Posts Tagged ‘Christians’


No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry work. We have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey Scripture. Scripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.


Activist Faith Releases Next Week

It’s hard to believe, but that moment the every author dreams of is here. My fifth book, Activist Faith, is releasing next week with Navpress. This is unique of all my books for several reasons, not the least is that its my first collaboration. I cowrote Activist Faith with my two friends, Dan King and Dillon Burroughs. Dan is a gifted writer, blogger, activist. Dillon is a multi-published author, speaker, and professor. The idea behind this book is simple: let’s take twelve hot-button issues in the culture and a) explore why Christians should engage them and b) offer ways that individuals and churches and help solve these issues, locally and outside of politics. We’re not advocating a retreat from the public square by any stretch, but we’re simply reminding Christians that there are great ways to solve problems that don’t involve campaigns and picket signs and Facebook posts.

If you’d like to find out how you can roll up your sleeves and live out the gospel in your community, you’ll want to preorder the book today.

I also invite you to check out the Activist Faith website, but first here is some more info about the book:

“Evangelicals are rethinking their involvement in politics, so this is a hot topic. It’s a discussion worth having, and Activist Faith is at the cutting edge of the conversation.”
– Matt K. Lewis, senior contributor, The Daily Caller

“The challenges facing our country and world are many. Daniel Darling, Dillon Burroughs, and Dan King provide thoughtful, biblically guided analysis of several of the most pressing issues of our day, challenging the church to let Scripture be our primary guide as we advocate for those who are vulnerable. Read this book, but don’t stop there: Let it move you into prayerful action.”
– Matthew Soerens, U.S. church training specialist, World Relief; author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate

“Authors Dillon Burroughs, Daniel Darling, and Dan King do a great job of luring much of the American Christian church to a conversation already taking place among far too few Christians. It is a discussion about ‘elephant in the room’ issues that usually reside with us for far too long without resolution. Read this book and take responsibility for these same such issues and for their solutions as you encounter them in your town, church, and home.”
– Charles J. Powell, founder of Mercy Movement,

“Twenty-first–century Christ followers stand committed to reconciling the vertical and horizontal planes of the Cross: sanctification with service, holiness with humility, conviction with compassion, and righteousness with justice. In Activist Faith, the authors exhort us to find a cause greater than ourselves, one that marries the promise of salvation with prophetic activism. For a generation seeking to live out our faith, this book is a must-read.”
– Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

“This generation has more tools than ever before to help them live generously. Activist Faith explores the fundamental connection between the desire to engage in the world and the realities of what it will cost. More than anything else, it empowers you to do good work for the sake of the gospel.”
– Mike Rusch, COO,

“As Christians, we are called to make a positive impact on our world—to make it a better place. Activist Faithis one of those amazing resources that educate people on the issues and equip them to make a difference. A must-read!”
– Jen Hatmaker, author of 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

“The authors of Activist Faith challenge all who take their apprenticeship with Jesus seriously to closely connect what they profess on Sundays with how they live the life of true discipleship on Mondays. Combining an engaging blend of biblical principles, captivating stories, and practical ideas, the authors give a compelling picture of how the gospel speaks to some of the most challenging issues of our time. Taking this helpful book to heart will encourage you to be a more faithful presence in God’s good but broken world.”
— Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters

Activist Faith is a compelling book that deals with some complex global issues. It is filled with stories of hope and struggle, helping the authors wrestle with what it means to have a faith that cares deeply for those who suffer. This hope-filled collaborative work will help us all learn what it means to love our neighbor.”
– Chris Marlow, founder and CEO, Help One Now

“There has been a huge need for a book to give the theological background for why Christians should engage in social justice. Activist Faith fits that need perfectly. It provides solid biblical reasons  we should care about the poor, immigrants, and modern-day slaves as well as practical steps for how to take action.”
– Sean McDowell, educator; speaker; author of Apologetics for a New Generation

