Should we avoid political engagement?

 

Should Christians pull back from politics? Given the growing polarization and divisive tone of politics, I understand why Christians might want to distance themselves from the whole project. It seems that no matter how graciously we engage, we risk being misunderstood as taking sides with a “Radical Right” or a “Radical Left.”

It’s not surprising to hear the old fundamentalist line, “Just preach the gospel.” I feel for those who want to avoid what appears to be a sure way to create misunderstanding or to get people mad at you.

But is this fear itself wrongly motivated? Is backing out of political engagement a responsible option for obedient Christians? Is it possibly contradiction of our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world? 

This was the topic of a recent post by Russell Moore. I like the way he summarized evangelical engagement on pro-life concerns as a model for other areas of engagement.

“What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.”

“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians. It’s very clearly not a singularly ‘political’ issue, but an issue that demands political, ecclesial, and cultural reform and persuasion.”

Being maligned or falsely charged should not lead Christians to retreat but be viewed (in principle) as an opportunity in the vein of I Peter 3:14-17; 4:19 -

“… if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ….So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”

Moore does a good job outlining the nature of the calling for engagement, 

“We engage politically because we love our neighbors, we care about human flourishing. But we do so at multiple fronts. We engage on Capitol Hill (as I do), on issues ranging from stopping the abortion industry, to protecting religious liberty, to speaking out for human rights for the persecuted overseas. We cultivate churches that see the holistic nature of the kingdom of God and who shape consciences of people to live as citizens. But we always do that with a focus that we are not prosecuting attorneys but defense attorneys. We are seeking, ultimately, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

A false argument

Some leaders use a false argument disguised as a biblical case against political engagement. They ask, “Where do you see Jesus or the apostles getting involved in politics?”

Not only is this an argument from apparent silence, it overlooks the fact that those who lived during the periods of history represented in the Bible were not part of democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as Jesus or the apostles. This is part of what makes our function a little more complicated. We are part of a participatory system where we have opportunity to influence the formation of laws and policies for the common good. 

It’s careless and misleading to use this kind of argument from apparent silence to negate a calling to responsible citizenship.  

So as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the discussion, robust and respectful debate is often necessary. We must not shy from engagement or allow others to marginalize our voice.

Yet we should not approach engagement as an effort to win culture wars. Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian participation in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.

Let’s be as informed as possible and speak the truth with boldness while being considerate and kind toward opponents.

At the end of the day (or process), some of the laws might conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws try to force us to violate our beliefs, we will find far more explicit application from Scripture on how to respond.

Steve Cornell

Pope is wrong about the Church

In a recent interview, the Pope appeared to be offering some kind of olive branch in his comments about gay marriage, abortion and birth control.

The New York Times picked up on his message with a piece titled, “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.

I think I understand the Pontiff’s concerns about the dangers of becoming so focused on one or two issues that we lose sight of other pressing matters. But I also believe that his words were unfortunate, unnecessary and perhaps even misguided.

Let me explain.

On one level, the Pope played into the hands of a deceitful effort to paint the Church as overly preoccupied with things like abortion and homosexuality.  Yet remember that the Church has largely responded to the obsessive preoccupation of liberal media with promoting abortion rights and gay marriage.  

The Church is most often responding to the demands of liberal politics that the public conforms to only one view on these subjects. The Church is responding to a radical agenda on the left that uses the puppets of mainstream media to promote an ideology that they reinforce with deceptive polls.

We must not fall for efforts to promote a false image of Christians as obsessed with abortion and gays. We must not be blindly manipulated into misguided self-criticism.

Attorney David French summarized the issue well, writing that, “The criticism is so common that it’s often internalized and adopted by the church itself. Similar to our reaction to another leftist refrain (“Christians care about children until they’re born”), we act as if the critique is legitimate — as if it’s the result of some kind of empirical, good-faith analysis of Christian action in America. But it’s not. It is, pure and simple, a talking point. And it’s false. Demonstrably false.”

French argued that, “American Christians, in fact, are ‘obsessed’ with helping the poorest and weakest members of our society.”

“While the full scope and sweep of all Christian charitable activity (both in donations and volunteer time) would require book-length treatment, we can at least begin to isolate one critical factor: money. Our obsessions are reflected in our expenditures. Where do Christians put their charitable dollars? What is their charitable obsession?”

