One never realizes it at the time, but as an older man, I can look back and clearly see that I grew up with white middle-upper class political and religious views. This is a bit strange, as my family was hardly middle-upper class, but my surroundings were. My home was always staunchly republican (or sometimes independent, in my father's case), as was my church, and most of the families of the kids I went to school with. The ideologies and sways of one's political surroundings while growing up impregnate themselves into every fiber of your thinking, whether you realize it or not. So, to me... what I experienced and saw around me was normal, and it was Christian.
In college, I joined a church and a college Christian group that too felt the Holy Spirit's undeniable calling for Christians to vote Republican. While it may not have been stated overtly, the message was clear, "How can one be a Christian and not be Republican?" To be honest, I never really thought much of it.
One of my first wake up calls came from a young lady I knew from the church and college. She was a amazingly intelligent young lady who was attending on a National Merit Scholarship. Shortly before Clinton was elected for his first term, the pastor of our college group was adamant that the Senior Bush be elected for a second term. It was very clear that if he was not reelected, the world as we knew it would very well end. If God was God and True and in control, then Bush would win! There really was no other option presented. But Clinton won. Then four years later, he won again.
What bothered my friend was our college group pastor's complete about-face in preaching upon Clinton's victory. Before - if God was in control, Bush would win, without question, and if he didn't, then that would be the end of our society. Upon Clinton's victory, we were assured that God was still in control, and that it wouldn't be the end of our society. This began a significant change in how I see God's hand in things. He is (and was, before and after those 1992 elections) always in control.
I voted for Obama the first round. My friend, mentioned above, was sounding the alarm that Obama was a Socialist, but I didn't see him as so extreme. I remember at the time I was very much conflicted on whom I would vote for, but McCain did himself in with me in one interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC news. I had recently bought a house with the poorest timing in American history, so I had of course taken an overwhelming loss on my "investment." Additionally, I had bought shortly before the interest rates plummeted, so I was paying doubly for my mistake, and I couldn't get a new lower interest loan to save my life. McCain was talking in support of his plan to assist those, who like me, had houses that cost more than they were now worth and who were stuck with high interest loans, but who had bitten off more than they could chew and couldn't pay them.
In essence McCain said, in response to Charlie asking about all of those people who were paying their mortgages faithfully who would not be able to get a nice low rate to refinance under McCain's plan, because McCain's plan would reward those who had gone into foreclosure (even if it was because the owner bought much more than he/she could afford) and thereby punish those who had been responsible (such as myself). McCain's response was basically, "Too bad. They can afford their mortgages and aren't having trouble. They should just be glad their neighbors around them aren't going into foreclosure."
Charlie countered, "even though those neighbors should never have purchased the house in the first place, and will now end up paying many thousands less than the people who did purchase responsibly?"
McCain stood firm, "Yes."
As a new responsible home owner, I found that unfair, unjust, and unsupportable. I say, if you make $50K a year and buy a $350K home, then be foreclosed upon for your foolishness. McCain saw it differently. He lost my vote in that interview.
So that's how Obama got my first vote. He did not, however, get my second. Much like in 2008, I was very conflicted in 2012. For me, the 2012 election was very much a "which evil do you want to vote for" election. This time, much like in 2008, there was one policy that swung my decision. I didn't even fully decide until the morning of the election, and even as I made the decision, I knew I would not see my candidate win (I had no reason for this, except the peace that I knew in my heart I had to vote for Romney, but I also believed I knew Obama would win at the same time). Whereas my 2008 vote was ultimately decided based on my self-righteous thought that because "I pay my bills, so too should everyone else," with the 2012 election, my decision was ultimately swayed on the candidates stances on abortion. Romney is for life, and Obama was not. I knew in my heart I had to vote my conscious on that issue, even though I knew at the time it was most likely just a personal symbolic stand, as I was fully convinced that morning that Obama would win. And if I recall, he did.
If my college pastor's about-face on his harsh words regarding what would happen in this world if Clinton won constituted my first wake up call to how Christians view politics, it was a prayer meeting I attended that was my second. Somewhere during Clinton's 8 years in office, I attended a prayer meeting with a group of people I had mostly never met. I knew a couple of the attenders though, and respected those people, and had long heard stories about their powerful prayer times with this group, so I joined in. It was loud, heart-felt, intense prayer. And in this prayer, I will never forget one lady praying that if Clinton did not immediately turn and do what (she felt) God wanted, that God would immediately strike him dead to remove him from office. Luke 9:53-55:
But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?" But he turned and rebuked them and he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people's lives but to save them" (italics = some manuscripts add)
It was in my college pastor's teachings that I saw the "the sky is falling/will fall if..." attitude of too many Christians. It was in the prayer meeting that I saw the Christians' callousness towards the souls of those who we don't agree with. I will forever remember sitting there in shock and horror at the murderous hatred that was being prayed in the name of our God.
