This series addresses the current Chick-fil-A controversy. Yesterday I tried to help you see how our unhealthy emphasis on power is affecting our message. Not only does our message sometimes seem mean, it’s also confusing because we cherry-pick our issues.
I reentered mainstream American Christianity in the summer of 1980, after an extended European assignment in the Army. My seminary studies thrust Judy and I into the Christian culture of the Bible belt. If the Bible belt has a buckle, it’s Dallas, Texas. The Bible teaching at Dallas Seminary was great, the commitment to the Lord among the students deep, and the politics decidedly right wing.
“Reagan for President” bumper stickers adorned most of the cars in the parking lot. I remember feeling pretty smug when I picked up my big blue “Reagan for President” button and smiling when another man commented at the tiny pile of little green buttons supporting President Carter, “Small President, small button,” he said.
I also remember the day I took the Reagan button off my lapel and never wore it again. Dr. Tony Evans, the lone African-American professor preached one of the most courageous sermons I have ever heard called “God Ain’t No Republican.” Tony challenged our “pick and choose” causes of righteousness and exposed some of them as simply personal preferences. He asked us how we thought his community felt about a God and a church that cared so much about the rights of the unborn but so little for the rights of children born in poverty. He wondered if we had missed Jesus’ interest in the poor, the downtrodden, the powerless, and the marginalized. He warned us to think of the impact of identifying Christ with a political party.
I thought about the Dallas slums surrounding our campus and tried to view my Reagan button from the perspective of the minimum-wage-earning single mother serving me an egg McMuffin and coffee every morning before class. I thought about the sergeants and fellow-officers in my unit in Germany. Some of the very best were men from the mean streets of the city or sons of first-generation Latino laborers. I remembered their devotion to President Carter and knew what they would think about Christ if most Christians they met were wearing Reagan buttons.
My vote still belonged to Reagan, but not my devotion to his party. It bothered me that people viewed evangelicals as people who hated abortionists and homosexuals but loved landlords and tycoons. It bothered me that our political opinions always seemed to align with our economic interests.
Today I see many of the leaders of what is popularly known as the emerging church making the same mistake we made, except they’re selecting the issues of the left. I hear their passion and even agree with their positions. But it could be just as distracting for this generation to focus on environmental concerns, social justice, and world peace while seeming to ignore the rights of the unborn and sexual immorality.
Friend, this isn’t my warning; it’s the warning of history. If church history teaches us anything it’s this: There is an inverse relationship between political power and spiritual influence.