A Plea to Evangelicals

January 14, 2008

David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, has an excellent column in USA Today today. It is entitled "A plea to evangelicals -- from an evangelical." Here are a few highlights:

Conservative evangelicals are bringing a version of Christian values into the public arena where every American has to deal with it, like it or not.

... Many people are furious about it. But these beliefs and values also matter to other Christians, especially other evangelicals like me. Our reputation is at stake, our voice in the culture, and the health of our religious communities. If the most vocal evangelicals get this wrong, it damages all evangelicals -- all religious believers, really.

I am not just talking about a bit of embarrassment in polite company. If there are people who reject God or the church, Christianity or religiously inspired moral values because of what conservative evangelical political activists do, this is disastrous from a Christian point of view. There are many such people. Here we are at the very heart of our religious mission, and it is getting fouled up by our politics.

... Conservative evangelicals generally offer an unbiblically narrow policy agenda focused on just a few moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage instead of tackling the full range of biblical concerns, which include poverty, oppression and war. And when they do engage some of these other issues, such as the foreign policy of our nation, they are (ironically) not Christian enough. Their faith doesn't inform their vote in a way that makes sense biblically. They are getting their values from somewhere else -- not from Jesus -- which is why they look so uncomfortable whenever anyone raises the "Jesus issue" in relation to their support for, say, torture.

We must regroup. We evangelicals must rethink our engagement with politics. The place to start is by remembering that the church is not a branch of a political party and that its distinctive identity and mission must be protected, both for the sake of the church and for the sake of our culture and the world.

... The fundamental task of a religious organization is to serve God, not win in secular politics. Once this distinction is lost, the identity of the religious organization is compromised beyond repair. This is bad not just for the integrity of that religious group, but also for society, which if it is to flourish needs a variety of social institutions performing a variety of functions -- not every social institution morphing into a political organization.

Specifically for Christians, we (should) know that the mission of the church is to be Christ's faithful people, and to do its core work of preaching, teaching and serving our neighbors. If it is true (as we boldly believe) that the church is the central location for the work God is doing to redeem the world, then our focus should be on the church's work, not the state's.

... But we dare not identify the work of any state, any political party or any politician with the work of God or the task of the church. Every time we do so we end up embarrassing ourselves, enraging the neighbors we are called to love, deepening the culture wars and damaging our own mission.
Amen! This is a message that evangelicals Christians really need to hear in this highly partisan and polarized year. As I argued in my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), we must not give up our higher calling in order to play politics.

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