Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Gospel Confronts the Conservative AND the Liberal


 I had a friend who used to say all the time, "Never underestimate the power of the status quo".

And I don't know if it is fair to label conservatives as the institutions of tradition and establishment, but the general definition of a conservative is one who is slow to change. There may be a number of reasons for this: a desire to protect good traditions, a healthy suspicion of change, a prudent and measured response to issues, or just plain fear.

A Bible verse that instantly addresses the progressive/conservative tug of war is found in Ecclesiastes 3:

1 There is a time for everything,    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.

In America, the conservatives are often described as the 'right' and humans can be found in all kinds of degrees.

Should we concern ourselves with and lovingly confront those who run to the extreme elements of ideology?

My personal experience with conservative ideology was in reading many of the popular conservative writers:(Limbaugh, Medved, Hannity, Beck, Coulter, Ingharam)

Again, most of these writers tend to appeal more to my Judeo-Christian values, though some do not articulate gospel understanding.

The problem in trying to contain Christianity within the conservative voice is that some conservatives unknowingly articulate a 'compare and compete' mentality that teaches a righteousness of works. "I am a conservative, God is happy because I am pro-life, stand firm on a traditional view of marriage, and believe that there should be prayer in schools."

This is not the gospel- necessarily.

The gospel message is that even our good deeds are like filthy rags unto the Lord (Is 64:6) and that 'no one is good, not even one and that all  have sinned and are fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3).

The Christian conservative, in full view of the gospel, would not lead in the harsh tones and rhetoric that dominates the landscape today. It isn't that these values aren't important- it is just the law has to be presented in full view of the door of grace and mercy in Christ. 

Let me mention a couple of observations of this and move on to my main point.

A few years ago, I read Ann Coulter's book, Demonic, it was the first book I ever read cover to cover on an Ipad- which was very cool!

Ann is popular because she fights fire with fire. She zings and slices with a sarcastic flair and dark humor. Her books back all quotes with a huge bibliography in the appendix at the end.

Her main point? The current landscape of American liberalism is a building, dangerous 'mob' with direct comparisons to horrible and violent ideology of atrocities of anarchy throughout history. She camps out in the French Revolution (in direct opposition to the American Revolution) and the criminal activities of social activists in the 60's.

Coulter highlights the premise with quotes and activities of liberal voices within mainstream/cable media outlets today.

What does Coulter prove? It is hard to know because the tenor of the message clouds the message..the agenda shrills...blocking out any hope of a remedy. She proves there is a difference between being right and being 'dead right'. She proves that you can take truth and use it like a weapon, bludgeoning people and leaving a bloody pool of hurt in the process.

Now,  I know that this is how some folks get traction in a society of dysfunctional cynicism and discordant cacophony of voices. But does any of the ramped up rhetoric help?

Do we realize that our young people are watching? Do we understand that their young hearts tend to be more sympathetic to the hurting or maligned?

Let me add a second example. I taught Bible for 7 years in Nashville, from time to time we hit hard areas: Biblical warrants for divorce was really hard, for example, because the pain is so real. I had to learn a gentle approach that honored the truth but did not unnecessarily hurt the wounded.

When we talked about homosexuality- I could tell that high school students were upset that there 'appeared' to be harsher treatment of that activity compared to heterosexual adultery which was of greater pain to their personal experience.

This is all a precursor to how the gospel confronts the conservative.

1) Judeo-Christian tradition does not guarantee Gospel impact. In fact, if we are not careful- the traditional values can masquerade itself as gospel understanding. I believe it is better soil- but it is not the seed.

2) Harsh condemnation of sin toward the world is not gospel focused. Paul made the distinction of 'in-house' expectations and worldly realizations (I Corinthians 5:10). We preach Christ crucified as proof of God's love. We teach Christ's resurrection as proof of God's justification to those who believe and repent. We expect rejection and worldly sin. We patiently persevere in promoting the message and trust God to move as He decides.

3) Things are always in a state of decay- gospel impacted believers should not be apathetic- we should be active servers and sharers. The Lord does not want us to sit back and watch it burn- he wants us to engage, love, work, heal, procreate, and emancipate.

