Sunday, July 02, 2017

Trump Repeals Church Gag Law, But Freedom is the Test

President Trump gave quite a speech yesterday. After suffering for many years listening to the nasal and inarticulate Bushes, it was refreshing to hear someone in clear and powerful language express things that his mostly evangelical Christian audience longed to hear. With the Bushes evangelicals had to strain between the lines to interpret some of the things they said as agreement for their view of the world. Trump put it directly before them. Trump threw a few punches, but mostly stayed above-the-belt and directed praise to others.

I found myself agreeing with the substance of what he said. Yet as much fun as it would be, if I let myself get caught up in that without looking at the big picture I could be led astray. I mean, just to hear them give a speech, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could make you think they had all kinds of good sense. You had to compare what was communicated in the speech with the big picture to get an accurate assessment. When I hear someone give the soaring rhetoric and what they say matches up with the big picture, then I will get downright euphoric and in that case it would be the right thing to be euphoric. In that case being cynical would be the wrong thing. But it would also be wrong to ignore the red flags just so you could get caught up in a euphoria based on a sales job and not reality.

Donald Trump is a master salesman.  It is possible this is the best of salesman giving a pitch to his largest account and telling them exactly what they want to hear. Or he could sound sincere because he is sincere. Again, we have to zoom out to see if there is a red flag there.

There are generally two kinds of people in church. People who go because they feel good about themselves when they do it and who think that this is what good people do, and those who know that they are sinners saved by grace and go pay their respects and rejoice over the grace that they have found. Only the latter group actually understands the gospel. Only the latter group are Christians as the Bible defines it. The former group are religious people, but you can't get to Christianity without coming to grips with the truth about yourself- that you are a sinner in need of grace, that you can't make yourself right in your own power. The truth about yourself leads directly to the good news of the gospel- you don't have to make it right, He did it for you. If you make it right, it is in response to His already doing it for you.

Listen to this response from candidate Trump when asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness. It is clear that, at least in this point in time, that he is from the former group not the latter. He does not see himself as a sinner saved by grace. He sees himself as a good person who goes to church. He does get communion pretty well, but not the gospel. Without repentance, where is the need for regeneration?

It is hard to avoid the conclusion (never mind the rest of his life, just from the answer in the video) that as much as he is culturally inclined toward the form of the Christian Church, he is not a "new person in Christ" as are believers who have repented and accepted salvation. We attend worship services of the same religion, but he does not have what we have. I prayed for Obama and I am praying for him, but without repentance what he has is not the same as what I have even though it can look the same on the outside.

In the speech yesterday he delivered on a policy position that much of his evangelical base favors. Lyndon Johnson changed IRS rules so that pastors could not endorse candidates for office from the pulpit. They could talk about issues. They could endorse privately as a private person, but they could not do so on behalf of the church. I am glad the rule is going away. It was not enforced even-handedly. It was a violation of free speech if not freedom of religion. So I am glad that churches will have more freedom. My concern is how they will use that freedom.

Certain churches have traded the harsh self-assessments required to preach the gospel in favor of the false allure and excitement of being a "player" in the world of secular politics. They don't want to have to come back each and every Sunday and face the truth about who they are. Like the President, they want to see themselves as some of the "good people" because they attend church and profess a certain moral code. The truth of the gospel is that it is not a case of us "good guys" against the Other Side who are the "bad guys". We are all the bad guys, and we need to scrutinize ourselves at least as often as we cast stones at them. That is not fun, it is not "sexy", it does not lead to a lot of euphoric moments of "winning" in the short term.

My fear is that some of these churches who are teetering on the rails are going to go off the rails if they have this new freedom. They will willingly become wholly owned subsidiaries of a corrupt republican party which really has very little regard for them, even if it has a use for them. They will want to maintain eligibility for federal grants which the government should not even be giving as broke as they are.

The church should be the conscience of the nation, speaking truth to power. It is hard to do that when you are a palace prophet dining at the king's table. Maybe the gospel is too inconvenient to church leaders who want to keep their "access" to the corridors of power -because those in the corridors find its message distasteful. They will instead preach a utilitarian civil religion which has no power to save.

This is the temptation of the church. She can be offered all the kingdoms of the world, if only she will bow down to another besides God. She will wind up exactly what some of her critics maintain- just another interest group which will try to force outward compliance by outward law to standards she favors- standards which rightfully come from a changed heart. I am not even saying that the church should not advocate for better and more just laws. She should. It is all a part of loving our neighbor. But how do you know when it has gone too far? I am not sure where the line is, but I know this, when you leave off preaching the gospel because it is an impediment to efforts to influence government access/policy then you are definitely over it.


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