Angry or Compromised? Shrill or Silent? Seeking Middle Ground in Christian Social Engagement

It was so predictable. David Rogers posted some comments here from DA Carson about the dangers of angry Christians being involved in politics. Dr. Carson, not a left-winger by any reasonable standard, was simply saying that when we engage in anger on politics, we undermine evangelism – our ultimate goal.

Here was Carson’s money quote.

But at the end of the day, if you can’t do it with compassion, and gently, and leave the doors open for evangelism, boy, you destroy everything. I think one of the devil’s tactics with respect to the church on the Right today is to make them so hate everybody else that at the end of the day they can’t be believed anywhere, not even the proclamation of the gospel.

To this preacher, the only biblical response to this was, “Amen.”

Then, the predictable happened. One of the first commenters (currently #7)  made this statement:

So, according to Carson, the right demonizes the left in order to make the big bucks. So, is he in the left demonizing the right for some loftier purpose?

Obviously, if DA Carson is giving a warning to the right, he must be a closet lefty who is demonizing the right to support liberal politics. If I had a nickel for every time that flawed logic has been used on this site, I would have a lot of nickels.

Mike Leake wrote an article warning about the dangers of being an angry Calvinist. Several Calvinists reacted like Mike has drowned their kittens.  Thing is, Mike is a card-carrying member of the vast Calvinist Conspiracy. He was holding his own side accountable. That, my friends, is a good thing – demonstrating integrity and humility. Calling Calvinists to account does not make one an Arminian, a modified Arminian, an anti-Calvinist, a Traditionalist or any other form of non-Calvinist.

Too often, in blogging, we rationalize and justify tactics on “our side” that we condemn on the “other side.”

All that to make a point. Blogging tends to magnify our differences and create false dichotomies, pushing everyone to the extremes. Everyone is either a hyper-Calvinist or a rabid anti-Calvinist. And, for the purposes of this post, everyone is either a full-fledged right wing culture warrior, or they are a compromised, convictionless tool of the left side of the aisle.

That is, simply, a denial of reality.

You can be conservative both theologically and politically and still think the tactics of the political and religious right are often wrong, unhelpful, and destructive to the cause of Christ.

  • Look, I am just about as right-wing as I can be. The only Democrat I’ve ever voted for in a national election switched parties after the vote.
  • I cannot conscientiously vote for anyone who thinks it is morally acceptable to enter a mother’s womb and execute her baby. Anyone with values warped enough to believe that is “a woman’s right” is too twisted to get my vote. That is a personal commitment. Just because someone gives lip-service to abortion doesn’t mean I will vote for them, but I will not vote for anyone who cannot see something this simple – that abortion is unspeakable evil.
  • I reject the idea that conservative economics are immoral or that Christian economics require massive government giveaways to people. I pastored in a community in which generations in families lived on government checks and I saw the devastating effects that had on those families.
  • In fact, one of the most immoral things we are doing as a country is overspending by over 1 trillion dollars per year. We are robbing our grandchildren and great-grandchildren so we can indulge ourselves today. That is just flat wrong.
  • On election night, I will likely sit by the TV until late into the night and watch the returns. Last time, I’d made and printed guides that helped me track battleground states and monitor the progress of the elections. Most days, I check the latest polls to see where the president’s approval ratings sit and keep an eye on tracking polls. If anyone assumes that I don’t care about politics or that I do not have strong convictions, that person would simply be wrong.

But, the fact that I passionate about politics and have conservative convictions does not mean that I support every piece of rhetoric on the right, nor do I believe that my commitment to conservatism should lead me to sanction dirty tricks, deceit or other unsavory practices by operatives on the right.

Forestalling Pointless Debate: Before we waste time on this in the comments, let’s just settle two things: 1) right-wingers do dirty tricks and 2) left-wingers also do them – at least every bit as much – no point in arguing this.

So, here is what a card-carrying member of the vast right wing conspiracy believes:

  • [I changed a couple of things here – I stand by what I said, but I think the discussion will become petty and silly if I leave them up]
  • People who deny that some (not all, or even most, but SOME) on the religious right have some racialist motives in their politics is losing touch with reality.
  • It is never okay for Christians on the right to assert untrue facts or use unethical means, even in the pursuit of a noble goal. The end never justifies the means.
  • Asserting that some Christians have dangerously confused the work of the Kingdom and the interests of America does not make you unpatriotic.
  • Man’s anger does not accomplish the work of Christ. Christians should state their convictions reasonably, kindly and avoid angry and demeaning words. This does not lessen our conviction, it honors Christ.
  • When Christians judge the validity of other Christians’ faith based on their political stands, they are in conflict with the gospel of grace.
  • There is often a disconnect between the aims of Christianity and the purposes of the political right. We share a lot of convictions, perhaps, but we cannot subvert our gospel work for political aims.
  • A Christian who does not pray for president Obama (and not just imprecatory prayers) is not obedient to scripture. If you berate the president but do not genuinely pray for him, you are on shaky biblical ground.

