Reading: Isaiah 31
Last week, I spoke about Nehemiah’s work to rebuild Jerusalem. Today in Sunday School, we are still talking about Nehemiah. Today I choose to remind everybody one of the things that brought the fall of Jerusalem. Some of the later kings such as Hezekiah worked to turn the nation back to God, but when it came to security, they believed in foreign armies. The best of the kings, Josiah, failed in this and his attempt to play international war politics likely hastened Nebuchadnezzar’s armies burning Jerusalem.
I read this, because I feel that we are in a similar position. I believe that many in the church have been trying to make alliances with the world, and sometimes these have been to our own destruction. I have something that I must say and I cannot say it without talking about politics. Do not take anything I say as an endorsement of a candidate. Not only does the Johnson amendment say that I cannot, but I would not want to even if I could. I don’t believe we can find salvation in government, I believe Salvation is God’s domain. I am also perfectly aware that if I told you how to vote, you’d roll your eyes and make up your own mind. Anyways, I’m afraid that no matter how I vote, I’m going to feel quite dirty.
You see, my faith teaches me that Humanity, both men and women, is created in God’s image. I believe that the way we speak and act towards others either honors or dishonors God’s image. If you want to know how important images are, think about how much anger there is when somebody burns a flag in protest. Think about how offended we are when somebody vandalizes a cross. If we truly believed, as scripture teaches in both the Old and New Testaments, that humans are the Image of God, we would be just as offended when someone is dehumanized as when somebody burns a flag. This understanding shapes my personal sense of morality and my political views. As you might guess, I have much to be offended over. I refuse to argue about which politician is less offensive. To endorse a politician would be to compromise one of my core beliefs. Anything I might say against one is not intended to excuse the other.
I am, like everybody, a product of my background. My mom’s family were democrats, my dad’s family were Republicans. My dad’s family had been republicans since about the time of Lincoln. Many of my heroes were the people were the abolitionist voices of the early Republican party such as the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and the former slave Fredric Douglas. I think that some of the greatest advancements in human rights were the civil war amendments, which gave full rights to citizenship to the stateless people living in the borders of the US: At that point, the displaced Native Americans and the freed slaves, and the children of the freed slaves were all stateless people without the rights of a citizen. I feel that the 19th amendment, granting the same rights to women that men have such as participating in elections was equally important. These amendments are the successes of the Republican party. I am proud of these successes.
I don’t remember when Jimmy Carter was president — I do know I deeply respect him. I was born the year Jerry Falwell became politically active. I grew up with Christian media. I’ve listened to Christian radio and when I followed news, I paid attention to the Christian commentary. I grew up in Kansas District 1, where democrats do not bother to nominate a candidate. Kansas is a closed primary state, meaning only Republicans get to vote in a meaningful election if they live in the Western half of Kansas; this means my mom eventually joined the Republican party and got a vote. Needless to say, I was pretty embedded.
In the 2000 election season, I became disillusioned with the religious right. That year, I listened to Christian Radio and followed some other sources. I listened to the issues that were important to Christians; and, having a pretty good idea what scripture said and what I believed, I came to wonder if there were not some compromises being made. I watched the election on TV, and listened to the Christian radio commentary the day after the election. I heard the names listed, and whether it was a victory for God, or where God’s side was defeated. I noticed God’s side seemed to be a party, and it had nothing to do whether the person elected was of good Christian character or worldly. I began to suspect that the religious right was being used by politicians and then ignored. In 2000, the whole idea that Christians had a real influence in making our government had dissolved, because the people trying to promote Christian influence were promoting party above character to Christians everywhere. It was like they really believed that God didn’t know what God thought this year until the Republican party platform came out.
Since 2000, my view of the culture war has been that it is the wrong fight. Both of our political parties are, ultimately, secular. They are both part of the world. As much as I would like everybody to see how sacred human life is, no law will make this happen. As much as I’d like to see justice in the world, no law will cause people to seek justice. Laws, at most, cause people to avoid punishment. The culture war is unwinable by the use of government. I’ve known this for 16 years now.
