Monday, July 9, 2012

Politics, Original Sin, and a New Creation

It's election season.  Politics is in full swing and as time goes on, it gets increasingly, nasty, unreasonable and full of attacks.  I describe myself as a "radical moderate" (a term coined by my husband), fitting neither in the Republican nor Democrat camps.  I try to listen to both sides, think about what I believe is right (particularly through the lens of my faith), and use common sense and practicality to decide how to vote and how to think about political matters.  I don't enshrine my politics or one party or another as being "of God" or "more American" than another.  I think there are stinkers and good people in both parties.

And so as the political debates begin to heat up, I begin to become very frustrated with how people proceed.  The dark music of political ads, the inevitable ad hominem attacks comparing one leader or another to Hitler when such is comparison is wholly unwarranted (I have heard this said of both President Bush and President Obama), the unwillingness to sit down and listen to another perspective (if my belief is true, it will hold up to scrutiny!).  I start wanting to sing, "Why can't we all just get along?"  I don't understand why people can't be more reasonable with one another and work together for a better future.

This is because I am an idealist.  In the abstract, I think that surely people can just be reasonable and practical and get along.  But this is because I forget so easily the reality of original sin in our world.  To expect perfection out of sinful human beings is unrealistic.  To expect that we can all just use reason and common sense to get along is not reality.  Because I am a Christian, I believe that there is something terribly wrong at the core of human beings.  This is why absolute peace has never been achieved in the history of the world. This is why the utopian dreams of communism never came to fruition but merely became another way to take what belonged to someone else and dominate one's neighbor.  This is why the competitive environment of capitalism so easily leads to trodding our neighbor underfoot instead of providing opportunities for everyone.  We are sinners and whatever political system we are given, we will find a way to manipulate it for ourselves and to the detriment of our neighbors.

Because we are sinners, we also turn nasty in political debate.  We harden our hearts to hearing another side.  Rare is the journalist or commentator who takes the time to at least listen to another perspective fairly.  We call the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare."  We call pro-life people "anti-abortion."  Certainly, we will not see things from the same perspective all the time, but we fail to even listen to another side of the story.  We attack Americans who think differently than us and call them "un-American."  I have heard this attitude from the elite intellectual who thinks the Republican farmer has nothing to teach him and is hopelessly backward and out of touch.  I have heard this from the blue-color Republican who dismisses the liberal as a Nazi in the making, as someone trying to destroy America.  (And I have participated in such attitudes as these too from time to time.)  Both are wrong.  But why would we expect anything else from sinful people?  We are not reasonable and able to get along all the time, precisely because we are sinners.

Not only do I fail to take sin seriously in the everyday American, but I also fail to take it seriously at times in relation to the evil in the world.  When you get a lot of education, it is easy to look at things from a theoretical perspective: "If I reason with the nations of the world, they will see the wisdom of my approach and stop the evil that they are doing."  But evil is not something that can be reasoned with.  In fact, when it is downplayed, it gains more power.  I will always be of the opinion that war should be avoided if it can be and should only be a last resort, but there is absolutely a time and a place for strong military action that sets boundaries with repressive regimes.  Look at the accommodation of Neville Chamberlain that did not take evil seriously.  Look at the prophetic eye of Winston Churchill that dared to call evil what it was, even if he was maligned as a warmonger.  The fog of war does not always immediately reveal who is right and wrong, but Churchill's courage and willingness to be misunderstood and disliked is to be admired.  We have to take evil seriously and not think that it can be reasoned with.

So, we will never have a perfect political world where everyone gets along and behaves well, precisely because of the nature of original sin.  Even Christians?  Yes!  Lutheran theology is so helpful because it teaches that Christians are both fully saint and fully sinner at the same time.  We will not be free of original sin until we are taken home to be with the Lord.  This means that in reality we will sometimes behave badly, including in the political arena.  We will lose our tempers.  We will sin in areas which we have publicly condemned in others.  We will lie and bear false witness.  We will be nasty, slow to listen and unloving at times.

