According to Time magazine?s cover story this week, the answer is, emphatically, yes. ?Conservative churches mobilized as never before and helped re-elect a president they see as one of their own,? Time said. ?Now they expect him to deliver for them,? leading the way Christians want him to on issues like abortion, gay ?marriage,? and appointing conservative Supreme Court justices.
The article?and the thinking behind it?may please many Christians, who delight in knowing they are powerful enough to elect ?one of their own? to the most powerful office on earth. And having done so, they now look forward to flexing their political muscles and getting their political payback.
But beware: Almost every time the Church has achieved earthly power, it has managed to shoot itself in the foot.
So before we plunge into power politics, the first question we should ask ourselves is, can we handle success and increased influence with grace and prudence?
We haven?t always done so. Take the pro-life movement, for instance, in the early days. Some of its leaders favored an ?all-or-nothing? approach, while others?more far-sighted, in my opinion?fought for incremental gains. But the result was a movement that was paralyzed by political infighting; in effect, we were taking part in a circular firing squad.
And remember, Christians are just as susceptible to the seduction of worldly power as anyone else. The editors of Time may think religious voters ought to be lining up for our share of the spoils, but Christians know we should instead be falling on our knees, asking God to keep us humble. We ought to remember that the job of the Church is to bring biblical truth to bear in society, to win people to Christ, and to promote righteousness and justice. We should remember, as well, that throughout history, Christians have made the greatest inroads in society when we traveled, not among the politically powerful, but among the poor and the powerless. Think of the Wesleyan revivals or of Wilberforce and his reformation of morals in England.
In the modern era, it is Christian missionaries in Africa and Asia whose work is leading to an explosion of conversions. And as Time notes, these missionaries get a first-hand look at problems like international sex trafficking and civil war in Sudan. They have sounded the alarm back home, where many of us have been working to pass needed legislation.
We should also beware of allowing the world to define the Church. To the world, power is the name of the game. But Christians know that we are called to humbleness, obedience, and a loving attitude even toward our political enemies.
So is Time magazine right? Does President Bush ?owe us? for helping put him in office?
As one of the twenty-five leaders profiled in the magazine, let me answer: No. Instead of focusing on what we are owed, we need to remember what we owe to God and to our neighbor: to be steadfast witnesses to the truth, and always willing to serve. Let?s follow the example of Christ?not demanding to be served, but serving others.
For further reading and information:
Today?s BreakPoint offer: In the new, revised, and expanded edition of The Body, Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn revisit the question, ?What is the Church, and what is its relevance to contemporary culture at large?? Provocative and insightful, Being the Body: A New Call for the Church to Be Light in the Darkness inspires us to rise above a stunted ?Jesus and me? faith to a nobler view of something bigger and grander than ourselves?the glorious, holy vision for which God created the Church.
Karen Tumulty and Matthew Cooper, ? Does Bush Owe the Religious Right? ? Time, 7 February 2005. (Subscribers only.)
Ted Olsen, ? Weblog: Time?s ?Most Influential Evangelicals? ,? Christianity Today, 31 January 2005.
Jill Lawrence and Susan Page, ? What got so many counties to shift from blue to red? ? USA Today, 31 January 2005.
David Von Drehle, ? The Red Sea ,? Washington Post Magazine, 16 January 2005.
Charles Colson with Anne Morse, How Now Shall We Live? Devotional (Tyndale, 2004).
Charles Colson with Anne Morse, ? The New Civil War ,? Christianity Today, February 2005. (Reprinted on BreakPoint Online.)
BreakPoint Commentary No. 041108, ? It?s Not Payback Time: Christians and Politics as Unusual .?
Allen Hertzke, Freeing God?s Children (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).
Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002). A CD interview with Belmonte is also available.
Kevin Belmonte, ? Steadfast Companions ,? BreakPoint WorldView, January/February 2003.