Activist Faith meets the need of our time, offering examples of Christians responding to the social concerns of our world in ways that make a genuine and significant difference. In a culture where criticism of Christianity is often the norm, these pages provide a fresh perspective of what God’s people are doing to help those in their community and around the world.”
– Brian and Heather Pugh, actors; founders, Team Hollywood


Five Responses to President Obama’s Relection

Much has already been written and said by conservative Christians in response to President Obama’s reelection. I found the reflections of Al Mohler and Russell Moore to be among the best. Needless to say, most evangelicals are disappointed that Mitt Romney didn’t win. So where do we go from here? I’m suggesting five responses:

1) Honor and Pray for President Obama (1 Peter 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:17) 

Seriously, the command to both honor the President and pray for him is not optional for followers of Christ. The election is over. The votes have been counted (well, probably not all of them!). So now our job as believers is to pray for God to move in the heart of our President and lead us with moral conviction, courage, and grace.

2) Relax (2 Timothy 1:7)

Elections are dramatic, tense moments in American life. They’ve always been that way. And if you’re on the losing side, you fear America becoming what the grainy, ominous 30-second ads said America would be if your guy lost. Relax. God has not given us the spirit of fear. We don’t place our ultimate hope in a President, but in a King whose authority is not challenged and whose coming reign is sure. And we know that we will never find utopia on earth until the King consumates His kingdom. So relax. If Christians under Nero could trust God, you can surely trust God under a Democratic president, right? If Christians in China and Sudan and Saudi Arabia could bravely live out their faith, I’m thinking we’ll be just fine. America is still a great place to live. People are literally dying to get in here.

3) Don’t be ashamed for standing up for your principles, even if you lost (1 Corinthians 15:58)

I voted for Mitt Romney based on three issues: sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, and free-market principles which I believe better alleviate poverty. I didn’t agree with him on every issue. But I lost. However, I don’t feel badly about voting the way I did. Christians should be wary of over-involvement in politics, but we should never be afraid to stand up for what we believe is right. This is one way we love our neighbors and our communities and our countries. In the end, if we were on the side of justice (prolife) and we lost, at least we were on the right side. I don’t believe this labor on behalf of the defenseless is in vain.

4) Dispense with the doomsday stuff

One thing I’d like to see Christians abandon is the doomsday prediction business. Like clockwork, every time a politician who doesn’t embrace our values gets elected, we churn out lots of poorly written apocalyptic doomsday books. Want to get a good chuckle? Read one of these from the 90’s. You’ll find that most of the doomsday scenarios didn’t happen. Let’s find creative ways to engage on the issues about which we care, to write thoughtfully about vexing social problems, but retain the blessed hope of the gospel through it all. I’m not saying we should adopt Joel Olsteen’s positive gospel of nothing, but let’s also not be merchants of fear. Let’s point people to the eternal hope of the King.

5) Realize that most of the best culture-changing work happens outside of politics. 

Elections are important. Good leaders are vital for a thriving society. But politics is not the only means of affecting change. In fact, my next book will be on this very topic. Together with my friends, Dillon Burroughs and Dan King, we put together a book that addresses 12 key cultural issues (abortion, the environment, poverty, etc) and ways individual Christians and churches can make a difference. Consider abortion. I’m grieved that President Obama will likely appoint two Supreme Court justices who will likely ensure that Roe versus Wade is affirmed. I wish that heinous law was overturned yesterday. And yet, I can actually save babies from being killed by supporting my local crisis center. In fact, what if all the wasted money wealthy conservatives threw at Super Pac ads was redirected at establishing more of these very effective crisis centers? We may not need new laws restricting abortion because girls would choose life. This is just one example where ordinary people of faith can get involved, right now, in their local communities. So if you are hacked off about the way the election went, roll up your sleeves, get involved in your local church and in local organizations making a difference. Christians are not called to serve the world they wish existed, but the world that is. Let’s get involved in applying the gospel to the brokenness of our very fallen world. 



