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Mixing Religion & Politics- the fallout zone

Posted by Tim :: Ministry News

I've never seen anything like it!
Never have I given a message that caused me more anxiety or has received such an overwhelming response (both positive and negative) as the one I gave last Sunday on religion and politics.
This message definitely struck a cord! It seems that for some people you can say whatever you want on a Sunday morning as long as it doesn't make a difference. My inbox has been flooded with e-mail, but to my surprise almost all of it has been extremely favorable and affirming.
If you would like to read a transcript of my message the way I wanted to say it, just read on...

Mixing Religion and Politics

O.S. Every Christian should be a salt and light in the political realm because it’s demonstrates loving your neighbor in these 4 areas: financial freedom (free from the love of money/ selfishness), humanitarian concern, moral excellence and religious freedom.


There has been a lot more talk than usual about faith during this election season. CNN has had full length shows examining the faith of the presidential candidates and about whether God is republican or democrat. I think they are taking this every vote counts thing too far. Now they are trying to get God on their side!

In yesterday’s USA Today a full page advertisement was run that actually has been running for months in more than 50 newspapers. In huge letters at the top it says God is Not a Republican… Or a Democrat. They’re opening statement is “These leaders of the Religious Right [Robertson & Falwell] mistakenly claim that God has taken a side in this election…” and somehow they know that He hasn’t. How they know this, I have no idea, but when I think of comments like this, I think of a Biblical account where this very question was posed and how God himself handled it.

In the book of Joshua, we find a very political situation developing in Joshua 1:1-5 “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So Lord God Himself is giving some very clear instructions to Joshua to take possession of the land of Canaan that God had promised to the descendants of Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant in the book of Genesis. So it appears to be abundantly clear that God is on the side of the Israelites.
But shortly before the Israelites attack their first city in the land of Canaan, an incident happens that throws me into a tailspin every time I read it.

It starts in Joshua 5:13-15 “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”

Now, what other time in biblical history was someone instructed to take off their sandals? Moses when he encountered the burning bush (Exodus 3: 5). Never throughout the Scriptures are men ever told to bow down and take off their sandals except when in the presence of God. The “commander of the army of the Lord” here is none other than God Himself. The very same person who told Joshua who march into Canaan and possess it! And yet, when asked whose side is he on, he said, “Neither”. What?! How can that be? God is clearly on the side of the Israelites. In fact, he ends up giving Joshua battle plans for taking Jericho and then He supernaturally aids them in conquering the city.

You’d be tempted to think God is being cute here, until you read about what happened with the neighboring city of Ai, a far less fortified and occupied city. The Israelites march against it and get soundly defeated. Why? Didn’t God tell them to do this and that He would be with them? God explains himself to Joshua in chapter 7: 10-11 where He says, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.”

After the Israelites conquered Jericho, this guy, Achan, took some of the plunder (gold and silver) and hid it in his tent when God specifically told them that every piece of gold and silver in the entire city was to be put in the Lord’s treasury as a show of devotion to him.

So what do we learn here about God’s view of taking sides in politics? God doesn’t take sides in the conventional sense. He has an agenda that is far different than favoring a particular political party in an election year or a given country’s military in a war. God’s support and blessing is directed by something other than your political party affiliation. What verse comes to mind when you consider who catches God’s eye? Who does God choose to strongly support?

2 Chronicles 16:9 “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. …”

By what criteria was David selected by God to supersede Saul as the next leader of Israel? He was a man after God’s own heart and he did everything that God told him to do (Acts 13:22).

It wasn’t his party affiliation or political platform that won God’s approval, but rather the condition of his heart. This extends not only to political leaders but to you and me. If we desire God’s blessing in our lives, if we want his grace to be powerfully manifested in our lives, then we must have on our heart the things that are on God’s heart. Any political leader that we elect to this country will experience the grace, wisdom, and power of God only to the extent that they have a heart that is fully committed to God. I don’t care how right their political agenda is (no pun intended). God opposes pride and wickedness and not just in an individual, but also in a community or entire country.

