“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
I don't have much time for a blog today, but I have something on my mind that may be beneficial for parents. I now have a 15 year old daughter who is following Jesus with all of here heart. Sure, things could change, but this is a patter with her. There have been peaks and valleys, but she has been following Jesus for the majority of her life. So, what are we doing right? First, we have done plenty of things wrong, we are not perfect by any means. Perhaps the most important thing we have done as parents is have a mission statement. It isn't written down, but it is frequently repeated and it has been ever since my daughter was a baby; even the we were thinking according to our mission statement.
Before I tell you what our mission statement is, it is important to make a couple of observations. First, our mission statement isn't detailed, it is very broad. We constantly make adjustments regarding how it is applied, but the overall mission remains the same. Second, although I have pushed for certain things along the way, when it comes to my kids lives, I have always taken two things into consideration. Do the things I push for accomplish the purpose and do they fit with my kids personality and interests? If the answer is yes, then I push more. If I find out the answer to either of those questions is no, then I stop pushing and move another direction.
Second, it is important to remember that when things don't go well, hit your knees. There are no guarantees as parents, but we can increase the odds that our kids will turn out how we want them to by being good/intentional parents.
Third, make sure your priorities as a follower of Christ are right and then put your mission statement as a parent together.
Last, repeat the statement often and apply it to everything!
So, what is our mission statement for our kids? Simple, we want our kids to be fully committed followers of Jesus. That is it. We aren't too concerned about what they will do for a living, where they will live, or if they will be safe. That doesn't mean those things don't concern us at all, but we believe that if they are following Jesus, then he will take care of them. They will serve Him no matter where they live, what they do for a living, and safety is secondary.
Perhaps there is one more thing I should mention. Although our church is great and our daughter is very involved in the youth group, we don't rely on our church or the youth group to raise our daughter. We are very involved in here spiritual life at home. She takes prayer walks and reads Scripture because it has been modeled for her, not because the church told her to. In other words, take responsibility as a parent to get the job done.
Let's assume, for a minute, that all Christians want roughly the same things in the world. For instance, Christians would like there to be peace, we would like the poor to be cared for, we would like people to accept the gift of salvation and commit to following Jesus, we would like to be able to follow Jesus without persecution, we would like single moms to be supported and encouraged, we would like kids to grow up in healthy homes, we would like racism to be a distant memory, and so on. Most (certainly not all) Christians would agree on these big, but simply things. All of these things have political implications.
Some pastors have suggested that addressing politics is a bad idea. Honestly, I don't know how you can preach the Bible and not address political issues. For example, the abortion issue is closely connected to poverty, single moms, and even race. Furthermore, the sanctity of life is clear throughout Scripture. Healthy families have close ties to issues regarding same sex marriage, poverty, and the economy in general. Being able to live out ones faith is very closely connected to things like religious liberty (1st amendment), tax code, and even the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The reality is, a person's religious convictions are closely tied to how they vote in an election, or at least they should be voting (yes, I think there is a right way to vote). Yet, Christians are divided regarding what the government should and should not be doing as well as how those things should be done.
This post isn't about giving all the answers, but perhaps it can give a little framework for thinking through political issues from a Christian perspective.
I don't think I am capable of counting the number of times I have heard the name of Jesus used in promoting a particular political agenda. Quite frankly, it is a little annoying. For one person to invoke Jesus is to suggest that their agenda is of God and anyone who disagrees is clearly anti-Jesus. This is not only annoying, it is irresponsible on multiple levels. First, Jesus didn't tell us his political views. Actually, the most political thing he said was "give to Caesar what is Caesar's". Of course that is quoted repeatedly and used in ways that Jesus could not possibly have intended (Mark 12). Take some time and read the entire account, it sounds more like Jesus was avoiding politics. Considering his context and the fact that many Jews expected a political Messiah, it makes perfect sense for him to do exactly that. This should not be understood as being prescriptive for believers today. As a matter of fact, politics and governance is spoken of many times throughout Scripture. Paul talks about it in Romans 13 (a key passage), God uses people in political positions to advance his purposes repeatedly in the Old Testament (Daniel and Joseph are good examples), and Acts records the disciples fighting for religious liberty on a few occasions.
