“I Quit!” That’s the bottom line of a letter delivered to the POTUS yesterday. For the first time in US history, the Secretary of Defense of the United States resigned in protest over an order that amounts to us not keeping our word to our allies who have staked their futures on our fidelity. It should come as no surprise when a politician demonstrates less than full allegiance to difficult commitments – we as a country have something of a reputation for inconsistency in keeping our promises abroad (…consider that the munitions being fired at our boys in Afghanistan were largely, at least in the beginning, the same weapons we had given them to fight the Russians a decade before when we left them to their fate). The episode with General Mattis highlights something of the angst felt from the beginning of this recent flirtation with blindfolded political populism by the evangelical religious community. The simple truth is that we have a president that appears laser-focused on keeping HIS word to the electorate that swept him to power on a wave of populist protest. Sounds like a good thing, yes? It’s certainly a recipe for keeping the torches lit leading up to the next election. Government ‘of’ the people – check!….‘by’ the people….check….‘for’ the people? ….wait a second – who is asking, with access to exponentially more information and benefit of council from those whose lives have been lived in their particular lanes of expertise – if what the masses demand and who they have elected are acting in their informed best interest? — who is governing ‘for’ the people? …..with their entrusted best interest in mind (even if it diverges from campaign rhetoric spoken without the light of comprehensive information)? Much harder to tell, huh?
The interest of the church is often piqued by anything that motivates a visceral response from people – something like a Spirit-filled teenager feels sitting in a pep rally at school – and very often the commonalities spark a dangerously undiscerning and illegitimate connectedness. ‘Democracy in action!’, some say – ‘Finally, an honest politician!’ say others. OK – I get it – a politician that meticulously fulfills his campaign promises is as rare as a eunuch’s whiskers, but in this case the church’s mission risks being hindered by it’s corporate connection to such chicanery.
My concern as a pastor is not so much with troop movements and geo-political intrigue – it’s with the effectiveness of the church in fulfilling the great commission. We are instructed in scripture to “…render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17 et al) – that clearly means that in our context we are to vigorously participate in our democracy as individuals. The church, however, operates under a higher calling, and our corporate voice must be reserved for that higher purpose. In China as I scribble this note, churches are facing the Hobson’s choice of toeing the political line or ceasing operations and condemnation to their equivalent of a chain gang. Compliant pictures of a Christian cross with chairman Mao above one arm and chairman Xi above the other are beginning to emerge from co-opted houses of worship already. While our democracy has some built in safeguards to protect against such, just how much of our time is spent with the people of God in the house of God talking about politics instead of the purpose of God these days?
In today’s heated environment wherein the church has been a willing accomplice to influence peddling masked as evangelistic opportunity, our credibility and our voice are left mute when the ‘chosen’ politician does what he does – mute because we’ve chosen to dissemble for him when he said what he said. I do not know this president, nor do I pretend to know his heart (and candidly, I agree and applaud some of his policies) – it is apparent, however, that he has built his ’empire’ on giving people what they want, whether that be booze and salacious entertainment, profiteering from shrewd manipulation of the legal system, or simply from advertising revenues and ratings. The trip to politics was a short journey for him in this media obsessed culture, and much of the church has naively come along for the ride. After all, he was ready to give us what we wanted, right? It seems that Brett Kavanaugh (Supreme Court darling of the ‘church’) survived in the light of that fickle favor right up until the point where he didn’t give ‘the people’ what they thought they wanted, and the disloyal recriminations have already begun to pour in on him.
Here’s the rub. Unrestrained populism NEVER produces the intended outcome, because it relies on the purported wisdom of the uninformed or, as is often the case, the misinformed. Initially the mob is on a sugar high of satisfaction, like the oblivious masses in the Roman coliseum, until the reality sets in that the republic is being redefined by it’s selfish indulgences at the expense of the legacy with which it has been entrusted. Such populism leaves far too much power in the hands of the media, and elevates opinion polls to legislative fiat. At the foot of the mountain, with clear instructions in hand and a mandate from God to wait, populist voices began to turn the hearts of impatient, imperfect people away from that commandment to something they could see, touch, and participate in building. When Moses came down the mountain only to see how far astray the people had gone in ‘going after’ their golden calf – led by their feckless religious leader, no less – the ensuing consequences resulted in the loss of 3000 lives (Exodus 32:28) and further delay in receiving the commandments from God.
The demand ‘Give us what we want and do it NOW’ has resulted in this present fallen mess over Eden, Babel’s abandoned ruin over a unified tongue, forty years in the desert over the promised land, King Saul over King David, Babylon (twice) over Beulah land, Barabbas over the Messiah, and countless other dilutions of perceived self-interest over sanctified purpose. The Body of Christ has no business corporately standing in that partisan and narcissistic mob at all (at least not silently), yet some bearing our colors continue to succumb (in our name) to the allure of promised influence and significance rather than standing above it with righteous principle and uncompromised biblical truth. We continue to show up at the Pilate’s praetorium, seek a place amongst the revelers at Sinai, and show up on the plains of Shinar – not as a sanctifying voice, but as an aligned presence, effectively halving our influence on every question and merging our call to repentance into the chorus of others so aligned, regardless of their message or ultimate goal. By doing so, we explicitly communicate by our actions an at least passive acceptance of their message’s validity if not it’s veracity. Being ‘unequally yoked’ is a temptation not confined to the New Testament, and is precisely the precursor of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons for generations (see Exodus 20:5). Striking hands in covenant with the unredeemed, whether it be in a shrouded Masonic hall, a firelit Klavern, or any other oath bound group that draws lines of eternal demarcation based upon acceptance of their spiritual ‘truth’ apart from or in addition to the Word of God is spiritual adultery, and produces a profoundly uncertain sound (along with the commensurate confusion – see 1 Corinthians 14:8).
The call of the church – the authentic Body of Christ – is never to institutional acceptance by men or man-made systems. Some might argue (myself included) that the fall of the Roman Empire can be linked to social and political embrace of Christianity by Constantine. We are called to a higher purpose than such compromised integration. We must be able to not only ‘cry aloud’ but also to credibly ‘spare not’ (Isaiah 58:1) in Christ’s name and with our untrammeled corporate voice if we are to fulfill our purpose. Populism seeks to appease the desire of the masses with no concern for the propriety of their demands. The church must protect it’s voice and the credibility of it’s message from anything that seeks to subsume or equate that message to any other, because there is still only one way to salvation, and only one “…name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b). For the Body of Christ, there should be simply no other corporate priority. Isn’t it interesting that just as 3000 men lost their lives at the foot of Mt. Sinai over their populist rebellion, 3000 men received new life at Pentecost when the church first lifted up it’s Spirit-filled voice over that rebellion. The answer for the world isn’t the ‘church’ being accepted by the crowd as they worship their particular ‘golden calf’ – it is for the Church of the living God to clear it’s distracted throat once again, stand above the din, and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, undiluted by unnecessary ‘weights’ and distractions.. The Body of Christ must be careful when the secular powers that be offer it the keys instead of the microphone!