“We can find part of the answer by looking at the budgets of the largest and most influential Christian organizations. A website called Guidestar publishes the tax filings of most charitable organizations, so register (it’s free) and take a tour of Form 990s. First, you’ll notice that Christians do give lots of money to what I’d call “pure” culture war organizations, but not as much as the Left.”

A larger concern

On another level, given the gravity of abortion, why should we apologize for being obsessed with protecting unborn life? The occupant of a mother’s womb is a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s a verifiable fact that abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby.

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of your child. 

More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for non-medical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the 7th through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. Perhaps our apology should be to the millions of babies whose lives should have mattered more to us.

But, here too, we must not forget that Christians are the majority (by far) on the front lines — leading the way by caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of young women facing unplanned pregnancies. 

Steve Cornell

Syria, Abortion and Hypocrisy

During his speech on Syria, President Barack Obama appealed to those he called his “friends on the left,” saying, “I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.” 

The president also said, “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

On one level, I understand that we live in a world where international safety might require measures of accountability between nations. We must not allow our weariness with war to make us complacent to the dangers in the world. Admittedly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were partly based on misguided idealism about our ability to export democracy to the Middle East. But let’s not exchange this idealism for some kind of delusional isolationism. 

Whether we like it or not, we are living in a global community. Advanced capabilities in warfare like long-range missiles and chemical and nuclear power require us to be global in our concerns. The U.S. also is the most powerful nation in the world and with that power comes responsibility. 

I regret living in a world where we sometimes have to kill people to restrain evil. I also find it morally unsustainable to stand idly by while people are being tortured and unjustly killed. Sometimes, aggressive violence must be stopped by principled force. 

In his book, “Love in Hard Places,” D. A. Carson raises important questions: “Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love — of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?”

Yet, on another level, it’s a bit difficult for me to think of America as the moral leader when it comes to the safety of children. How can we argue for the safety of children from chemical attack in another country when (especially among those on the left) we fiercely defend the legal right to abort millions of babies in this country? 

Some will likely take issue with this comparison, but no matter what title you use for the occupant of a mother’s womb, it’s a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s an indisputably verifiable fact that the life of the fetus is more than a “product” of conception. Abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby. 

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of the child. Induced abortion is the deliberate destruction of an unborn child.

If you’re unconvinced or offended by my comparison, at least do some research on what happens in an abortion. Induced abortion is the premature expulsion of a human fetus through surgical or chemical means. More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for nonmedical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the seventh through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. In a country where the laws allow abortion, should we expect to be viewed as a moral leader in protecting innocent children in other parts of the world? 

Perhaps the humility and resolve President Obama mentioned should start with our own nation. Jesus gave some excellent advice for all of us to follow when he said: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). 

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church. He is also a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc

American hypocrisy

In his speech on Syria, the President appealed to what he called his “friends on the left,” saying,

“I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.” 

It strikes me as painfully hypocritical to argue for the safety of children from chemical attack in another country when (especially among those on the left) we fiercely defend the legal right to abort millions of babies in this country. 

In a country whose laws endorse the torture and dismembering of babies in their mother’s womb, how should our outcry be heard against another country who uses chemical weapons on their children?

 Steve Cornell

A plea for civility and sanity from brave liberals and progressives

 

This is a plea for civility and sanity among brave liberals and progressives. It’s time for many of them to break the silence and oppose the tone changes and agendas in their party. They have good reasons to be concerned about the reputation of their side of politics.

The old vision of being known as a party of tolerance, civility and rational thinking has been hijacked by a vocal minority who use social coercion to bully fellow Democrats into their agendas.

Frankly, we need large groups of citizens from both sides of the political aisle to refuse blind loyalty to their party — especially if it requires violations of civility, tactics of manipulation and attitudes of arrogance and intolerance toward those who differ.

On the liberal side, the growing tendency toward these things portrayed vividly on cable networks like MSNBC, and required of the faithful, ought to be enough to move large numbers to threaten to become independents.

As a liberal, does it disturb you to hear Chris Matthews from MSNBC irrationally gush over President Obama as if he is a messiah? Does something bother you about the cynical and condescending tones of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell? Do you find it disconcerting to hear the president discredit a news outlet because it’s actually willing to disagree with him? I cringe when I hear Sean Hannity at Fox News mockingly refer to President Obama as the Anointed One. I cringed over the apocalyptic rhetoric that flowed from Glenn Beck.

