The 2012 Presidential Election, The Secularization of America & The Gospel
Well, for those of you that have been in complete hibernation recently, Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States. I want to reflect on this fact and deal with a lot of the Evangelical doomsayers and disheartened prognosticators inside the church. In doing so I am going to share some personal history with my political leanings and the reaction I have gotten from fellow Christians. Also I am going to examine what this means for the church in America and lay out why I believe this could be the best possible result for the spread of the Gospel in the United States which just so happens to be the third largest unreached country in the world.
Hope & Change
Four years ago, on Tuesday, November 04, 2008, I was in line at 6:30 AM at my local polling place to proudly and excitedly cast my vote for Barack Obama to be the 44th President of the USA. It was the culmination of over two years of anticipation and longing for me. You see, those mantras of “Hope & Change” and “Yes We Can”, had been music to my ears for almost 24 months. I remember watching my former high school play their annual football game against our arch rival in the fall of 2006 and sitting in the stands talking to one of my best friends since the 7th grade.
The previous Tuesday, the Democratic Party had celebrated a massive victory in the mid-term elections, taking both the Senate and the House as well as gaining a majority of the Governorships in the country. My friend and I were talking about that and wondering who might be the candidate in two years. I told him to keep his eyes out for this brand new Senator from Illinois. I had been familiar with Obama since his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and had been casually studying him and learning more about him since then. To understand the significance of this I need to compress 26 years of personal political history into a few short sentences.
Breaking Family Tradition
I grew up in Southeastern Oklahoma, commonly known as Little Dixie, a veritable Democratic stronghold in the middle of the Republican south. Local elections were always decided in the August primaries because there were just no Republicans around to run in the general election. I honestly doubt my grandfathers ever voted for a single Republican candidate in any election in their lifetime. It was just not something someone did unless you were extremely wealthy. So that is the political climate in which I was raised. Then came my learning of the Religious Right and the Christian Coalition around the time of the 1994 Republican resurgence. I was attracted to this because I bought into the lie that this is the Christian thing to do. So in my first Presidential election, I broke family tradition and voted for Bob Dole.
Then, in 2000, I voted for Bush because I believed his plans made the most sense. In 2004, I again voted for Bush because I believed we needed to stay the course in our war on terror and I was unsure of John Kerry’s ability to lead in that way. However, during the course of that election, something changed inside of me. I noticed that while Bush talked a lot about his faith (I believe his faith in Christ to be real and genuine), the things Kerry said lined up more with what the Bible says about caring for the poor and the needy.
Seeing that truth broke me from following lock step with the Republicans on everything. I really began to examine what both parties said and how that lined up with the Bible. You know what? I found some things really good in both parties and some really bad in both. As this was going on, I was looking more and more into this firestorm state senator that had wowed the DNC with his speech in 2004. Also, during this time, I was becoming more and more frustrated, almost to the point of disgruntlement, with President Bush. My stance has since softened, but at the time, I wanted a change.
That is what led me to extol the potential of Barack Obama to my friend that 2006 November Friday night. And I didn’t stop there. I continued to talk him up to friends and family for the next 2 years. I told everyone I knew to vote for him until that November 2008 day when I watched the election returns on my couch. when the clock turned to 9:00 PM local time and the polls closed on the west coast I celebrated with a glass of wine as the networks declared Obama the winner.
Ambivalence in 2012
Election Day 2012 was a very different day for me. I was not in line to vote before the polls opened. I went in mid-day and had no clue which candidate I was going to vote for as I took my ballot from the election volunteer and went to mark it. I filled out the rest of the ballot before finally voting for President, praying the entire time. As I left the polling place, I wondered if I had voted correctly and realized if I voted again and again throughout the day it might be different every time.
What changed? What took me from being wildly enthusiastic about the initial victory of Barack Obama to be completely ambivalent and nonchalant about his potential reelection? Well life has changed greatly in the past four years. I have a wife, a beautiful almost 17 month old son, and a baby girl on the way. I now own a house. I am in a higher tax bracket. I drive a large SUV that was given to us and it works great for our family but gets very low gas mileage. My voting is now more influenced by what puts more money in my pocket and taxes me less. I will admit that. If that makes me a typical greedy old miser, then ok. I am fine with that.
Am I upset Obama won? No. Do I think this is the death nail for America? Not hardly. Do I think he is an anti-West, anti-colonialist, socialist, communist, Muslim in disguise from Kenya? No. I think he is just not on the same side of the aisle as those making those ludicrous claims.
So why do we demonize him? Why do we do it? I think part of it is because the Protestant Evangelical church is so intertwined with the Republican Party that is unhealthy. But let’s call a spade a spade here; the Republican Party is not the party of God or Christians or the Church. All I have to say to point this out is remind you that they just ran Mitt Romney, a faithful Mormon, as their candidate. Let me rephrase that. They just ran a member of a non-Christian cult as their candidate.