5 Attitudes Toward Someone With Whom You Disagree

We live in a generally uncivil world (because we are fallen creatures) and we are in the midst of an uncivil season (Campaign 2012). I don’t buy the idea that this is the “most negative campaign we’ve ever had.” One only needs to read biographies of the American founders (unless written by David Barton) to realize the human capacity to savage one another was alive and well in the golden years of America’s founding. Still, technologies, the proliferation of campaign spending, and the insidious, but effective tool of dishonest 30-second TV ads all add to a very uncivil culture.

For Christians, it can be difficult to know how to engage in an uncivil culture and in an uncivil season. On the one hand we want to stand boldly for truth, speaking prophetically to our culture and wisely steward our rare gift of shaping our government. On the other, we’re commanded by Scripture to comport ourselves differently. So how do we do this? Here are five principles from the Scripture that helps us adopt grace-filled attitudes toward those with whom we vehemently disagree:

1) Love Your Neighbor As Yourself (Mark 12:31). At the very least your political opponent, whether it’s the President, someone in the other party, your opinionated relative, or the blogger who has it all wrong–that person is your neighbor. And we are to love our neighbors, not with a sort of grudging foot-dragging love, but “as yourself.” In other words, you are to treat them with the same respect you would want to be treated. How does this play out in the public square? Well I think it means we argue principles without making it personal. It means we give them the benefit of the doubt. 1 Corinthians 13 says that one of the definitions of love is that it “believes all things and hopes all things.” In other words, we can oppose someone politically without thinking they are part of some evil, Machiavellian scheme to make our lives miserable.

2) Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). I think viewing a political opponent as an “enemy” might be too strong, but let’s just assume that for a moment, on the issues about which you care, he or she is your enemy. For instance, I think it could be honestly said that most liberals are adversaries of the pro-life position that I hold. So how does Jesus’ words to love them apply? Well, I’m suppose to love them with the fullest definition of love. I can oppose what they stand for without ridiculing the person or mocking them or their families. I love my political adversaries by speaking only what I know to be true about them. I means I see any good and redeeming values in them and pray for them.

3) Honor the King (1 Peter 2:17). Peter wrote these words to a church about to endure four decades of brutal persecution at the hands of Roman oppressors. And yet Peter writes, “Show proper respect to everyone, Fear God, Honor the King.” If this seems difficult to do under leaders who might oppose biblical values, imagine how difficult it was for Christian citizens of Rome. But it’s made easier with the middle words of that phrase, “Fear God.” Romans 13 reminds us that nobody is in power except those God anoints and puts in power. So, you can show proper respect to a political adversary because you acknowledge the sovereignty of God and you affirm that even your enemy was created in God’s image. And therefore you can honor a political leader because in doing so you’re honoring the God who put him or her there. I think the words, “respect” and “honor” give us a good grid for how we should make political arguments. We can forcefully oppose unjust, unwise, or unbiblical policies without resorting to name-calling, mockery, and slander. In doing this, I think Christians set themselves apart. Think of men like Nehemiah, Daniel, and Joseph who served wicked monarchs and still always showed proper respect to the office.

4) Pray for Your Leaders (1 Timothy 2:2). There are not many specifics in the New Testament about Christian political activism. I might point to Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus prayer in John 17 and Paul’s appeal in Romans 10 for the necessity of Christians to shape culture at all levels (including political and governmental). But the one very specific instruction regarding Christians and their leaders is the command to pray for them. We Christians (myself the most guilty) seem to have it backward. We treat activism as a necessity and prayer for our leaders as an option. We should do both. We should pray and watch, pray and build, pray and act. But we must never diminish prayer. We must pray for our President, our Congress, our Governors, our statehouses, our mayors, our local leaders. Public service is a difficult calling. I like what Max Lucado is doing this year to gather Christians to pray during this election season.

