I’m not a political person. Faith means much more to me than politics. I do have strong opinions about the need to keep politics out of practicing and sharing our faith because equating the importance of God and politics is disrespectful to God. And it’s unwise. There is scriptural guidance in the form of an argument from silence—Jesus did not politicize His teachings. At the risk of appearing to taint this ethic, please dismiss the political and constitutional implications of the following material and focus on the core questions.
In potentially uncomfortable situations, most of us have some fear of rejection or confrontation that compels us to be silent about our faith. Thinking about it ahead of time can help overcome those fears.
Imagine that you are on the hot seat. Attention is focused on you, and your beliefs are called into question. How would you respond? (If you’ve never been in this position it might be good to ask yourself, seriously, “Why not?”)
Earlier this month, Russell Vought, an evangelical Christian, was testifying during a confirmation hearing, and Senator Bernie Sanders questioned Vought’s beliefs. The following two-minute YouTube clip captures the contentiousness of the incident.
For context, please read what The Atlantic has to report. Pay careful attention to the scriptural citations. If you aren’t aware of the context, you could be inclined more to an opinionated, rather than informed, reaction.
Back to the question. Forgetting about the political and constitutional issues and personalities involved, how would you respond?
Just in case this topic comes up at your water cooler or cocktail party, here are some thoughts to help you prepare an answer.
- The teaching of Jesus does not foment hatred, bigotry, or intolerance. Jesus said, directly, the greatest two commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. When questioned about whom He meant by ‘neighbor,’ Jesus taught the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans were held to be low-class people in the first century. By including them in the parable, Jesus made a clear point that His followers are to love others broadly and inclusively.
- As Christians, we believe the Bible contains the inspired word of God and is the final authority for faith and practice. We rely on what it says and do not have the liberty or right to make up our own brand of Christianity, or to cherry pick proof texts. There are many reasons, objectively and personally, for accepting the Bible as the inspired, holy word of God.
- Christians do not have the right to condemn people—we are commanded to love people—but God does have that right. If you really want to understand why, study the Bible. We, the created, are in rebellion against the Creator, and a holy and just God has a plan for the salvation of those who accept His complete sacrifice on our behalf. He has the right to condemn those who reject Him, as Scripture clearly teaches (again, read The Atlantic article).
- John 3:16, the most familiar passage of scripture in the New Testament, states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” From this passage, we can see that God is loving and did not discriminate to whom salvation is offered. He offers salvation to the world.
- Jesus said directly that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to God the Father except by Him.
- The apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, taught that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by our works. While we all know people of every faith and creed who are indeed wonderfully good, salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. Again, we’re not free to make this up—it is directly stated in the Bible. Just because people are ‘good’ does not entitle them to salvation.
- Western culture is inebriated with pluralism. We resist anything that might impinge upon personal freedoms—such as a morally-based worldview. Pluralism by its nature appeals to a wide swath of voters and is therefore quite pragmatic in politics. But on logical and spiritual levels, pluralism comes up short.
- In logic, there is the law of non-contradiction, which holds that two opposite truth claims cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. “There is either milk in the refrigerator now, or there isn’t,” as Norman Geisler says.
- The world’s major religions ALL have opposing truth claims. The nature of truth claims is that they are exclusive.
- Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead. Islam teaches that Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not rise from the dead. Keep it real. Both claims can be false, but both cannot be true. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.” Christianity depends on the objective truth of the Resurrection.
- Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses. Buddhists say there is no deity. Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God. Christians believe that God is loving and personal. As Ravi Zacharias says, “The world’s major religions are not fundamentally similar and superficially different, they are fundamentally different and superficially similar.” Most advocates of pluralism don’t take the time to investigate the differences.
Pluralism may be good for getting votes, but it’s an empty and illogical worldview. Although I disagree with those who wish to cast Christianity into a cultural stew with the world’s other religions, my Christian faith compels me to love those who disagree. I wish we could at least all agree on that.
June 30th, 2017 at 3:46 pm
Thanks John, good truths to share when are confronted with questions and skepticism about our faith.
July 1st, 2017 at 9:19 am
Thanks, Fred. This topic hits home because I just tend to shut down discussing my faith around people who are confrontational. I’m trying to overcome that pattern and hope this post will help others and cause them to think about how to respond in heated or pejorative situations.
Hope you’re doing well. God bless.
June 30th, 2017 at 3:48 pm
John, I was tempted to blog myself on this a few weeks ago, but I was so flabbergasted by Senator Sanders’ comments, that I just could not think about how I could effectively respond, without getting overly frustrated. Furthermore, this confusion between the political and the spiritual is a very delicate matter. So, thank you for speaking up, and writing more eloquently and calmly than I would.
Here are my two thoughts, one in defense of Senator Sanders, and one as a hopefully (kindly) rebuke to the same Honorable Senator:
(1) It would appear that the Senator has himself terribly confused as to what Mr. Vought was trying to communicate in his essay regarding Muslims standing “condemned.” When people hear the language of being “condemned,” it is very easy to think of this in a political or social sense.
As an ethnic Jew, Senator Sanders’ family is all too familiar with the horror of antisemitism. Though his father survived the Holocaust, Senator Sanders tells the tragic story of how much of his father’s family was wiped out during the Nazi regime in Europe.
Sadly still, the Nazis took the antisemitic statements, of some Christian leaders, such as Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, as justification for their horrible deeds. It is indeed terrible, and far too easy, to say that those who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, as non-messianic Jews would say, are “condemned,” in a spiritual sense, and then apply such logic to “condemning” Jews in a physical, earthly sense.
No sinful human being has the right to do this. To do this is nothing more than wholesale murder, and completely contrary to the Bible. It is all the more tragic, that the Nazis were able to carry out their designs, with very little opposition from the German Christian population.
So, in this sense, I can not blame Senator Sanders for reacting so negatively towards the language of “condemnation.”
(2) That being said, it is also apparent that the Honorable Senator is completely unfamiliar with the New Testament. John 3:18 uses the language of being “condemned,” but in a very different sense, that the Honorable Senator is apparently not familiar with:
“Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
This has nothing to do with being “un-American,” or “against American values.” It has everything to do with what God has taught in the Christian New Testament, regarding spiritual realities. In this sense, the Honorable Senator is, ironically, not merely “condemning” Mr. Vought. Rather, he is “condemning” the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Honorable Senator has either misunderstood these words of the Bible, or he is simply unfamiliar with them.
Speaking as an American, one of the most cherished rights we all share as citizens in this country is the freedom of religion. As a citizen, I wish to defend the Honorable Senator’s right to express his religious views. I just wish he would also extend that same right to others, with whom he disagrees.
July 1st, 2017 at 9:21 am
Thanks, Clarke. You have a gift for empathy in argumentation. I think you nailed it. God bless.