On Jerry Jr, Trump and Widespread Evangelical Support

In 2016 I published a short book about the collision of the Kingdom of God and politics. It was taken from a series of sermons that I gave in 2012 before that election, which feels like a different world from the political world we are in now. It was largely written in response to the errors that I had seen in the Religious Right (and in the Religious Left, but much more so in my own personal experiences with the Religious Right) in trying to utilize a political system as the means to achieve kingdom ends. I still believe that is the wrong way to pursue the Kingdom of God, but as with anything, the current cultural moment raises new issues and asks new questions that need to be addressed.

In addressing politics and faith over the years, one thing I have discovered is that when people are reading or listening to me, they have desire for me to equitably attack “both sides” whenever we are discussing something. In these kinds of conversations people will often say something like, “why aren’t you attacking the Democrats (or Republicans) more?”. My concern and calling is not to critique the politics of either Republicans or Democrats or really any political party, but rather to call the church to be the people of God in this present moment. In the places where it seems to me that we are missing that, I will speak up. I am not concerned with trying to have an equal balance of critiquing the donkey or the elephant, but rather continuing to call people to the way of the Lamb.

On January 1, the Washington Post ran an interview with Jerry Falwell Jr that exposed some of the destructive thinking that has become far too prevalent in the church today and it needs to be addressed. I am not someone who feels the need to comment on everything someone says in the name of the church or in every current event, otherwise I would simply spend all of my time responding because the opportunities are endless. However, when something seems to me to be pervasively widespread, continual and destructive to my understanding of who the church is called to be, it merits some kind of response.

Falwell, as the president of the country’s largest Christian University, has been a supporter of President Trump from early on and apparently reconciles the discrepancies of his faith with some of Trump’s behavior and policies that are contrary to that with a description of two different kingdoms – an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom. He describes essentially separating each of those kingdoms and engaging in each of them in different ways. While, I would agree with him that they are separate kingdoms that function in very different ways, I do not believe that the New Testament, nor the way of Jesus in general calls us to treat those as separate ways of engaging the world around us. Nor are they coequal ways of engaging different spheres of our lives. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus expected his followers to operate out of and being agents who are a part of bringing the reality of God’s kingdom to the experience of our lives here and now. For the follower of Jesus, God’s kingdom is not meant to be some kind of spiritual experience that has no bearing on the reality of our lives, but instead is actually meant to be the driving force that affects all of how we live, the choices we make, the way we treat other people, what we value. Jesus would say it this way at one point, “seek first the Kingdom of God and it’s righteousness…”

There is indeed an earthly kingdom. A way in which the world operates and the values it ascribes to. It is also a driving force that affects all of how we live, the choices we make, and the way we treat other people. It is not a value system that the people of Jesus are meant to separate out as another realm where we operate differently. Instead, the people of God are meant to be bringing the way of God’s kingdom into those spaces. At times, it even means operating subversively against the way in which the earthly kingdom operates. A people who operate in God’s kingdom are not just concerned with the ends that are achieved, but also the means by which we get there.

I didn’t realize how pervasive this dualistic view of how we interact with the world actually was until I read this interview with Falwell. It helps to make sense of so many other things that seem to have gotten out of place for those of us who claim to follow Jesus in recent years. For instance, when white evangelical Christians are the group most likely to be against accepting refugees, more than any other group identified in the polling, that runs against the way the church has functioned in caring for refugees and the calling of the Kingdom of God. Or when the opinion of evangelicals regarding immigrants is more shaped by President Trump and political narratives than by evangelical leaders or by the Scriptures. The ability to separate out our faith from our worldview is disconcerting at best.

As Falwell suggests, the United States may not have an obligation to love our neighbors or care for the poor (we can argue that on another day), but followers of Jesus do. For followers of Jesus to desire and pursue things that are contrary to that, is explicitly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Just because politics are not the means by which we pursue kingdom ends, does not mean that we actively utilize politics in ways that are directly contrary to kingdom ends. I don’t know of any Christians who think in this way who would advocate for policies that would increase abortions or ones that would strip the church of it’s non-profit status and protections, or to disallow Christian colleges from gaining the advantage of federally supplemented loans. While I would argue it’s not the best use of our calling as a church to try and utilize political means to pursue those things, it is not something we actively work against.

