A recent article at The Christian Post entitled “Christian Leaders Call on Believers to be Less Rigid, Support Flawed Politicians” embodies what I consider to be the worst of what the political Christian Right has to offer. The setting of the article is the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Harbor in Maryland, and is based on interviews with John Andrews, former president of the Colorado Senate and Director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, and Tom Minnery, President and CEO of Focus on the Family’s political arm, CitizenLink. Previous to reading the article, I was not familiar with either of these two men, and I have no interest in criticizing them personally; but I would like to interact with several of the comments that came out in their interviews as reported in the CP article.
The basic gist of the article is summed up in the following introductory sentence: “Christian leaders at The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) urged their fellow believers not to insist on supporting politicians who are strong on principle but less likely to get elected.” You can read the article for yourself here. But in what follows I would like to respond to four statements that I think represent some classic examples of horrible theology and Christian thinking.
1. “Put up with presidential candidates who may not be as pure as you are in your moral principles,” Tom Minnery, President and CEO of Focus on the Family’s political arm CitizenLink, told The Christian Post in an interview at CPAC. Minnery called on Christians to support candidates who can get elected, even if they are not perfect for the Christian community.
Minnery here is brazenly calling on Christians to compromise on moral principles in the interest of political expediency. Though I have heard various Christian Right leaders say things in the past which in one way or another implied what Minnery says here, this is the first time I have read a professed Christian come right out and say it. As Christians, though, we are very clearly NOT supposed to compromise with evil or give in on moral principles. Consider Ephesians 5:11, for example: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
I am not saying here that Minnery is calling on Christians to compromise on their personal holiness. I understand that. But he is saying that when faced with a choice of a candidate which more closely reflects our understanding of God’s will and one that has a chance to win and only partially reflects that understanding, we should often opt for the one with a chance to win. And I understand that in many elections there is no candidate who truly reflects a Christian perspective on the issues. But when given a choice, it seems to me we should vote for the candidate who most closely represents the views that we in good conscience believe are the ones God would have us to support, and leave the results to Him.
2. John Andrews, former president of the Colorado Senate and Director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, also called for unity behind electable candidates. “I think it would be tragic for libertarians and conservatives to get into a family feud as the 2014 opportunity approaches to take back the senate,” Andrews told CP in an interview at CPAC.
Andrews warned that the media “are doing their utmost to create divisiveness, fractures, factions, back-biting, family squabbles, between all who believe in liberty, limited government, free enterprise, and traditional Judeo-Christian values.”
As Christians, our unity is based on agreement on the essentials of the gospel, not common views on civil liberty, limited government, free enterprise, and traditional Judeo-Christian values. Where is the cross of Jesus here? Where is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement? While it may well be that our understanding of the gospel informs some of the views we take on various political and moral issues, insisting on a united political front among Christians based on common perspectives on debatable issues is what sows discord and creates divisiveness among the Body of Christ, not the other way around.
3. Despite these lofty goals, both men argued for a compromise when it comes to politics. Minnery admitted that “there may well be a perfect candidate out there for Christian people, but he probably cannot get elected.” Rather than supporting a pure candidate, he called on Christians to compromise.
As Christians, we are not called to run successful political campaigns, but to be faithful, and leave the results in the hands of God, who knows how to take care of His children much better than we could ever take care of ourselves. If he were just talking secular political strategy, Minnery might well have a point here. But he is directing his comments specifically to Christians, admonishing us as a brother in Christ. This is what so easily happens when we mix politics and religion. It leads to compromise.
And I can speak without equivocation to Minnery’s hypothesis here: There is no perfect candidate for Christian people. The only perfect candidate is Jesus Himself. And we as Christians are not called to occupy the seats of worldly power as Jesus’ proxies here on earth. Jesus Himself will exercise that prerogative when He returns in glory and sets up His eternal kingdom.
In the meantime, good, sound followers of Christ will inevitably disagree with each other from time to time on this political issue or that one. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t each seek to find the positions that most closely align with our understanding of God’s will as revealed in Scripture, taking advantage of the brains and common sense He has given us as creatures created in His image. But it does mean that, for many issues, there is no one set Christian position.
4. Andrews insisted that the Bible calls Christians to be involved in politics. “I see, in scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, not just an encouragement but a mandate to be involved as citizens with civil government until the Lord returns,” he explained. The former president of the Colorado Senate cited Timothy, where scripture tells Christians to pray for those in authority “so that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives.”
In order to live quiet and peaceable lives, Andrews argued, citizens must act so that “an American culture, not dominated by tyrannous, oppressive government, can be a place where human flourishing occurs and ultimately where religious freedom and a knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ can be attained and spread wider and wider.”
Notice that the comments here are framed not in the language of political strategy, but the language of biblical mandate. And this is terrible hermeneutics on Andrews’ part. After calling for moral compromise in the name of political expediency, here he apparently equates a call for prayer in 1 Timothy with a call for political activism. Perhaps the article doesn’t adequately report the context of Andrews’ comments, but the only Scripture passage presented in the article as support for an Old and New Testament mandate for political involvement actually says nothing of the sort. I am not saying that Christians should not be involved in politics, nor that there are no biblical principles to guide our involvement; but a shoddy hermeneutic like that exhibited in the quotes in this article is awfully shaky ground upon which to build one’s approach.
As Christians, we must use much discernment when we hear people quote Scripture out of context, or read into it something it does not say. These are difficult days, in many respects, to live a consistently Christian life in the midst of an ever increasingly ungodly culture. It appears to me, however, that some of the most subtle attacks of the enemy and temptations to compromise come at times from sources we might least expect.