You don’t have to be on the left to be disappointed and even disgusted by much that goes on out on the right wing. There is a middle ground, in which one can both be a conservative and also be critical of words, tactics and attitudes of the political right. :

Forestalling Pointless Debate (Pt 2): Please don’t ask why I’m not criticizing the political left. I’m not on the left and neither are about 99% of the people who wander by here. Why should I rail against the abuses of the left? We need to hold OURSELVES accountable. Railing against the other side is just too easy.

A Few Random Thoughts

1) Our message offends, our manner should not.

If we accurately and faithfully present the truth of the Word of God, it will offend many in this world. The Bible tells people they are sinners guilty of death and hell (who wants to hear that?) and that they have no hope of saving themselves (hard for rebellious and self-sufficient people to hear). Salvation in the Bible is not present as a form of therapy, or as a means of self-fulfillment or achieving success (all messages the world would love to hear).  The Bible demands that we turn from our sinful lives, repent and yield our lives to the Lordship of Jesus. The mantra of modern man is “follow your heart” and “don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life!” The Bible says, “obey God” and “yield full control of yoru life to Christ.”

We have a message of hope – that those who repent and believe can be saved from their sins. It is truth. It is for everyone. We have been given the right to announce the Lordship of Christ to the world and call them to submit.

We even have the right to call our culture to submit to Christ. Abortion is wrong because it offends God, not just because it kills babies and harms the women who have them. We do not have to be obnoxious, arrogant, deceptive or hateful as we assert that.

We can maintain tact, kindness and compassion as we articulate biblical positions. They will still hate us for what we believe, but that ought to be the only reason we give them.

2) Respectful debate is more effective than loud argument.

Have you ever watched Skip and Stephen A argue? Have you ever seen anyone convince the other of their point in those arguments?  Have the loud shouting matches on Sean Hannity or his mirror-image doppelganger on the left, Chris Matthews, ever convinced anyone? More to the point, have any of our debates on Calvinism had any effect on anyone (other than to draw lines and choose sides)?

Reasonable debate in an affirming context is simply more effective than loud and insulting argument.

Why do you blog or comment? If you are a Christian, it has to be to honor God, edify the body and influence others toward the truth. Angry and insulting debate just simply never has that effect.

I will make no mistake about it.

3) Saving America is not our primary goal; saving souls is.

America and Americans badly need Christ. But God does not need America. And God is not concerned with “saving America” any more than he is with saving Venezuela, Zimbabwe or Indonesia. Once, God worked through a nation in the world (and will again if you follow biblical eschatology – sorry, fleshly shot!).  Now, God works through the church to reach every tribe and language on earth.

Yes, we should be very concerned with the spiritual state of our nation, but we must be careful of conflating the interests of the Kingdom and the interests of the Republic.

We are here to evangelize. Whatever involvement we have in politics must serve that goal.

4) We must remember that liberals are not our enemy; they are the battleground.

Yes, in spite of what some might assert, there are some genuinely saved political liberals out there. But, as any statistical analysis will show, the political left has rejected our religion and our values. But religious and political lefties are not our enemy. They are the battleground. We stand against the forces of darkness and the power of the lies that the prince of this age has sown in this world. We are not here to FIGHT liberals. We are here to fight FOR them, to bring them from darkness into the light.

Is there any man in America more obnoxious than Bill Maher? Chris Matthews? These guys are mean, hateful, spiteful and vicious to their political opponents. But, while we should confront their wrong ideas we need to remember that we are not here to defeat them or humiliate them, or even to silence them, but to proclaim to them the riches of Christ’s grace regardless of how forcefully they reject us or the gospel we preach.

Forestalling Pointless Debate (Pt. 3): I did NOT say liberals were not Christians. But denying that liberals tend to be less religious, less Christian and  more likely to reject biblical values borders is not a defensible assertion.

Is There a Point in All This?

