the world know what we are against that the world will never know the One who is FOR them! Please, Christian friends, let's love our neighbors lavishly, pray for our leaders, and live securely and joyfully in the belief that our great God is the provider, protector and Savior that we love to proclaim that He is.

One more thing. If someone sends you an e-mail that is intended to cause alarm or get you riled, PLEASE check out its validity at before you hit forward. Just type the subject of the e-mail in the search bar. This simple practice has made me better informed, and saved me some embarrassment.

There it is. The closest I'll probably ever get to making a political statement on this blog. I'm getting off my soapbox now. And as always, comments are welcome!


Benjamin said...

I agree on all counts. Even to the point where I struggle with Christians in the military and with whether or not, as a Christian, I should vote. Many of my Christian friends have sworn off voting, or write in 'Jesus'. But they're crazy.

Plus, if I recall my history, didn't JFK face criticism since he was a Catholic and under the authority of the Pope? There is no end to where this line of reasoning could go.

In any case, the best advice is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (James 1:19)

Tracy P. said...

Thanks, Ben. I'm relieved that it's not just me.

I understand Jesus's teaching to be that we work within the framework of the authority under which we find ourselves, knowing that it's all established by God (Paul's teaching). I conclude from this that we should vote, pay taxes, and serve as required.

I'm wondering from your comment, do you think it's possible that we
should refrain from trying to impact the governmental system, and reserve our efforts for personal influence on those around us?

Benjamin said...

Well, like I said in the comment, I'm torn on the interplay of government and faith. My short answer to your question is that it is okay to use both, but subversively.

For instance, God used earthly powers to accomplish His goals in the Bible. Babylon and Assyria conquered the Israelites as an act of judgment, Persia funded their return. An earthly location (the temple) was even where He was known to dwell. Additionally, Christ was executed on a Roman cross to fulfill prophecy. Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen more than once to accomplish his goal of spreading the gospel. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that using the system is a Biblical view.

The problem I see with western Christianity is that the government itself is somehow a "Christian" mechanism for God's kingdom. They forget that the Biblical intuition is that government is an earthly power that is faulty, and our call is to a different sort of kingdom.

My take on the whole thing is that if we start to believe that government is the way in which we accomplish kingdom goals (taking care of widows and orphans, for instance), then we cede our role as salt and light to the government. And, what the government gives, it can take away. In this country, by and large, the poor and needy are taken care of the government, not by the Church. Who, then, does the allegiance of the poor and needy belong to? Has the church therefore gotten lazy about taking care of the poor, counting on the government to do it? How in the world does this further Jesus' mission on earth? What is good news to the poor and needy in our current system? Christians, or government?

I think we are to work within the governmental system we find ourselves, but realize we are never to say "Kurios Ceasar" (i.e., "Ceasar is Lord"), but to always say "Kurios Christos". When Paul began to advocate this, it caused lots of political upheaval. This is too often underestimated (or not even realized) in our reading of Paul today.

So, using Paul's example, we are to work within the system, but subvert it as we do so. We are to change the cross from a sign of despair into a sign of hope. We are to bend our knee to the ruler, and say "Kurios Christos". We are to invoke our rights, but use them to further another kingdom. We do this, I believe, by impacting those around us with Christlike love. We impact the governmental system, but subversively, in an almost grass-roots way. We use the tools of government to build another kingdom.

So, what does that mean for voting, paying taxes, and serving as required? Taxes for me is a no-brainer - the government gives and takes away. Serving is a different animal to me. God gives me life, and the life of others. If I put myself in a position where the government can order me to take the life of another, I've put myself in a position to say "Kurios Ceasar" by following orders. I'm just not comfortable with that. The Christian call is to lay down our life for others, not the other way around. (This, by the way, was a BIG topic for Roman Christians. I believe their consensus was that Christians should resist being in the military.)

