How This Conservative Evangelical Died

This is the first of two posts in which I have to preemptively tell you that my heart in this is motivated only in love and service to helping Christians (including me) more closely align in following the way of Jesus.

I simply ask that if you are a Christian and one who struggles with anger when a person challenges your faith perspective, then maybe park this post until you can read it in a non-defensive, non-oppositional, and peaceful posture. These words are meant to begin a civil conversation and dialogue and then to guide us into deeper reflection and dependence on the Spirit of God in our lives.

Too many times, Christians read what I write (with the most recent example being about Christians and politics) and quickly retort, “Well, I disagree with your position,” or, “Well, that is just your opinion.”

Others immediately dismiss what I have written and begin listing all of the arguments they have grown up believing to be true.

I am not pointing a finger in judgment here.

They certainly have the right to state their disagreement, but it is almost always done without the slightest bit of reflection or curiosity as to how I arrived at my position. I know this because when I ask each person if what they believe comes from Jesus, they usually state that it does not come from Jesus.

They may point to the Old Testament. They may refer to the founding documents of our country. They may convey that their position is what the majority of Christians believe in our country. They may even say it is their opinion based on what their own church or denomination tells them. But when they disagree with me… they never, ever, ever say that their views on the government or the political system come from Jesus.

I believe most people are trying to be sincere in their faith. I really do. But I also believe they are being brainwashed by well-meaning religious leaders, preachers, and teachers who care more about the United States government and the United States political system than honestly trying to follow in the way of Jesus and then working to advance his counter-cultural kingdom. But the Church’s affinity and obsession with government and politics have led to upside-down, mixed up priorities and profound sickness.

You know the old saying, “It takes one to know one.” Well, the reason I can identify this problem so easily is because I was part of the problem.

Admittedly, I used to have the same exact understanding and view as those who believe that Christianity and the American governmental and political system should be inseparable and that their fusion is absolutely essential. I was the Conservative Evangelical guy who believed that Christians needed to take back our country for God, that we needed to elect Conservative Christians to restore our Judeo-Christian principles and values, that the United States was the “shining light on a hill” and the only source of “good” in the world, and that all of our military endeavors against the enemies of “good” were approved by God.

I was THAT GUY. I was the guy who bought into the marriage of Christianity and politics hook, line, and sinker. I was the guy who believed that it was absolutely essential that the Church be politically active. I was the guy who believed that prayer ought to be in school, that the 10 commandments ought to be outside of the courthouse, and that a “Christian worldview” was the only thing that was going to defeat atheism and evolution and save the next generation.

If those values and beliefs were so ingrained in me and comprised the very core of my being, how in the world could my perspective change so radically?

The simple answer is that God began to completely destroy me. And the destruction left me shell-shocked. In shambles. In pain. Everything I had believed. Everything I had trusted. Everything I had put my faith in… leveled to the ground.

God completely obliterated and annihilated the foundations upon which I had built and resided my entire life. God shattered the lenses through which I viewed reality, the world, and other people. God eradicated my inferior allegiances, my inferior value systems, and all of the worldly wisdom in which I had placed my hope, faith, and trust, because they were all completely anti-thetical to, and opposed by, the way of God perfectly demonstrated in the Christ.

Little did I know that it would take this kind of demolition for something new to be built up in its place. It was something more beautiful, more liberating, more peaceful, and more inclusive. Amidst the wreckage, I began to see the beautiful, alternative, present reality of God’s reign (which Jesus called the kingdom of God) and how we, as his followers, are supposed to give our lives, our pledge, and our allegiance to it only. That is how God took my heart, mind, and soul captive and changed my heart’s every desire.

So when I write about how the preoccupation of the follower of Jesus ought not to be that of governments or politics, but rather that of the kingdom of God, I do not write as some wild-eyed anti-conformist, but rather as a former Conservative Evangelical whom God saw fit to completely decimate and reconstruct as an ambassador for his alternative, upside-down, and beautiful kingdom.

So with that narrative as a backdrop, what does it mean, if what I write is not just “my position” or “my opinion,” but the very truth of God that you need to hear and internalize and pray over, rather than immediately and casually dismiss because it conflicts with your current belief and value system?

The truth is that I cannot twist your arm, force you to understand, or convince you to believe in anything that you do not want to believe. I cannot convince or persuade you into understanding or entering into the beautiful reality of God’s kingdom with my eloquent words. And despite how convincing or persuasive I can be, you have to discover it for yourself, which leads to my next point.

