I’m Going Political

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”):

Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally

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?

Abortion.

Homosexual marriage.

Religious liberty.

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.

Why You Should Sign the Manhattan Declaration! from Chuck Colson

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.

That’s scary.

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).

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7 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Religion and the Public Sphere

7 responses to “I’m Going Political

  1. Tony

    Greetings! A very interesting read. I have never seen or heard either of the people you mentioned in your article. I have a liberal commie colleague who keeps banging on against Beck on Facebook. It got to the point where I’ve hidden him now.

    But I digress! I enjoying reading it, and it made me think which is always good. It will be interesting to see what happens in regards to Sharia law in Western countries as time goes by.

  2. recreative

    @ Tony – Yes indeed. I am glad you enjoyed the blog post. I too am interested in what comes of Sharia law here in the USA. So far I don’t see it going very far. I can understand that some fundamentalist or right wing Muslims here in the States are all about Sharia Law ruling the land…but the majority of Muslims I speak to wouldn’t consider it very feasible, practical or even right according to their beliefs. As one Muslim friend of mine put it, “Sharia law is for Muslims. If the USA is not 100% Muslim then why would State law be Sharia law?” And my friend is no ignorant Muslim, he is the director of the Islamic Center at a major university. I think there is a lot more fear mongering about Sharia law in the USA then there is actual advancement of such law. With that said, I can’t rule out the possibility of extreme left wing bleeding-heart types that start to vote Sharia law into legislation simply because they “feel bad” for the “poor” Muslims in the USA. This is much akin to things like Affirmative Action and the like, where legislation is passed for the sake of one group of people by another group of people based on pity.

    Now, more to the point, and much more relevant I believe is the continual insistence of the evangelical right on the USA being guided by Abrahamic Law and the Law of Moses. Although it is true that the Law of God is universally binding, we also ALL fall short of it (Romans 3, spec. v. 23). The essence of the Gospel is not that the nations shall be ruled by his Law this side of Eden, but that he has come to rescue the nations by his grace and through his death and resurrection bringing in a new social order…when the time comes and not necessarily right now (look to Revelation 21 and 22). We cannot expect people to uphold God’s Law, whether they be Christian, Muslim or secular…particularly politicians. The daydream that we the USA is God’s chosen people who are to be ruled by the Decalogue (Exodus 20) like the Hebrew people wandering through the wilderness is bunk.

    Psalm 2 may be a reality, but not by any political movement of our own (read below for Psalm 2). This will come in God’s time. We can only pray that the leaders of our nations will “kiss” the Spirit and recognize their depravity, God’s divinity and dominion and live their lives and lead their people as best they can and with as much left hand wisdom as is possible.

  3. recreative

    Psalm 2

    The Reign of the Lord’s Anointed
    2:1 Why do the nations rage [1]
    and the peoples plot in vain?
    2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
    3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

    4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
    5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
    6 “As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

    7 I will tell of the decree:
    The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
    8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
    9 You shall break [2] them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

    10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
    11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
    12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

  4. Mark Siegert

    I wanted to comment on this earlier but I didn’t get my thoughts posted. None the less, this blog kept me thinking all weekend – a sign of a good blog I think. Here’s a summary of my thoughts…

    In this Two-Kingdom doctrine, the Right Hand Kingdom is indeed ruled by Christ alone. Here he administers his divine, gracious form of eternal justice. That justice culminated in the life, death, resurrection and resurrection of Jesus (The Word does not leave the Father’s mouth and return to it except that it accomplishes its intended purpose.) This form of justice confounds human reason; it is ever-offering, never coercive. It is administered today through the divine means of Word and Sacrament. This is vicarious atonement. This is the place where the Church stands or falls. This is Justification. This is God’s grace – pure and simple.

    In contrast, the Left-Hand Kingdom, while still ruled and administered by Christ, makes use of human institutions and human reason to administer temporal justice. Those who are appointed by God (whether they know it or not) to serve in this kingdom are given the sword (Romans 13).The tools in this kingdom are coercive. As I see it, one significant task of service in this kingdom is to foster – by means of human reason – morality, ethics civility and so on.

    Thus, your parting quote from Luther indicates that in this kingdom, we are left with decisions that often hinge on the lesser of two evils. In Luther’s day, given the moral lacking of the “Holy Roman Emperor,” a Turk would likely have provided more dignified and reasonable Left-Hand service.