We’ve seen the walls we built crumble, our churches are empty, and when people outside the church talk about what Christians believe, they make a list of political positions, completely missing the gospel. Jerusalem is burning the temple is in ruins, and the wall has fallen down. For 16 years, I feel like I’ve watched the church crumble, while it’s spokesmen tried to sell a part of the world as part of the church. I’ve watched more and more compromises, to the point that you can be accused of being on the wrong side if you quote the wrong scripture. When we put what is politically convenient before what scripture teaches, our walls have crumbled. The Babylonians have come because we put our faith in outside chariots. I see my Jerusalem burning.
Now things are more disturbing than ever. As you cannot possibly have missed, one of the candidates said some very unfortunate things in interviews held before he considered running for president. Now, these unfortunate things are not news; he says unfortunate and vulgar things on a very regular basis; what came out of his mouth was a very real discussion during the nomination process. The party, apparently with the support of the religious right, minus Max Lucado and Russell Moore, was able to put up with vulgarity and support his nomination.
The interviews that have been released have a presidential candidate bragging that he can commit sexual assault because he is famous. He brags in a way that suggests he does so whenever he likes. Old interviews also have him saying that he walks into the dressing room of beauty pageants, because he can. I will not quote, and I do not want to go into detail because bluntly, I feel like we should have known what we were getting. I consider a political party to be part of the world, and I take no religious offense when the world acts like the world. In this case, I leave judgment to the courts.
There is a place where I step in and make my judgment. I might not be a national voice but there are people who call me pastor. My realm is the church. I don’t care who gets elected, I do care about destroying the reputation of Christianity. I do not stand accusing a man who condemns himself, but those who defend what he has claimed to do. The public Christians, who spoke to my younger self about wanting a more Christian America, and leaders who would be good for our society are now saying things such as bragging about sexual assault is no big deal, simply macho talk. The worst I’ve heard is one who actually said that groping a woman without her consent is not sexual assault. Unfortunately, those who listen to Christian talk radio or watch Christian television are hearing our moral authorities telling us that this is no big deal. The spokesmen for the church cannot become rape-apologist. There is no prize worth such compromise.
I know one of the biggest reasons that people jump to defend the nominee is fear. There is a strong sense that we are less secure than we once were. Statistics tell us that most of this is a matter of perception. Before 1994, communities were isolated by geography. It was unusual that what happened in one city would be news in another. Today, if four people are shot in Italy, it is news here in Indiana. I have Facebook friends that I keep up with in China, Russia, Denmark and South Africa. I am as likely to get my news about the United States from the BBC as I am from CBS. The world is so connected that my international friends know when a tornado hits within 100 miles of where I live; even if I never mentioned the weather. Violent crime is less common than it was 30 years ago, but due to the information revolution the entire world is now our community.
We do however have a safety issue that is not just perception. Our government estimates that about 1 out of 5 women have been sexually assaulted. We now have people who are seen as moral leaders, people who are known to support family values and strive to maintain an America that is a good nation to raise children saying that bragging about groping women without permission is simply macho talk. I’ve heard one go so far as to say that groping really isn’t so bad. One out of five women have been sexually assaulted, and people are so desperate to get a candidate into office that they deny sexual assault is a bad thing. The church can survive Nero, and the worst persecution the world can offer; but if those who are seen as God’s prophets become rape-apologists because that is compromise they have to pay for a little political influence they do cause God’s name to be blasphemed. They are blaspheming God’s name themselves.
Again, I endorse no-one. Vote your conscience. Vote issues if you cannot vote for a person. No matter who you support, don’t be a rape-apologist. Some of the women you know have been assaulted. One fifth of American women is over 31 million people. If we marginalize those who have suffered violence at the hands of the powerful, in order to defend the powerful, we are not acting like the church, but quite the opposite. No matter who you want to win, it is not worth throwing a large group of people under the bus for a Pyrrhic victory.
We as Christians need to consider how we can become sensitive to those who’s wounds have been freshly opened by truly evil rhetoric. When we speak, we must remember some of the people who hear us have deep pain in their lives. If one must choose between an election, and the integrity of the church, the choice must be the church. When we speak, we must be careful to speak with grace. We must remember that words can hurt. I do indeed feel that the church is under attack. I feel Jerusalem has been set on fire. I regret that those burning our great city are not seen as invaders, but it is those claiming to speak for God.