By Charles Redfern
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council
Thanks a heap for bringing us into the 21st century by redefining the term, “Christian.” Fogies such as Augustine, Chrysostom, Francis, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Spurgeon, J.I. Packer and Billy Graham described the faithful as “those who follow Jesus Christ,” quoting withered parchments like the Bible and the Apostles and Nicene Creeds: wonderful marketing ploys for their times, to be sure, but hardly au courant in our I-Phone era. Besides, they’re lousy screen savers.
I refer, of course, to your recent answer to the question, “What do you say to Americans who believe Obama is not Christian as he claims to be?” You respond: “Well, that’s not up to me. I cannot convince people that they think the President, by his actions, is inconsistent with his claims …” And then the master stroke: “He claims to be a Christian but yet claims America is not a Christian nation …”
Sa-weet! Not only must we follow Christ; we gotta tow the God’s-on-our-side line. You’ve tweaked John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him … and in America being a Christian nation … shall not perish but have eternal life.” You’ve even swept away our founders’ ambivalence: Many were Christians; almost all saw religion’s key role; few believed in a pocket-sized God. But some were Deists; Hamilton and Jefferson (to name just two) … uh … “fooled around” … and Congress okayed this language in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion …”
Believers have never framed their identity around the “Christian nation” question – until now. You pulled it off. You’ve added to the Gospel. Congrats!
There’s some clean up, of course: Jesus said nothing of America; the Bible doesn’t even whisper it; the Creeds are mum. Like, awkward. What’s more, evangelical theologians have been labeling this the “post-Christian” era for years and debate various “missional” approaches. Sheesh! What’s with those people? We need to shove this cat back into the bag sooner than soon. Yet I can’t help but admire your logical acuity even as we begin that chore: Adding to the Gospel means you can edit the Bible, and editing is not only addition; it’s subtraction. And wow, you subtract! All those verses on gossip and slander? Eviscerated with your next statement: “He (Obama) seems to be advancing the idea of the Islamic religion …”
I can hear the idealists: “How is he advancing Islam, Tony? By inviting a police officer and a professor to the White House for a beer? By testifying to his conversion from atheism to Christianity (albeit a more theologically modernist brand than ours)? By sending in more troops to fight Muslim radicals?” When will these people leap out of their ivory towers and slam onto the real world’s sidewalk? This is an election year! We’re in a campaign! Innuendo and insinuation are tools – and tools can’t just sit in their box. No doubt Jesus would understand – especially with your look-no-hands-disclaimer at the end: “You know, that’s up to him. The White House has to deal with that problem, it’s not up to me.”
You little sneak: you stir up a problem, hand it to them and say it’s theirs to solve. Love it!
Of course, all this political realism has its price – as seen in a recent Chuck Colson lament: “The evidence is clear: Many Christians have grown weary of the culture wars. Compared with prior years, Christians have little visible presence in this season’s election campaign, and certainly younger evangelicals see the conservative religious agenda as strident and often offensive. What’s more, prominent Christian leaders are telling us to take a sabbatical from politics – a seductively appealing message for so many fatigued by our 30-year-long uphill struggle.”
Humble Chuck fails to see that many would get involved if more leaders were like him: gracious, kind, and peace-loving. He reaches out even as he vigorously debates and knows Christians can opt for different candidates. They’re tired of the cheap shots. They’re sick of political evangelicals co-opting the faith. Many of those poor souls long for those withered parchments. They actually crave an encounter with a holy God, and they’re far more similar to Augustine, Chrysostom, Francis, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Spurgeon, Packer, and Graham than you.
Today’s young evangelicals gotta catch up with the times.
Here you are, in all your glory:
For further Reading:
Chuck Colson, “We Must Not Despair,” Christianity Today, October, 2010, p. 57.