Resurgence roundup, 5/24/13
Fri May 24, 2013
The places grace empowers us
Thu May 23, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
‘Each next risk is the biggest one’: James MacDonald talks with Mark Driscoll
Wed May 22, 2013
by Mark Driscoll
Tue May 21, 2013
by Amanda Edmondson
From prison to ReTrain: Russell’s story
Mon May 20, 2013
Confessions of an evangelical pastor registered as an independent voter
I first attended an evangelical church in the late 1970s. I was born again by the end of the decade at age 13. I began to pay attention to politics, with an eye on how they played out in the church. Because the church I attended was Southern Baptist, President Jimmy Carter was the slight favorite in my church against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. Carter was for many considered “one of us” by being openly born again and Southern Baptist.
While the occupant of the White House will make some very important decisions in the next four years, he won’t command our destiny.
Our youth pastor made no effort to hide his preference for president. As he filled the pulpit while preaching from John 2 (Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana) just weeks before the vote, he threw the ultimate punch. Noting how much wine was drunk at the party in Cana he observed, “The only party I know that could drink that much wine is the Republican Party.” In a Southern Baptist church in those days, he might as well have called Ronald Reagan the devil. And some went so far after the election as to call Reagan the Antichrist noting that the name “Ronald Wilson Reagan” had three, six-letter words in fulfillment of the dreaded prophesied 666.
But in the 1980s, the political landscape in the evangelical church quickly coagulated around the Republican platform, spurred on by the Moral Majority. After two Reagan terms, most of evangelical Christianity was closely associated with the Republican Party. According to pollsters, the evangelical vote was split 50-50 by party during the 1976 election. By the 1988 general election, 81% of evangelicals voted Republican.
We should pray for our next president and vote according to our conscience.
And that trend has mostly held strong until today. According to the Barna Group, which seems to more accurately and narrowly define the term “evangelical,” only 11% of evangelicals voted for President Obama in the 2008 election. [The Pew Research Center recorded 26% for the same statistic.] Accordingly, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that if you call yourself an evangelical Christian you are more likely to identify yourself as a Republican. And it is my unofficial observation that evangelical pastors trend more Republican even than the members of their churches.
So it may surprise many people to learn that while I do identify myself as an evangelical pastor, I’m registered as an independent voter by conscience. While I think this is an area of personal conscience and freedom (I don’t expect everyone to believe as I do about this subject), I do have some personal reasons for this move I want to share with other pastors.
My last two pastorates have been in very progressive communities. For eight years, I served as a church planter in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the last two years, I have served in Seattle. For those who aren’t familiar with New Mexico, it is in the continental United States, and it shows up on a map once every four years on the late news during the first Tuesday of November as a blue state island surrounded by a sea of red states. And Nob Hill in Albuquerque is bluer than the blue New Mexico sky on a crisp, clear November day.
I began to realize how political partisanship, particularly in those who lead, could become a stumbling block for those being drawn by Jesus.
The importance of my political party affiliation came into play when I was sharing the gospel with a young woman in Nob Hill. She told me she was intrigued by Jesus but there was one thing keeping her from becoming a Christian. I asked for her reason, expecting her to cite her boyfriend’s objection because she had already informed him of the change it would bring to their relationship. But she shocked me when she said, “I don’t think I’m ready to become a Christian because I know I’m not ready to become a Republican.” Imagine how relieved we both were when I explained the second category isn’t a mandatory next step from the first! She placed her faith in Jesus.
It was from that conversation that I began to realize how political partisanship, particularly in those who lead and speak on behalf of the church, could become a stumbling block for those being drawn by Jesus into relationship with him. As an evangelical pastor, my intent goal is that the only stumbling block to a person meeting Jesus is the offense of his substitutionary death for sinners.
While it is fairly safe to assume that evangelicals tend to have similar views of big political issues (abortion and the definition of marriage, for example) as informed by the Bible, it would be a major mistake to assume all evangelicals give equal weight to each campaign issue. I have brothers and sisters who boldly proclaim Jesus, agree on major doctrinal issues, and oppose gay marriage, yet feel that immigration reform is a more pressing issue. They are likely to vote for the candidate who endorses an immigration policy that best fits their personal conviction, regardless of his or her view of marriage. Other evangelicals consider safeguarding the biblical view of marriage more important and will vote for the candidate who reflects those priorities, regardless of his stance on immigration reform.
I do believe that being non-partisan in my affiliation helps with credibility in being objective as I serve.
It is also common for the evangelical community to have unified convictions regarding social problems, yet prefer opposing solutions. I believe most evangelical Christians who will vote in November are deeply concerned about the number of people living in poverty in the shadows of the most affluent society the world has known. But some will believe the best cure is a free-market approach while others will believe a revised tax system that redistributes wealth more equitably is the best way to remedy the problem.
These people gather in the church I’m called to serve each week. So while I don’t hesitate for a moment to challenge political policies and issues prophetically with the Bible, I do believe that being non-partisan in my affiliation helps with credibility in being objective as I serve both groups and lead toward realizing the unity Jesus desires us live in.
I don’t believe I stand alone as one who is suffering from acute political fatigue. The tone of the partisan debate has become so shrill, deceitful, and hateful that it reminds me of some past conversations among unbelievers that I had to walk away from. I wanted to participate in the dialogue for the sake of the gospel, but I couldn’t listen any longer because of a higher call to personal holiness.
Social media has only added fuel to the fire. The political name-calling is Exhibit A in the evidence room labeled “the depravity of humankind.” A self-professed Christian is labeled a Muslim. An effective businessman is called a felon. A family man is portrayed pushing a woman, who could very well be his grandma in a wheelchair, off a cliff. And all the while followers of Jesus are, not only watching this mud fight, but some are promoting it, and others are even funding it. They are slinging mud at people who don’t yet know Jesus in front of people who don’t yet know Jesus.
I’m all for political activism among Christians as long as we keep it in perspective in light of our higher priorities of clarity, unity, and purity. While the occupant of the White House will make some very important decisions in the next four years that will impact our lives and futures, he won’t command our destiny. We should pray for our next president and vote according to our conscience. But we must give our full allegiance and highest energies to our King Jesus. And he said once, “My kingdom is not of this world.” For me, being a registered independent voter helps me remember this.