I came to the realization last week while mowing that there was a very good reason why Jesus only talked about the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. By speaking about the kingdom of God in parables and sayings, it keeps people from turning it into a formula for salvation, steps that must be taken to insure eternal life, or laws and rules that must be followed to be a good Christian. We, in the religious realm, certainly have a track record for trying to create new religious laws and protocols and formulas for “who’s in and who’s out.” And that is the real genius of Jesus preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. He completely short circuits and circumvents our tendencies toward controlling people and cheapening God’s grace and forgiveness.

However, there is also an unfortunate downside to only speaking of the kingdom of God in parables and sayings. As our Western minds long for a more pragmatic, predictable faith that is achieved by simply following rules and taking the “right steps,” we have completely stopped “asking, seeking, and knocking” to discover the riches of the kingdom of God. Despite the fact that the Good News of the kingdom of God was the reason Jesus said he was sent, was the focus of his parables and the Sermon on the Mount, and was the very first thing he preached after his resurrection, we have completely stopped (or maybe never even started) looking for the kingdom into which Jesus was announcing and inviting us.

I have mentioned this in previous writings, but there were times when Jesus did not explain the parables of the kingdom of God to the crowds. He said frequently that those who understand his parables “have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.” Some people would get it. Some people would not get it. But it was up to each person to be in a humble posture of seeking, asking, and knocking. A person whose posture was resistant, closed-off, or defensive would never have the eyes to see or the ears to hear and understand the deeper mysteries of God’s kingdom.

I am afraid that many people today are in that place as well. We are significantly lacking in the kind of humility that recognizes the reality that we will always be students in this lifetime and that our learning from the Great Teacher will never end. We have stopped seeking to discover greater breadths and depths of truth because we believe we have already discovered all truth. We have ceased asking to have the eyes and heart of God because we already believe that we see everything clearly and that our hearts are fully aligned with God. We have stopped knocking at the door because we believe we have fully arrived at our spiritual destination.

I do not share any of this from a place of arrogance or arrived-ness, because I have definitely not arrived. I fall way short of God’s glory on a daily basis. I only want to simply and humbly ask for you to seek first the kingdom of God. It is only discovered through your own willingness and your own pursuit. It is only when your heart is open, that you can fully receive.

But too many Christian hearts are closed off to the kingdom of God.

And that is why, I believe, so many discussions about the government and politics are so fruitless among Christians. Very few approach politics from a kingdom-centered perspective to begin with, even though this ought to be the lens through which Christians view everything, including governments and politics.  

And here’s the crazy thing, Jesus told his followers to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM… which makes a Kingdom-centered perspective the most Jesus position of all positions, yet when I implore Christians to seek first the Kingdom of God (rather than our government or our politics) it’s dismissed as just another “opinion.” It seems to me that the most thoroughly Jesus position (the Kingdom of God) ought to be the one that Christians seek first and whole-heartedly embrace, rather than simply treating it as just another “opinion.”

Seeking first the kingdom above all else…

Brandon

Read other posts in this series:

Why I Don’t Want America to Come Back to God
Was Jesus a Republican or Democrat?

Was Jesus a Republican or Democrat?

Every presidential election cycle in the United States is like a massive pendulum of ideas, perspectives, and ideologies that swings back and forth powered by individuals, vested interest groups, politicians, and political parties. And the means by which these individuals and groups power this pendulum is through political power, influence, money, and propaganda.  But to be honest, this is the way politics have always operated and the exact same ingredients that have been used throughout history.  That is why politics and governments, as systems, can never be redeemed, because they will always be built upon by the corrupting influences of power, influence, and money… even when we have the best of intentions.

With that being said, there has been increasing and bewildering confusion amongst Christians as to how we ought to engage with the political system, generally, and for whom we ought to vote, specifically.

If social media does nothing else, it affords us the opportunity to know the political opinions of others. Of particular interest to me are the political leanings of those who describe themselves as Christian.  It is a curious phenomenon, that Christians of various political and ideological leanings are absolute certain that God is exclusively on their side or that Jesus absolutely shared their political and ideological angle.

As I discussed in my last post, we try to make God (or Jesus) fit into our finite, limited, broken dualistic constructs, in which only “my political party” or “my ideology” is right because my side is backed by God, and the other side is colluding with the powers of evil.

This kind of thinking is referred to as dualism, and it is a very limited way of looking at the world and people. It is the kind of thinking that produces comments like, “A Christian would never vote for Hillary Clinton,” or “A Christian would never vote for Donald Trump.”  Even more, dualistic thinking produces mindsets in which one person might say, “The United States is always good because it is the city shining on a hill and the only hope for humanity,” while another might say, “The United States is bad because it was created by killing and oppressing Native Americans and African Americans.”  A dualistic mind only sees the world as black and white, my way is always right and your way is always wrong.