I have always thought of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 to be an indictment of spiritual passivity:

24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’”

4) A final confrontation- Christian conservatives should be careful of buying into political activity as the best hope of social change.

While both men were alive... I loved Jerry Falwell and Jim Kennedy when they expounded on the Scriptures. I was fine that they supported Biblical values as good and wholesome. However, I would wince when it seemed forced or political.

I was having coffee on day with a United Methodist minister when he brought up the same point. He remembered a Dr. Kennedy sermon during Christmas using the birth of Christ to preach an entire sermon about abortion. I don't know if that was the full topic of the sermon or not- but we need to be shrewd and innocent in our discourse.

The bottom line? There is forgiveness in Jesus Christ!  When we lose our way and by fighting for the faith and lose our lotion of love (meditate on Revelation 2:1-7) there is grace at the cross! There are more ways to miss the truth than we can ever imagine.... isn't it good that it is dependent on our Father and not on us. Isn't is awesome to know that you are saved by Christ's righteousness and not your own?

It frees you up to humbly say 'I'm sorry'- it frees you up to pray for others- it puts the refreshing water of God's mercy on your lips- the conversation should begin anew.... today!


"We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."   C. S. Lewis

Just to use the term 'liberal' in a post conjures up the probability of 'fightin' words' due to the current climate of our social rhetoric. A quick check of my profile, a short perusal of my past blog posts, an educated guess concerning my background and faith will likely put me in a category of "HARD DOUBT" as to my fair treatment of anyone who labels themselves as progressive or democratic or liberal.

Growing up through the late 60's and becoming more socially conscious in the late 70's and early 80's- my political leanings were formulated during the dawn of the Reagan presidency and the emergence of talk radio and the EIB rants of Rush Limbaugh.

This era had a huge impact on my parents as well. As far as I can tell, we were blue dog democrats in the early years. My dad was a Birmingham firefighter and I remember him expressing that the democrats took care of the working man. When you are 8 or 9 years old, you could care less. You hear, it registers, but I was quickly back to my Evel Knievel stunt cycle and Nerf Football.

My mom was the first one to even breathe that she was now more of a 'republican' and she was really into Rush. But it was more than that, President Reagan not only inspired a new nationalism and pride, he painted the term 'liberal' like it was almost a disease.

In 1988, George Bush made Michael Dukakis wince as he painted him an extreme liberal and a 'card carrying member of the ACLU'.

But there was something else going on as well. It was much deeper than politics. The term liberal seemed to align more and more with a set of social values that were very different than what was represented in my church, around my coaches, even among my peers. It was especially frustrating to see the unhidden social agenda pushed in mainstream media outlets. As much as I enjoyed television and movies- it was apparent in almost every new broadcast or premier, there was a group pushing the envelope of a different value system.

I strongly believe that this is why Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio took off- It is why Fox News grew out of relative obscurity into the power player it is today- the values being represented did not represent what was most prevalent in our neighborhoods. The heart strings of most people growing up in the State of Alabama come alive to God, Country, and Football.

I'm going to get to the heart of how the gospel confronts the liberal,but I did want to take a quick side trail and talk about the impact of progressive media entertainment and having a largely liberal press on our country.

My belief is that the spirit/heart of the country has been dominated by conservative social values from the founding fathers until the dawning of the 21st century. Remember that it was shocking for Rhett Butler to say "Damn"in 1939. Elvis was controversial in 1956.

I am not saying that society was as innocent as 'Leave it to Beaver' or 'Father Knows Best'- but the larger community assented to a high standard of propriety in terms of what was presented or what was assented to. Our household wasn't free from profanity or vulgar language, but we all would confirm that it was NOT RIGHT, even if we did it from time to time.

But a lot has changed. I was 14 years old when we got cable TV. I was so happy that we were going to have more than the 2 1/2 channels that I watched when I couldn't go outside. I say 1/2 because one of the stations was very blurry and only synced up in good weather. The stations would play the national anthem around midnight and then a high pitched beep would play continuously to colored bars all night long until Country Boy Eddy came on the air around 4:30 AM.