Achan’s sin affected not only his life and his immediate families, but the entire nation of Israel suffered as well. This multiplied when the sin was harbored by a leader. When David looked to the strength of his nation for his security and took a census of the fighting men, God opposed him and a plague ravaged the country killing 70 thousand men (1 Chronicles 21:17).

The condition of the heart of our country’s leader and the decision he makes has significant bearing on our lives and our country’s future. So that means our selection of our next president has a significant bearing on our country’s future.

Former President Grover Cleveland said, “The time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics, or the Lord will curse them… God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the Church will take right ground. Politics are a part of religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God.”

“…unless the Church will take right ground.”

The church has always had the responsibility to be a salt and light to the world around them. Jesus said, Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It is a part of our church’s mission statement to influence our generation by being socially responsible. That typically looks like rolling up our sleeves and helping our next door neighbor. But in 2 days, you will have an opportunity to love your neighbor on a national scale. The man that you help elect will be either a blessing to this country or a curse. Now you might wonder, “Is it that cut and dry? Is it that black and white?”

I’d say that in the past it may not have been. But over the years the differences between the two major political parties have gotten so extreme that there is little common ground between them. There is a drastic difference in the political, social, and moral agenda between these two parties. And regardless of what a political candidate will say on the campaign trail, history tells us that once elected they will vote along party lines 98% of the time.
Now I wish I could say that one political party is completely biblical and the other is not, I can’t. And sometimes it’s hard to read through the rhetoric and the media biases to know if either candidate is after God’s own heart. I’m not absolutely sure, I wish I could.

But I can say this, God is clear on what it means for a Christian to be a salt and a light to this world. Loving your neighbor is not restricted to the activities of the individual alone. The laws and policies of our government will either enhance the values of love and charity in this country or hinder it. Having said that, we must keep in mind that the government and the individual have a different role that they fulfill in life. It will look different how the government loves it’s citizens and how we do it.

“True spirituality covers all of reality. There are things the Bible tells us as absolutes which are sinful—which do not conform to the character of God. But aside from these the Lordship of Christ covers all of life equally . . . Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth—Truth about all of reality. And holding to that Truth intellectually brings forth not only certain personal results, but also certain governmental and legal results.”
— Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, Crossway Books, 1981, p. 20.

There are some clear, big picture issues that if we wrap our values around these ideals, it will result in benefiting and blessing our nation:

1) The first one is financial freedom (but it’s not what you think).
I fear that the Christian church in American, and to some extent our church right here, has unintentionally and indirectly communicated to the Christian community that if it comes down to our values or our money in the political arena, choose the money. I fear that the threat of the church losing our precious tax exempt status has silenced many pastors giving the obvious impression that the pocketbook is more important than taking a stand on political policies. And please realize that this threat is very real: The Internal Revenue Service decided this week that churches cannot pray for a presidential candidate’s victory by name in the upcoming election and keep their tax-exempt status.

I believe that Christians have followed the church’s lead and put money as more important than moral convictions. Several elections back, all other issues got effectually put on the back burner with the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Character, the condition of leader’s heart, doesn’t matter as long as the economy is good. Christian’s bought into it and we paid the price.


We need to cut ourselves free from the love of money and it needs to start with the church. I’ve been involved with this church family for 20 years and although we’ve not been afraid of influencing local and national politics in the past; for the last 15 years or so, we’ve said and done nothing. And I’ve never heard a Sunday morning message on the topic. Several times just recently the very suggestion of mentioning a political issue was coupled with nervous laughter about losing our tax exempt status.

God’s call to the church is clear.
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

We must stop letting our values and our vote be determined by our personal financial gain. Some of us align ourselves to a particular political party that is seen as the friend of the lower, working class or on the other hand for the rich. But we must be guided by a love for our neighbor, not by our economic status.

