Thursday, November 17, 2016

The evangelical election audit: Grace in the saints

I was privileged to stand before the congregation of Covenant Community Church last Sunday on behalf of the elders and thank God for His grace and commend our fellow saints for their gracious interaction during the divisive and just-completed presidential election campaign.

Those who are part of our fellowship undoubtedly handled their ballots in a variety of ways, but our bond in Christ and our love for one another prevailed over our differences on election day. The presidential choices offered by the two major parties left evangelical Christians with no good choices, prompting widespread soul-searching on what to do.

What I didn't observe from our church during the general election season was:

1. Criticism of other Christians about their opinions or decisions.

2. Harsh rhetoric toward those who held different views.

3. Attempts to bind the consciences of other followers of Christ.

Regrettably, I did observe all of those from other Christians on social and other forms of media. That is not to say our thoughts about the decisions of others were always pure. But I never saw any such attitude reflected in words or actions among our fellowship. Nor is that to say, "Aren't we great?"

It is to say God is great, and He gave us abundant grace. He blessed us with love for and patience with one another. He blessed us with the ability to look out not only for our own interests but "for the interests of others" (Phil. 3:4b). He blessed us with the desire to understand our brothers and sisters. He blessed us with the willingness to withhold judgment and to not impose our perspective on others.

Thankfully, God is still making that grace available to us in our post-election lives. We still have much to learn from one another. We still need to show the world what God's love is like by pouring out love, grace and compassion on one another.

We will do this with grace and truth, because the Jesus who has created us as a church and binds us together as a church and indwells and holds onto each of us is the Jesus who is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14b). While we extend grace to one another and those outside our band of brothers and sisters, we also will speak truth in love to one another and those on the outside.

As much as we ever have, we -- as the people of God delivered from death to life and darkness to light -- need to stand strongly for the dignity and sanctity of every human life as doctors continue to slay our yet born children, as the state promotes the killing of the elderly and disabled, as wickedly misguided forces rise to disparage people of color, and as too many Americans treat those outside their tribe with contempt. We need to stand for the free exercise of religion by all religious adherents and those with no religious belief -- while faithfully proclaiming the only gospel, the gospel of Jesus, that can bring them to God.

We were made for this time. Let us embrace it. Let us love everyone. Let us stand for truth. Let us serve one another. Let us trust and treasure Jesus more than ever.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The evangelical election audit: What of conscience?

Another observation regarding evangelical engagement in this presidential election should be obvious:

Some of us have not respected the freedom of conscience of each other.

Before I explain that comment and by way of clarification, the differences among evangelical Christians I am addressing in this series of posts are not about whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Evangelicals have been strongly pro-life for nearly 40 years. Hillary Clinton's support for both unfettered abortion rights and government funding of abortion eliminates her from consideration by the overwhelming majority of true evangelicals.

Instead, the debate among evangelicals in this election focuses on Donald Trump -- whether to vote for him, to vote for a third-party or write-in candidate, or not to vote. Regrettably, conscience has been ignored, even trampled, by some of us.

The #NeverTrump band has not been totally free of such behavior, but it is Trump supporters who especially have been guilty of this in recent weeks and months. The criticism by some Trump-supporting evangelicals of their brothers and sisters who are not committed to voting for the Republican nominee has been disappointing, even disheartening. Some have descended to snark and name-calling.

We are not talking about disagreements between evangelical camps over such critical matters as abortion, marriage and religious liberty. The division is over a problematic candidate, not defining issues. Those who refuse to vote for the GOP candidate are not less committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-religious freedom causes. Instead, they believe their consciences will not permit them to vote for Trump. For this, they have been scolded by some fellow evangelicals, who have, in essence, called on these dissenters to violate their consciences. This falls short of biblical teaching and Christian love.

The apostle Paul addresses matters of conscience in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians. While he disagrees with some of his brothers and sisters, he doesn't seek to coerce them to violate their consciences. He doesn't criticize his fellow saints. He calls for love and understanding on both sides. The conscience of a Christian may change over time, but no Christ-follower should criticize another in the meantime or force him or her to make that change.

Paul writes, "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Rom. 14:10).

Loving persuasion is good; judgmental coercion is not. May we be faithful to Scripture and to our Master's command to love one another. Let us prize conscience but -- even more -- one another.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The evangelical election audit: What about others?

An assessment of how evangelical Christians have handled this presidential election campaign should include this observation:

Some of us have not looked out for the interests of one another.

Considering others and their interests is addressed directly -- not uniquely -- by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians of Philippi. He urges these brothers and sisters to act with humility not only to "regard one another as more important than yourselves" but to "not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4)

As in all elections, there are those whose interests we should look out for in 2016. The unborn are certainly among them. So are children who have been born. So are future citizens. So are the poor, orphans, disabled, enslaved and other vulnerable members of our society.

In the evangelical church, however, too many seemingly have failed to look out "for the interests of others" in their own blood-bought family.

Just this year, one of the candidates for the White House has retweeted messages from white supremacist groups. The same candidate has charged he could not receive a fair trial from a federal judge because the judge is of Mexican descent. These and other actions and rhetoric have elicited support for his campaign from white nationalists.

All of this has produced concern and opposition from African Americans and other minorities, including many who count themselves evangelicals. But it does not appear to have produced the kind of concern or empathy from some white evangelicals who are commanded to look out "for the interests of others."

It appears to me too many white evangelicals -- and any is too many -- have failed to consider the perspectives of their black and Hispanic fellow saints. Too many have failed to enter into the pain experienced by their minority brothers and sisters in response to Donald Trump's campaign. Too many have failed to express solidarity with their African-American and other minority partners in the gospel.

Instead, these white evangelicals, and their leaders, have announced and -- at least in some cases -- promoted support for Trump without expressing public disapproval of the racial insensitivity or animosity of his words and behavior. They have shown a tone deafness to the anguished cries of those to whom they are united eternally by the blood of Jesus.

Like my previous email in this blog series on the election, this is not primarily about whom you and I will vote for. This is about the name of Christ and the health, unity and witness of His church. Will we love and serve our brothers and sisters whose skin color and ethnicity is different by looking out for their interests and not just our own? Because in looking out for their interests, we also are looking out for the interests of the Lord Jesus and His church.

Photo by DonkeyHotey.