Perfect Love Casts Out Fear: Reflections on “Hijacked”

I love evangelicals. You all drive me crazy, but I love you. I’m liberal – in fact I left liberal in the dust so long ago I’ve forgotten what it looks like. But as I read Hijacked, a new book by Methodist pastors Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson on responding to partisan politics in the church, I felt a glimmer of hope rising within me. You see, I’m concerned that the church is dying. A lot of mainline Christians and virtually all of the “spiritual but not religious crowd,” are so disgusted with the partisan church divide that they’ve opted out of Christian faith. (Outrageous, I know.) They look at you all, (and me by association if you can believe that), holding angry political positions based on literal interpretations of ancient texts that can’t even correctly calculate the value of pi (I Kings 7:23), and write us off.

Christians have actually tried to change the value of pi in textbooks based on that verse. And why not? Accept that the Bible is wrong on that one, and the next thing you know, you’ll slide down that slippery slope and deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Reductio absurdum? Yes, but the point holds and sheds light on the fear festering at the heart of these debates. The spiritual but not religious folk can smell it and they know, without hearing the verse quoted, that “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18), so they’ll have none of it.

But  please don’t think I’m being overly critical; I really get the fear thing because what I see from over here on the dark side, is the slippery slope, the embrace of the modernist deconstruction of Biblical authority that leaves people without a context of meaning for the sometimes tragic life we lead. No context of meaning, like Tony Hall described: “I had this very vague feeling I was walking around in nothingness” (p. 115). He was. Want to see the consequence of a society stuck in that place? Watch the news.

So I can see how, if you think the choice is between no context of meaning and a bitter partisan grip on faith, you might go with the partisan divide. But that is not the choice and the authors know it. (Hence the earlier stated hope.)

The authors might disagree, but I believe the Scriptures represent a long theological conversation. Stories, interpretive history, poems, oracles, etc., were written, edited and brought together such that the aggregate forms the basis of a conversation which offers a context of meaning to people of faith. It is an active conversation, inspired by Spirit, that leads us to describe and live our faith even as our understanding of the world evolves. Such was the case in the development of the Scriptures themselves.

The authors understand that the conversation has been truncated, sometimes even eradicated, by fear. They offer a prescription to pull us out of that malaise. Love one another and get out of the ideological bubble. Cool. We can agree on another essential: Perfect love casts out fear. Really, I love you evangelicals.

Sam Alexander is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, CA, and an Adjunct Professor of Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

 

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

  • Bo Grimes

    The problem is that the book is partisan, only in a more clever way. When someone bemoans religious involvement in politics it is almost always to conflate evangelical (which I am, but not in the sense you mean–ELCA) with fundamentalist and firewall all politically conservative positions to the “far right.” There isn’t even a “right” anymore, only an “extreme” or “far” right. Anytime someone even engages in such characterizations he lets his partisan slip show.

    Mark is the lectionary Gospel for this year, and as we listen to Mark breathlessly describe Jesus’ road to Jerusalem we see him, or others, like Blind Bartimaeus shouting out Son of David, implicitly and explicitly provoking both the Jewish and Roman political system, and not because they are Jewish or Roman political systems but human political systems. Jesus radically subverts them all even western, post-Enlightenment, civil, democratic systems of laws, run by conservatives or liberals.

    The final phrase of our Lord’s Prayer is a polemical statement. To Him belongs “the kingdom, power and glory.” American Christians have no idea how politically subversive that statement is because we think of our type of government as benign, as beneficial, as blessing; even conservatives do until it impinges on their concept of liberty. Early Christians knew how radical and subversive the very act of worship itself was. In Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s words:

    Christian worship “reminds the state of the limited and provisional character of its power.” Every time the Church gathers for worship it proclaims the “end of the world and the failure of the world. It contractions the world’s claim to provide a valid justification for their existence.”

    You seem to think the secular world throws all Christianity in the same pot and rejects us because they think we all have a medieval, non-Enlightenment, non-scientific mindset. I think there are plenty of people who reject Jesus because they think they are sufficient unto themselves and/or don’t believe in any truth claims of any kind.

    Yet, you seem to throw everyone with a conservative bent into the same pot with, what?…well, Nazis I suppose, though you don’t say it. I mean that IS what the far right is, right? Or is that the “extreme” right or the “radical” right? Or maybe the extreme, far, radical right? I can never keep them straight anymore because everyone uses them to mean the same thing; that is, “evil” and/or “stupid,” or at least “mean and misguided.”

    My issues with so-called progressive Christianity are: 1) they have no problem aligning themselves with people who share their social justice concerns but have no commitment to follow Christ and do not love him, and I mean those who admit to being either indifferent or hostile to Jesus Christ. It seems many Christians with a left leaning political philosophy would rather team up with Dawkins than Dobson.

    2) Many of them seem to want abdicate the mission of the Church to government, or consider them to be the same. Just as the Christian Right has a tendency to sanitize and sanctify the military regardless, so the Christian Left seems to sanitize and sanctify any government social program or agenda regardless.

    3) The political Left constantly bashes so-called conservative Christians for wanting to “impose their religious values” they believe come from Scripture on issues like abortion or gay marriage while endorsing Christian who want to “impose their religious values” they believe come from Scripture on issues like poverty and hunger or acceptance of abortion and gay marriage.

    Why is it OK to quote Scripture to support an anti-poverty government program but not capital punishment? (By the way, I am anti-abortion, anti-death penalty and anti-war.)

    4) Progressive Christians have started to consider “civil rights” the highest most sacred and holy God-ordained Good.

    Political partisanship will continue to be an issue in churches, not because of ideology but precisely because of theology and its intersection with democracy. Both sides believe they are living out their theology by striving to shape their society within the democratic framework and neither understand that true worship is the single most politically subversive action in which they will ever engage.

    The fundamental difference in the left and right is at its core an argument over liberty or equality. The Right give primacy to liberty and the Left give primacy to equality, and in this world they will always clash at several friction points.

    Jesus made us free, and he shows no partiality, and when his kingdom, which “has drawn near,” is drawing near, “is among us” and is coming, is perfectly established we will be perfectly free and equal.

    Until then the best thing we can do is not to try and abolish partisanship, because it flows out of our fallen humanity and has always been around in one form or another, but to acknowledge that both our and our brothers’ and sisters’ politics flows from our attempts to faithfully live out our theology–not to label ours as theology and theirs as ideology. Only then can we love one another despite our differences because only then will we see and treat the other with good will and as a potential teacher rather than a stubborn student.

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