Let me start by saying, I love you. You. No matter who you are. No matter what your point of view. No matter what your political persuasion. I love you. Everyone is welcome to read this and consider it, but I mainly want to speak for a moment to my friends who consider themselves to be “Christian conservatives.” That’s me too, by the way. I would consider myself squarely in that camp. So, a brief but important word to what could be considered to be “my own tribe….”
I think most of you would readily agree with me that although you remain conservative in your political views, the political waters in our nation have become muddier than ever. Speaking specifically to my personal friends and church family members, we agree on a lot. But I also know that we disagree on some things as well. This post is NOT an attempt to persuade you in those areas of political disagreement. This post is also NOT an invitation for anyone to attempt to persuade me, nor for anyone to try to list the reasons why I should do what one thinks I should do on a ballot in November. My exhortation here pertains to matters far deeper than the actions we choose to take on a Tuesday in November.
A key aspect of conservatism is offered in its name: the desire to conserve. Conservatives desire to conserve certain things. There is a desire to see the spirit of the US Constitution conserved in its application to life, liberty, and law into the present day and on into the future. There is a desire to see certain values conserved, even as culture inevitably changes. Even among conservative people conversation and debate consistently exists as to what should be conserved and how those things are conserved. This ongoing conversation is a good thing.
Stewardship, according to dictionary.com, is a term that means “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” Certainly we would place our nation and the foundations of our nation among the things that are worth caring for and preserving. That is a good and noble thing.
However, and here is the exhortation, as much as we may love our country, we as Christians must not lose sight of the greatest stewardship we have been given. Above all, we are to be stewards of the gospel. In one of his letters to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul is talking about such a stewardship when he writes,
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).
This is our greatest stewardship. We must protect and seek to conserve the sanctity and clarity of the gospel as it has been revealed to us by God. And we must always be on guard.
One of the great dangers we face in this task is the conflating of the gospel with other aspects of our culturally shaped identity. The term conflating means “to fuse into one entity; to merge.” Any time we fall into doing this, we diminish the gospel in order to raise that with which we seek to merge it. We inevitably strip the gospel of some of its meaning, or even change it. Most of the time this is completely unintentional, but it is tinkering with the clarity of the gospel, nonetheless. And when we do this or allow it to happen we have failed in our supreme stewardship of the most precious treasure we possess. And it can result in our own hearts being shaped by this conflated gospel.
Unfortunately this has happened with politics in America. We all too often conflate the gospel with our political persuasion. (It happens on both sides of the political aisle, by the way.) And this is dangerous. Now, I also understand that in most cases this is not intentional. I think most folks are simply trying to remain faithful as they navigate these two key aspects of their identity. This is why we need accountability. This is why we need to consistently allow the gospel to critique all other areas of our lives…even other aspects of our identity upon which we place great importance.
I have not watched much of the Republican National Convention this week (nor did I watch much of the DNC last week). I have gone back and watched a few snippets or full speeches after the fact. This morning I saw a quote from the speech given last night by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Let’s run the race that’s marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on ‘Old Glory’ and all she represents…Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom, and never forget that ‘where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ That means freedom always wins.”Vice President Mike Pence
This quote is deeply troubling to me, brothers and sisters (I did go back for the sake of context and watch the full speech). And we need to exercise sobriety in the way we hear it and respond to it. This is a perfect example of what it looks like to conflate the gospel with a political persuasion. The proper exegetical parameters that should be exercised when preparing a sermon also should guide the way we interpret and apply Scripture in all of life. This is a misuse and misapplication of two beautiful gospel passages from the Scriptures.
In this use of Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is equated with ‘Old Glory,’ the flag of a nation, as that upon which we should fix our eyes. The two are given the same place. In this use of 2 Corinthians 3:17 the type of freedom we have spiritually in Christ is conflated with a type of freedom we desire to attain through political means. Both uses misdefine for us spiritually the implications of the gospel for the one who is in Christ Jesus. It calls hearers to a false hope. Our great hope is not in a flag, and it is not ultimately in a freedom that is achieved through political means. Our hope is in the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ and his eternal Kingdom.
To clarify this and call it out is not to diminish any love or honor that I have for my nation’s flag or country, nor does it diminish my desire for the preservation and spread of freedom. It simply clarifies that neither of those things should be conflated with the Kingdom of Jesus. Neither should they be conflated with the gospel of Jesus.
In conflating these two things, the deep spiritual implications for brothers and sisters in every nation are stripped down to implications for a specific people in a specific nation, and presented as things that are contingent upon a specific party holding power in that nation. The ultimate beauty of the truths from these passages, however, are found in Christ alone, and for all people in all places. Instead of Jesus being held up for people to honor and praise and trust, he instead remained nameless in the quote, and the call was for people to cheer for and run to a party–a party that, sadly, has increasingly walked out of rhythm with the far deeper spiritual truths found in these and other passages. And even if you disagree with me on how much that has taken place, at the very least it is flawed and certainly an insufficient savior.
Beloved, this is dangerous. I am asking you to step back and see it. I am not trying to persuade you away from conservatism, or even from the Republican party. This is not an attempt to cast Mike Pence or any other political figure in a bad light. This is certainly not an attempt to persuade you to choose a different party or candidate.
I am not campaigning here.
My primary purpose here is pastoral, not political. I am simply exhorting you to remember and consider your supreme and primary identity as ambassadors of King Jesus and His Kingdom. I am simply exhorting you to remember and consider your greatest stewardship; the one that comes before any other aspects of stewardship you consider. Our greatest stewardship is in regards to the gospel. We must not allow it to be co-opted by any other message. Please steward it well. Treasure it above all others. Guard it before all others. Allow it, and it alone, to be the supreme measuring stick with which you evaluate any and everything else–even things you hold dear in this life.
Only one thing that we are called to steward is eternal. Only one offers true life and hope to people of every nation, tribe, and tongue, and political affiliation. Only one offers true salvation and true freedom that transcends any situation, no matter how earthly oppressive.
We must allow the gospel to inform the way we view and participate in our country’s political system. We must fight against the tendency to bend the gospel to affirm the political persuasions we hold.
To my personal friends and church family members: I love you dearly, and I offer these words carefully and prayerfully because of that love and because of our fellowship that is so very precious to me. I am praying that God would give us ALL discernment in this important matter. God, grant us clarity, and help us to place our hope exclusively in that which cannot be shaken, even as we seek to be excellent citizens of the places in which he has sovereignly placed us.