As is often the case in times of economic stress, political life in America becomes much more vocal and more polar than usual. In such a climate, political viewpoints can make odd bedfellows. That certainly seems to be the case with last week’s news that Fox News Channel commentator Glenn Beck would be delivering the commencement address at Liberty University.
Beck is, by all counts, a devout Mormon who finds his conservative politics embedded in his religion’s teachings. Liberty University, of course, is the living legacy of Jerry Falwell, whose name is nearly synonymous with Christian involvement in conservative politics. While at a policy level, Mr. Beck and the leadership of Liberty share much in common, their underlying faiths are anything but similar.
Under ordinary circumstances, it would be unthinkable to have a vocal member of a non-Christian religion (though most Mormons I’ve met would disagree with that characterization, we know theirs to be a false gospel) to speak, with official blessing, to the students of a distinctively Christian university. Somehow, however, these believers came to the conclusion that the times dictate political association to be of equal or greater importance than orthodox faith.
It seems as though Liberty continues to struggle much in the same way most American Christians do with politics.
At the risk of oversimplification, we tend to take one of two approaches in this arena, both of which are damaging to the Gospel. 1) We cherish our religious freedom and we believe that it is the government’s job to enforce morality in the culture, or 2) We cherish the work of Christ and we believe it is the government’s job to do justice and love mercy.
When we succumb to the first approach, we show a watching world that Christianity is not as important in society as general conservatism and that we don’t trust God to redeem men from the inside out as He has always done””as Jared Wilson put it, the message of the Gospel is not “behave”. When we fall to the second, we show the world that Christianity is less about personal sacrifice and more about making sure someone else takes up their cross and gives involuntarily to the poor and needy through taxes. We show that we don’t trust God to move His Church to live out His kingdom. In either case, we show a willingness to compromise certain key teachings of Christ in order to advance a temporal agenda.
Both approaches belie a fundamental distrust of God’s view of things””if there is one theme that Jesus hit over and over again during His ministry, it was that His kingdom was not of this world. He had eternity in view in everything He did, and Christian involvement in politics is, at a grand level, idolatry of the present and visible over the permanent and invisible.
The reason why both camps struggle so much in modern America, I think, is because the Bible is eerily silent on democracy. Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). Paul said, “Be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God…Render to all what is due them…” (Rom. 13:1; 7), and “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Scripture’s stance on government assumes absolute despotism as the norm and that citizenry has but two choices””obedience and disobedience. The concept of representative government of, by, and for the people (cherished though it may be by most Americans) is not given a category in Scripture. We struggle, in short, because we are torn between the submission and prayer commanded of us and the very tangible ability to change things through political action.
This doesn’t answer the intractable problems we face, but it is something I have to keep in mind daily to keep me focused on the true reality of Christ and my true calling as a believer. Politics has never changed a person’s heart or brought eternal salvation to anyone.
Posted by Justin Lonas