As usual, I have rambled and made this way more involved than perhaps it needs to be. But here is my point: there is a middle ground! Just because someone calls the political right to accountability does not make him a liberal. I can be a committed conservative and still be ashamed by things that conservatives to and still call them out for their ridiculous statements.

Let’s leave behind the tendency to push one another to the extremes.

Comments

  1. says

    Something that I try to make myself remember, with obviously little success if any, is that the moment someone becomes a political enemy they cannot be the mission field.

    Maybe I need to write that on Scotch tape and tape it to my glasses so that I don’t forget it and enter into pointless political debates.

  2. says

    Politics and the Christian is alright…but Christians ought keep it out of the pulpit and detached from the gospel.

    Do what must be done… but on Sunday during worship, there are much bigger fish to fry.

  3. John K says

    Dave would you like to expand on your comment here a little more in the future.
    “here is my point: there is a middle ground!”
    I know your not suggesting a middle ground on abortion or deficit spending like Solomon suggesting cutting the baby in half. My middle ground could be another person extreme and quite often is in this postmodern world. I know on blogs I can easily change my perceived tone, but that does not mean it will not offend others. One can believe in Sovereign Grace or Traditionalism and that in and of itself is enough to be condemned by many. So then the middle ground may have to be self imposed silence, which has not always worked out well for societies.

    So what I am trying to say Dave and maybe I am just being ridiculous in my statement is:
    Communicating on blogs regarding serious deep held convictions is next to impossible unless you just state you position once and just move on from there.

    People go to war over Football Blogs and there is no life or death issue. Faith in Christ and deep held doctrinal issues are true eternal life or death issues. Maybe we need to treat SBCVoices more like a Bible Study and less like a Football Blog. But that may take heavy handed moderation by the leader of the study and not much moderation is needed in a Football Blog. Maybe this is the middle ground you speak of that I have not grasped yet.

    Sometimes I read a article here and I think it is a Football Article and make a comment just to find out the point trying to be made by the author this time was a doctrinal point.

    • Dave Miller says

      John, did you even bother to read the post before you commented? Because you didn’t get a grasp on my point.

      I did not say that there was middle ground on these issues. I said that there was a middle ground between angry, aggressive advocacy of political convictions and spiritual compromise on those same issues.

      We can have convictions without attacking people or following silly rabbit trails (like trying to pretend that Obama is a Muslim).

      • John K says

        Yes Dave I did read your article.

        I’ll take my advice:
        “So then the middle ground may have to be self imposed silence,”

        • Dave Miller says

          Don’t paint yourself as some sort of oppressed victim. Engage in cordial conversation and make your point without the anger and aggression you sometimes show and see if things don’t change.

  4. Dave Miller says

    I deleted a couple of comments from my post, because I don’t want this to focus on petty and silly things. I also deleted several comments (my own among them).

    Let’s talk about how Christians can properly engage, not about silly and pointless controversies.

  5. says

    Whenever I hear anger and Christians spoken of together, I am reminded of what God instructs us … Ephesians 4:31: ” Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

    We give voice to our anger, we lose. If I win an argument in the process, I’ve lost. If I win an election in the process, I lose. If I sway someone’s vote, I still lost.

    That may be off-target, and if so, sorry. But I think it needs to be said.

    • Christiane says

      I have wondered if sometimes Christians are chosen more as targets of anger because Christians are (or should be) more trusted not to respond with venom in how they respond to attacks.

      Some emotions are expressed as ‘anger’, but upon examination, turn out to be outbursts of frustration and genuine upset over other matters.
      In such a case as this, a Christian can respond with some kindness toward the person who is upset.

      a story: before school one morning, I am in the office and receive a phone call from a young mother who begins yelling at me over her son’s grade . . . I let her talk, and then I asked her with some kindness if her son’s grade was the real reason she had for being so very upset . . . .
      It wasn’t. She began to cry. She was invited to come in to see me and talk about her child’s needs and she did that very afternoon. She talked for a long time and told me a story of being trapped in a job with a boss who was pressuring her for sexual favors, he knowing that she worked to provide health care for her very ill husband who was unemployed. It’s a story many women understand, because it is a story that sadly is not unique in the work world.

      This mother was overwhelmed by a terrible feeling of upset at her situation, and I had been on the receiving end of her pain that morning. . .
      had I lashed back or hung up on her (recommended by supervisor if parent is verbally abusive on phone),
      then she would have been left without someone to speak with that she felt she could trust.

