Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Elections, II: Why my last post probably upset a lot of people

So yesterday, I posted that your vote statistically speaking, does not count. It is irrelevant. Whether you are voting in primaries, caucuses, or a popular election, your vote has virtually no relevance on the outcome of the Presidential election. Instead, only your money makes any impact. Your vote this November is as much a part of electing our President as buying a lottery ticket is sound retirement planning.

The biggest interest to me, though, is this: why does this bother us so? It is simply mathematics. We do not get offended by being told that buying lottery tickets is pointless; why do we get offended when being told that our vote is irrelevant? Feels like sacriledge, doesn't it? As though I had told you to sin.

Let me ask you something. If you see someone burning an American flag on television, what kind of response do you have? What about when someone (like former NBA player and Muslim Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) refuses to stand for the National Anthem? What about if someone says (as did a singer years ago whom I forget) that soldiers and firefighters and policemen aren't heroes? What about if someone says not to vote? Or that the Constitution is an outdated document which should be updated or ignored?

Chances are, you have a very emotional, viceral reaction to these things. I do too. I don't even like having typed them to prove a point.

Why? It is not the actions themselves. We do not care if someone burns a Conferedate flag, or refuses to sing Christmas carols, or says they don't respect any other profession besides the heroic ones.

It is not the actions themselves which upset us: it is the fact that they are applied to our nation that bothers us. That is the offensive feeling. And, at least some of the time, the fact that we are offended so deeply likely belies an unhealthy attachment to this nation of ours.

It is good to be loyal to America. I am. I don't think there are many better blessings to have than to live in this great nation. But when the love and loyalty of your nation moves beyond its appropriate limits, it becomes dangerous. When it moves from appreciation to idolatry, we have a problem on our hands. And for all too many Americans, American nationalism is their real religion.

When this happens--when people stop being loyal citizens of America and begin being worshippers at the Cult of America--problems abound. The Constitution ceases to be a historically brilliant contract of freedom, and becomes holy Scripture, to be followed without deviation for fear of being struck down as 'un-American'. The flag ceases to be a symbol of our unity and becomes a replacement for the Cross as our symbol of freedom. Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin cease to be amazing historical statesmen and become apostles and legendary heroes of myth. Voting ceases to be an exercise in liberty and becomes your required work of righteousness to maintain good standing in the Cult. Civil and military service cease to be sacrificial gifts to our loved ones and neighbors and becomes ministry. The Pledge of Allegiance ceases to be a statement of loyalty and becomes the Creed of the nationalistic religion. The national anthem is no longer a song written about Francis Scott Key being inspired to find the flag still standing after a battle, and instead becomes our holy hymn, as sacred as the Psalms of David. Political parties cease to be philosophically convenient gatherings of like minds seeking solutions and instead become denominations of the Cult--with the hateful infighting, schisms, and counter-productiveness which proves so typical of denominations who have wildly varying theologies.

Question: What percentage of American Christians do you think can recite the Pledge, list the basic concepts of the Constitution, and sing the national anthem? I bet a very high percentage. Now--how many of those same Christians can tell you the basic doctrines of their faith, quote the Lord's Prayer, and sing a psalm or two? Do you see why I fear that "American Christians" tend so often to be Americans first, and only Christians a very distant second?

This is why so many of you were likely offended when I said that your vote didn't count. Because from the time we were kids, we have been surrounded by a culture which all too often turns the legitimate blessing of our great nation into an idolatrous cult. As Paul said in Romans 1, professing to be wise, we become fools--and worship the creation rather than the Creator.

Many wise Christians in the past have argued overtly (and rightly, I believe) for a strict separation of church and state--not in the way that people typically mean it today, where people avoid calling December 25 Christmas, or having a Nativity on public grounds. No, by a separated church and state, we mean that the State leaves the church alone, and the church leaves the State alone, and we Christians thus become free to love God first and above all. Because it is extremely dangerous--and sometimes idolatrous--when our faith starts getting inexplicably mingled up in political processes of mankind. When religious terminology, emotions, and tendencies start being used by politicians with regard to public policy, it has no end but to dilute our faith and confuse our sheep, leading them astray into believing that Constitutional intepretation is somehow as important as Biblical interpretation.

It is critical that, as Christians, we must always be on guard that we do not cease holding the proper view of America. God has blessed us to be here in such freedom, and we should be ever thankful for this. America is a great land, and we are blessed to get to participate in its government--either through civil service or voting or donations.

But what we cannot do, what we must not do, is put our faith in the American cult. Our faith must remain in the Kingdom of God alone. America--even at its best--is a government run of the people, by the people, and for the people. And those people are sinners just like you and I. They are sometimes stupid. They are sometimes selfish. They are far too often power-hungry. They are always operating on limited information. And so I beg you, Christians: do not place your faith in the Federal government (as do the Democrats), or in the State governments (as do the Republicans), or in self-government (as do the Libertarians). Because the one thing I can promise you is that whether it is a President or a Governor or you making the decisions, those decisions are being made by someone who is a sinner and incompletely informed.

Faith is about the transfer of trust, I once heard someone say. So please take an honest look at your life. In whom are you placing your trust? To which institutions do you look to for hope about the future? Is your trust in the Christian Church to reform our world, or is it in electing politicians who see things our way to political office? If you are honest, most of your feel that the best way to "fix" American problems is to elect the right people, isn't it? So do you see then, that your trust is not in God but in our government? Not in the Kingdom but in the nation?

Regardless of who gets elected, you have a responsibility as Christians. The Bible says that we are to pray for our leaders, to respect them, to show them honor publicly, and to be obedient to them. You Democratic Christians, did you do those things when George W Bush was president? Did you show him honor or make fun of him as a fool? You Republcian Christians, do you do those things now that Obama is president? Do you speak honorably of him and pray for his guidance from heaven, or do you call him a Muslim socialist?

The Bible says that you are to show honor to the king--and Peter wrote that about a king who would soon make a martyr of Peter. But he wrote it anyway. You think it is harder for you to be obedient to a President with a different economic view than it was for Peter to be obedient to an emperor who was slaughtering Christian leaders? Please.

If you cannot show honor to the President--regardless of his beliefs--then you have placed your political party affiliation above your affiliation as a Christian. If you do not believe that the best way to make America holy is for the Church to engage its community and give to the needy and take care of the orphan--if instead you feel that electing a godly man or woman is the best approach--then you are demonstrating more faith in government than in God.

So as you go into this Election Year, please keep the Christian perspective about politics. We are pilgrims biding our time until we return to our Kingdom. We can be thankful that God blessed us enough that we get to spend our pilgrimage in this wonderful country. But do not forget your true citizenship. When you became a Christian, you became a subject of God first, and America second. Do not forget that America as a nation will crumble to dust long before your life is over. When a Republican and a Democrat Christian fight and argue and destroy relationships, nothing could be sadder: for they are immortals whose focus and energy should be spent on eternal things, not arguing over this or that bill for a country whose lifespan is but a blink of the eye compared to their eternal souls.

So please: do not ruin relationships over politics. Do not allow yourself to transfer your passion and trust from God to government. Have opinions, participate in the process, fine--that is all well and good. But do not allow yourself to love politics: reserve your love for things which will last forever. Be thankful that America is great; do not let America become sacred to you. Only the Church is sacred among institutions. It will last forever, beyond the end of time. Thank God for whom He places in power, regardless of whether they believe what you believe.

In short: enjoy your layover in this wonderful land. But do not worship at its shrines.

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