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Is Christianity killing itself?
by Jim Barringer
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Regular readers will know that I make no secret about my position regarding Christianity and politics, namely that the two should have absolutely no relationship with each other. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found a story that illustrates many of the things I claim. It's a true story, and it has to do with Orthodox Judaism in Israel.

You might think that, being the "Jewish state," Israel would be full of people who were devout Jews, but this is not the case. More than half of Israelis report that they don't keep the Sabbath. 44% define themselves as "secular." 35% don't even believe in God. And the root cause of all this is politics. The moment the religious leaders stuck their nose in politics, Judaism lost authority and respect among the people, and the decline began.

Beginning with Israel's independence in 1948, Orthodox Jews insisted on orthodox laws (such as having only kosher food, no men and women swimming together in public pools, etc) despite a majority of the population not being orthodox. They alienated the majority and sent a terrible message to Israelis everywhere: "This is what our religion is all about. These are the things we care about." You could say, to use a political term, that they blew all their political capital on these highly visible but spiritually insignificant issues. In the process, they marginalized themselves and made their message irrelevant to the majority of the population.

Historian Howard Sachar records that there was "widespread revulsion" (A History of Israel, 608) with the religious authorities for their attempts to impose religion on the whole state, resulting in a "stereotype of orthodoxy" (602) as people who were only concerned with making people behave a certain way. Sachar also observes that they struggled "to explain the significance of religion in an affirmative way rather than as a grillwork of limitations" (611). Am I alone in thinking that the exact same words could be written about mainstream Christianity in America?

I understand that we want things a certain way. I understand that we want the laws of this country to give our religion preferential treatment, and while that's not an unreasonable desire, it's completely misguided.

The early church, certainly, had very little political sway, yet they were still incredibly effective at changing lives for the better. Despite living in countries where the laws and moral customs were completely opposite of their faith, they lived quiet lives of righteousness and holiness, and their private conviction - not their loud, public political blustering - convinced thousands of people to join them. This is the way it should be. Acts 2 records that the early church had the favor of all the people because of the brotherly love they shared. They were political nobodies, but they were rich in love, and the church grew faster than at any point during its history.

Ironically, even as I tell Christians to get out of politics entirely, I would like to make my point by introducing two lessons we can learn from politics.

The first is that of political capital. The idea is this: a politician will amass "political capital" for himself in various ways - by being popular, by getting certain legislation passed, etcetera. He basically makes a good name for himself. Then, in the future when he has to do something unpopular, people will accept his decision, because he has a good reputation already. He "spends" this political capital on issues that he knows will be unpopular, but he can get his way because people know and trust his judgment due to his past success.

The implication for us as Christians is to be very wary what we endorse politically. If we attempt to throw the weight of our faith, the name of Christ, behind the issue of gay marriage, we're going to give people a certain idea of who Christ is and what our faith, as a religion, means. And it's going to be the wrong idea. I do not by any means suggest that we should depart from the Bible's stand on homosexuality itself. The Bible calls it unnatural, an abomination, and a sin, and so it is. But what do we gain by trying to make sinners act as if they're not sinners? Do we benefit at all if we force people who do not agree with our religion to act according to our religious rules? There are better issues we could spend our political capital on, like economic justice, poverty, and global hunger. Legislation will not change a person's lifestyle, and indeed, the legislation we're after gives gay people the impression that we disapprove of who they are, meaning that if we're successful on the political front, we virtually guarantee that they will ignore us on the spiritual front. The only way lives change is by a one-on-one relationship with God. We should be focused on bringing the love and hope of Christ, not the legalistic moralism of Christ, to the people who need it.

The second lesson is that of staying on message. All politicians will tell you that you have to have a message in order to campaign successfully. President Obama demonstrated this last year with his message of "hope" and "change." Everything he said related to this message, and he didn't allow himself to talk about anything else. Whenever someone raised a legitimate question like "How are you going to pay for all these things you want to do," he stuck to his message of hope and change, and he was successful.

Our message, as Christians, is not one of rules or politics or moralism. It's a message of the love and hope of Christ. It's the message that we as humans are fundamentally broken and we cannot fix ourselves, and that our help and salvation can only come from God. That's our message. Yet if you asked most non-Christians about the message of Christianity, I bet they would mention the behavioral issues that we're against. By spending our political capital on things that are not central issues, we're departing from our message, giving people the wrong idea of what our faith is about, and ruining our credibility with them.

