A year ago, when Tempting Faith was published, one of the things that received a lot of attention was my call for evangelicals to “fast” from politics. Here is a snippet:
I’m not talking about a permanent retreat from politics. I’m not suggesting that current politicians leave office. I’m not suggesting that we stop voting. I’m just suggesting that voting is all that we do. Let’s take a two-year retreat. Let’s take every ounce of energy we currently expend on politics and divert them to other things. Instead of sending letters to congress and engaging in political arguments with friends and listening to political talk radio and canvassing door to door for candidates and volunteering for campaigns, let’s spend our time in different ways. We can start with the things God has commanded us to do – pray, learn, listen to him, and serve a hurting world.
That message was aimed primarily at evangelicals – at the so-called “religious right.” I directed that message there because it is the world I was most familiar with both from a theological and a political perspective.
A year later it is clear that evangelicals have fasted from politics. More than anyone could have imagined, they have stopped giving money to presidential candidates – only 10% of people who gave to George W. Bush in 2004 are giving now – and they have stopped volunteering as well. I claim no credit for that fast but am thrilled that it has occurred.
It is time for the many on the religious left to take such a fast as well. For if the last year has been notable for evangelicals turning their backs on politics, it has also been notable for the rise of this thing called the “religious left.”
What is it?
It is the religious right with a different political agenda. Where the religious right views abortion and gay marriage as the two things that Jesus would be most appalled by, the religious left thinks it is poverty and social justice. Where the religious right tends to be Republican, the religious left tends to be Democratic. Where the religious right believes serving God means electing people who will oppose abortion, the religious left believes serving God means electing people who will oppose poverty.
Please note – I am very, very, very sympathetic to many of the policy desires of the religious left. I am, for instance, exceedingly opposed to poverty and hunger and believe passionately in confronting these issues and other social justice issues.
However, it is just as wrong for the religious left to make it seem that Jesus would support their political agenda as it is for the religious right to make it seem that Jesus would support their agenda. The bottom line is that Jesus never endorsed a particular political agenda when he was alive on this planet 2,000 years ago. There is little reason to believe he has suddenly changed his mind.
Those people who call themselves Jesus’ followers should never make the mistake of confusing his life-changing Gospel of Life with any political agenda. To do so cheapens Jesus’ life and Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ ascension. It doesn’t matter what the political agenda happens to be.
A year ago I wrote:
As one prominent pastor has written, “What we’ve done is turn a mission field into a battlefield.” Here is what he means: By so passionately pursuing politics Christians have alienated their “opponents” by giving the sense that to be Christian means to embrace certain policies. But the reality, of course, is that Christians can disagree about virtually any policy matter. The political battle, however, has prevented relationships, fellowship, and the chance to share Jesus. In countless discussions I’ve had with people across the country and around the neighborhood, the name “Jesus” doesn’t bring to mind the things he said he wanted associated with his followers–love for one another; love for the poor, sick, and imprisoned; self-denial; and devotion to God. Instead it is associated with a set of conservative political positions. Can anything that dilutes the name of Jesus be worth it for Christians like me?
The key here is that Jesus called his followers to personally care for the poor, personally care for the sick, personally sacrifice, personally invest in other people’s lives, personally change their neighborhoods. He never told them to create a better bill.
There isn’t anything wrong with political activism except when that political activism dilutes, detracts, or undermines the life-changing Gospel of Jesus. That is why those on the religious left should consider joining those on the religious right for a fast – for a period of time where they step away from politics and focus most intently on Jesus plus nothing.