Monday, March 12, 2012

A fence around the cross

The only way I know how to be a Christian without getting caught up in some of the disturbing trends of evangelicalism today is by not listening to Christian radio or watching Christian television, not becoming too avid a follower of any one Christian blog, and being careful about any book I read from an evangelical publisher. It's sad to say, but I find it's hard enough to hear the voice of God in the Scriptures and discern the leading of his Holy Spirit without also receiving a lot of noise and interference from these other outside sources.

Having been on that fast for so long, maybe I was unprepared to hear what I did when I tuned into Dr. Albert Mohler's spiel about the recent Rush Limbaugh controversy. After claiming that Limbaugh has made some points that many people can support and agree with, Mohler admonishes Christians to "think very carefully" about this matter, especially regarding the words we use. "Words represent character," he says, and "we are judged not only by our arguments, but by the very words and phrases . . . we deploy in making those arguments."

Seriously? Why should Christians have to "think very carefully" about Mr. Limbaugh's rant at all? So that we can pick nicer, more godly words by which to villainize Sandra Fluke? And after we've lovingly condemned her for her presumably immoral sexual lifestyle--which we really know nothing about--we can now feel much better about making the argument that people like her deserve not a dime of our hard-earned taxpayer money. Amen.

The marriage of Christian morality and right-wing politics has been all about defining the Us vs. Them dividing line. Politics already demands that you side with one social issue over against another, which puts you in some tension with your fellow citizens who are on the opposing side. Add religious conviction to it and you've boosted your political argument to the level of divine absolutes--why you should absolutely disagree with and even self-righteously condemn those who are on the liberal, God-hating opposing side.

Which means that the greatest damage done by this unholy union between religion and politics is to the gospel itself. The gospel calls all sinners to come to Jesus for forgiveness and hope. But in the minds of many Christians that unconsciously translates into, "Jesus calls all of us who have been raised in godly, Christian, Republican homes to realize that we, too, are sinners in need of forgiveness." In today's conservative political environment, few realize that it also means Jesus calls the college student who is sleeping around, the woman who has had ten abortions, and the gay rights activist who spews bitterness against the church, to come to him for salvation.

Well, now that I've put it that way, no Christian who reads what I just wrote would deny that this is true. Of course we want sinners to come to Jesus--even those sinners! But our appetite for politics reveals the truth of how thoroughly we have abandoned the gospel. Because if you tolerate a preacher using your church's pulpit to condemn Roe v. Wade, for example, how can you expect the woman sitting in the pew, who is weighed down with guilt about her recent abortion, to hear Christ calling her to a heavenly hope? That preacher can go on to talk about the forgiveness and grace of Christ until the sun goes down, but because he brought politics to the pulpit all that woman will ever hear is that everyone, except those who have had abortions, may be forgiven.

And don't even get me started on preachers who use the pulpit to rail against gay rights.

But back to abortion, it recently occurred to me that in all the years I've spent talking to the many, many Christian women who have opened up and confided their secrets to me, not one person has ever confided to me that they have had an abortion. No one. As much as I would like to believe that I've simply never known anyone who has had that in her past, I know it can't be true. Given our intense political vitriol against all things Planned Parenthood, why would a Christian woman in the church ever confide such a thing, or even more frightening, dare to believe that she could be forgiven for it? If that's the case, how much more thoroughly are we driving away non-Christian women who have had abortions from ever setting foot in our sanctuaries?

It makes you wonder about the many other groups we are driving away from Calvary's cross by our all-consuming investment in worldly things that will soon pass away. My guess is that these groups might possibly be defined as the modern-day equivalent to the lepers, tax-collectors, harlots, adulterers and Samaritans of Jesus' day. Whose lifestyles, we are reminded, shouldn't be supported by our tax dollars. And if we won't give them our money, then why should they believe we would give them our love?