5) Speak with Grace (Colossians 4:6). Paul writes to the church at Colosse, “Let your conversation be always full of grace.” This verse really convicts me, because I now that my speech is not always marked by grace. Especially in election season. Especially when I’m all wound up with an opinion or idea about someone with whom I disagree. But followers of Jesus should be marked by grace. This means that what we post, what we say, what we discuss should run through the prism of grace. How is graceful speech different than ordinary speech? It flows from a heart humbled by God’s forgiveness. It considers the human behind the argument. It tries not to divide, but to unite. It grounds every argument in the gospel story. Graceful speech doesn’t post angry, half-truth, slanderous opinions on Facebook. Graceful speech doesn’t support distorted 30 second TV ads. Graceful speech is open to new arguments, admits wrongs, and doesn’t assume that it’s right all the time.

Summary: This is not a complete or exhaustive list, just a few ideas about living out the gospel during political season and beyond. Christians can be both civil and engaged, full of grace and yet firm in support of truth.


10 Things for Christians To Consider This Election Season

So now the primaries are officially over and we have a contest between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Presidency of the United States. Inevitably, American Christians will fall on one side or the other in what will likely be a long, divisive, tough campaign to the end. So, how should we as followers of Christ act during election season? This isn’t the last word and it isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are a few things we might consider:

1) Remember to grateful for the election. As Americans, we live in a representative republic, so we have the rare opportunity to shape our government. Partisanship and politics can be wearying and noisy and half-crazy at times, but at least we have the freedom to express ourselves and to vote. This isn’t happening in most countries around the world. So just at the point when you’re tired of looking at political signs and a bit weary of the sloganeering, remember those dissidents who sit in jail cells around the world, merely for having an opposing thought. We have a stewardship to vote, granted by God, and we should use it responsibly.

2) Don’t Put Your Trust in Chariots. Be grateful for the opportunity to elect the President you feel will best lead our country. But don’t fall into the trap that everything in history and in your life depends on one rainy Tuesday in November. Don’t be a practical atheist, white-knuckling election night, sweating every ebb and flow of the season, and acting as if you need to build a fortified bunker if “the wrong guy wins.” Advocate and work for your guy, but put your trust in the Lord. God holds history in the palm of his hand and is not at all worried sick about which party controls the levers of power in America.

3) Ignore most of the political appeals you hear from both sides. To win in modern American politics, you have to paint the other guy as something a combination of an axe murder, a village idiot, and a helpless puppet. You have to dig for an scent of scandal, blow it up in an ominous, black-and white ad, and convince people that if this guy wins you might as well move to Canada. Both sides will do this. But the truth is somewhere in between. It is a good idea to periodically tune out the election news during election season, toss those pesky mailers, and hang up your phone when you hear the gravel-voiced narrator begin his robo-calls of doom.

4) Advocate issues, avoid the petty stuff. It’s amazing how easily campaigns delve into petty stuff like how many vacations the President takes, the color of the First Lady’s dress, and the habits of the candidates while in high-school. Vote for a guy because he holds positions closest to yours. Advocate issues of importance and weight. Resist being drug into the gutter and arguing for or against issues that have little or no consequence.

5) Avoid the “ends-justifies-the-means” of politics. When President Bush was in office the left smeared him unfairly, comparing him to Hitler and tarring him as a war criminal. This was unfair. So now that President Obama is in office, many on the Right feel what was good for one side is good for the other. “All is fair in love and war” we say. This is true . . . unless you happen to be a follower of Christ and you’re commanded, repeatedly, to measure your words, to be kind, to love, to speak truth. Remember that even in politics, you are to act and talk like a Christian.

6) Don’t let your political differences ruin friendships. It is easy to allow political differences to drive a wedge in important friendships. But we must prize our love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord and our friendships with those outside the faith, above the strong opinions we hold. That doesn’t mean we back down, it means we find a way to get along with people with whom we disagree. Friendships within and without the church are vital for gospel ministry. Don’t let the temporal of politics get in the way of the eternal.

