I recall a sermon preached back in the 1980’s in the church I attended at the time in New Hampshire. I don’t remember the scriptural passage or references, but I remember the gist of the message, and it has stuck with me ever since.
The gist goes something like this: As God’s people, we need to be informed and take our direction primarily from God and God’s will as revealed to us in the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are in the world, but we are not of the world, and we should be careful not to be influenced by the world in our thinking.
The key point that I remember, however, is that we can focus so much on trying not to be influenced by the world that we become reactionary to it. If the world goes right, we go left. If the world goes left, we go right. If all we are doing is being reactionary to the world, we lose our focus on God. In the process of trying not to be like the world, we allow ourselves to be defined by the world nevertheless.
If our direction is dictated by nothing more than going in the opposite direction of the world, we are no more directed by God than if we are going in exactly the same direction of the world. Either way, we are focusing on the world and allowing the world to influence our direction.
Even if we are going in the opposite direction of the world, we are still defining our course in respect to the world.
Our focus should be on God and God alone. Our direction should be inspired by scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit to discern God’s heart and intention and direction for us in these modern times.
I recall this sermon as I think about the current immigration issues. I just watched a video of dozens of clips of rhetoric from Donald Trump calling immigrants destructive, criminals, animals, dirty and worse. Meanwhile, I think of all the liberals, Trump haters and even atheists expressing compassion for immigrants, calling out Christians on this issue and even quoting the Bible.
When I read scripture, though, trying to discern God’s heart on the issue of modern immigration, I find myself perplexed. The scripture I am reading and the voice of God I think I am hearing doesn’t harmonize with the message I hear from various Christian circles today that are at war with our current culture.
Are we reacting to what the world is saying, or are we hearing what God is saying?
I have little doubt that partisan politics plays a part. I just have to go back to the Bush presidencies and Regan to find a compassionate conservative voice on immigration, and I go back to Clinton for a hard line, Democratic stance on immigration. Now the political tide has changed. Democrats have taken over the compassionate voice, while Republicans have taken the hard line stance.
One catalyst for this change, perhaps, is Donald Trump who came into the Republican primary with guns blazing on immigration and other topics, stirring up the GOP base that responded to what Donald Trump was selling. Trump also cozied up to the religious right, while the Democratic Party courted other suitors for support. The result is that many Christians have gone decidedly hard right as political opponents have gone hard left.
I shouldn’t cast the issues in terms of left and right, however, as Christians should only be influenced by God above. In fact, I think that our tendency to label political positions along partisan lines is part of the problem. We (Christians) shouldn’t be defined by a political party or platform. We shouldn’t march in lockstep with the left or the right. Our direction should come from above.
Meanwhile, I see a very striking phenomenon occurring. Liberals and progressives, who traditionally shun the morality of the Bible, are hitting us over the head with our own scripture. That turnabout is opportunistic, of course, but I fear that our reactionary response is leading us away from scripture, God’s heart and His desire that we continue to be salt and light in this world.
We are to be ambassadors for Christ and the kingdom of God, but I fear our ambassadorship for Christ is getting pushed aside as we have aligned ourselves too closely with a particular political party. As a result, we are losing our Gospel flavor, and our light is dimming. Our effectiveness as Gospel ambassadors is waning.
Love your neighbor and welcome the stranger are the mantras of the left today, and Christians find themselves tending more and more, further and further, toward the order side of the political spectrum in reaction, rather than listening for and responding to God’s heart.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6).
These are the same words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
In the melee of political and cultural tensions, we need to resist reacting and ask where is God? What is God’s heart? What does God say? What is God speaking to us in this moment in history?
It shouldn’t matter what nonbelievers are saying. A believer’s position shouldn’t be formed in reaction to nonbelievers’ positions. The only thing that should matter is what God says.
We also need to be careful of uncritically accepting positions adopted by one “side” or the other. We should trust none more than God. When a political party opens its arms to us, we should be as wary of them as the one that shuns us. Perhaps more! Neither party represents the kingdom of God. Political parties are human institutions focused on the kingdom of this world. We are accountable to God, not a political party or platform.
I literally took some time out from writing this piece and stumbled on an article following the recent Southern Baptist Convention, Greear Calls for SBC to ‘Decouple’ From the Republican Party. The news follows an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition in which newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention “expressed concern over the tone and message from President Donald Trump on issues such as race, immigration and his treatment of women.”
This development stirs hope and optimism, but the words of the prophets Isaiah and Amos ring in my head, even as I write this:
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.