J Walking

Morning again, by God’s mercy, but a hard one. Probably just tired, but also discouraged.

I kept wondering why Fox News pulled the two stories they had scheduled, and then last night I figured it out. During my illness, there has been a close group of friends praying for me and for my family. Sunday night, I had emailed them a short list of the media I would be doing. At least one of them forwarded it to the White House. That is the only way they knew to call and pressure some media outlets to put on their “rebuttal,” and obviously how they killed the not-very-objective Fox News segment.

The hardest thing to come of this has been the White House lies and the absolute willingness of conservative Christian activists to lap it up. This notion that the faith-based initiative wasn’t ever political is less true than me saying I am Michael Jordan. It was all political. But I suppose we all hear what we want to hear.

Thank you for your comments–especially the encouraging ones! But even to those who object somewhat strenuously, I say thank you for reading and considering.

I appreciate prayers today. I am not sure right now how I am going to get through it. The answer, simplistically, is that I will try to walk with Jesus…though I really need him to do all the walking and to carry me (no small task since I’m not a diminuitive guy), but I am struggling to know how that actually works. Any ideas?

Wow, am I tired. I’ve been doing press interviews all day and I feel battered. It’s awfully hard to convey a whole book in a few minutes–let alone when the book is about your whole life and not just a few paragraphs that have become the center of a political debate happily engaged by both sides.

The strongest conservative attack against me is that I am doing this to hurt Republicans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only didn’t I have a say in when the book was published, I didn’t really want it published now. That said, maybe this is the best time, because people are forced to deal with a central question–is politics so hurting the name of Jesus that it is counterproductive for Christians? That question is clearly touching a nerve–lots of people are discussing it even if they are just seeking to trash me.

Does that hurt? Sure. Is it surprising? No. Do I still believe what I said about the need to take a step back from politics? Absolutely. Definitely. Totally. The experiences of these past few days, including reading some of the responses to my blog posts, only convinces me further. It is a hard debate, but it is worthwhile.

This is serious business. The fact is that Christianity in America has been harmed by its association with a particular brand of politics. That to me is far more important than any of the calculations about how a particular congressional district or senate race might go.

To criticize the White House or even the president is to criticize, not to commit heresy. The issue people should be considering is whether idolizing politics is heresy.

I keep wondering why it is that the White House keeps putting up people to respond to me who are not from the White House. Then the realization hits me — there is no one left at the White House who could. Compassionate conservatism is so dead that there is now no one at the White House who can talk about it. 

As I’ve been doing interviews on my book, I’ve been proposing that Christians “fast” from politics. It has been mischaracterized as a call for Christians not to vote. That’s not what I mean.

Christians like me have worked in politics for the last serveral decades with the hope that just the right president, the right Congress, and the right judge or justice would stop abortions, strengthen marriage, create a safer country for children, and unsure that our religious faith was respected. We did it because we wanted a better country with fewer divorces and better families and fewer abortions and we did so based on the spirit of Christian activists who fought against slavery and for civil rights.

But the reality is though we have had amazing political success – Republican presidents for 20 of the last 28 years, Republican control of Congress, etc. – social statistics are pretty much unchanged in the last three decades. From divorces to abortion to children in poverty, things haven’t improved a whole lot.

Spiritually, things are more troubling. 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?

That is why I’m talking about a fast from politics – obviously a temporary thing and obviously one that includes voting.

Why a fast? Fasts help focus an individual – or a group – on the spiritual. One denies themselves of food, for instance, to free themselves up to different spiritual things. And most dramatically, it was seen as a way to reveal someone’s true spiritual condition by stripping away a basic necessity of live leading to brokenness, repentance, and transformation.

Amidst all of the dark ads and the attack politics in which Christians sometimes leads the charge there lies this opportunity for a fast. Not too long ago I attended a big Christian political event in Washington and while there and listening to speeches I heard liberals attacked as “godless” to much applause and laughter and to certain Democrats as evil and dangerous. That isn’t how Jesus wants his followers to talk about anyone. He died to take away the sins of the world so that people could be reconciled and so that people would allow him to give them a more abundant life both here and forever.

That is the heart behind the fast. For the next couple of years every Republican (and a few Democrat) candidates will be begging and pleading for the Christian vote pretty much willing to say or do anything to get it. Every politician needs evangelicals. And like a teenage boy on a date with a beautiful girl, they will say anything and everything to get what they want.

But lets make them wait. Let’s tell them we are fasting from politics for a season.

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.

What would the news media say if we ceased our nasty partisanship, ceased making political arguments, and instead just relentlessly pursued ways to serve those who are sick, needy, hungry, and hurting? What would our “enemies” at the ACLU or the gay and lesbian community or in the Democratic Party say and do? If we decided to turn off the crazy political news and spent more time with our families, what would our “opponents” have to say? I believe that it would be one of the most powerful witnesses to faith ever.

Extraordinary things would happen because of it. After all, Jesus promised “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”

If we take a two-year (and just a two-year) break from politics, will America go to pot? Of course it won’t. The brilliance of our Founders is that they created a system where change is very, very, very, slow and very, very, very gradual. Bill Clinton’s problems couldn’t sink us, nearly four decades of Democratic congressional control didn’t sink us, and two years of Christians retreating from politics won’t sink us.