But just because we screw up sometimes and can be forgiven does not let us off the hook.  Paul asked in Romans 6, "Shall we then sin so that grace may abound?"  Do you remember his response?  "May it never be!"  We are not only 100% sinner, but also 100% saint, created new in Christ Jesus.  We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  And although we are not yet free of the "old man" of sin and death, we are being made new, day by day.  The world rightfully condemns Christians when they do not live up to their own ideals of love, respect, truth, and forgiveness.  No, we will never be perfect, but we also should not lower our standard.  And we should be willing to repent when we mess up.

But why is it that the nastiest email forwards come from Christians?  Why is it that Christian on Facebook, email, Twitter and in conversation constantly bear false witness, sharing rumors that are not substantiated with others?  For example, no matter your political party, do you think the Lord wants you to forward an email suggesting that President Obama is a secret Muslim?  (I have received such rumor-filled email forwards primarily from conservatives, but that doesn't let liberals off the hook.  They have their own way of pushing down the other side.  Nasty comments paired with a newspaper article posted to Facebook, for instance.)  Does this honor the Lord?

As a Christian, no matter which political leader you are spreading rumors about, consider two steps: 1) Check before you forward anything--most of these email forwards have been passed around so many times that they no longer have any truth to them.  2) Pray for political leaders, as the Bible commands us to do (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  It is so easy to forget that prayer for our leaders is our responsibility as Christians.  But even if you disagree sorely with an elected leader, remember that God loves him or her and pray that that person may come to know God in all His fullness.  Pray for his or her spouse and family.  Pray for protection against temptation.  Pray for honesty, courage and integrity.  The pressures on our leaders are terribly strong and the temptations are great.  Without prayer, how will they have any hope of doing what is right?

Fellow Christians: you and I may have very different conclusions, politically, about how best to serve our neighbor.  But we are united by our common identity of saint and sinner.  We're going to screw up sometimes.  We're going to get mad sometimes.  We're going to bear false witness sometimes.  But let's strive higher.  Let's be an example in a fractious political environment.  Let's be people that the world can look to and admire and respect for our integrity, honesty, fairness, respect, and love.  There will be times to fight evil.  There will times to take on debates rigorously, and it is our duty as citizens to do so.  But let's do it with truth in our mouths and respect in our hearts.  Let's live out our new identity as new creations in Christ!


  1. Ok, not so far out of my comfort zone, actually a bit of an echo of what I have been thinking myself. God has been impressing on my heart the sentiments contained in the song. "Jesus Friend of Sinners" and that has given me new focus. Although I would love to point my finger, condemn others (especially politicians) and beat them with my Bible, I am now fully cognizant of the fact that those actions will not bring anyone into the kingdom of Heaven. Dang it.

    1. Sounds like you're a kindred spirit, Vickie! I heard James McDonald talk about people who are lost yesterday and he said, "Religious people always find lost people a nuisance....Get over yourself, religious person! They don't have God's heart." I need to be reminded of this too when I get on my particular hobby horses, whether with strangers or people I know. I may be "right" about an issue but am I seeing people with the love that God has for them? Or am I just getting annoyed because I'm not getting my way? God has lots of work to do on me before He takes me home, I'll tell you that much!

  2. Great thoughts. I resonate with your longing for respectful conversation that's open to real dialogue and thinking through both sides of an issue without mischaracterizing our opponents. Thanks for the good thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Caleb! I always learn a lot when I'm able set myself aside and have those kinds of conversations. I may not agree with the other person's position but I can no longer objectify them and I learn better where they are coming from.

  3. Yes we can all get self-righteous, even the best of us. And when we disagree with someone, are we angry because they are 'wrong' and we are 'right' or are we really getting angry just because they disagree with us! I tend to think that ego plays a large part in disagreements; we have to learn to compromise and learn to agree to disagree; it is in the end the only real solution when people see things differently, and sometimes radically so.

    1. I agree that ego plays a big part! Could ego just be another word for "original sin"?

    2. You know Rebecca, that's very insightful! I'll have to remember that!

  4. Rebecca,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I appreciated your connections to all three uses of the law. ;-) It is different living in Tennessee without any competitive statewide races this year. The only political ads that we have had so far are positive ads from one-term Republican representatives fighting off primary challengers from the right. If you would like a little levity in political ads, the following links are for ads that I have thought were funny or instructive and used when I've taught "propaganda analysis" in school.

    Hope things are going well for you, your hubby, Burrito and (one on the way).

    God Bless,


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