Now, I grant that there are some economic policies that are more beneficial and equitable than others. And they need to be weighed according to their own merits, and sometimes they will be so inappropriate that we need to make an issue of it. Our founding fathers did. Taxation without representation so riled up these good, Christian men (many of them) to declare their independence from Great Britain. But apart form extreme cases, we need to set aside our own selfish financial agenda and “consider others interests more important than our own.”

2) Humanitarian concern
This takes me into another area that God uniquely calls upon Christians to be sensitive to and respond to with great sacrifice, and that’s taking care of the humanitarian needs of those who are oppressed, impoverished, and forgotten. This is an issue that the democratic party believes it has taken the moral high ground on while the republicans are characterized as cold and uncaring. If you look at the voters guide in the lobby (and I encourage you to, take several), you’ll notice that nothing is said about taking care of the poor and the homeless (although it does mention funding for faith-based charities that address such needs). If you compare that with this supposedly non-partisan Christian voters guide you’ll notice an extreme difference in values. Why is that?

It comes from the ideology of who should be taking care of the needy. When the great depression hit in the 1930’s, the church was overwhelmed by the needs. Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted a state government welfare system while governor of New York and then as a part of the New Deal while president. The country was just coming out of the depression when WW II hit. So by the time the war was over, the church which had been the vehicle to meeting our country’s humanitarian needs had been replaced by the government and there was precious little effort by the church to regain our God-given mandate “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1: 27) and “to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10).

To be honest with ya, it would take a major overhaul with the government and the church to get back to God’s original mandate, but if I may be equally honest with you, government run welfare will never be able to genuinely meet the needs of those who are suffering. Christian… the needs of the unfortunate, unappreciated, uncared for is our turf and we need to be known for leading the charge in it.

3) Moral Excellence
There is no greater segment of our society that this pertains to more than the unborn. How we treat our unborn children is the single most despicable practice that is legally protected in this country. When God led Joshua and the Israelites and take the land of Canaan, I’ve often found myself feeling sorry for the innocent occupants of that country. Until I found out how not innocent they were. These people would sacrifice their children to their god by burning them to death.

Deuteronomy 12:31 says, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

We live in a society that so celebrates tolerance that it just seems wrong to hate anything, but God clearly hates sin. Repeatedly throughout the O.T., God would point to that practice more than any other to justify the judgment that fell upon them through the hands of the Israelites. Does God care any less about the fate of the innocent unborn in our day, in our country? It may not be as public as it was back then put it is every bit as cruel, every bit as painful, and every bit as sinful in the eyes of God. God hates it… and so should we.

Proverbs 24:11-12 instructs us to “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

We as Christians who know the truth and represent God on earth ought to feel every bit as much shame over what is happening in our country as the Christians in Germany who did nothing about the Jewish concentration camps and the Christians who have gone before us in America who did nothing about slavery. May God forgive us and give us a chance to stop the shedding of innocent blood in our country.

There are other immoral practices that are at stake in this election that carry with them the same judgment of God as abortion does. Romans 1: 26-27 and I Cor. 6: 9-10 describe homosexuality and other immoral practices as behavior that will be punished for perverting sex and the proper role of a man and woman and defiling the God created institution of marriage. Never before in the history of our country has the bedrock institution of our society, marriage and the family, been challenged like it is now.

Let’s not repeat our past mistake by being silent during Roe v. Wade. We’ve got to let the truth be known that marriage is created by God as being one woman and one man in Genesis 2:24, reaffirmed by Christ in Matt. 19:4-6, and that practically every human civilization over the centuries demonstrates that if you alter the institution of marriage you destabilize the society. Many think the future of the marriage issue lies in the outcome of this election. Don Wildmon, the founder and chairman of the American Family Assoc. feels that the necessity to vote for candidates who are actively supporting traditional marriage in this election is, "our last chance to preserve the institution of marriage as God ordained it."