7) Don’t fall for conspiracy theories. Don’t forward emails that are less than true or haven’t been verified by reputable sources. Its easy to want to believe the worst about our political enemies, but God calls us to believe the truth (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 4:8). Don’t post on Facebook or Twitter questionable stories or theories. As Christians we should be about truth.

8) Don’t allow politics to convince you to hate those whom Jesus has called you to love. Politics likes to divide things up nicely into good guys and bad guys, to see the “other side” as the enemy. If you read enough political blogs and listen to talk radio and watch enough cable news, you will soon develop a mentality that sees only those who agree with you as good people and the rest as enemies. Furthermore, it clouds the real battle. We’re told in Scripture that people are not the enemy, Satan is. And our fight is never against mere mortals, but part of a larger, worldwide spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:2). Plus, if you convince yourself to hate certain segments, how then can you lovingly reach them with the good news of the gospel?

9) Avoid the “out there” mentality. The weakness of political engagement is that it lends itself away from self-reflection. The partisan mind constantly thinks all the worst problems in the world are “out there.” The gospel, however, forces us into sober self-reflection. It reminds us that the real problem is inside, in our own depraved hearts. The Apostle Paul, who lived under the oppression of a wicked and tyrannical government, said “I am the chief of sinners.” He didn’t point to Nero. He said, “No, I’m the biggest problem.” It’s easy to blame Hollywood, Wall Street, and the media for all of our woes, but if we were honest and allowed the gospel to penetrate our hearts, we’d realize that we are our own worst enemies.

10) Look for a better city. Politics is driven by a God-given longing for utopia, a desire for perfection, by the dawning reality that life on this earth is not how it should be. Politicians come along and promise to fix things, to build that utopian dream we all desire. The problem is that politicians are flawed. They are not saviors. And this world is cursed by sin. So like Abraham, we must look for another city, whose “builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:1).” One day Christ will return as reigning King and will set up the ultimate, perfect Kingdom.



5 Attitudes for Christians in a Political Season

So another Presidential campaign season is upon us and Christians are engaged at all levels and on both sides of most debates. As a recovering political junkie, I realize how easily my time, my energy, my attitudes can get sucked into the life force of Presidential politics. So here are a few attitudes that we might consider as we engage:

1) An Attitude of Prayerfulness for the Politicians (1 Timothy 2:2)

This is hardest to do and least obeyed command when it comes to our political leaders. Its easier to fire off a nasty email/tweet/Facebook post/blog instead of actually committing to daily prayer for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I must admit that I’m consistently having to repent of this disobedience.

We should pray for President Obama and his wife and children during a grueling season. We should pray for the Republican opponent and his family during a grueling season. We should pray for Congressman and Governors and Mayors and local school board officials, etc. And we should not just pray with a grudging, “These guys are idiots, boy do they need prayer” mentality, but genuinely pray with concern for their well-being.

2) An Attitude of Humility (James 4:6)

Politics feeds sharp debate among people who disagree on issues. These are deeply held beliefs. On certain issues, we feel, genuinely, that we are right and must stand up. But we can and should do that with humility. We’re not right on every single argument. We don’t know everything. Despite how we talk, we probably wouldn’t do better than the guys in office. We’re sinners like they are. And God loves them as much as He loves us. So as we engage, let’s try to avoid the kind of chest-beating rhetoric that tempts those who seek power.

3) An Attitude of Faith (2 Timothy 1:7)

Let’s be honest. Much of what drives elections is fear. Both sides gin up fear about the other side. All you have to do is read some of the mailers you get. “Did you know that my opponent was in favor of ___ or was supported by ___ or hangs out with ___? Vote for me. I don’t do that.” Politics is not so much about the good qualities of the candiate, its about “driving up the negatives” of the other guy. Fear also drives much of the programming on cable news programs and talk radio.