And as I look at the Republican candidates in my lifetime, I see almost all non-believers. Ronald Regan was more than likely an agnostic. George H.W. Bush never wanted to talk about his faith or beliefs. Bob Dole was the same. George W. Bush was a dedicated believer. John McCain could not ever talk about a conversion experience just a guardian angel his mom prayed for and sent him during his time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. Mitt Romney, as previously stated, is a Mormon. With that being their past 30 plus years of candidates ,please tell me how they are the party of Christians? Now there is some good in the GOP. They care about moral issues. But their economic policies are heavily influenced by greed and covetousness, and they as a party neglect the poor and needy.
The Democratic Party is the same in the sense as being both good and bad They do support abortion, gay marriage, and a host of other ideas that cause believers to cringe. However they tend to really care about the poor. They are a political party that wants to help those less fortunate unless the less fortunate happens to be living in their mother’s womb at the time.
Post-Election Hope for the Gospel
So where does this leave us? What does all of this mean for us post-election 2012?
It leaves me hopeful for the future. I really believe the best days for the Gospel in America are in front of us, and it excites me. I shared my twisting quixotic political journey at the beginning of this piece so you would know that I am not writing as one fully entrenched in either party. I have voted for mixed party tickets, as in this just held election, straight Republican Party tickets, and for straight Democratic Party tickets. I believe I may be indefinable politically, and I am ok with that. I have been called the most conservative Democrat around, a typical white southern Christian Republican, too in love with the Democratic Party to be a pastor, and a spokesperson for all things Republican.
I don’t land anywhere. I am a fiscal conservative that believes in progressive politics on a local level that wants my rights to own and carry a gun protected and believes that my Biblical moral beliefs cannot be forced on those outside the body of Christ through legislation. Tell me what political party that lands me in, and I will say thank you. You just answered a long held question for me. Maybe that is why I am so hopeful for the Gospel today because I don’t see either Party as the savior of our country. I know and follow the Saviour and whatever happens the first Tuesday of November every four years in my lifetime will never alter that.
Secularization and Cultural Christianity
I am also hopeful because I see the continued secularization of America not as a bad thing and perhaps even as a good thing. Let us become more like Western Europe. Bring it on! Maybe if we are more like England our music in this country will get better. Wow that is a very ill timed and ill placed shot at bad pop music. I need to get back on track here. Or is there something to be learned from the differences in music between England and America that can apply to what the church can become during this time of secularization in our culture. I think it is the latter.
Music that sells here is driven by glitz and glamour. You have to look the part and have just the right sound. And if you have the perfect marketable look but the sound is not quite right, don’t worry! We have auto tune. British music is much more about the artistry and creativity of music. In that sense it is more authentic and real and for my taste better.
Let’s compare this to the church. By and large the church in America is also all about the look and sex appeal. I mean, just look at how convoluted our doctrine has become. Orthodox theology is an absolute quagmire here. And why is that? I think in part because in our effort to be more marketable than the next church we have slowly compromised on issue after issue and auto tuned anything controversial or hard right out of the church. Being a Christian here is much much more about the cultural and social aspect than it is about allowing the Gospel to work deep into your life and transform you into Godly righteousness.
I pastored a church once where I preached week after week about the transforming power of the Gospel with little result or effect, but let someone sing a patriotic song and there was nary a dry eye in the congregation. They were ready to rise, fight, and draw arms to defend ‘Merica, but when the local food pantry lost their lease, no one was willing to offer money or help. Or when someone wanted to start a bus ministry to kids that came to VBS, they faced immediate and fierce pushback that the church didn’t want to deal with kids in service without their parents. Are these church members and the millions like them all around these United States real and authentic or more about the glitz and the glamour?
I am not going to pretend that ministry is easier in England or Western Europe. The secularization of a culture does make ministry very hard and very different. The percentage of house churches in those contexts is astronomically higher than it is here in America. Churches are typically smaller than they are here. Churches are less protected legally, and religious freedoms are increasingly threatened.
Toward a Sharper Contrast
So why am I hopeful if this is what may be in the offing of the further secularization of our country? I am hopeful because I believe it is easier to draw a clear demarcation between the Gospel and everything else when portions of culture are not masqueraded as the Gospel. When the Republican Party or America in general cease to be the functional savior for people, it will be easier to point them to the real Saviour. You see when we are able to stand and proclaim the Gospel as truth and hope and not have that blurred by cultural misconceptions or patriotism impersonating the Gospel, we will be able to call people to real authentic faith in Christ alone.
Are they days ahead going to be easy? No. America is $16 trillion dollars in debt. That is $16,000,000,000,000 to make it easier to see the enormity of it. Both parties have misspent and mishandled their fiduciary responsibilities and we the electorate have allowed it to happen. Soon we are going to face the consequences of it, and it might just be very painful.
So how do we face these possibly trying coming days in the light of the hopeful truth of the Gospel? What do we do? We pray, genuinely and sincerely pray, for our President and other leaders. We seek to end the divisive and harsh rhetoric between different camps. And finally, and most importantly, we lovingly share the truth of the Gospel at every turn knowing that this is the greatest thing we can do in life.
Photo: CC Courtesy of Flickr user Joshua Ommen