    Honestly, I don’t follow Beck et al. (It seems to me that any political movement that invokes the Tea Party ought to promote a smaller, less intrusive, form of left hand rule. I would hope that would be the case here, but, like I said, I haven’t paid much attention yet.) None the less, from what I learned in this blog, you have observed that Beck too often invokes a god (as well as his god’s morality) in his political rhetoric. That is indeed disconcerting given the popular American notion of “separation of church and state.”

    Finally then, here is what I have been pondering.

    First, the Two-Kingdom Doctrine and the separation of church and state are not synonymous. Both are useful; both are relevant, but they are not simply two ways of explaining the same concept. According to our American sense of church and state, it makes us a bit uncomfortable when Beck et al says that he has a list (by some standards incomplete and, in many cases unpopular) of god-given rules (morality) that he wants to enforce in society. But should we not also get equally uncomfortable when any political leader does this – keeping in mind that it doesn’t matter which “God” our left hand leaders try to invoke.

    Likewise, the god of the Mormon faith is not synonymous with the one true God of the Bible. That’s not a condemnation, it’s simply an observation. Remember, being a follower and believer in Yahweh is not a requirement of rule in this kingdom. Thus the discussion of Obama’s Christianity becomes tangential – at least for the moment.

    The though t that continues to intrude on the discussion is this: It seems that Obama and the current leaders of the left-hand kingdom have also brought a list (by some standards incomplete and, in many cases unpopular) of rules that they have enforced on society. And they too, in subtle but meaningful ways, have invoked gods other than Yahweh, in order to accomplish their objectives.

    So we are left with this: If invoking god, gods or God as a means of enforcing a list of morality is a deal-breaker in American politics, so be it; but, if we are to be reasonable, we ought to be consistent in that line of thought. If we instead are to take seriously the lesser-of-two-evils concept that is a significant part of the Left Hand rule, we can be less distracted when a politico invokes a god, gods or God, and be more willing to admit that we are casting our preferences toward the list (incomplete and, unpopular as it may be) of rules that the politico wishes to bring upon the people of America.

    I have my ideas about what that list should look like. Admittedly there are some potential deal-breakers, some things that I’d really like to see on the list and some things that I think should never appear on the list, but I’m willing to consult the U.S. Constitution (as I see it a very reasonable and well-reasoned document) even before I refer back to those ever useful “10-Commandments.”

  5. Ubiquitous is a perfect word to describe Beck’s religio-political ideologies. I would also add the words “nebulous,” “platitude” and “disingenuous” to the mix. His disdain for liberation theology excludes the fact that his own brand of religious fervor for diestic and constitutional restorationism is completely in line with the foundational principles that started liberation theology in the first place (albeit, less altruistic and more conspiratorial). His concept of Faith, Hope and Charity all seem to be without clear definition (although my guess is that it is drawn down fundamentalist lines).

    Also, I am not sure if Beck realizes that Evangelicals do not hold the same country worship as Mormons do (even if it seems that way with the rhetoric). Ezra Taft Benson had a vision in the St. George Temple of the founding fathers wishing to become Mormon. If Beck were to speak about the dogma that George Washington was really LDS, he would have far fewer followers (even while being more honest, something that should be on his platitude list).

    Did you have a problem with it being on 8/28? For some reason, I found myself a bit offended (which I try not to do in this hyper-sensitive correctness culture). “I have a Dream” speech had such a real force behind it that included a very real struggle that seems does not parallel the political plight of tea-partiers. What constitutional violation has been accomplished since democrats have been in the majority anyway?

  6. recreative

    @ Justin. Thank you, as always, for your insight.

    I am sure that Beck does not realized how Mormons and Evangelicals are different in their understanding of country worship…and there might be good reason for that. Evangelical rhetoric would have one believe that our country is THE country of God’s chosen people. Additionally, the number of evangelicals that showed up at Beck’s rally support his misunderstanding. If it wasn’t Evangelical to worship America before, it certainly is becoming Evangelical vogue now.

    I, for one, did not have a problem with it being on 8/28. Sure, Beck was trying to make a statement. However, we cannot let his ignorance and showmanship push us over the edge. That’s part of who he is. He says ridiculous things to get people’s attention and he does ludicrous things to make us upset and pay him the favor of tuning in and blogging about it. 🙂

    Thanks Justin. Peace.

  7. Pingback: “And the Award Goes To…” Ubuntu Religion Awards 2010 « Ubuntu Blog – umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu

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