Liberal Democrats once prided themselves on being a party of choice where one was free to think and be an individual. Now being a liberal requires uniformity to a growing list of litmus tests. For example, if you’re a progressive but believe that abortion actually destroys a human life, you’ll need to remain in the closet if you wish to be accepted in the party. You must oppose all things pro-life and support many other liberal causes with blind loyalty or risk rejection. If you admit to views that oppose the litmus tests, you’ll likely hear someone ask, “You’re not becoming one of those right-wing nuts are you?”

To be a member with full acceptance, you’ll need to toe the party line on global climate change, gay marriage and gun control. You’re not permitted to think logically or rationally about issues if it leads to differences from required party opinions. You must be anti-war while demanding the rights of women to serve in combat. You must oppose the evils of tobacco while supporting legalization of marijuana. You must boast allegiance to science while ignoring scientific evidence of abortion as the destruction of a human being.

I believe that there are many liberals who don’t like the tone that has taken over their party. Yet they fear the consequences of opposing it. They also know that one of the primary sources behind these changes is the attachment of their party to a small but radical pro-homosexual contingency.

Although many liberals and progressives don’t appreciate being associated with an agenda to change laws regarding marriage, they know that the slightest contradiction against this agenda will result in harsh criticism and social exclusion.

They know that the way this agenda is being shoved down the throats of Americans is becoming one of the foremost threats to civility. All reasonable people should find it alarming that a prominent pastor could be invited to give an inaugural prayer until a radical group discovered that he gave a sermon many years earlier explaining his personal views about homosexual behavior.

The Democratic Party is now dominated by litmus tests. The same criticism once used against conservatives is now true of Democrats.

It’s time for thoughtful citizens on the liberal side who desire to be known for reason and civility to protest these changes. It will take courage because of the bullying tactics used to force acceptance of required thinking, but if more liberals refuse to acquiesce, perhaps there is time to save the party. Then again, the best way to send a message might be for for large numbers of Democrats to become independents as many former Republicans have done.

Steve Cornell

* For a similar plea, see the opening of Dr. Ben Carson’s recent speech with President Obama present – Listen Here

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

 

I am grateful to live in a country that is far different because of bold leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Yet our honor for the fearless leadership of a man who was willing to put everything on the line for a costly battle for human rights is sadly overshadowed by commemoration of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

We grieve the loss of more than 50 million precious lives over the past 40 years of so-called “abortion rights.”

Let us pray that our president would be inspired by the courage, boldness and sacrifice of Martin Luther King Jr. to stand in the great tradition of those who against all odds opposed oppression and violence.

Those who value all human life appeal to you, Mr. President, to promote policies that end the horrors being unleashed on the precious lives of unborn citizens.

We need laws that compassionately help the women facing unplanned pregnancies and protect the lives of their babies.

Steve Cornell

Letter to the President of the United States

 

Dear President Obama,

On Martin Luther King Day (January 21), we honor the fearless leadership of a man who was willing to put everything on the line for a costly but worthy battle for human rights. I am grateful to live in a country that is far different because of bold leaders like Dr. King.

Yet celebration of our progress will be sadly overshadowed by commemoration of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (January 20). On this day, many citizens of this nation will grieve the loss of 54 million precious lives over the past 40 years of so-called “abortion rights.”

To visualize this tragic loss of life, a group from Michigan invited readers to think about three of their stadiums: The Big House in Ann Arbor, Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, and Comerica Park in Detroit. To host more than 54 million fans, all three of these stadiums would need to fill to capacity 240 separate times! (PRC).

Mr. President, I ask you to stand in the great tradition of those who against all odds opposed oppression and violence. I appeal to you only to promote policies that end the horrors being unleashed on the precious lives of unborn citizens. We need laws that compassionately help the women facing unplanned pregnancies and protect the lives of their babies. Please be a voice for those who are not permitted to speak. 

I appeal to you to resist the pressures of popularity and political expedience and to hear the silent screams of these vulnerable citizens. Please acknowledge their personhood  and rescue them from brutal destruction at the hands of “professionals.” The unborn need a president who values their lives.

May the courage, boldness and sacrifice of Martin Luther King Jr. inspire you to be the president who says, “Never again!” 

with prayer for you,

Steve Cornell

A prayer of honor to our Creator:
 
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When 
I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:13-16)