That’s not to belittle or dismiss the real fears we might have. There is evil in the world. There are concerns about our nation and about the world. But Christians can’t and shouldn’t be driven by fear, but by confidence in the sovereignty of God. Christians should live with an eye to the next world, Heaven. That doesn’t mean we should ignore injustice or do nothing, but we shouldn’t be driven by fear, but by mission.

4) An Attitude of Love (Ephesians 4:15)

It’s all too tempting to engage politics and check our Christianity at the door. We justify snarkiness and insults and half-truths and gossip about folks with whom we disagree. We justify it because “we’re on the right side.” But even if we are on the right side of an issue, that doesn’t give us the right to treat our enemies with disdain. I’m amazed at the stuff Christians post on Facebook about people with whom they disagree. This isn’t right. We can be stand firm in our beliefs and still show respect. Jesus’s ministry was all about the balance of grace and truth (John 1:14). In fact, I think we gain an audience when we demonstrate clear, logical, fair, reasoned arguments, rather than falling prey to the nasty rhetoric that passes for political dialog these days.

5) An Attitude of Justice (Micah 6:8)

What should drive our political engagement is the mission of God. This means we should be discerning about issues we engage, rather than accepting the entire matrix of issues offered by “our side.” Christians should fight for justice, whether that’s defending the unborn, defending the poor, defending righteousness. We may differ on solutions, etc, but we should be more engaged in issues than personalities. Sometimes we approach politics like we do American Idol. We grew to love our favorite personality and defend them to the death, at the expense of the issues. Or we oppose a politician to the death, dismissing the areas where they may be good on some issues. Perhaps Christians should take a more ala carte approach, speaking out on a few important issues and voting accordingly.

In Summary: Above all, Christians must first remember that they are Christians, that even in the rough-and-tumble arena of politics, we represent Christ.


Friday Five: Amy Black

Dr. Amy Black is Associate Professor of Political Science and chair of the department of Politics & International Relations at Wheaton College (IL). Amy is a specialist in American Government, her research interests include religion and politics and Congress. Her latest books include Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics and her forthcoming release: Honoring God in Red and Blue, Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason

In Beyond Left and Right, you sought to transcend the back and forth partisanship we experience in our political system. But critics might say that partisanship is an essential part of American democracy. Is it?

American government would be possible without political parties; indeed, the framers thought they had created a party-less system.  But I do think political parties enhance American democracy in very important ways.  Parties serve many constructive purposes such as helping unify like-minded individuals, helping organize and simplify elections, and helping structure governing institutions.

Partisanship, on the other hand, refers to strong devotion to party, even to the point of bias. Almost all elected officials identify with one party or the other, and many voters do as well.  But connection to or identification with a party can become an end in and of itself.  I find this type of extreme partisanship problematic, especially for followers of Christ.  Our devotion belongs to Christ and Christ alone.

Some such as James Davidson Hunter advocate a “time out” on politics, so perhaps the church and reset itself. What is your opinion of this approach?

I don’t support this approach as a one-size-fits-all answer, but I do think that some people and organizations might benefit from following Hunter’s advice.  We have seen ministries and groups get so engrossed in trying to “change the world” through political advocacy that they have lost focus and grounding on their true purpose in serving the gospel.  Hunter’s proposal that we stop trying so hard to change the world and focus our efforts on serving as a faithful presence is a useful corrective.

But many will find that they are called to political engagement as a means of loving God and neighbor, and I see this as a worthy and important calling.  I believe our political system would benefit greatly if more Christians invested in it.

Your recent article in Christianity Today and your forthcoming book, Honoring God in Red and Blue, Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason urges Christians not to disengage, but to watch the tone in which they engage. Why is this so important?

Much contemporary political debate is nasty, scornful, and arrogant. Distortion is commonplace. Many people are turned off from political engagement because it seems so ugly, and who can blame them?  Politics need not be about derision or scoring points at someone else’s expense, but it usually is.

The way in which we engage in politics is a reflection of our character. We are called to exhibit the fruits of the spirit in all our interactions, in politics as in every other area of life.