      I suppose what Christian people want in their communications with others is to have the kindness that we would show anyone in His Name.
      It’s not too late to start that. Heavens knows, the pain out there is ‘overwhelming’ and if we are sought out to bear the brunt of someone’s pain, we know Who it is that bore ours, and we know to Whom we belong . . .
      so we can listen with His kindness, if we have none of our own.

  6. dean says

    Thanks Dave I appreciate your blog. I pray God will help us in this area. I tell you what is even more sad about the angry Christian is that we bring that cultural baggage to our reading of Scripture and set parameters on how allow God’s Word is to be interpreted.

  7. says

    Excellent blog, David. We all tend to forget that anger does not promote God’s righteousness, 98% of the time. In fact, we are all too ready to execute vengeance, when God has reserved that for Himself. It is too easy to get in a self-righteous rant and get carried away with our anger at perceived injustices. What we need more than anything else is a commitment to really pray for our nation, lest we go the way all the others have gone in history. Thank you for calling attention to a painful fact and reality.

  8. Greg Harvey says

    I have quite liberal friends I know are saved that argue you must put the life of the woman over that of the child. My dad also pointed out that Catholic hospitals in his early adulthood prioritized saving the child over saving the mother. Rep. Akin’s boneheaded comment is roughly akin to the notion of our holy roller brethren that they can handle poisonous snakes without risk because Paul yanked one off his arm once.

    Government dependence is an awful thing, but insisting a child not receive adequate nutrition out of a concern the child’s parent is lazy is as evil as trapping the child in a traditionally underperforming school (see what I did there??)

    There is zero good news in the best of political acts. But the left gets credit because they recognize the necessity of need. And because the story of the Good Samaritan by design is uplifting and compelling.

    The distinction between liberal and conservative might be pointless given that how you see one v. the other might be as simple as which side of a revolution–remember the victors write the history–you end up on…

    I definitely think the article speaks clearly and therefore powerfully.

  9. Jim Lockhart says

    A great post. We think alike politically and I strongly agree with you, Dave, that we ought not to be angry. However, that sort of begs the question: what ought we to be? Kind? Loving? Respectful? Honest? Compassionate? Caring? Truthful? The list can go on but my point is simply this: I have come to appreciate that the Kingdom of God is not civil government; the Kingdom is God’s and can only be entered through Jesus. Once entered, not only our citizenship changes but so does our relationship to each other and the principles that govern our lives. I say it this way because much of my anger expressed within the political realm arises because I want government and society to work according to Kingdom laws (e.g. abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) and when it does not, I get angry. And when I get angry, I say and do things that are not of the Kingdom. But I have also come to see that politics is mostly about power: the power to establish (through law) what is right and what is wrong and the power to enforce what is right through the police power of the state. It is one thing to say that abortion is wrong; it is quite another to criminalize the act. It is sort of like what we did with prostitution. For many years we criminalized the act and jailed prostitutes. Now we are learning that most women engaged in the sex trade have been brutalized and forced into the sex trade so the real evil is in men who prey on women and men who pay them for sex. Or, a better example would be that of Christiane’s: what if that women had been forced to succumb to her boss and became pregnant? What if she, in her despair (sole provider for her family, what would the news do to her sick husband, etc.) had an abortion? A law could only criminalize her act and we would lose sight of the real source of wrongdoing. The Kingdom response (as was Christiane’s) would have been different: love reveals truth and truth dictates action. There is a Kingdom response to everything (e.g. love can overcome evil when a child conceived in rape is allowed to be born) and that response typically ought not be enacted into law and enforced by the state. Why? Because once we enact a civil law, we tend to lose sight of love and replace it with judgmental anger so we angrily fight over law. The better response, I am coming to believe, is to show love, reveal the truth, and help heal the hurt, thereby pointing lives toward God which, in turn, makes the Kingdom larger and diminishes the need for criminalization of behavior.

    Now, like you, I have to put in the caveats. First, I do not find abortion a compelling and right choice. Second, I am not advocating that Christians depart from the world since we are to be salt and light. Third, we can – and should – offer our particularly good insight into national policy and the ordering of society. Finally, we must always speak the truth. However, it is at the point where we fight sin through the political process that we seem to be at our angriest. Instead, we should be at our most loving because love reveals truth, truth reveals sin, sin reveals God, and God leads us to Jesus.
    A bit rambling, but my two cents.
    Thanks again for another thoughtful post. Official Kudos to you, Dave.