So, if politics and faith are not so easily separated, how should a Christian approach political issues? Here are a couple of principles:
It has been the habit of some Christians to take commands in Scripture given to the people of God (The church) and apply them to government. For example, Christians are to minister to the poor, the oppressed, the down and out. This is not a command given to the government, at least not in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel was a theocracy and there was no distinction between the people of God and the nation of Israel. Since that is not the case anymore, we must be careful about applying Old Testament commands for Israel to the United States. What some Christians have done is voted for people who would implement government programs to do the things the church is commanded to do. Often times the justification goes like this, "the church isn't doing it, so I guess the government has to do it." This is shirking ones own responsibility. As part of the church, each individual Christian needs to take responsibility in this area. Be part of the solutions, help the church succeed where you think it has failed by getting involved and fixing the problem.
Anger towards injustice is appropriate, but being mean spirited is not. For example, it is perfectly reasonable and good to appose same sex marriage because it is contrary to Scripture, it goes against natural law, or even because it is not the role of government to legitimize same sex marriage. However, to be unloving and mean spirited toward people who practice homosexuality or support same sex marriage is not acceptable, that is sin.
This is similar to the first bullet point. A good example of this is the border crisis now facing the United State on our southern boarder. The government has a responsibility to enforce laws that protect Americans (Romans 13). That would include enforcing the border and the immigration laws. However, the church should (and is) ministering to those who are here, even if they are illegal. Those two things are not contrary. When the roles get confused, things go wacky in a hurry.
Many people, especially Christians, hold beliefs they are unwilling to talk about because they fear losing their job, being labeled in some way, or general persecution. Some times Christians quote the second greatest command as justification for not saying anything. This stems either from a misunderstanding of what Biblical love is, or it is cowardice. Read 1 Corinthians 13, but don't stop after the first couple verses, love rejoices in truth, but not in evil. Yes, it is kind and it does all the nice things we like to think about, but it also confronts, corrects, and speaks truth. Choose your words carefully, but speak truth without fear of the consequences.
Christians don't always agree on how to address issues, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be involved in politics. Scripture addresses many, many political issues and what it has to say should not be ignored. It is important to have a theology of politics. Fighting for justice very often requires political engagement. Those Christians that live in the United States are very privileged in their freedom to exercise their faith as they see fit, but this freedom will be taken away if Christians do not engage. Though the landscape has changed and will continue to change, at this point, the United States is still a beacon of light, a city on a hill. The good the church can do around the world is closely connected to the freedom with which it can operate and the resources it has both financially and politically. If we do not fight for those things, we will loose that freedom and those resources will dwindle.
Today president Obama signed an executive order that could have a prodigious impact on faith organizations that believe the Bible clearly teaches that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. This order changes the language in the 1964 civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on gender and race so that it now includes sexual orientation. You can read the Executive Order here.
The problem is that he did not include in this executive order an exemption for religious or faith based organizations. In other words, a church could potentially be sued for refusing to hire someone who is openly practicing homosexuality could be sued, and in such a case, that church would be on the losing side of the law.
Many believe that churches should stay out of politics, but this serves as an example of why churches should be involved in politics. On a number of occasions I have suggested that it is only a matter of time until a same sex couple demands that a pastor marries them or perhaps it will be a practicing homosexual suing a church because they refuse to hire that person. That day is growing closer all the time.
It should be noted that our government was designed in such a way that presidents cannot simply write or change law. Those powers belong to congress. This executive order is illegal and for that reason alone should be ruled unconstitutional, but it might not be. The harm that is being done to religious liberty is significant and must not be ignored. As a pastor, I am very concerned about what will be deemed illegal in the future and the real possibility that I and other church leaders will be forced into a position where we will have to choose between being obedient to God and being obedient to the government. For me, there is no choice, I will be obedient to God, but I'd really prefer to avoid having to make that choice.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.