A couple of times a week, I drive past this sign. Sometimes it makes me chuckle. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes it makes me angry. Lately, it has been making me angry because I believe it is symptomatic of a major failing of the American Evangelical community. Patriotism ceases to be a virtue when you place your love of country on the same level as your love of God. It is idolatry, and it is becoming rampant as the church becomes increasingly and foolishly political.
I try not to get too political or religious on this blog. Its purpose is to discuss the film business and writing in general. However, this absurd "culture war" that we find ourselves engaged in compels me to speak up because I believe the Evangelical community is doing a grave disservice to both itself and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only have we sold our souls to a partisan political agenda that does nothing to further the gospel, we sold it very cheaply at the expense of our credibility in the eyes of the people who need us most.
Christ gave the church a mission. It is called The Great Commission. It can be found in Matthew 28:16-20 and goes something like this: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and Earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
That is an awesome task, but problems arise when we try to fulfill it. I think the major mistake comes when well-meaning people try to fulfill it by putting the cart before the horse. We are told to make disciples of all nations, baptize them and then teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We are leaving out the conversion and baptism part and trying to compel the people of this country to obey Jesus' commands using the legislative process. That process is ultimately counter-productive and doomed to failure.
I am not one of those people who say you can't legislate morality. That's silly. Every law passed in every country of the world is a moral judgement designed to compel its population to abstain from behavior the majority of the people or its leaders find harmful. Such laws are necessary to maintain an orderly society. Not surprisingly, most of the behavior prohibited by civil laws are also described as sins in the Bible. Sin separates human beings from God, and some people seem to believe that if they can stop people from sinning, they can reunite them with God. That, however, is an absurd assumption.
Until recently, when the term "hate crimes" entered our lexicon, laws primarily dealt with actions. Sin, however, is a matter of the heart. It is a sin to covet your neighbor's possessions whether or not you actually steal them. It is also a sin to covet your neighbor's wife, whether or not you actually sleep with her. Jesus said if you hate your brother, you are guilty of murder. God holds us to a much higher standard than the law, and only God can judge us by that standard because only He can see into our hearts. With our endless self-justifications, we cannot even see our own sin without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, too many of us feel capable of judging others when we can't even effectively judge ourselves. We see other people's sins all too clearly, and we aren't afraid to judge them. However, in doing so, we exceed the mandate given by Christ in the Great Commission.
John 3:15-17 states: "For God so loved the world, that He His only begotten Son, what whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him." Sometimes I think God didn't send Jesus to judge the world because He knew we would do a such good job on our own. Unfortunately, since we are replacing Jesus' compassion with our own condemnation, we are not doing a very good of saving the world.
It is foolish to think that non-believers would behave like believers. Why would they? Plenty of Christians don't even behave like Christians. And, even if non-believers obeyed the law, would it save them? No. We are saved by faith not works. The Apostle Paul teaches that the law itself cannot save. The law can only condemn. We are saved by the grace of the Lord. Think about it. Would anyone be saved if we managed to codify every commandment of God into the law of land and compelled everyone to obey? No.
This is the fundamental flaw behind the Religious Right's political engagement. Even if the politicians gave us everything we wanted it would not forward the Great Commission one iota. That said, what have the politicians given Evangelicals in return for their votes and hundreds of millions of dollars in donations over the last three decades?
I shouldn't say nothing. After all, a handful of religious leaders get their egos stroked when aspiring politicians come to curry favor every election cycle. That should count for something, I suppose. But let's look at the so-called hot button issues. Has abortion been banned? No. Has prayer returned to schools? No. Is Creationism being taught in the schools? Nope. Don't think so. Have drugs been stamped out? No, in fact, they are becoming increasingly legal. And we all know how the war against gay marriage turned out.
We got nothing from the politicians.
What did we sacrifice in return?
Love. And grace.
Wars are fought by enemies. When the church entered the culture war, we declared war on everyone who doesn't believe the same thing we believe. Oh wait, we only hate the sin, not the sinner. Yeah, right. It doesn't feel like love when someone's hitting you on the head with a placard. Jesus went and ate with sinners. We, on the other hand, self-righteously won't even bake them a wedding cake.
Let me tell you something. No one is going to hell because they are a homosexual. Or because they had an abortion. Or because they became addicted to drugs. Or because they drove sixty-five-miles-an-hour in a forty-mile-an-hour zone. The only people going to hell are those who refuse the Lord's free offer of grace and forgiveness.
How can I say that? Doesn't the Bible specify that homosexuals are going straight to hell. That's what the Bible says, but who else is going to join them? Revelation 21:8 says "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars -- they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
You might pat yourself on the back for having kept away from sexual immorality. But have you ever told a lie? I bet you did. Well, guess what: If you were being judged solely on your own merits, telling one little white lie will send you to hell just as quickly as a whole lifetime of homosexuality.
Am I saying that sin doesn't matter? No. Not at all. I'm just saying that it is impossible to overcome sin without regeneration, and, even with God's grace, it is something we all still struggle with daily. Yet we still devote so much of our valuable time trying to elect politician to pass laws to force people to do things alien to their hearts. If we concentrated on changing their hearts instead, through good old-fashioned evangelism, we wouldn't even need the laws. And, may I remind you that the early church flourished under a much more evil and corrupt government than we have now. Perhaps it was because they spent more time seeking God than signing petitions.
So why do we spend so much time trying to change the laws?
Because it is easier to hate than to love.
And it easier to judge than forgive.
And because we're lazy. We want the government to do the work God has given the church.
Am I saying don't vote? No. Please vote your conscience in every election. Be politically active. (I have worked on dozens of election campaigns around the country.) Just try to remember that the gospel is more important than any election or any government or any country. After all, if you a Christian, this world is not your home. We have to keep our priorities straight. And if our angry, partisan political posts on social media are causing people who need the Lord to unfriend us, we are probably not putting the Kingdom first. (And not being political persuasive either.)
As for me, I am going to try not to pick any fights over politics anymore. Call me a sell-out if you must, but I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Or something to that effect.
Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God. It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.