July 21, 2006
Reaching the Liberal Next Door: Are conservative politics a barrier to the gospel?
Last March, the conversation on Ur heated up when Greg Boyd posted excerpts from his book The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2006). Boyd believes the mission of the gospel is jeopardized when we confuse God's mission with our nation's mission. Wading into the turbulent political waters this time is Wes Haddaway, pastor of evangelism at Harmony Bible Church in Danville, Iowa. Haddaway sees an urgent need to create Christian communities that transcend the Blue State/Red State divide.
Two years ago our church was growing at the rate of about a hundred people per year and we were all very excited about what God was doing. As the pastor responsible for evangelism and assimilation, I had a unique perspective. One night after visiting a family that was new to our church, it occurred to me that no matter what walk of life a person came from to our church, there was one thing that I could be sure of; they had all watched the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News within the last week. They all voted for the same candidates and had conservative social views.
This bothered me because while I was very excited about what God was doing at our church, it was puzzling to me as to why God would do this. "Why would God build the church of people who all thought the same?" The fact is that there are a lot of people in our community that will never come to our church, and it isn't because of Jesus - it's because of us. Somehow we've mixed politics, ideology, and our vision for our country, with who we are as Christians. This is a barrier that causes many people who are not Christians to not even want to be around us.
How can we be a church that allows people to have their politics and ideology, but also welcomes people from other viewpoints to be a part of the same church? (All of this assumes we want to reach those who are unlike us, which for some may not be the goal.)
The early Christians had to struggle with this very kind of dilemma. As a Gentile, I'm really glad they worked through it. Our challenge is very much the same. Our challenge is to not allow ?who we are' to prevent people ?who are not like us' from becoming Christians. If the early Christians had not worked out the 'Jew versus Gentile' issue the results would have been catastrophic. If they had not worked it out it's hard to imagine how a Jewish-based church would have even survived.
Again our dilemma is no less serious. We are drawing a circle around Christ that includes pro-life but excludes an economic system that is generous to the poor. It is fearful to speculate what could happen to Christianity if we don't work through this - after all, our political and socioeconomic views are fleeting compared to the eternal work of God. We need to face the fact that many people of our community and our world will not even listen to the gospel because of the political and ideological bias of the evangelical church.
What this kind of church would look like is hard to answer. However, I'm sure it looked just as hard to the Jewish believers. The answer eluded them for a while, but they found it. Our answer may be as difficult for us to comprehend, but it is there. A starting point might be to focus on some common ground issues, such as; domestic violence, sexual exploitation, racism, poverty, injustice?
Christ said that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. I believe that the social economic and political ideology of much of evangelical Christianity will also not prevail against his church. Somehow God will save those people around the world, including our liberal neighbor and the person in the office down the hall from us. Somehow God will find a means to reach them. I just think he'd rather do it through us than without us.