Voting is similar to me, though there is no early church precedent for it. I don't claim allegiance to America or its constitution. Essentially, I'm an expat. With that in mind, I'm not sure I should vote. Additionally, I always feel like I'm voting for the lesser of two evils. Can I really cast a vote that supports things I see as evil? Can I really cast a vote for a capitalistic/democratic/consumeristic system as if it is the way the world will be saved? Somehow, I feel like casting a vote is investing in a system that is inherently sinful.

Up until now, I've always voted. But with each election cycle, my conscience gets louder and louder. This may be the first year I abstain from voting altogether. I dunno. But I do strongly think Christians should be able to articulate why they vote or do not vote. Apathy or duty are not good reasons.

Well, that's my long and drawn out take on it.

What's yours?

Tracy P. said...

Wow, Ben! You've given this some thought.

My take on voting is that since the government is going to take my tax dollars, I should vote for those whom I think would use their positions of influence to put that money to good use. This is not easy to do, but it is one of my main ways of thinking about it.

The other thing that strikes me is that as Christians, we should be prepared to speak to and interact with people regarding the matters that concern them. In our society, people take the rights and responsibilities provided by democracy quite seriously. They respect others who do the same, even if they come at it from a different perspective. Elections engage people in a lot of thought and soul searching about their values, and I think are a great opportunity to talk to people about things that matter to them, and to us.

We've been plopped down in 21st century America for such a time as this. While we may have a bad taste in our mouths for politics or politicians or even Christians who embarrass us in the public/political arena, I think we would be remiss in disengaging ourselves from a system that was specifically formed to give each person a voice. This system essentially invites us to subvert it for the purposes we see as central. While some people mistake that as an invitation to try to own the system to the exclusion of others, we mustn't forget that if we decline to use our voices, others will still make theirs heard loud and clear. And that will directly impact our freedom to use our voices outside of the political arena for the kingdom of God.

Eric said...

I think it's prudent to keep a toolbox of truths for when you get morally confused: don't kill- that's pretty universal. While there are really only a handful of such tools, Though Shalt Vote is most def one of them. No matter what happens, what situation you are in, how bad things look, you always have to vote. That's a tool I wish I could bestow on everyone. And Ben, if you sit this one out, you are doing the opposite of what thousands are doing this year. Politics are hot right now. Everyone has to vote..

And what of those nuts who send out those emails? That is exactly the mindless "christianity" that I cannot help but blog about. I am relieved to know that I'm not alone in that frustration.

And, pop the bottle, I agree with just about everything you wrote about! Yet I see that myopia as the rule, not the exception. Let's hope I am way wrong and those loose screws don't sink the ship.

Benjamin said...

I'm not convinced. Corporations or the rich don't count on voting or what's "hot right now" to ensure they get what they want. Instead, they put the screws to the system and subvert it for their needs and desires. If anyone thinks my vote or letter to my congressman counts in light of the BILLIONS of dollars corporations spend lobbying the system and schmoozing with politicians, they need a lesson in reality.

My larger point is that I've been through enough cycles to know that politics are ALWAYS hot around the presidential election, yet no matter who is voted into office - republicans or democrats - nothing really changes. Presidential elections are a giant tease. Ergo, my faith in the system is a misplaced faith.

But, I also agree with Tracy, that if we don't use our voice in the system, then someone else will be heard. That's what has kept me voting in EVERY election since I was 18. But I can't buy that my voice will be taken away if I don't vote. Even if I was in a totalitarian regime, I still have a voice. They might kill me for using it, but it's not uncommon that death makes one's voice louder. Not that I would aim for death, mind you.

In any case, my toolkit doesn't see voting as a reliable moral tool. In fact, as an individual who is fiscally conservative, in favor of extensive and measurably effective social programs, against abortion, and mostly pacifist, voting is tool that always forces me to chose something bad. It is notoriously unreliable in that regard.

Tracy P. said...

Look at that! People are having conversations with each other on my blog. This is exciting. :-)