Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama, Christianity and Compassion

The weeks leading up to the presidential election, and the response to President-elect Obama's victory, were particularly interesting to me in observing how people I know of the Christian faith were leaning.

During the past few general elections, and during the past couple of decades in general, I seemed to run into few churchgoers who supported the Democratic nominee or the Democratic Party itself. But this time around there were plenty. The whole notion that the Republican Party and Christian believers were hopelessly intertwined has finally dissipated and--whether one is pleased with the election results or not--that is a good thing because the life and message of Jesus were and are too perfect to ever be fully identified with a party platform or a piece of legislation.

There's no need for me to attempt to articulate the various root causes for Obama's election, as plenty of political writers, pundits and others have given us more than our fill. I am intrigued by the shifting nature of organized Christianity, however, as the rising generations of those who profess the faith get involved in churches and communities and become active in the political process.

Younger believers are less beholden to particular denominations, church hierarchy and institutions in general, embracing more raw, organic faith that attempts to make a pragmatic difference. They are about community rather than division, and I have observed these attributes at play not just in how they function at the workplace (I'm immersed in Gen X and Y at T-Mobile USA) but in how they have engaged the political process.

Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and the guy viewed as a key champion of what has been called the "emerging" or "emergent" church movement, offers this in his book A Generous Orthodoxy:

"As we've seen, much of the polarization between liberals and conservatives has come from comparing 'our' best with 'their' worst ('our' worst often accurately critiqued by 'them' and 'their' worst by 'us'). But neither of us understood 'their' best very well, and thus both we and they violated Jesus' dictum about not judging."

The truth is, no political party has a lock on WWJD. Observe the life and ministry of Jesus as told in the scriptures, and you see a counter-cultural outpouring of compassion teeming with the spiritual power to transform a life. He didn't let wedge issues get in the way of seeking to relate to people and certainly didn't try to merge ecclesiastical power with political power. He came, he saw, he loved, he died, he rose--and thus gives this spiritual power to all open to receiving him, making them available to serve others under any banner or vocation.

It's time for people of faith--any faith, not just Christianity--of any particular political persuasions, to start trusting in the positive intent of their brothers and sisters. And those who would look at Obama, a professing Christian, and doubt the veracity of his faith because of wedge issues, certain political views or even his late father's religious heritage, would be better-served shifting that energy into figuring out how to make a compassionate difference in a real person's life right now. That's WWJD for you.

4 Comments:

At 4:34 AM , Blogger Lorraine said...

This is great. Thanks John for challenging believers to think outside the box. We need to come together as believers instead of being divided no matter what our political affiliation.
Blessings.

 
At 4:36 AM , Blogger Jared B. Tremper said...

John,
I appreciate your sensitivity to the sea change we are witnessing in Western Christianity. No doubt pragmatism is an emerging force along with globalism in contributing to the shift. Moreover, as you highlight, the emerging and/or emergent movement is speaking with alacrity the importance of following Jesus as our example. It is an element that many Evangelicals (like myself) sometimes overlook in favor of theological idealism--notably in relying on Jesus' substitutionary atonement for us.

However, I recognize that the harsh reactions by some on the right are focused on the plight of the unborn. The widespread expectation is that pro-life momentum will be pushed back by the Obama presidency. At the same time, I believe government cannot effect moral change in its citizens, and strategically I contend the church is responsible to persuade individuals (by spiritual renewal and God's Word) to eliminate the demand for abortions. As demand is reduced, supply for abortion must decline--and eventually it would disappear altogether.

Though in some aspects I see the Democratic party embracing more compassion than Republicans, this issue more than any other puts a wedge between many Christians who still hold to biblical idealism, which seen properly is the essential quality of kingdom living for the redeemed.

As a pastor, my call to fellow Christians is to sincerely pray for Mr. Obama. Hate is not an option. Perhaps we can influence his party to grapple with the horrifying injustice of abortion--and its devastating impact on all who endure such a dastardly "procedure". Surely Jesus' would not have sought to ridicule the ruling government, but instead engage people to live as citizens of heaven. Until perfect justice exists with his rule, we should strive to live in peace and do our best to encourage kingdom ethics here and now.

 
At 4:43 AM , Blogger Kristie said...

John--you've articulated much truth in this post. I especially like your observation that younger believers aim to make a "pragmatic difference," and that this is something we should all think about more by making a "compassionate difference in a real person's life right now." Certainly this is the way Jesus operated. He wasn't involved in policy making or even community efforts. His work was mostly via relationships, and always on an individual level.

I agree that there is something very hopeful about Obama, and I blogged about this last Wednesday, but I think as followers of Christ certain issues are more vital than others, certain programs more inconsistent with a biblical worldview than others, so more than just transcending political parties (you rightly point out that we should never have a blind alliance with either party), we as followers of Christ should embrace our duty to vote with Bible in hand. It's not a Red state, Blue state issue. It's using the abundant wisdom of the Bible, and lots of prayer to guide our support.

But for now, Obama has the incredible gifts that God has blessed him with, the fervent support of the citizens, and, I'm hoping, the faithful prayers of many. Why wouldn't we, as a nation, be optimistic?

 
At 6:14 AM , Anonymous David Barr said...

As someone who felt strongly that Obama was the wrong choice for president, I have had a surprising psychic change since the election. I am at peace with the results because I realize I am powerless over them.

My party failed to lead on too many critical issues and it has been soundly defeated. Now it is time for Obama and the Democrats in Congress to do a better job leading or they will suffer the same fate. I wish them well.

It is time for me to focus my time and energy on endeavors much closer to home, where I might actually affect positive change in the lives of those around me. In short, to stay positive, I am thinking small.

 

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