I have been growing more and more deeply troubled by the way so many from my heritage in conservative Christianity -- in its Evangelical, Charismatic, and Roman Catholic streams -- have allowed themselves to be spiritually formed by various conservative political and economic ideologies. It's been disturbing to see how many Christians have begun to follow and trust leaders who live more by political/media/ideological codes than by moral/spiritual/biblical ones.
As a result, I sometimes think that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Fox News may now influence many conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Catholics even more than Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Pope Benedict, or even the four gospels.
Now in a free country, people certainly have the right to choose their ideology. But Christians of all sorts, I think we all can agree, have a special calling -- to increasingly harmonize our lives (including our lives as citizens) with the teaching and example of Jesus. My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference.
Amen, Brian. When we equate our political framework of choice (or, dare I say, our geopolitical situation) with our Christian faith, we're on shaky ground. Though McLaren doesn't mention it, I think he would agree with me that this applies to Christians on the other end of the spectrum as well. "My kingdom is not of this world" covers the entire spectrum.
If one does not "notice the difference," one may make statements like the one I have heard a friend make more than once: "I don't think a person can be a Christian and a Democrat." I suppose it's possible that someone might say "I don't think a person can be a Christian and a Republican," but that hasn't passed the lips of any of my friends . . . in my hearing. [Now, I have heard some rather disparaging things said about those who claim to be Christians and Republicans, but not that particular statement.] McLaren points us to a more charitable way:
[P]eople are free to disagree humbly and respectfully with their fellow Christians and their government. ... But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling -- to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to "the just and the unjust": how can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda -- even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling.
The Apostle Paul might suggest "speaking the truth in love." We should feel free to express our disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But when we do so, we must make sure what we are speaking is truth (rather than something passed along to us in email, that is so deliciously deprecatory of 'the other side' but unsubstantiated) and in love (rather than because 'they said nasty things about our guy when he was in office').
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."