I don’t expect everyone to understand what I am saying here, but I pray that you at least stop to ponder what I am saying and let it marinate in your spirit for a while.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar, says that, “The lowest levels of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)- me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this.  The higher levels of consciousness are more and more able to deal with contradictions, paradoxes, and all Mystery (win/win).  This is spiritual maturity.  At the higher levels, we can teach things like compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, even love of enemies.”

This is important because movements beyond the dualistic (win/lose) mind begin to erase divisions and dividing lines, affording us the opportunity to work within and between groups and individuals, and then allowing us to bring to everyone that which is transcendent- compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, and love. This movement, or shift in our heart’s position, is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit, who is moving us to see others as brothers and sisters and then working to unite us together in the love of the Father.

That is why it is so disappointing that Christians, from any political and ideological persuasion, validate their politics, political affiliations, and ideologies with the exclusive endorsement of God or Jesus, because neither God nor Jesus endorses your politics or ideologies.

For example, a Christian Conservative might believe that God is against abortion, but for killing criminals through capital punishment and killing enemies in war. A Christian Liberal might believe in a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to have an abortion or not, but believes that God is against killing human beings through capital punishment and war.  Each side may view their side as “right,” and may even view their position as what God or Jesus would approve or endorse.

The dualistic mind does not have the ability to understand that all life is valuable and worth protecting, whether it is an innocent and defenseless baby or an enemy combatant.  The value of, and the love for, human life transcends the dualistic mind and the dividing lines of politics.  And that is the work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

The truth is that as we pursue and promote political positions and ideologies that limit or inhibit the transcendent values of God through the Spirit working in our lives, we oppose our identity and purpose as the Body of Christ in the world.  

Neither God nor Jesus is a Democrat or Republican, a Conservative or Liberal, a Trump Supporter or Hillary Supporter. God, as demonstrated through Jesus, is life, love, mercy, compassion, and grace that transcends all divisions and dividing lines.  And the logical next step in our thinking is that we, as the Body of Christ, ought to be in that place as well… in positions that transcend all divisions and dividing lines, that work to preserve all human life, that unconditionally love every person on every side of every issue, that move in ways of mercy and compassion for every single person in the world, that bring peace and reconciliation between individuals and groups, and that extend the grace of God to all.

That is why Jesus was able to easily move between groups and have voice with each of them, because he wasn’t trying to pick sides in the man-made arena of politicking and governance. Jesus moved amongst the religious and irreligious, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the outcast, the chosen and the unchosen… with an invitation to all… to join a movement in which dividing lines have been erased, social stratification has been obliterated and religious and political affiliations have been put to death. For this movement is an invitation for every man, woman, and child into a new humanity that leaves polarization and division and then unites solely in the transcendent values of God.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, why is this so hard to understand? Why do we continue to settle for so much less?  Why do we continue to fight for man-made constructs while neglecting our identity and purpose as the Body of Christ in the world?  When will we ever have the eyes to see and the ears to hear?  When will these bones ever come to life, when will this Body rise, so that the world will hear the invitation of Jesus into this beautiful movement?

It begins with you.

Peace…

Brandon

To read Brandon’s previous post, Why I Don’t Want America to Come Back to God, click here.

In my next post I will be looking at Christians submitting to the government and if we have an obligation to vote.

 

Why I Don’t Want America to Come Back to God

I write this in an attempt at promoting a culture of dialogue and civility, even though both are in short supply these days. It seems as if most people have their heels dug in and their minds made up on every issue already, so what’s the point of attempting dialogue? It’s a great question that deserves a serious answer in a time when most people talk passed each other, only thinking about what can be said next to win the argument, rather than taking the more humble and disciplined postures of listening and contemplating.

While I am still but a student in the disciplines of listening and contemplating, the greatest areas of growth in my life have come as a result of being able to listen and contemplate thoughts and ideas that I had previously and whole-heartedly rejected. It is only when we can take a humble posture and open ourselves to hearing a new position or idea that we may begin to evaluate what we already believe and why we believe it, and then also begin to understand how and why another has arrived at a different position or idea. It costs nothing to be civil and listen to another’s perspective. We may even learning something new- whether it be a new idea, belief, or perspective, or maybe even something new about the person with whom we are speaking.

When we are able to have civil dialogue with one another, it honors each person’s humanity. We no longer see a person only for the idea or belief they represent, which we may have viewed in antagonism. We begin to see them as brothers and sisters who have been walking a different life path with different experiences or perspectives. And it is in that place where each side may begin to learn, grow, and broaden their appreciation for others. It begins with each one of us. May we each look inward at our hearts and move toward a more humble and disciplined posture of listening and contemplating, while honoring each person’s humanity.

With all of that being said as a proper foundation for discussion, it seems that one of the most contentious topics within American Christianity is the role followers of Jesus should or should not play within politics and government. The reason this topic is tantamount is that there are very different perspectives that have significant, profound, and very different effects and consequences in relation to a follower of Jesus.