Over view on this matter is not subject to our personal opinion or political correctness anymore. Our society has gone down a path away from God and away from righteousness. If we understand our responsibility to be a salt and light to this world, if we love our neighbor as ourselves, then we have got to do something and there’s not much of an easier thing to do that could have a greater impact on the next 4 years in this country than to vote for candidates who stand alongside biblical values as an individual and for our nation.

4) Religious freedom
One last thing, you’ve got to know is that the freedoms we have enjoyed in this country for over 225 years are slipping away.
The apostle Paul commanded us to influence politics when he said, 1 Timothy 2:1-5 “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 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 men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is no secret that our freedom to publicly express faith in God is being systematically censored and outlawed whether it’s having a cross on a city seal, posting the 10 commandments in a court room, praying in a classroom, setting up a nativity scene on a courthouse lawn, talking about the biblical position on homosexuality, mentioning Jesus at work.
Earlier this month the Liberty Legal Institute provided a 50 page document to congress of detailing examples of hostility to religious expression in America.
I have the entire document downloaded onto my computer. It’s really sad.


Some examples cited in the document are:
1) Lynn Lucas Middle School in Houston Texas where a schoolteacher trashed two student’s “Truth for Youth” Bibles and took the students to the principle’s office where she threatened to call Child Protective Services on their parents for permitting them to bring their Bibles. That same school also had officials throw away student’s book covers with the Ten Commandments claiming the commandments were hate speech and could offend students.
2) Department of Revenue employee, Alan Blackburn, was barred from parking his car in the state parking lot because of religious and political stickers on his car (ex. God is a loving and caring God, God defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman…).
3) Raymond Raines was caught praying in his St. Louis elementary school. He was lifted from his seat and reprimanded in public. He was then taken to the principal who ordered him to cease praying in school.

And that’s a few typical examples. There was law suit after law suit over graduation ceremony prayers, scholarships being revoked after discovering the winner was pursuing a religious school or a religious career, people losing employment because of their Christian convictions, and on and on. What was once a precious liberty that anyone could enjoy of any religion is now being eliminated and replaced with secular humanism.

At the risk of sounding alarmist or criticized for setting up a straw man argument, I’d like to warn you guys that other nations have been down this road before. In particular, Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s. I have grown increasingly fond of history over the years because I recognize that history does tend to repeat itself. The window dressing changes over the years, but the effect is the same.

Rev. Stewart Herman, Jr. was a pastor of the interdenominational American church on the Matzstrasse in Berlin and had a firsthand opportunity to see how the church was responding to Hitler’s attempt to replace Christianity with what he called an “ersatz (false) religion based on Fuhrer worship.”

In this Saturday Evening Post article printed on Sept. 26, 1942, Stewart Herman wrote, “… the Nazis listed their drive to unseat Christianity as a bit of unfinished business… They had already developed and put partly into effect a gradual evolutionary technique for channeling the natural religious instinct of the people the way they wanted it to go. New ceremonies, holiday and anniversaries had been instituted… The press glorified these mass meetings and, by degrees, they had changed from political gatherings into solemn assemblies, and then into quasi-religious ceremonies.
And except for the unexpected reverses on the eastern front, Christianity might eventually have been wiped out by this slow process. … But the people, after almost a decade of persecution and harassment, were still going to church and keeping their fingers crossed against the government attempt to substitute worship of the Fuhrer for the worship of God. Bishops and clergymen of the Christian faith were still talking back and braving the concentration camp.”

I hope it never goes that far in America. But without a doubt, stiff penalties and possible prison time await anyone who takes a stand for righteousness and truth in a country that was founded on it.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes right down to it I’m neither a democrat nor a republican. I’m a Christian. I’m a salt and light to a dark and broken world. I will make uncomfortable and unpopular choices, because I’m not living for the things of this life. I’m living for a different Kingdom, and as such I will make choices that advance that kingdom. Not unlike, our early American revolutionaries and their drive for religious and political freedom or William Wilberforce and his dedication to end slavery in Britain or Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his effort to stop Hitler and Nazism, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his devotion for civil rights and equality for blacks.

