Among the political news of the weekend was the “Restoring Honor” rally headed up by Glenn Beck in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The event’s attendance has been cited as anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 persons. It also included many known cultural personalities, from baseball’s Albert Pujols to Sarah Palin to Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.
While much I will have to say about the rally contains criticisms, I should note that there were definite good elements present. The focus on honoring service and community should not be attacked simply because of other problems with the event. Further, a charity helping children of fallen special ops soldiers raised huge sums to help those children attend college for free. It would have been nice if these messages had encompassed all of the rally.
Instead, the event’s distinctly religious bent unveiled a distressing convolution of Christianity. Many persons prayed in the name of Christ. Jesus was declared to be Lord and Savior. Various references to His deity appeared to be made as well. All of this from an event put together by a man of the Mormon faith. Do the persons involved, Mormon and Christian, realize what these statements mean within historic, biblical Christianity as opposed to that of the Church of Latter-Day Saints?
The lack of clarity about the distinction between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity was dangerous and disturbing. Mormonism denies essential elements of the Christian faith, including the nature of salvation, heaven and hell, and what texts are the inspired Word of God. Even more, Mormonism denies the Trinity in so many ways as to make its equation with Christianity simply impossible. Mormonism is more polytheism where the distinction between God and His creation in man is confused and merged in ways that destroy the Gospel.
Still, Mormonism has been fighting to be included within Christianity for some time now. Glenn Beck isn’t a leader but a follower of his church on this matter. And sadly, Christians increasingly are willing to agree with Mormon claims and include their faith as part of Christ’s Church. In this way, too many Christians have fallen for a general claim to “come back to God” assuming that the God of Mormonism is the same as that found in Scripture. It is the conservative version of creating a big tent united not by biblical truth but political perspective. Such unity is heresy, damaging to the Church and unfaithful to the Great Commission.
How could many seemingly Christ-centered persons make such mistakes? Russell Moore, in a thoughtful post on the rally, pegs the problem as one of politics trumping theological truth. Christians at the rally equated a political program with the Gospel and were willing to include heretical beliefs in order to keep that link together. He rightly points out how politics can have this effect regardless of one’s partisan slant:
Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.
I agree; but I think there is another problem at work as well. The problem is one of education. Many Christians are willing to accept heretical beliefs because they simply do not know the truth. This problem is especially acute as it regards the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Ask enough believers about the Trinity or the nature of the incarnation and you’ll hear a host of heresies, laid to rest long ago in the course of church history. It is understandable why the hard questions of Christ’s incarnation and of the diversity and unity within the Godhead would not be regular topics for Sunday school. These doctrines are hard; really hard. We are not academics with an intellectual inquiry; we are the Church called to preach and live out the Gospel. Yet failure to adequately address these doctrines has caused a great lack of knowledge in the Church at its very foundation. A Glenn Beck comes along speaking of God and Jesus and many can’t tell the difference. This problem is essential to our engagement with culture. How can we engage culture when we are so often shallow in our self-knowledge?
In the following quote, Moore brings up a second issue:
The answer to this scandal isn’t a retreat, as some would have it, to an allegedly apolitical isolation. Such attempts lead us right back here, in spades, to a hyper-political wasteland. If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest. The answer isn’t a narrowing sectarianism, retreating further and further into our enclaves. The answer includes local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and disciple their congregations to know the difference between the kingdom of God and the latest political whim.
Moore is right to beg Christians turned off by partisanship parading as theology not to give up on the public square. Because Christianity is a pervasive re-ordering of our existence—our thoughts, feelings, priorities, principles—Christianity will speak to us as citizens as long as we live in this world. We are in fact called to seek the good of the city, to submit to and pray for our political leaders.
But his very answer shows why such a move toward isolation is so tempting. It isn’t too hard to make general calls to form a biblical conscience, to transcend political partisanship and instead seek justice and mercy as Christ would have us do. But how exactly do these principles meet the actual political issues of the day? What does it say to issues concerning the role of government, poverty alleviation, foreign policy, abortion, immigration, education, separation of church and state, the basis of law, affirmative action, campaign finance, etc? Or does it speak only to some of these issues? If so, which ones and how does one tell the difference? How does the Gospel speak in a way that truly gets past partisan programs? How can the Church be a voice but not a puppet? What distinction is there between individual Christian participation and that of the Christ’s body?
When faced with such a barrage of uncertainties, the temptation to just retreat into a sectarian, apolitical isolation seems spiritually simplifying and even purifying. But I echo Moore’s call: seek out how to meet people with the Gospel even in the midst of problems and concerns that touch upon the political realm. In doing so, try to move past conservative civil religion and liberal social gospel. Do so with love; do so with charity towards opposing viewpoints; do so with humility knowing that we see through a glass darkly. Keep in mind that the political realm is not God’s Kingdom even if we are called to participate in it.
These goals are not easy. But they are necessary to meet people where they are with the difficulties they face. In educating ourselves about Christian distinctives and in meeting social issues in a way that defies partisanship, we can better engage our culture for the furtherance—not of some political program—but of the Gospel.