When I released “In God We Trust,” one of my concerns was that the broader church that I found myself a part of was too tied into and overly linked with a political party. Some seem to have now gone a step farther, in becoming even more linked with a particular person. Falwell was asked if there was anything that Trump could do that would endanger support from himself or other evangelical leaders. His answer was simply “no.” As a friend of mine put it, “Regardless of who it is, this is what’s called a cult.” I am not sure I understand it or fully get where this blanket support is coming from, but the unquestioning evangelical support of President Trump has me perplexed. In fact, white evangelicals are the only major religious group to continue to have a favorable opinion of President Trump.

The same evangelical leaders who spoke out against Bill Clinton during the Lewinskly scandal saying that his character matters because character is significant in leadership, then defended Trump as a candidate saying things like “his character doesn’t matter because we aren’t electing a pastor”. When things like that happen, you begin to wonder if there are different standards for evangelical leaders depending on whether or not you have an R or a D after your name on the ballot. In fact, one of the most significant swings that has happened in evangelicals’ worldview, is a complete about-face in the way that character matters in leadership. We do not have to hold a President to the same standards as a Pastor of a church to say that character matters in leadership. Nor do we have to change our values in that regard in order to align with specific policy decisions.

There may be policies that Trump supports and advocates that can be within a kingdom framework. I personally was glad to see the prison reform legislation pass and would love to see more work done there. That does not mean, however, that you need to give blanket support to all of his policies. It doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to his dishonorable and immoral behavior as President. It does not mean that we adopt shifting worldviews in order to accommodate our politics or our chosen political candidate. We can be nuanced and thoughtfully Christian without offering blanket support of a political party or of a particular person.

Frankly, I don’t understand what has been happening with the blanket support of Trump and his policies amongst white evangelicals. I’m not interested in “would Hillary have been any better?” kinds of debates, nor am I interested in calling Trump the new Hitler. I’m not interested in rehashing the election or telling you who to vote for. I’m simply interested in the church being the church. I’m interested in the people who call themselves followers of Jesus living in the ways of the Kingdom and letting that shape their worldview. I’m not interested in Christians needing to comment on everything that Trump says and does that is contrary to the way of Jesus. But I am interested in not giving blind allegiance and support to him as he does those things. I would find myself offering the same critique if the larger church system that I find myself a part of offered the same kind of widespread, pervasive support of a different candidate, party or policies that seemed to me to be destructive to the church. I am in no way partisan but rather try to find myself on the side of the church and who she is called to be.

I’m reminded and regularly challenged by a word of caution offered by Jesus, when he said, “what good does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit their soul?” My calling is not to engage in partisan debates, but rather to point the church to where we may be losing our soul.

I Accidentally Published a Book Today

So, apparently I accidently published a book today.

It wasn’t an accident that it was getting published. We had been working on it for a while. I just didn’t realize it would actually happen…and that it would happen today.

4 years ago, I was tired of the way that I was seeing Christians engage in politics and decided that I wanted to help initiate a different kind of conversation that I wasn’t seeing many people have. I preached a 2 week series called “In God We Trust?” It stirred up more conversations than just about anything else I had preached before.

As this election began to move closer, I began to see some of the same disturbing trends and at times even worse. So, decided to try and take what we talked about 4 years ago and see if we could turn it into a short book. Short enough that people would actually read it, but still with enough substance to invoke conversation.

My hope is not to give final solutions and answers as to how Christians are to engage (or not engage) in the political process, but instead, my hope is to raise some new conversations that not many are having. Sometimes we need a bit of a jolt to the system so we can step back to try and see the forest in the midst of the trees.

If you’re tired of the rhetoric around politics and have this sense that evangelicals are being used as political pawns…then this book is for you.

If you have an uncle who you hate to be around during this political season because of how obsessed he is with politics…this would make a great “Happy Super Tuesday” election present.

If you’ve read the stats of how the younger generation is being driven away from the church because of how politically involved the church is and you want to figure out a way forward…this book is a great starting point.

If you don’t want easy answers and want to struggle through things on your own and have the space to come to your own conclusions while being challenged by others…this book will mess with you a bit without giving a bunch of easy answers.

So, I’d love it if you’d consider buying this book. But here’s the deal, my biggest hope is to in some small way begin to change some of the conversation that at least some followers of Jesus are having when it comes to politics. So, buy one for someone else too.

If you’re a part of Parkcrest, we will have copies available on a Sunday, sometime in the future. I’m not exactly sure when, but it won’t be for at least another 3 weeks. Because, like I said…I accidentally published a book today.

If you’re a church leader and want to utilize this for groups in your church or use it as a way to have a larger conversation about faith and politics as the election season continues to heat up. Let me know and if you’re buying more than 25 copies, we can offer them at a discounted rate.

