Monday, November 10, 2008
For example in "American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving" sociologist Christian Smith views Evangelicalism in context of its doctrinal positions in contrast to Liberal Christianity. However in interview after interview the actual Evangelicals in Smith's sociological study continually define their own faith not in terms of orthodox doctrine per se, but as a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. What we see here a discrepancy between how Evangelicalism is understood as doctrinally focused by its leaders, and relationally focused by its laity.
Along these lines, former Moral Majority VP Cal Thomas bases his definition of an Evangelical on a set of doctrinal issues, and concludes that "Barack Obama is not a Christian". But if we instead ask whether Obama is a Christian based on the relational criteria that most Evangelicals actually hold to, we get a very different answer. Obama can speak very naturally about his relationship with Jesus Christ. For example addressing a church he tells the story of alter call experience when he was introduced to,
"someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life. It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith... kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works." (full text HERE)
It is interesting to note that in the interview from the Chicago Sun-Times which Cal Thomas references as the sole source for his conclusion of Obama's non-Christian status, Obama is quoted there as well as describing himself as having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". Thomas omits that part, and only focuses on his doctrinal disagreements.
But let me throw a wrench into all of this. I would propose that whether a politician is a Christian (using either of the two definitions) is actually pretty irrelevant. What we need to know is how the Christian faith plays out in how he does politics. A politician's personal faith is something that I have no connection with since I do not know them personally, where we interact is on a political level, and so what I need to know is how they conduct their public and political life and the values and policies they have. Are those vales influenced by the character and values and way of Jesus? Are their actions and values reflecting Jesus and his kingdom? That is what matters to us.
We Evangelicals have in the past paid way too much attention to politician's personal faith, and way too little (if we paid attention at all) to what it would mean to govern in a Christ-like way, or what Jesus would do if he were them. As a result it has been enough for a politician to simply say they were "one of us" and we simply assumed that this must automatically translate into them making all the right choices, with relatively zero reflection on what those choices might be, or what Christian leadership on a political level might look like. This kind of naivete has lead to us evangelicals being easy targets for politicians to take advantage of. Former White House Aide David Kuo tells an eye opening insider story of this which you can check out online HERE.
I'd say based on this that this biblical illiteracy of what it means to be a Christian politician - or better how to be a politician in a "what-would-Jesus-do way" is of major importance. What I would like to do over the next few blog posts is to outline what I see as a biblical criteria for Jesus-style politics, leadership, power, and public life. But that will have to wait for the next post...