I write this because I really do love the church here, ugly and flawed as it might be, and the only thing worse to me than seeing us involved in secular politics would be to see us dwindle to irrelevance like Judaism in Israel has. I'm just calling on us to get back to the basics. Learn these lessons that all politicians know: stop spending our political capital on tangential issues, and stay on message. We have the most beautiful message in the history of the world, if we would only tell it.

Is Christianity killing itself? I think, right now, yes. At this moment we are losing credibility by giving people the wrong opinion of what Christ is about. Is Christianity already dead? By no means. We can get back to the message, we can go back to loving each other and everyone else in the world, just like the early church did, and we can enjoy the favor of all the people just like the early church did. It's as easy as that. Let's get out of politics, and get back to the message of the cross.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Gay L Hall 21 Oct 2009
lauren finchum 20 Oct 2009
Amen! I'm really glad to hear someone that realizes the danger the American church is in. We've whittled "christianity" to behavor and, most of the time, being a good Republican; not a goog follower of God and His love. Jesus didn't die so we could be goody-two-shoes perfection (which, by the way, we'll never really achieve). He died so we could be free in Him. The church of America is chained by rules that sometimes have zero to do with the heart of Jesus himself. It's really sad, and I hope we relize this before we completely whipe out what Jesus did and why He did it. It REALLY scares me we I see church people acting like crazed nut over politcs. I don't really "belong" to a party myself, so I'm not dissing the party becasue I hate it. And I think it would be nice to have land laws that were wholesome. But Jesus didn't died for us to dictate to everyone and their morals. God himself lets us choose to sin or not; even though when we choose unwisely it breaks His heart. I think your acrticle is eye opening, and I hope it will help people realize that there's a much bigger picture to Jesus than American Politics. Keep writing! :)
Jim Barringer 20 Oct 2009
Heather, with all due respect, I think you're off base. Most of the founding fathers were not Christians. They were deists who believe that a God, if you can call him that, created the world and then stopped caring about what went on. The Bill of Rights was not based on the Bible, but on the English common law and the writings of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Further, the Bible only speaks to our relationship to government twice, once in Romans 13 where Paul merely tells us to obey the authorities, and again in 1 Timothy 2, where Paul tells us to pray for the authorities (indicating that he clearly did not expect Christians to BE the authorities, or to be involved in the political process) so that we might live peaceful and quiet lives - exactly what we do NOT do when we start agitating to get our way politically. Thanks for the comments. Grace and peace to you.
Heather Ross 20 Oct 2009
I disagree with the statements on this writing. Thank God our founding fathers did not listen to those who would have spoken to the effect that they were Christians and used the 10 commandments in formulating the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Our founding fathers made covenant with God. This means there is a responsibility I believe Christians are not thinking of. When you break covenant you are breaking w/God. He gave us this land. I am not ashamed of the fact that Christians are willing to fight for their God given country. Our forefathers understood this, with words back it up with ACTION. They gave their lives, their fortunes, and the sacred honor. Christians were meant to be leaders, tough in spirit to withstand aggressors with truth, the problem today is that Christians are believing the lie of being dumbed down when we need to rise up. The end question over all..is America worth fighting for? I would never tell my children as my grandfather told me, this is our country, you fight for it, pray for it. You gave your word to God Almighty in trust and bond between you and He. Now keep it. I don't care about politics but when tryanny is at the door, our responsibility is to restrain evil, to preserve social order, to fulfill the great commission, bear witness to God's kingdom by proclamation and community. God authorizes us to use external force to accomplish its purpose. Rom 13:4; Matt 28:19, 1 Tim 2:1-4, Jn 13:34-35, Jn 18:36-37 When the state usurps God's role as ultimate authority, it is out of bounds Mat 22;21 . We are to resist and disobey its command when it commands us to do what God forbids Dan3:18-19 Rev 13:15, Acts 4:19; 5:29
Heather Ross 20 Oct 2009
made an error in writing, the first few lines are meant to mean thank God founding fathers did not listen to those who were for tyranny.
Heather Ross 20 Oct 2009
edit again. sorry I have had a stroke and sometimes what is written isn't clear but it is gettin better. The area of my grandfather is suppose to be positive instead of a negative statement abt 10 commandments, etx. thanks


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