A bumper-sticker slogan I have seen more than once proudly declares that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” This slogan is the cornerstone theological statement of many in western evangelical movement, and it is the problem. Many Christians believe that their sins, no matter how great or small are of no matter because they, being Christian and all, are forgiven. However, at the same time those same Christians are cruelty unforgiving of any who sins in their eyes and is not a Christian.
Christians can divorce at will and still be “stalwart defenders” of traditional marriage. They can also be “staunchly pro-life” when screaming for vengeance and war that kills thousands of children. They can be greedy and hoard up wealth and still attack “godless” forms of economy. The duplicity is mind boggling. In a way, it can appear that what these Christians really want is a world where the non-Christians act better than them. They want the unforgiven to live by “biblical” standards while the forgiven celebrate their freedom to do as they please. Followed to its logical conclusion, Christians want a world where Jesus finds all of those he is about to send to Hell being good people, and his chosen few sinning as they please and boasting of their forgiveness.
If you are deeply entrenched in the Christian culture of America, let me assure you, this attitude looks amazingly and illogically hypocritical. Case in point: Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais. Like many politicians who claim the conservative Christian label and its accompanying political support, he is a complicated man. During the election season, a scandal arose regarding the congressman and his mistress. The staunchly anti-abortion candidate, while practicing as a medical doctor, had impregnated a patient and then pressured her to have an abortion. Conservative Tennessee voters elected him on his promise to “defend traditional marriage” and “protect unborn life.” This was despite the knowledge that the same man cheated on his wife, abused his position as doctor, and pressured a woman to have an abortion so that he would be spared “embarrassment.” This is what some in the Behavioral Science field call cognitive dissonance.
After his reelection in November the scandal began to widen and it was learned that when he divorced his earlier wife he had also pressured her to have two abortions. If this were anyone but a “pro-life” Republican congressman, Christians would call him a serial killer. Yet support for him has barely diminished. When asked about all of these things he has done, while at the same time restating he is against them and will fight anyone who thinks they are ok, he answered in a typical Christian manner. “I’m human… I don’t think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect.”
It his clear from his statements that the congressman from Tennessee has decided it is not his place to be hard on himself, it is his job to be hard on others. His record will prove as much.
Thus we have an illustration of the problem. Christians have convinced themselves that they can be as absolutely wicked as they want, and by some measures worse than the rest of the world, yet remain at peace because of God’s grace. Any sin committed by the in-crowd can be rationalized away as a “simple mistake,” a “stumble,” or dodged completely by blaming it on an attack by Satan.
The world on the other hand, is ripe for judgement. Their sins are deliberate and premeditated. When the world fails to do right; it is because in their evilness they can do nothing but violently attack God and his way. Remember Bill Clinton? He did far less than DesJarlais, yet every Christian leader of note called for his resignation. They claimed that his personal failings proved he was morally incapable of leading.
Ironically the Apostle Paul in his letters, James in his letter, John in his first letter, and at many times the Lord Jesus himself all indicated that they believed the exact opposite. The clear teaching across the New Testament is that Christians are supposed to be better. Yes we are forgiven, but our response to that forgiveness is that we are better. We do not judge the world for the precise reason that we do not believe they can do better without the grace of God. Our view toward the rest of the world should be a sharing of the gospel message of God’s love for them. Our forgiveness should not be an issue of pride on our bumper stickers, but of humility in our prayers.
The Republican party has in recent decades painted itself as the “Christian” party. Evangelicals (at least white Evangelicals) have embraced the GOP as their preferred political organization. This November conservative Christians across America will have to choose between a president they decidedly do not like for his supposed attacks on their faith, or a team made up of a Mormon and an unabashed devotee of philosopher Ayn Rand. This presents a dilemma.
Since the last election season, many prominent Evangelicals have criticized current president Barack Obama not only for policies which they disagree with, but his apparent lack of (similar) faith. The President’s faith in word and in policies he has supported seems to be typical of African-American Mainline Protestantism. While this stream of Christianity is philosophically distinct from White Evangelical Christianity, it nevertheless falls comfortably within the realm of historic American Christianity. However, many evangelicals have argued that Obama’s religion is not “Christian” enough for the nation. The argument has also been made that the POTUS must be a Bible-believing Christian for various reasons. During the run up to the 2008 election, then Senator Obama faced many religiously based smears, most frequently that he was a Muslim. While most sensible Americans rejected that claim, there was still a feeling that his Christianity, being both ethnically and socially distinct from conservative evangelicalism, would lead him astray philosophically. The underlying premise of this belief was that only a “true” Christian could lead America in the way God wanted. Of course no one ever seemed to agree on what exactly it was that God wanted, but it was clear (supposedly) that Obama’s brand of faith was not sufficient to guide him to right decisions.