In particular, there are those who believe that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that our country has turned its back on God, and that our country needs to come back to God, or that God will remove his blessing from our country. To that end, they believe that Christians ought stand up, be heard, and be involved politically so that Christian politicians will pass legislation that they believe will preserve Christianity in America and help our country turn back to God.

There are others, like me, who believe that whether the United States was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles or not is inconsequential, because Jesus was not trying to redeem countries by legislating morality from the top-down, he was inviting all of humanity into a different and alternative country (the Kingdom of God) with values and principles that completely contradict the values and principles of every man-made country on earth. To that end, we believe that this way moves forward, not by standing up against others, fighting for our principles or values to be imposed on others, or seeking the power of political rule to bring our country back to God, but rather by becoming the servant of all mankind so as to express and extend the grace and love of God and then inviting others into this “alternative country.”. It is a perspective that is not about “Christianizing” countries, but rather inviting all races, ethnicities, and citizens of the world to relinquish their inferior allegiances and inferior value systems, and enter into the transcendent ways of mercy and forgiveness, peace and reconciliation, and unconditional love of all.

The two perspectives could not be any different.

One moves forward in hopes of redeeming and restoring man-made governments and political systems, while the other understands that all man-made governments and political systems (no matter how well-intentioned) are built upon values and principles that will always be antithetical to the ways of Jesus.

One is built upon power, force, and law, while the other is built upon meekness, peace with all, love of friend and enemy, and the gentle ways of the Spirit.

One works to legislate morality through political means, which never changes a person’s heart, while the other moves forward humbly in grace and forgiveness, serving and demonstrating the love of God through example and relationship, changing hearts in the process.

One takes a very vocal approach that stands up for that which they believe to win the argument, while the other remains silently powerless in truth, even in the face of accusation and persecution, because the argument-battle does not have to be won.

One has a conditional view on which lives matter, babies in the womb, and which lives do not matter, enemies foreign and domestic, while the other views all life as God-given and worth saving.

One seeks retaliation and justice against aggressors and enemies through capital punishment and war, while the other will go down every peaceful path in love and forgiveness in the hope that tomorrow he or she will be a changed person.

One uses Scripture selectively, and out of context, to support a hybrid Judeo-Christian patriotism, while the other seeks to only pursue the way, life, and teachings of Jesus.

One is bent on judging the sins of special sin groups of the world, while the other extends a welcoming and loving embrace to every person in the world and humbly walks alongside them demonstrating and teaching the best and highest ways of Jesus.

One lives in fear of anything or anyone that threatens their vision of their country, while the other is never threatened or fearful because the country in which we are citizens, the Kingdom of God, will never fall and will always prevail, even when faced with violence or death.

One is perpetually unhappy and angry when cities, states, countries, and governments move away from their Judeo-Christian ethic, while the other finds happiness, joy, and peace in any worldly form of government, whether it be a republic, democracy, authoritarian state, communist state, or even in the midst of suffering under horrible governmental oppression.

Granted, these are big brushstrokes of the two perspectives, but is generally indicative of how both perspectives are so distinct and different.

If the whole point of being a Christian is to model the life of Jesus while he was here on earth, isn’t it crazy that one of the perspectives almost goes out of it’s way to not look or act like the example of Jesus at all?  As if Jesus is only good for saving people’s souls, but not having any bearing on what we think or how we live our lives or what we put our hope, faith, and trust in.  The entire life of Jesus, not the least of which was his sermon on the mount, centered around the ethic of how his followers should live and conduct their lives and daily affairs.  To me, it is utterly confounding and perplexing and sad how a large portion of American Christianity has lost the Christ.

One is in pursuit of an abstract “God” in which nationalistic and patriotic values and characteristics have been cut-and-pasted onto that “god,” while the other recognizes that the values and characteristics of God have been fully demonstrated in the life of Jesus. One perspective pursues a god that has been made in a powerful, retributive, violent, and tribal image, while the other perspective seeks to become the image bearers of God, which looks exactly like Jesus.

This is the reason why many Christians in the United States are more comfortable talking about God than Jesus. When one creates an abstract god made in our image, one can cut-and-paste any value and belief system onto that god without having to account for any of the specifics. That god simply becomes a projection or expression of the people who have created it. That god has the same values and principles as the sinful and broken people who have constructed it. And that is precisely why I have no interest in our country “turning back to God.” Because the god to which this perspective wants us to turn back… doesn’t look like Jesus at all.

I would rather invite every person in our country to follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, because that is where real life and true freedom are found.

What do you say?  Let the civil conversation begin.

Next week I will be asking the question, “Was Jesus a Repuplican or Democrat?