My third eye opening moment came from the same young lady that pointed out the first. After years of having lost touch, the wonder that is facebook reunited us, and we shared a number of emails discussing life and politics (we reconnected shortly after Obama won his first election). My friend had gone to Russia in 1993 as part of her education. She spent several months there, and in an email to me which mentioned her trip, she wrote the following:
When I was in Moscow in 1993, I sat with a companion as we looked upon one of the relatively few remaining statues of Lenin. "I don't think they should take him down," commented Valery. "Why not?" I asked, rather amazed since Valery was a Christian with whom I attended church there. "Because he is part of our history." "But he was a bad part of your history. Because of his leadership, Christianity was illegal here for 70 years. "The Bible says we are to respect the government, and he was our government too." I fell silent. What could I say to someone who had spent all but the last two years of his life under Communism?
1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Psalm 75: 6-7: For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
Romans 13:1-2: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Proverbs 8:14-16: I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.
Titus 3:1-2: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (italics mine)
Having lived most of his life under communist rule where Christianity was fully illegal, Valery had a perspective on imposing government that few in America could ever understand, yet his perspective of scripture was absolute. How many of us in America would make excuse to not follow God's words in the above verses because of the current government, while Valery chose to follow God's words in the above verses despite his Government.
If God has put anything on my heart in the last few years, it's that people are never our enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Do we have an enemy? Yes! Is that enemy flesh and blood? Never! Do I struggle with this and make mistakes, putting human people in the place of an "enemy"? Far too often.
In the old testament, people were often pictured as the enemy, but the same is simply not true since Jesus came. The physical lessons of old point to the spiritual truths of now.
In January of 2013, the online publication Newsweek (formerly a well known weekly print magazine that succumbed to the "information age") in preparation for Obama's second swearing in ran a picture of him on the cover with the caption "The Second Coming." It shouldn't take any great amount of spiritual knowledge to realize the blasphemy of this depiction. A former pastor I greatly respect posted this on his facebook wall, stating that the cover was "kinda creepy." A polite understatement, for certain.
Now, being a logical, hopefully rational man, I don't believe Obama started calling around to various news outlets saying, "Hey, I want to be on the cover of your magazines with a caption that implies that I am the second coming of Jesus." I would doubt Obama had much at all to do with this cover. But none-the-less...
Several commenters on on the post agreed with the creepy factor of the picture/caption. But it only took two comments before someone said "Everything about this guy is creepy!" Then another said, "Makes my skin curl and my spirit cringe. Although I know 'our battle is not against flesh & blood, but against spiritual forces from dark places' ... seems to me that many dark spirits have congregated within this particular person's flesh & blood. jussayin' :( "
Within four comments, people were proclaiming that Obama was demon possessed by multiple demons. Another comment stated that "this man is evil!" and that anyone who believes in Obama is deceived. With that comment, I was back in my childhood. "How can you be a Christian and not be Republican?" I knew instantly of many, many people whom I have met and know - that if they were to read these comments of proclaimed Christians - would not want to have anything to do with Christianity. With a simple news magazine, for a publication that is no longer even able to print a paper edition, our true enemy had found a way to get people to say things that would so repugnate half of American society that they would not want to have anything to do with the Jesus these Christians follow, simply because of the attitude of His followers.
Are we so blind to not realize that this was a big part of the enemy's plan all along? It is so easy for us to claim to realize something is a spiritual battle, but somehow forget to fight this battle in the spirit. And so we trash talk a fellow man, alienating supporters of that man from then desiring anything to do with us, and by association, the Jesus we claim people need.
This truth has been bothering me for a while. Throughout the election season, and most election seasons before, and more and more even in the four years between election seasons, the right and the left seem to find no common ground. Because of this, we continuously attack one another, both stating we know what is best (or at least that the other doesn't) for our country. One side of the country seems to disrespect and want nothing to do with the other side. This seems just as true within the church as outside of her walls. Interestingly, as I was working on this post, the pastor from the above mentioned facebook posting wrote me, discussing this very concept. He lived through the 60s as a teenager, and has seen the "us vs. them" mentality that can be so disruptive to a people. Having lived through this nationally orchestrated spiritual attack in the past, he comments on the even darker resurgence of this spirit he sees in our nation and world today.
We must be vigilant, and not fall prey to the deceptions of this spirit, attacking our fellow man, while letting the spirits that work behind the scenes alone to continue to work their evil. Yes, we should vote our conscious, as led by the Words of our God. Yes, we should be constantly in prayer, at battle against the darkness in this world, but we must be careful not to take careless shots resulting in casualties of souls, when we should instead be battling against the [spiritual] rulers, against the [spiritual] authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We must know our enemy. Yes, we should be activist for what we believe, but we must be activist for or against ideologies, and not people. It is a fine line.
While this essay speaks mostly to American politics, I know that there are always going to be policies which could be argued either way. I'm not writing to show a stance that all Christians should be required to take regarding political views. My purpose is to be sure we "know what manner of spirit we are of." I want to offer a few points from my personal views of politics, and how I (hopefully) prayerfully handle the various opinions towards the democratic or republican view of things, even when my personal flesh is not necessarily a fan of the elected people in charge.
