This post offers something to offend almost every American Christian. Do you know why? Contemporary American Christianity–both on the right and the left–is powerfully influenced by politics. The stereotype, of course, is that Republicans are in bed with conservative Evangelicals; however, it would be extremely misleading to suggest that Democrats aren't also tied very closely to liberal-leaning Christians. Primarily, I find our political influence strongest on social issues. Christianity, both in the bible and our tradition, has much to say about how we treat those around us, and honestly, the way American Christians come down on social issues has much more to do with what political party they belong to than it does a good understanding of Scripture and Tradition.
One note, I am not trying to argue whether or not any of the following should be legal in America. By design, we are a republic and not a Christian theocracy. As those who believe in freedom of religion, we should not expect the mores of any single religion to determine our legal system. Consequently, there are things on this list I am opposed to theologically that I am fine with being legal in our nation. Just because something is legal doesn't make it morally right, and vice versa. Many folks have a hard time separating the two, so if you find yourself in that camp, consider this one more thing to ruffle your feathers.
So, without further introduction, here are my 9 ways to know if your theology is more influenced by American politics than historic Christianity.
- You are opposed to aiding Syrian refugees. I've written on this before, so I won't waste any space on it here. Scriptural testimony is clear--there's no place in Christianity for failing to help the homeless, the sojourners, or those in need. Period.
- You support gay marriage. Marriage in Scripture and throughout Christian history has been understood to be between man and woman. Redefinitions of marriage by Christians are not due to linguistic breakthroughs or earth-shattering archaeological finds that change the historic Christian view, they are driven by politics or our innate desire to do whatever we want.
- You are rabidly pro gun rights. I wish Sarah Palin's recent Jesus-and-the-Second-Amendment bit was merely a publicity stunt to raise interest in her new book, though sadly it was probably not. Despite her great joy at finding one verse about arming up and failing to read the entire narrative through, it's pretty darn clear that the teachings of Scripture and Christian Tradition are a whole lot more 'turn the other cheek' than 'lock and load.' Should you defend your family? Of course. Can you use Jesus to back your perceived need to own an AR-15? Nope.
- You are vehemently pro-choice. Christianity has been staunchly anti-abortion since the beginning. In the 4th century, Gregory of Nyssa wrote about the union of body and soul in a child still in the womb. In the 3rd century, Tertullian's Treatise on the Soul condemned abortion as the murder of an innocent life. Going back to the 2nd century, the Epistle of Barnabas is crystal clear in its teaching, "You shall not kill a child by procuring abortion, neither shall you destroy it after it is born" (19.5). Feel free to argue on this issue however you will, just please don't suggest that being pro-choice is somehow a viable Christian stance.
- You are anti-welfare. The argument here is similar to the one I made above regarding refugees, just applied to those already in our nation and community. The notion that Christians can legitimately stand by while those around us are in need simply falls short. Whether such help comes from the government or the church is a matter of debate, and in my experience those who argue for the latter typically fail to put their theology into practice. The principle, however, is clear--you can't historically call yourself Christian while failing to help those in want.
- You find no relevant sexual norms in Christianity. While some may see this as a repeat of #2, it is not. Adultery, infidelity, lust, extra-marital sex, etc.--heterosexual or otherwise--are all soundly condemned in Scripture and throughout the history of Christianity. Unfortunately we become so inundated with sex that the normative Christian perspective has become anything but normal. Consider the popularity of "Game of Thrones" among Christians, young and old...enough said?
- You are unhesitatingly pro-military and pro-war. Here's one for those among us who fail to realize (or deliberately ignore) the seriously pacifistic nature of early Christianity. If that isn't enough to get you to think seriously about the issue, the case for defensive use of force is certainly well-accepted in the Christian West, i.e. the Just War Tradition; however, in spite of its alleged precision, modern warfare makes little distinction between combatant and non-combatant. Added to this, it is hard to argue that a US military presence in approximately 80% of nations around the world is in any way 'defensive' in nature.
- You are filled with fear. In my experience in and outside of the military, a lot of American Christians are just plain afraid. That fear motivates us to do and justify all sorts of un-Christian things. Perhaps it is because things are so comfortable for us. Perhaps it is because our political leaders are filled with fear and the 'necessity' to defend America against all sorts of evils, real and imagined. Perhaps it is because we've drunk too deeply from the unbiblical preachers of prosperity and their teaching that you can have health, wealth, smooth sailing, and your best life now instead of the biblical teaching that the faithful Christian life is filled with trouble. We need to look to our brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution or martyrdom daily, without fear, and strive to nurture that kind of faith.
- You are rude to those with whom you disagree. Now surely no one will admit to being rude for Jesus' sake, expect perhaps the nut-jobs at Westboro Baptist, but when you look at our rhetoric and actions towards others, American Christians--both liberal and conservative--can be pretty big jerks. There is a ton of this sort of nonsense on line, but it also creeps into our pulpits, our bible study classes, and our everyday lives. Many times the juvenile, hate-filled rhetoric we see among our elected officials is not all that difference from what you might see among Christians. I'm clearly not suggesting that we just all get along and minimize the very real differences among ourselves and with the world, but "the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness" 2 Tim 2.23-24. We would all do well to keep that in mind.
The point in all of this, of course, was not to deliberately find something to make everyone upset. It was to point out the reality that American Christian views on important social issues are very strongly influenced by politics instead of Scripture and Tradition. If the world is going to see us as anything beyond disposable pawns in their game of political chess, it is time to do more than simply go along with our Party platforms and stand up for real Christian values. Neither the political Right nor the political Left is God's party. In fact, I'm pretty sure he finds them both repulsive.