Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom is still on target. He said we should not invoke religion by “claiming God’s blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices” – saying, in effect, that God is on our side.
Rather, according to Jim Wallis’ book “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It,” Lincoln said we should “pray and worry earnestly whether we are on God’s side.”
It is too easy to assume what we think is “the right thing to do” is also what God thinks is right to do. In our current national climate, it seems easier to assume our way is God’s way.
Instead, we need to regularly ask whether God’s way is our way.
Without a consistent, responsible answer to that question, the Christian church has become codependent upon the culture of America.
As a result, the church’s real power to help transform our society for the better is often compromised and diluted into unhealthy forms of power that draw us into conformity, not transformation.
We who claim allegiance to Christianity often select what we teach ourselves about its deepest messages. One result of our selective learning is a naïve arrogance about our faith, and also about the culture in which we live out that faith. (I’m not sure the arrogance of some church leaders is born out of naivete, but rather of power-greed.)
This naïve arrogance seduces us to believe that almost anything that looks “spiritual” to us must be good for everyone. When faith communities willingly become just a marketplace target for cultural consumerism, we become like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
We are called to reflect, to act out a core message of Jesus: Love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. The message gets overlaid, almost smothered, with our desires to be successful and powerful in every way imaginable – except perhaps for the way Jesus lived.
Today’s political climate too easily compromises faithful people who mistakenly believe their goals for the country are the only goals God will approve.
I firmly believe religious faith must inform us in how we should respond to our culture. I also believe it is too easy to let that faith be compromised to the point of faithlessness, in whatever many forms that faithlessness might take.
The intermix of religious beliefs and political strategies is too often a toxic mix. At its best, religious power is meant to temper political power, not replace it.
We in the church have allowed some important boundaries to be blurred. Our historic identity – both nationally and internationally – includes being a “check and balance” to the systemic powers operating in society at any given time.
At our best, we stand up to those powers on behalf of the powerless.
Healthy spiritual power countered racism through the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. Internationally, Mother Teresa’s incredible ministry to the destitute of India stands as a living counterbalance to the institutional indifference – no, antipathy – toward the world’s poor.
At this particular time, we stand feebly in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. They fearlessly challenged the leaders of their nation to pay attention to how God really wanted those leaders to use their power on behalf of the vulnerable members of society, not the powerful.
Too often, we fearfully clamor for more power within the political power structures of our nation, our states and our communities. We proclaim an incomplete message of love.
We forget that love must translate into lifting up the poor and the outcast so they too can live with dignity and equal opportunity.
The church’s codependence on our culture is exposed when we preach about “moral values.” That term is frequently code talk for certain self-serving political issues, like abortion rights or gay marriage, the hot-button topics in our country at this time. But they alone do not define the moral issues we face.
We must also face the key “moral values” in national issues like the war in Iraq, terrorism, the widening economic gap between corporate America and its workers, and the outrageous costs of health care that burden those with health insurance and bury those without it.
Housing inequality is rampant in our region, with prices escalating well out of the reach of beginning homeowners. Isn’t there a significant “moral value” at work in the housing market? Of course there is.
The social structure of our country needs the Christian church and all faith traditions to shake off the seductive outer garments of political, economic and/or religious success.
Our culture needs us to reclaim the power we have to transform culture, not conform to it.
We need to rediscover the truths and God-power in our traditions that call forth the best in us as people so we can serve other people in the ways they most need it.
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