If you have an event at your church or organization and need a panelist or speaker regarding faith and politics, I’d love to be a part.

I (obviously, since I didn’t even realize it was being published today) don’t have a marketing plan. So, I would love it if you would help me out and help get the word out. We’ve got to start having a better conversation about faith and politics. Lets get that ball rolling.

For my friends who already tweeted, instagramed, facebooked, sent me pictures of their receipts from purchasing it. Thank you! I had no idea you would do that and I’m so grateful!

And thanks to my friends Ashley Miller who helped me edit it and actually make it readable and Brent Otey who did a killer cover design.

Here’s to having a better conversation about faith and politics

On Women in the Church…

Today, I was challenged in a sermon by one of the best preachers I get to hear on a regular basis. That preacher happened to be a woman. Rachel crafted a fantastic message that was funny at the right moments, insightful, vulnerable and challenging at the same time, which is not easy to do. I had sat in the sermon prep meetings and knew most of the examples she was going to use, I knew what she was going to do to wrap up the message and some of the ways that she would get there, but even knowing all of that, she put it together in a way that regardless of knowing what she was going to say, it still provoked and challenged me. That’s something only a skilled, gifted communicator is capable of doing. 

If our church did not allow her to preach, we would be missing out on that gift. If she was relegated to only teaching children or women, I would have missed the challenge that I received today from her teaching, and so would the 50% of our congregation that happens to be the same gender as me.

The church that I grew up in didn’t have space for women to lead and teach in that kind of way. In fact, I don’t remember a woman ever even doing something such as serving communion. I don’t know if it was an official policy or a stated theological position, but it was just known that didn’t happen. They could teach my Sunday School class, but heaven forbid that they were allowed to pass out the elements of communion to the congregation, much less explain those elements or ever teach the congregation. 

Several years ago, I remember bringing in a woman who taught at our church. In the packet she sent before she came, she asked if she was allowed to quote the Bible while she taught, if she could stand behind the podium or needed to be in front of the stage, and if what she was doing was allowed to be called teaching or if we needed to simply call it her “sharing” instead. Apparently those are all things she’s been asked to do at churches that she has been invited to speak at before, so as to not appear to be teaching. 

A friend told me once about a marriage series that the Pastor at his church was preaching. He had asked his wife to share one of the messages with him, in order to give a perspective from a wife on marriage. Sounded great since that is not always done in churches, where men typically dominate the preaching conversation about marriage (as well as everything else). When it came time for his wife to teach, however, he introduced her by saying, “Now men, my wife is coming up here to teach the women. You are welcome to listen in as she does, but you need to know that she is here to speak to the women.”

This has been on my mind this week. I don’t know if it’s because of what happened with The Nines Conference last week where there was only 4 women out of 112 speakers to church leaders. Or maybe I’m a bit more mindful of it as I read Sarah Bessey’s thoughtful and well-written book, Jesus Feminist.It could be because of what happened to a lament that April Diaz wrote about women in leadership in the church, which was stripped from a book before publication.  Maybe it’s because I have a daughter, and I’ve been thinking about the kind of church environment that I want her to be able to grow up in and what it looks like as she grows to be able to be empowered to use the gifts that God has uniquely given her in the same way that I’ve been empowered to use mine.

Whatever the reason, this has been on my mind. As as I think about it, I am incredibly grateful for the church that I have the privilege to be a part of. I’m grateful for the honest wrestling with Scripture that has led us to recognize the contribution that women have in all places in the church. I’m grateful to get to sit under the teaching of a gifted communicator like Rachel. I’m grateful for the wisdom of all of our Elders, including two women. I am grateful for the ability for women to lead and serve based on their gifts and not their gender.

Yet, at the same time, I am grieved that in many places in the church, that is not reality. I’m grieved that not only are there incredibly gifted women who have no place to use their gifts in the church, but I’m grieved by what those churches are missing out on. The women in our churches have much more to contribute than just a perspective on “female specific topics”, and many churches are missing that. I’m grieved as I read the stories of women who feel silenced, oppressed and not valued in the churches that they love. 

So, to my friends who lead churches where there are incredibly gifted women who don’t fit into the narrow roles that you have defined as acceptable for them. As you find yourself in battles as they try use their gifts, and you don’t have a place for them…Send them my way. We have a church full of strong, capable women serving and using their gifts, but I could always use even more role models for my daughter. I don’t know that I have a better answer than that. I can’t change your church, but I can keep making sure that there is space in the one I lead for people to serve with the gifts God has given them, regardless of gender. 

What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?