So I sat in a chair in our dining room, looking at a 14 inch black and white TV, and was ecstatic! 14 channels! Some all night! We had TBS out of Atlanta, WGN out of Chicago, one channel made the TV into a fireplace, and the big one...HBO.

We watched the old version of "Bad News Bears" with Walter Mathau and Jodie Foster and then it happened. Over the TV, I heard a curse word in front of my mom. I had seen the movie in the theater, but for some reason, having my mom there.. OH Boy. She got quiet and said "Oh MY" and the tension was pretty thick. Have times changed?

But I want to point out one other change.

60 minutes and CNN introduced another big culture changer. These shows began to take on controversial social topics: abortion, homosexuality, 'family values'... and the format was to present the opposing views EQUALLY. Pro choice advocates were given 30 seconds of soundbites and Pro life debaters were given 30 seconds of soundbites.

Even if the culture represented a 90% agreement with pro life issues, the minority view was given a weightiness. And it all became LOGOS- and the liberal social agenda had fancy slogans and hard hitting soundbites.

Over time- this has caused major shifts in social attitudes and mores. I believe the country is still largely conservative (look at the red vs blue states) but it is a softer conservatism as far as values are concerned. In fact, we always placed so-called 'family values' within a Judeo-Christian world view. It seems like today, the values are argued according to pragmatic social contexts and not whether there is a universal standard of right.

This is all a prelude to say that if the goal of liberalism is cultural change- then I would say that American progressives have had great success. If you start in the late 60's- we have moved the standards a LONG way. The ACLU mindset has created a secular marketplace... more so than Europe. British schools pray and even teach Bible (it hasn't helped them hold on to a God awareness or national faith, but that is another topic).

Progressives have even moved conservatives. The ultimate American value is now 'freedom'- it is what we say we want to export to the world. But a careful reading of the founding documents of our country do not put freedom as the highest American value. The founding of our country was a freedom from tyranny based on the standards of the Creator. American freedom was never ultimate freedom, it was a mutual accountability to restrain human evil. The American dream was to make men free, but realize that  humans are more prone to extremes and brutality- especially when they gain ultimate power. The greatest distrust was a government that was not accountable to the governed.

So what does the gospel say to the progressive? It encourages and confronts at the same time.

The positive aspect of the Christian gospel to liberals is to commend their heart for the downtrodden. It is to the liberals credit that there is an unwillingness to rest until there is found justice and provision for the hurting. Some who found a home in progressive circles were those who walked out of churches after being turned off by a status quo and cold response to issues like racism and poverty.

However, the gospel confronts the liberal in two major sins.

The first, and most deadly, is the jettison of absolute truth and embrace of relativism.  If there is no agreed upon standard..there is no standard. You can go all the way back to Europe and the 19th century Romantics like William Blake and William Wordsworth who threw out the baby with the bathwater. In rejecting the cold religion of the Cathedrals, they abandoned God as He had revealed Himself- especially the revelation in Jesus Christ.

The second major sin is to view the state as the savior and provider for social justice. God set up the church as His minister and the government as His sword. Because we are using men (jars of clay), these structures will suffer decay and impotence until the master comes back- but the message of the gospel is good news ... even in the failures.

As soon as liberals turn to the state as the provider and preach tolerance as the standard of morals- the stage is set for take away and turnover.

Even though everyone gives lip service to our commitment to being a nation of laws - the current movement of our nation is toward lawlessness (doing only what you want to when you want to) and tyranny (the powerful group of elitists who will emerge to get everyone in line).

The message of the gospel to the liberal? Please turn the the Christ of the Bible, find forgiveness in Him, and lead us back to standards of love, and humble service to the Creator. You have more power to do that than the conservative does.

Finally, I worry about the anger being stoked among progressives in our country. Class warfare, gender warfare..... sure, it takes two sides to fight- but the demonizing of authority figures and those who have worked hard for success is planting seeds of destruction and revolution.

Without the healing power and unifying power of a gospel confrontation.... we are in BIG trouble.

All of these chapters show us a NEED for Christ- the gospel is not too good to be true.. it is the only good truth. And it is founded upon the GOOD TRUTH.... the shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. It is a good and secure hope!

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