War. Before I go further, I will state that I know some wars simply must be fought. I doubt anyone in his or her right mind would try to argue that we should have tried to "pray away the holocaust" without physically engaging the enemy. I also want to state that I fully support our troops. They are fighting for our freedom. They deserve far more honor than we give them. There are atrocities in war, yes, but sometimes the necessity outweighs the sacrifice.
Some wars, however, are less black and white in moral purpose than WWII. There were Christians on the side of the war in Iraq and there were Christians against the war (along with much of the rest of the world). I had no true moral conviction regarding oil. America produces a lot of oil. I have no idea why we insist on buying it from countries that hate us, giving them the finances to use to try to destroy us (but this is another essay altogether).
I remember discussing the war with a friend who is a Seventh Day Adventist, and devout Christian. The Seventh Day Adventists are very much against all war, it would seem, based on my conversations with this friend. My response to her was this:
"You know, I'm okay if we have to sacrifice a few Americans who have heard the gospel preached probably hundreds of times, who drive down the roads in the US and see signs about church and God and Jesus directly, who can turn to television shows about coming to know Christ. For most people, it may be about oil, but remember, this was a nation where it was not permitted to preach the gospel. And now? Now we can send in missionaries and there are churches springing up in Iraq. There are people there who had previously never heard the Gospel, and because of this war, a few people who have had hundreds of chances to hear the gospel are dying so that many people who have never even once had a chance to hear the Gospel may be offered the words of salvation. To me... this seems fair."
I don't think she had ever even considered it that way before. Without any offence to those who lost lives in America, as that is a tragedy that only God's peace can begin to heal, sometimes we have to look at things from a different angle. We have to ask, "how would God want to work in this situation?" and then respond and pray accordingly.
I grew up in a relatively poor family, but we never sought out government assistance. I have always worked diligently to sustain myself, and have never sought government assistance, even in times of longstanding unemployment. Asking for help is just not the way I think. Because of this, I fully understand the republican views of economy and business. Personally, I believe that if a business does a poor job, it should be allowed to fail. In my fleshly self, I don't want my hard earned money taken and given away to others. I believe people should work. I believe in the independent spirit, and self-sufficiency. But, do I believe that Obama is evil? Obama claims to be a Christian, and I believe him. What would the Bible say about his Christianity? What would the Word of God say about my republican beliefs?
What about the idea of "if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." I stand by this idea. I have heard this concept quoted many times referencing the waste of government money on "lazy people who just want to suck at the governments teats." What does this scripture really say? 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-12:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
The problem with applying this scripture to our government is that this scripture is speaking exclusively to Christians. As Christians, we are to strive to reach others with the Gospel - at no cost to anyone but the messenger. Yes, people should work to eat, and if they are Christian, we have every right to preach this. Otherwise, our goal should be to preach to them Christianity. Applying this Christian precept to the lost may reduce the financial burden on the government, but it will not bring more into the entrance of Heaven.
So, we can't expect those who have not accepted the Gospel to realize they shouldn't be nursing off the government. These people are poor, and many of these poor don't work to change their status because they don't believe there is hope for them. Let's face it, the stories of those who rise up from poverty despite their surroundings are rare. Also, if the government is simply providing for them without expectation of their productivity, why not? Without Christ, those with no desire to work are under no moral obligation to do so. What does the Bible say the Church should do, and what should our attitude be?
Mark 12:40: "...who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
Luke 12:33-34: Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Luke 14: 12-14: He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Romans 12:19-21: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Galatians 2:10: Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
James 1:26-27: If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
1 John 3:16-18: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
I could only wish that I could say that I truly live by these precepts. I have a newly purchased granite counter top that proves I don't. I live alone in an 1800 sq. foot house that could happily provide shelter for 15 other people, and I make a modest income as an educator that would feed far more than just myself. I would say that the same is true for many Christians. Simply, it's the American way. But is it the Bible way. In honest reflection, I personally don't believe that our government would be spending its money the way it does if the Church was spending its money the way it is supposed to. We point our fingers outwardly, but maybe we need to look with eyes that see within. Is Obama really wrong when he wants to tax the rich who can easily afford it and provide more for the poor, so that everyone can have a better chance at success in this life?
How would we as American Christians respond if Jesus came to us and said "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)?
Luke 12:16-21: And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentiful, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' and he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
We must be rich toward God. But when it comes to money in America, it is difficult to justify with facts that we are not rich towards ourselves, laying up treasure for ourselves.
I realize I do not have all the answers, and my thoughts are always changing as I continue to grow. I just know that we need to better look to Christ and His teachings when speaking and acting. To not do so will continue to alienate the very people we are seeking to save (or should be seeking to save, at least). There will always be a remnant who will refuse Christ, no matter how well we demonstrate His love. But does that give us a right to give up and treat them as the very supernatural enemy who holds their eyes blind to the truth of Christ? And just because someone hasn't turned to Christ today, does that give us any right to quit, believing that their hearts won't yet be softened, so that they will turn to Christ in the future?