Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and one of the most powerful leaders within evangelical circles called the results of the presidential election an “evangelical disaster.” I could disagree more. This election was a gift. From NPR:
Mohler says white evangelicals moved in lockstep: Seventy-nine percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney, the same percentage as voted for President George W. Bush in 2004. He says they boldly telegraphed their concerns about Obama, and “our message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.” Mohler says there’s a danger that evangelicals won’t see this larger lesson — that they will say Obama won because of his unique story and personality.
“No, it was far more than that,” he says. “Four states dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage and after 31 to 33 straight victories, we’ve been handed a rather comprehensive set of defeats on the issue of the integrity of marriage.” That, and the legalization of marijuana in some states, are examples of what Mohler calls “a seismic moral shift in the culture.”
I think Mohler is looking at this the wrong way. It has always been a mistake for evangelicals to put our trust in politicians and parties. Parties and politicians don’t want what we want. They want power, and will cynically use evangelicals anytime they can. David Kuo, a former Bush Administration staffer, wrote about in his book Tempting Faith. Kuo described how the Bush Administration placated culture-moving evangelicals, courting their support while mocking them behind closed doors, calling Pat Robertson “insane,” Jerry Falwell “ridiculous,” and saying that James Dobson needed to be “controlled.”
Evangelicals have to move our focus away from right wing politics and begin focusing on mission. When I say mission, I don’t mean saving souls so much as pursuing the kingdom of God.
Let me give an example. Take the issue of gay marriage and defense of traditional marriage: Mohler and the evangelicals have been fighting what they see as an attack on traditional marriage. Countless hours and dollars flow into this one issue. Mohler and his folks believe marriage is in trouble because of a gay agenda. It doesn’t make any sense. How can marriage be in trouble because of homosexuals, until recently (and then only some places) homosexuals couldn’t marry. Marriage isn’t in trouble because of homosexuals, marriage is in trouble because of heterosexuals who cheat on their spouses and bail on marriages instead of sticking around to work it out. It just seems a little foolish to blame the decline of marriage on people who until recently weren’t allowed to marry. Heterosexuals are the ones messing up marriage. The problem is not “out there,” it’s “in here.”
What I’m saying is that Christians should stop trying to enforce our morality on the country via laws and politics, and we need to start living our morality instead. We cannot argue for the sanctity of marriage in our culture when the divorce rate among evangelicals mirrors that of the culture. We cannot expect to rely on a government to make people be virtuous we we have not become virtuous ourselves. All we can do is to do the critical work it takes to embody the virtues of our faith in our own lives, and allow our lives to bear witness to the fact that following Jesus is the best way to live.
If evangelicals alone would do two things – just two – it would have a pronounced and undeniable impact on the country in regard to marriage and poverty:
- Live in fidelity to our spouses. Keep it zipped up. If marriages are in real trouble, get counselling, get healthy, face down our ego issues, change our expectations, have grace, have mercy, work out our own problems and move heaven and earth to find a way to live in fidelity to one another, to God, and to our marriage vows. Can you imagine the impact this would have on the marriage issue in our society?
- Tithe 10% to our churches. Somewhere around 4-6% of evangelicals tithe. If 100% would tithe, church budgets would be so flush with cash that their mission potential would rival that of the federal government. Our society wouldn’t have to expect the government to constantly jump in because the church would already be kicking butt. Can you imagine what the church could do for the marginalized and the vulnerable in our world if we all tithed? It would be amazing.
What if we just worked on that? Marriage and poverty – just focus on those two things above all else. This past election wasn’t an evangelical disaster, it was a gift. Evangelicals marched in lock step and it wasn’t enough. Because of the changing culture and changing demographics we now know it will never be enough. Maybe now we’ll give up on that whole enterprise and start to actually embody the faith we say we believe in. Let’s give up on the politicians and just focus on the things we can control – ourselves. Let’s actually live like we believe. Let’s take all of the money, energy, time, and talent which used to go into politics and pour them into our local churches instead. That, my friends, will change the world, and will constitute the most lasting impact evangelicals could ever have on our society.