Given the tone of contemporary politics, imagine the witness we could have for Christ if we as Christians made deliberate decisions to pattern another way of political engagement. What a way to show forth the light!

Seems politics is the one arena where Christians are so quick to check their Christianity at the door, especially when it comes to gossip, slander, and demonizing. Why do you think this is?

I do see many examples of Christians who seem to forget (or ignore) their witness as soon as they start talking about politics. Paul contrasts the fruits of the spirit with the acts of the flesh. The list Paul exhorts us to avoid includes “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy.” Those terms are apt descriptors of much of what we see in everyday politics.

Some people apply the logic that the ends justify the means. That is, they will argue that they are pursuing godly ends and that it is necessary to play by the rules of the game to succeed in politics. The problem, from my perspective, is that we cannot and should not separate ends and means. We are not called to success; we are called to faithfulness.

Others appear to get caught up in the drama and excitement and mirror the behaviors that they see around them. This is a common temptation in politics as in so many other areas of our life.

Do you think the millennial generation approaches politics differently than their parents and if so, how?

Analysis of survey data suggests a few ways in which millennials approach politics differently than their parents.  For one, members of the younger generation are more likely to be concerned about a broader range of issues than their parents. They also have a very different relationship with technology. As you would expect, millennials are much more likely to follow politics and current events through social media and less likely to read newspapers than their parents. This differential in use of media sources may also lead to differences in their understanding of and interaction with political issues.


God Doesn’t Care if It Plays in Peoria

I’ve been watching some of the news reports regarding the accusations made against Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain. I have no idea if the charges against him or true. Only God, Herman Cain, and the accusers do. When the first accuser came out I thought perhaps it might be a political dirty trick, an opposing campaign or a media campaign against a conservative candidate. But now that there has been five women who have stepped forward, it’s a bit hard for me to believe that this is some coordinated attack. Perhaps there’s a pattern here.

What’s most distressing to me is the way that Mr. Cain, a man I admired and was actually considering voting for, has handled this whole situation. He’s shown no remorse. He’s blamed other candidates. Then he’s blamed the media. Now, to be fair, I think he has a right to defend himself and his honor, especially if the charges are not true. But Cain has swun wildly and has not appeared contrite or professional.

Furthermore, Mr. Cain has used his campaign to dig up dirt on the accusers and then spread that to the media. This is dirty politics. Smear the accuser and muddy the waters. It’s what Bill Clinton did when facing his own charges. I think this is reprehensible for a man who not only calls himself a lifelong follower of Christ, but is an ordained minister. Smearing the other person, even if the charges against Cain are false, is the lowest form of politics.

But perhaps the most distressing part of this whole sordid affair is how I’ve heard conservatives, many Christians, discuss this about Cain. Some have defended him and have blamed it on the “lamestream media” as if any negative reports against a conservative candidate are automatically an attack. Or they’ve given the whole, “if this was a Democrat . . . .” defense. This is lame. We all know that if a liberal had these problems, the conservative media would have no problem rushing to judgement against him or her.

Others have written off Mr. Cain. They say they are glad this was exposed in the primary because if it came out in the general election, it would sink the candidate and give President Obama a win. The discussion has all centered around, “How will this play among woman?”, “How will this play in a Republican primary in Iowa?” Those are valid discussions, but I hear no one saying, “Maybe what Mr. Cain did was wrong. Maybe he’s not a man of character. Maybe this should disqualify him from being President.” There is such an impulse to protect our own. Partisanship is so blind.

As followers of Christ, our first concern should not be “How will this play in Peoria?”, but “Is this right and good and does it please God?” Christians are supposed to be the people of character, right? Haven’t we hammered liberals for not having character?

I think there is a lesson here not simply about politics, but life. We live in a world seemingly run by PR and spin. So many of our decisions are based on “What will people think?” or “How does it poll?” or “How will this play?” There is some merit to knowing where people are so you can effectively lead. But our first impulse should be do what is good and right, not what will win affections.