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Our Christian Witness

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Shock of shocks, David French takes another swipe at Trump.  This time he does so by contending that a vote for Trump compromises a Christian’s witness:

A political movement built through decades of argument that faith, family, and respect for life are the cornerstones of our culture can’t throw away its political capital on the altar of a man who — best case — simply doesn’t care and — worst case — will wreck the Christian political witness by tying their support to a dangerous, race-baiting pathological liar.

Now There is an alternative. Christians can preserve their witness — and maintain their political capital — by voting only for those candidates who demonstrate sincere commitment to life and religious liberty.

Notice the subtle rhetorical change there.  Between those two sentences French moves from making a statement about Christian political action (“wreck the Christian political witness”) to making a statement about personal Christian witness (“Christians can preserve their witness – and….”)  Those are two different things.  What is the most effective political strategy for Christian action in American politics at this juncture is an important and reasonable discussion, but to contend that a vote for Trump compromises the witness of some individual Christian to those around him or her is a step too far.

Disclaimer – French argues from Trump’s deplorable personal conduct of his marriages and very public extra-marital affairs.  I will not in any way, shape, or fashion attempt to defend Trump’s personal behavior.  Nor do I agree with his stances on Planned Parenthood, or most of the other social issues.

OK – now that that is over with, let’s get back to the discussion.  What will be argued here is that 1) a vote is not “an expression,” 2) Jesus established priorities for Christian witness and that politics is down the list of those priorities, 3) To place political action too high on that priority list is close kin to the legalism that Christ fought so energetically in His earthly ministry and 4) The reason we are losing ground politically at such a rapid pace is precisely because we have confused our priorities in this fashion.

The left has for decades now urged people to “express their outrage” at situation X or Y in the voting booth. But casting a vote is not really about personal expression.  To contend that it is, whether that personal expression is left-leaning outrage or right-leaning “witness” is to grant the left a rhetorical and spiritual victory.  A vote is intended to represent any individual citizen’s decision about what is best for the nation.  It should be expected that the citizen would survey the state of the nation and the options available and decide what is best not for the citizen, but for the nation.  Yes, that individual’s outrage or witness will play a role in that decision making but best for the nation, not personal expression, should be the preeminent factor in the decision.  Saying an individual’s personal Christian witness is at stake in a vote is to contend that the vote really is about personal expression, thus granting the left the rhetorical victory.

Christianity, in fact faith generally, teaches that there are things both larger than and more important than the personal.  In the end my Christian faith is not about me – it is about God.  Oh, I for certain reap countless and immense benefits from that faith, but the more I learn to focus on God rather than self- the more of those benefits I seem to accrue.  When we reduce a vote to merely personal expression we make the self of primary concern.  That is the spiritual victory we grant the left.

Those that were disappointed in the earthly ministry of Jesus, most prominently Judas Iscariot, were disappointed because they expected a political revolutionary and were given something very different.  Iscariot, and many others like him, looked to Jesus to overthrow Roman tyranny – now.  In his latest screed, French says, “It’s time to consider the long game.”  I would argue that in setting aside political revolution for something very different Jesus did exactly that.  For most of us the long game is measured in perhaps decades, but not so Jesus.  As God-become-man, Jesus’ long term perspective encompassed thousands of years.  He did conquer the Roman Empire – it just took 400 years.  And through that empire Christianity came to the world.  As history has progressed, at least until very recently, nations have formed, or reformed, on principles increasingly aligned with the principles of Christian thought.

Jesus’ long game came with an understanding that politics flows from man, it does not define or control him.  Thus Christ’s priorities were about fixing men, not fixing the political realities of the time.  In point of fact, Christ’s chief protagonists during His earthly ministry were not Roman officialdom, but the local, primarily religious, authorities of the Israeli region.  Rome was full of profligate sinners – we’re talking perversities that we simply cannot discuss in polite company.  One has to wonder why it is then that Jesus ended up feuding with the sparkling clean local Pharisees, who in addition to their ritualistic cleanliness were deeply and actively though clandestinely opposed to Rome, and not  the various Roman officials.  The answer is simple, the Pharisees with their ritualistic and political emphasis were a greater impediment to what Christ was trying to accomplish than were the morally contemptible Romans.

Jesus came to fix us, knowing that when we were fixed, our politics would follow.  That the people of Rome needed fixing was transparent.  That the ritualistically pure Pharisees and their ilk needed fixing was a hard, hard sell.  The different way that Jesus was here to establish was based first and foremost on our understanding of our own failings; it was sacrificially humble.  When we seek the quick political fix it is very easy to lose sight of our need to remain humble.  The quick fix assumes, like the Pharisees, that we have it right from the get-go.

In many, many places in our nation being a Christian has come to be defined, as it was in the time of Christ, by a sort of ritualistic purity.   Now, instead of dietary and animal sacrifice laws we have rules about where to stand on certain political issues and how to vote, but the underlying principle is the same.  We have come once again to measure our faith in our apparent purity rather than in our  character.*  Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  The Apostle Paul listed the fruits of a genuine Christian:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

No where on that list is there anything about dietary laws or political action.   The reason we are losing ground at such a rapid pace in our society now is that to those around us what defines us is our political stances, not love, joy and peace.  If we want to maintain our Christian witness we need to concentrate less on the votes we cast and more on who we are as we argue for and cast our votes.

Of the players in the story of Jesus, the church He established remains a major player today.  The Roman Empire, which converted to Christianity, has left an indelible mark on human history.  The Pharisees are reduced to historical footnote, notable only in their opposition to Jesus.  That would argue that if we are to play the long game we are far better off in the role of the Roman, or better still the Christian, than we are in the role of the Pharisee.

Donald Trump, his claims of affection for the Christian community notwithstanding, is a bitter pill to swallow for the average Christian voter.  His need to claim such affection is demonstration that he is something apart and different.  And while there are many reasons to vote for Trump, and many not to vote for Trump, compromising my personal Christian witness is not among them.  To contend either directly or by implication that my personal Christian witness stands on my vote is legalism at its worst.


*This post is basically an argument with a post written by David French – I know David and Nancy personally and want to make it clear that I am not calling their personal character, which is exemplary, into question with this assertion.  My comment is a generalization, not an accusation.

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Friends and Allies of Rome