There was a time in my young adult life I was very involved in politics. VERY involved. I was a pro-life lobbyist in Kentucky. I worked long and hard for Jim Bunning way back when he was a congressman (even marched with him and his precious wife Mary in the March for Life in DC). Almost took a job in Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. Had numerous friends that worked in Washington congressional offices. Was partly responsible for starting a multi-county “Young Republican” club in Eastern Kentucky. While President of that YR club, I (along with my team) organized and hosted the Young Republican State Convention in Kentucky one year. I was ecstatic when Gingrich’s Contract for America swept the November elections of 94. I was active in our city government and was being groomed, so to speak, to run for local office and then maybe eventually something higher. I even met my wife Michelle because, as the Student Activities Coordinator at our local community college, she was the one with whom I had to meet to organize a “College Republican” club on that campus.
All that to say, I was once the guy so eaten up with politics that I could not see past the rightness of “the Right.” I was the guy that argued that the Republican Party was not just the Party of Lincoln, it was the Party of Jesus. I’m so terribly embarrassed by that myopic viewpoint now that it is hard to admit these things publicly.
When I submitted to the pastorate things changed for me. It was not a speedy adjustment but a significant and substantive adjustment. My desires changed and my heart took a beating down like the wet clay on a potter’s wheel. I began to see things differently. By the year 2000 (at age 27 and 3 years into my first pastorate), I became convicted that my allegiance to a political philosophy overshadowed (at best) or dictated (at worst) my interpretation of scripture’s truths.
My shift away from partisan politics was so significant and the swing was so hard that I am on record for arguing (early in my ministry) that we should move away from the notion of the SBC having a “lobbying” arm. In the early 2000’s I told whomever would listen (no blogs back then and I didn’t have MySpace) that we should jettison the idea of the ERLC (formerly called the Christian Life Commission) so that we could make a clean break from feeling beholden to, or inadvertently being identified with any political party (by that I meant the Republican Party in particular). It was clear to me that the southern, evangelical, white church had become inextricably enmeshed, to the point of identity confusion, with the Republican Party, while at the same time, my African-American brothers and sisters seemed similarly trapped on the other side through having been courted and wooed by the Democratic Party. I just wanted us to be out of the sticky, miry quicksand of partisan politics. It appears to me that this dysfunction has now been embarrassingly exposed for all to see… or all who would see, anyway.
Today I find myself thankful to God that we haven’t set aside the ERLC. I am now convinced of the importance of the prophetic voice it has to challenge us from within our own tribe. Whether deliberate or not, the ERLC is serving as a voice to call our convention of churches to reflect on, give critical examination to and maybe call us to retool our thinking about partisan politics on BOTH sides of the aisle. I’m not sure everyone is listening to this call but I sure wish they would. This is good stuff. Let me also just say, this does not mean I am in agreement with every point of everything that is written or espoused at the ERLC but I receive with anticipation and appreciation any encouragement or challenge I get from those in the employ of the ERLC who’ve been entrusted with this charge.
In place of our churches seeing things through elephant or donkey shaded lenses, should we not be submitting our opinions to the biblical framework which, whether you like it or not, will not always snap into any one particular political grid? This was a long, difficult journey for me but boy was it “liberating” (see what I did there?) Seriously, it was freeing to see something to which I was previously completely blind. I just didn’t know. My motives were altruistic and sincere but I was blinded by politics. I had good intentions, but we all know where that leads.
I call upon my white brothers and sisters to set aside your possibly unrealized penchant for the religious right of the Republican Party and upon my black brothers and sisters, who’ve for too long looked to the Democratic Party for empowerment, to set aside those loyalties and come together to work with a better hermeneutic. One that is scripture-focused and not tinted red or blue but one in which we agree that Jesus is the only “right” we need and he’s all the “empowerment” we will ever want. Let’s remember that in Christ, there is unity, not division.
By the way, I have a small bust of Newt Gingrich and a few books signed by he and Rush Limbaugh that I’m still trying to offload if anyone is looking for a few novelty items. P.S. I’m keeping the small bust of Reagan (cause it’s Reagan) and my baseball signed by Jim Bunning… the guy threw a no-hitter in both leagues!