Four years later, Evangelicals are embracing and even crusading for a Mormon and a trumpet of Atheistic Objectivism. While I am not advocating that a presidential candidate has to be of a certain faith, many Evangelical leaders are, or at least, once did. During the nomination process, especially when avowed Evangelical Rick Perry was still in the race, many pastors decried Romney’s religion as a “cult” whose influence would certainly disqualify him from being a God-endorsed (if there is such a thing) president. Now we are witnessing an about-face from one evangelical leader and pundit after the next. One prominent Evangelical, went from extremely pointed words against Mitt’s religion to a full-fledged endorsement of the man and his worldview once it clear that he would be the Republican nominee.
Likewise, one of the main calls of the Evangelical movement in recent decades is the denunciation of encroaching secular philosophy in the United States. While this charge has been often levied against the Left, the same critics have been virtually silent when Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan has stated time and time again that he loves the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and that America is “living in an Ayn Rand novel.” There have been few philosophers so vehemently opposed to not only religion in general, but the core of the teachings of Christ, as Ayn Rand. The center of Rand’s teaching is what has been labelled “Objectivism.” In this framework, the universe is knowable (contra Ecc 3:11), all life is born of different merit (contra Gal 3:28), and charity and love for those “less” than oneself is deplorable and only serves to hold the race back (contra Matt 22:37-39). In short, Rand advocated Social Darwinism as the highest ideal. Ironically, Christians have been long arguing that acceptance of evolution would only lead to such terrible beliefs as the Social Darwinism that they now, tacitly through Ryan, support.
Although he is predictably backtracking on his love for Rand, Congressman Ryan has made a name for himself taking positions that are transparently Objectivist in nature. Most famously is the “Ryan Budget,” introduced to the House of Representatives but predictably failing to be adopted. In a nutshell, Ryan proposed slashing virtually all public programs and raising income (labor) taxes on the lower and middle classes (because of America’s deficits) and slash or eliminate taxes that affect the wealthiest Americans, including taxes on not labor, but on investments (in spite of America’s deficits?). In almost no time at all anyone with familiarity of the proposal called it the coldest budget ever seen in American history. Religious groups appropriately derided it as anti-Christian in the way that it prospered the already rich at the very real peril of the poor. Despite his words, it is clear that Paul Ryan’s heart is clearly with his philosophical mentor, Ayn Rand.
Jesus taught that the highest duty of humanity was to love God and love others. All people are created with value purely by the fact that they bear the image of God. At the end of Matthew 25, we see that people will be judged not based on their individual achievements of human-defined success, but how they cared for those that were less “successful” than themselves. The Christian God is one of grace, one that recognizes that people fail and still gives Himself to save them. Christians are called to model such grace, not to be economically prosperous or politically dominant. Christians are called to give, not because we are earning points with God, but because God already earned our salvation.
Mitt Romney belongs to a religion of merit. Mormonism is not in line with the teachings of Christ, who proclaimed grace apart from saving works. There is a fundamental difference between these views. Likewise, Paul Ryan has, for the duration of his recorded life, adopted a secular philosophy of individualism with no collective social responsibility; this is even more antithetical to the teachings of Christ. According to my faith as a Christian and understanding as an American citizen, they both have the right to believe and advocate for whatever their compass tells them. However, it is not Christian. For Christian leaders to stand up and endorse these men and their philosophies is wrong. If any organization or individual wants to support the ideology of these men, fine. While I believe they are wrong, I understand where they are coming from and their right to do so. But to shroud this type of individualistic meritocracy in the cloak of Jesus Christ is disingenuous at best, satanic at worst. Also, what it shows clearly to the world is something that has been proven time and time again. Many of these Christian leaders bear no allegiance for or against any particular theology, even though they vehemently claim that they do. Rather, many are willing to disregard their supposed convictions for the sake of political expediency.
My prediction is that a few years from now, regardless of the outcome of the election, the American Church will have slid even further into secular thinking, not having any clue what Jesus actually taught, but accepting whatever the “conservative” viewpoint is as gospel truth. In the end, this church will die because no one will be able to differentiate it from the World.