America, Faith, and Politics

by andrewcagle

A new Rick Perry presidential campaign ad has already stirred up controversy and garnered mixed reactions from the American public. The inflammatory rhetoric has many pegging Perry as a political and religious bigot and others backing the ad as bold and honest. Here is the text of the t.v. ad that began airing on Tuesday:

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”

The intersection of faith and politics is a fiercely debated issue among Christians and non-Christians in America. These ads and the reactions drawn bring about questions of America’s perceptions of evangelical voters. Social media has exploded in response to the ad released on Tuesday, most of the content is negative. On YouTube, the “Strong” ad currently has 135, 902 dislikes and 3,168 likes after being up for two days. In fact, on Twitter I couldn’t find one outright positive or supportive tweet about the new Perry ad. Much of the content on Twitter isn’t appropriate to post, but here are a couple that I think are worth reading:

“Christianity is vile. Rick Perry is just an expected side effect.”

“Rick Perry may not be afraid to say he’s a Christian but I bet a whole load of people are now embarrassed to say they are too…”

So, does the perception of Christians matter? I would say yes.Regardless of your political persuasion or candidate you support, if you are a Christian, this affects you and furthermore, the ability for Christ’s kingdom to be advanced. When people view Christians as hateful, discriminatory, judgmental, and delusional, that’s a problem. I have heard these words describe Christians multiple times. It is usually directed at public figures like Rick Perry, Pat Robertson, and others. However, like it or not it has an impact on the general Christian population in America as well. When it comes to faith and politics, how do Americans view evangelical voters and more importantly, how accurately does it reflect Jesus?

In 2007, the Barna Group released a book titled UnChristian  presents research on the topic of how Christians are perceived in America. In a related article on the topic of “How Americans View Evangelical Voters”, Barna states, “In general, evangelical voters are perceived with a mix of skepticism and respect.” According to polling data the three most common perceptions of evangelical voters in 2007 were:

  • that evangelicals will have a significant influence effect on the election outcome (59% of American adults said this was either “very” or “somewhat accurate” regarding evangelical voters);
  • that evangelicals will cause the political conversation to be more conservative (59%);
  • that they will be spend too much time complaining and not enough time solving problems (56%)
Additionally, almost half of survery respondents said that “evangelicals will minimize social justice issues (47%)” Chapter 7 of UnChristian titled “Too Political” addresses the most prevalent perception among Americans that “Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.” The chapter also brings to light the fact that about half of American adults “describe the political involvement of Christians as a concern.”
All of these findings are both statistically and spiritually significant. In general, the perception of Christians when it comes to politics is negative. I don’t have time to address the issues of civil liberties, Constitutional limits, and public religion in America, but I do want to give some insight into how we can begin to fix this image problem and politically engage in a Christlike way. This issue isn’t something to shrug aside. God’s glory is at stake. Kinnaman writes about one very important finding in his research on the topic, saying, “Many issues keep young outsiders from committing to Jesus, but one key barrier is their experience with Christians in politics.” This warrants our attention and should be a wake up call to reflect and transform our political engagement into a Christlike manner.
Unfortunately, it is not difficult to understand how people can easily draw a disconnect between Christ and “Christian politics”. The fact that Christians can be pegged to one political party by most Americans is a problem. I would argue that the American Church is too political and in too many cases pushes politics more than kingdom principles. Too many Christians can get caught up in promoting politics and not Jesus. Rick Perry’s ad does not promote Jesus, but rather, he cheapens the gospel and uses faith as a way to promote his own political agenda. I can assure you that Christ does not appreciate being used as a banner of conservative American politics or centerpiece of arguments for being a “Christian nation.”
To suggest that the teachings of Christ fit into any of man’s political ideologies is insulting to our creator and savior. In the gospel of John Jesus said,” …My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36 ESV) We should always look at the world through the eyes and wisdom of Christ before we look at it through the eyes of man. I want to be clear, America is NOT the Kingdom of God nor does it have any divine rights. America holds no more a special place in God’s heart than does the Republic of Iran.
“Outsiders may not always come to the right conclusions about Christians, but many describe us perfectly. Moreover, even if they don’t have it all correct, it is a sad fact that we do not give them sufficient evidence to the contrary” says David Kinnaman. So if we are perceived to be unlike Christ, how do we change our political engagement to be a more accurate reflection of Him? Here are five insights from Kinnaman in UnChristian:

UnChristian: Christians rely too heavily on political influence.                                                   Christlike: We are cautious not to place too much much emphasis on politics.

UnChristian: Christians get enamored with politics.                                                             Christlike: There is nothing gained by winning elections if we lose our souls in the process

UnChristian: Christians drown out and demonize the voices of others.                           Christlike: Respect our enemies and be aware of our capacity for myopia.

UnChristian: Christians do not respect leaders whose political view-point is different from their own.                                                                                                                   Christlike: Respect and listen to our leaders and pray for them.     

UnChristian: Christians are hypocrites when it comes to politics.                                     Christlike: In trying to solve problems in society, be vigilant about our own capacity for hypocrisy.

As Christians, our approach to engaging in politics should stem from our approach in engaging the world. Our approach in engaging the world should be rooted in Christ’s teachings as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us what He values and revealed to us the things dear to his heart. First and foremost, we should see the world around us with a kingdom perspective before anything else. We were all given three basic commandments by Jesus: love God with everything you have, love your neighbor as yourself, and go and make disciples. These are our primary goals and everything we do should support these three things.

In conclusion, a word to pastors; your congregation doesn’t need another political opinion, including yours. A word to Christians, promote Jesus not politics. Engage in politics but in a Christlike manner. A word to voters, Jesus doesn’t care about your ballot, He cares about your heart. (Yes, even Democrats, ok.) A word to America, I’m sorry for our failures as Christians to fully and accurately represent the God we serve. For those of us working to advance the kingdom of God, this passage from 1 John illustrates why ultimately, perception does matter.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12 NIV)

We are Christ’s ambassadors. The way He is revealed to others is through our lives and how we reflect His love.