Now it’s your turn. Now it’s my turn. Please don’t vote your pocketbook or some perception of what this or that particular party represents. Vote for candidates that love or at least fear God and reflect that heart by standing strong for the needy in our world, for the unborn that are soon to be a part of our world, and for righteousness and truth that sets those in the world free.
This election is not simply a contest of political policies, but a cultural battle for the heart and soul of America. Your vote gives you the chance to set the moral tone for the future of local, state, and national leadership. Don’t abrogate it.

Philosopher Edmund Burke said, ”All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The voter guides and accompanying biblical references sheets in the foyer (though not perfect) are very helpful in knowing how to align your vote.

And if I make one last comment: My mind is clear concerning which presidential candidate best represents the biblical positions that I’ve outlined here and has demonstrated genuine Christian character. It’s George W. Bush. [Note: This is my personal opinion after all the research I’ve done. Our church does not endorse a candidate because we are not directed to do so in Scripture. If we were, we would do so regardless of what the IRS threatens to do.] But regardless who wins on Nov. 2, my hope is ultimately in the Lord. God is my rock and my salvation. No one who hopes in him will be disappointed. I encourage you vote biblically, but don’t put your hope in politics put your hope in Christ alone.

Pray
Proverbs 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.


Comments

Great message, tim! your delivery was great, and i felt like everything you said was right on. the reason i've always loved the rock and stonebrook is that leaders aren't afraid of the truth, no matter how edgy or offensive it may be.

keep up the great work! i'm so proud of all you pastors!

-nate

Posted by: nate at November 1, 2004 11:23 AM

Preach it brother. Our pastor used Joshua on Sunday too. And, interestingly, I was reading just the other day that passage about God not being on the Israelites' side.

In the interest of unity can I offer this. This speech was given by George Bush on Sept. 14, 2001, at the National Cathedral, the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

I thought these words, regardless of your political point of view, are appropriate today as we head into the last day of what has been a very decisive election.

---------------------------------------

"We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation's sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who love them.
On Tuesday, our country was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty. We have seen the images of fire and ashes, and bent steel.

Now come the names, the list of casualties we are only beginning to read. They are the names of men and women who began their day at a desk or in an airport, busy with life. They are the names of people who faced death, and in their last moments called home to say, be brave, and I love you.

They are the names of passengers who defied their murderers, and prevented the murder of others on the ground. They are the names of men and women who wore the uniform of the United States, and died at their posts.

They are the names of rescuers, the ones whom death found running up the stairs and into the fires to help others. We will read all these names. We will linger over them, and learn their stories, and many Americans will weep.

To the children and parents and spouses and families and friends of the lost, we offer the deepest sympathy of the nation. And I assure you, you are not alone.

Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.

Our purpose as a nation is firm. Yet our wounds as a people are recent and unhealed, and lead us to pray. In many of our prayers this week, there is a searching, and an honesty. At St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on Tuesday, a woman said, "I prayed to God to give us a sign that He is still here." Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing.

God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own. Yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are known and heard, and understood.

There are prayers that help us last through the day, or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers, that give us strength for the journey. And there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn.

It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible.

And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety. A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burn victims.

In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country. Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity. This is a unity of every faith, and every background.

It has joined together political parties in both houses of Congress. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils, and American flags, which are displayed in pride, and wave in defiance.

Our unity is a kinship of grief, and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.

America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for. But we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America, because we are freedom's home and defender. And the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time.

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.

God bless America."

-------------

Keep pressing and blessing,

Dan Benson

Posted by: Dan Benson at November 1, 2004 12:34 PM

I meant divisive election.

Posted by: Different Dan at November 1, 2004 12:35 PM