This morning Pastor Justin Alfred was the guest preacher. Pastor Alfred’s daughter is working on Jeff’s campaign, and at the end of the service I asked the pastor son-in-law sitting on my left to convey my thanks for a powerful message on the centrality of forgiveness to Christ’s teaching and scripture. At 59, the former Mississippi State football player turned pastor/scholar/teacher has quite alot in his drawer of personal experiences to draw on to deliver this message, and his learning and competence in delivery would have made this a tremendous sermon on any day, but today it was particularly compelling for me, sitting next to Jeff and his wonderful wife.
As I noted below, Jeff just got slimed in a couple of direct mail hit pieces. This is routine these days in politics, but these particular attacks did not come from the left, but from the “Christian Coalition of Colorado,” the operator of which has a brother running the campaign of one of Jeff’s competitors.
I saw the pieces this morning just before going into worship, and they made me as angry as anything I have seen in politics in a long time, and not just because they are slanders on Jeff, but also because they come from a group claiming to represent Christians. It is the sort of hit piece that provides the critics of evangelicals in the public square all the ammunition they need to caricature people of faith who are active in politics. The irony, of course, is that Jeff has been endorsed by the president of Focus on the Family and many leading figures in the protestant and Catholic communities of the district. Jeff’s got a deserved reputation for integrity and his conservative credentials are beyond challenge. The unfairness of the attacks and their origin justify quite a lot of anger on Jeff’s part.
The second irony was to have this very gifted preacher –connected to the campaign– deliver a message prepared long before the attacks arrived on the centrality of genuine forgiveness of those who harm you. I won’t try to summarize a densely packed and closely argued 40 minutes of teaching, but will only note that Pastor Alfred extended his message far beyond the personal or the political to the national, and ended with quite an exhortation to pray for the nation’s worst enemies, the terrorists whose hatred for Christians and Jews generally and the U.S. and Israel specifically is so intense and so often voiced.
I wish that those who caricature Christians who are active politically could have heard Pastor Alfred’s message. Unfortunately, too often they only see the distortions that arrive in mailboxes from the self-interested.
“Politics ain’t beanbag,” as Mr. Dooley noted long ago. And full-on hard knuckled campaigning that contrasts positions and doesn’t spare fair criticism is part of the process.
But the danger of politics to faith, just as the danger of war to civilization, is the destruction it can bring to the souls of those who are involved. Pastor Frank’s reminder to always pray for opponents and enemies –even those who do great harm– is a critical reminder that belongs in every church on a regular basis. Christians in politics, especially those who brand themselves as such, ought to be pursuing the highest standards and not the lowest road.
There’s one silver lining to Jeff getting unfairly hammer in August. The DailyKos folks seem to think they have a chance in this district in the fall, and Jeff will have the tough skin he’s going to need and a campaign experienced and prepared to respond fairly and fully –as well as great pastor he can call to remind him of that great grace that obliges us all to forgive.