Yep, I can no longer resist.
This last week, with an abundance of time on my hands, I’ve taken to paying attention to evangelical/right wing/Tea Party politics. I mean, why not? Everyone else is doing it!
It all started on the way to Katy, TX (our new home) from Mesa, AZ via New Mexico, El Paso and Austin. Along the way there were vast stretches of road where there was nothing to catch but one or two AM stations on the radio waves.
“Gracing” those amplified and modified waves was the Mormon voice of evangelical America, Glenn Beck.
I cringe as I write that name on this blog. For a while now I debated posting something on Glenn Beck, realizing that posting anything on him, whether positive or negative, would only bolster his number of web hits and strengthen his ever-growing platform of attention throughout the United States and abroad.
Yet, I succumb.
This last week Glenn Beck whipped up some good ole’ American political controversy with his “Restoring Honor” rally on the Mall in Washington D.C.
I watched the speech today, and you can watch it here (it begins with Part 1, continue listening to the other parts, noting how the number of views drops steadily as people either a] got bored or b] could not stomach any more of the “Beckitude”):
As many different folks noticed, Beck came off more as a televangelist than a political commentator. He invoked God/Jesus some umpteen times, held a private VIP meeting of pastors and evangelists before the rally and welcomed prayer and preaching at the event.
Of course, all of this “Christian” preaching and prayer had a very political flavor and fervor to it.
In fact, that’s about all it had to it.
There were the classic references to the similarities between God’s chosen Hebrews and God’s chosen American Pilgrims (with the new bit about God’s chosen people, the Native Americans with two or three token evangelical Indigenous people thrown into the rally for good show) and ubiquitous inference that the direction Beck is pointing America toward is the future God wills.
For that matter, I couldn’t help but think of Pope Urban II (Deus vult!) the whole time this thing was going on.
Meanwhile, my old friend Chuck Colson is pushing his own evangelical and heavily political agenda called the Manhattan Declaration.
This new “declaration” with nostalgic references to the original Declaration of Independence is all about a few pet evangelical issues. Can you guess?
Colson is so passionate about this “new” declaration that he is really getting on pastors, leaders and lay people to join the some 500,000 other people who signed the thing already.
Before I go too far, I want to say this.
I do find points of agreement with Colson and Beck. I agree that religious liberty needs to be upheld in America (for all religious individuals), I find abortion to be shocking and pray that someday it will be eradicated (knowing full well that on this side of Eden that is a slim possibility), I worry about the expansion of Executive power that was started in Bush’s presidency and continues with Obama and finally I encourage the establishment of healthy families and the spread of Christian faith, hope and charity throughout the USA.
However, Glenn Beck and Chuch Colson are two people who currently represent the worst mix of religion and politics.
Both of them are religious leaders (wear it if you preach it Beck) who are quite political. One started religious and went political. The other started political and went religious. Indeed, the vast majority of their religious rhetoric is politically pointed.
There is a reason our forefathers did not want religion and state politics to mix.
Nor did my spiritual forefathers, the Lutheran reformers.
One of them, Martin Luther, wrote this:
God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly… The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.
Furthermore, another reformer, John Calvin shares in his Institutes:
There are two governments: the one religious, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform. To these two forms are commonly given the not inappropriate names of spiritual and temporal jurisdiction, intimating that the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely honorably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the religious, the other the civil kingdom. Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men but with God only. Hence the common distinction between the earthly forum and the forum of conscience.
Folks like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson credited Luther with paving the way for the First Amendment.
And they’re bang on.
The essence of Luther, Melancthon, Calvin and the like as concerns what is popularly called the “Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms” is that God does indeed rule over all things (to which I believe Colson and Beck would agree). However, he does so differently in disparate realms. There exist two realms: the civil realm (the left hand of God) and the spiritual realm (the right hand of God). In the civil, God rules with his Law and power and that power is given unto humanity to govern. In the spiritual (religious) realm God rules in and through Jesus Christ and his Spirit. When all comes to a head these two realms shall again be united (Revelation 21-22) and Christ shall reign over both the civil and spiritual, for they shall be one.
Until then, there is a civil realm and a spiritual realm wherein Christians (God’s people under the spiritual realm) are encouraged to obey their civil leaders (Romans 13) insofar as those civil leaders do not impose religious rules that encroach upon liberty and individual conscience. Furthermore, those Christians are free to participate in politics as befits their vocation as citizen or as political activist. However, this activism goes too far if it seeks to usurp political authority with theological authority in the civil realm.
This is the case with Islamic countries ruled by Sharia law, the Saxon states of 16th and 17th century Germany and any other theocratic/religiocratic rule of a nation by a quasi religious/political leader.
My fear is that the rhetoric espoused by Colson and Beck dances dangerously close to this line where religious power becomes political power and vice versa.
Invoking God in the name of politics, or involving politics in the name of God, is a slippery slope and one where we all need to watch our steps.
I pray that the fever pitch of the Tea Party members, Beckites and Colsonites calms down and that we can all step away for a moment for a bit of perspective.
God is not necessarily frowning at America right now because the Democrats are in charge of Congress and Barack Obama is president.
It really is all okay.
Our Triune God is still in charge.
Please calm down.
Let’s move forward in the conversation seeking justice, seeking peace and seeking the prosperity of all (in the spirit of God’s Word and our Constitution) as people like Jim Wallis suggest in his “Open Letter to Glenn Beck.”
Maybe if we can sit down in dialogue, and through dialogue move forward together defending the rights of the poor, those without a voice and people of all religious, social, economic and political backgrounds.
Lastly, any politics guided by fear will not help anyone (2 Timothy 1:7); even if it is fear of unlimited-state-funded-abortions, rampant homosexual marriages, the impinging of religious liberties or the loss of honor for America. So let’s leave that behind, recognize the separation between church and state; politics and Christ and continue to seek solutions together.
Oh, and by the way, Barack Obama is not Muslim. Need proof? Check here.
Even if he was, this is one of my favorite Luther quotes:
I’d rather be ruled by a smart Muslim than a dumb Christian (from Table Talk, vol. 54 of Luther’s Works).