Chuck Colson once urged Christians to avoid the unavoidable mistake of using our opponent’s weapons against them. As soon as you do, he said, you “become the thing you hate the most.” We all do it. We all, to some degree, have a fundamentalist spirit.
Today, the term “fundamentalist” is typically used as a pejorative to describe a religious fanatic who holds to a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, reads only the King James Version, and has a bumper sticker that reads, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Although that is hardly the definition for which the term was originally coined, to be labeled a fundamentalist today is something most want to avoid.
But I’m using the term in a more primitive way. At its root, fundamentalism is an attitude that demands a strict adherence to a set of principles or convictions or doctrines. At some level, we all fit that description, and it has never been more noticeable than in today’s Amercian political climate. Sometimes the demand for acceptance of a particular viewpoint will lead to unintended consequences, such as becoming the thing we normally fight against.
The “right-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I am one) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the left. The “left-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I have many friends) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the right. And the beauty of this is so deliciously wonderful – they will both adamantly deny it. You see, I am writing a blog article that no one will agree with. That either makes me incredibly correct in my assessments or incredibly wrong. I’ll let you decide.
I’m going to highlight one clear example from both sides that I find to be indicative of Colson’s warning.
I’ll start with my own camp – evangelical conservatives. The centrality of character has been the hallmark of Republican-leaning conservative Christians since the age of Reagan. The unwillingness of the left to acknowledge sin and its consequences have been the things we have rallied against for years. Conservatives have rightly rolled our eyes when the cliched response of “we need a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief” is used to defend the defenseless actions and character of a politician. In his recent book “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Ware describes the Senate race between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes. At one point Keyes said that Jesus would not support Obama because he “voted to behave in a way that is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.” At the time, Obama replied by saying that he “was running to be the senator from Illinois, not the minister from Illinois.” Years later, disappointed with his comment, Obama described it as the “usual liberal response.” Conservatives have been right to highlight the character of our leaders.
And so it is that just a few days ago, Franklin Graham described the rainfall at the inauguration of President Trump as a “sign of God’s blessing.” Such a statement is condemnable for multiple reasons. The only way a conservative could say such a thing is by drawing a line between character and political ambitions – the very thing we have loathed for years.
I do not condemn Christians for voting for Trump. But the way we defend our vote will speak volumes.
And now to the moderate and left-leaning camps. In a fascinating turn of events, the Bible suddenly speaks truth clearly and propositionally in matters related to government and politics. Proof-texting and rhetoric such as “the Bible clearly says…” have historically been vehemently opposed by the left, especially when it applies to American politics. After all, Christianity, they say, is not the official religion of this great country, so the use of Scripture to affirm or deny American policies is antithetical to the principles on which our country was founded. Until now.
I confess, I have been enjoying myself while reading the argumentation of the moderate and progressive-left as they employ proof-texting techniques to demonstrate the illegitimacy of President Trump and his policies. Let me be clear, much of what they are saying is good material. But they seem largely ignorant of the hypocrisy of their arguments. In their mind, conservatives are apparently quick to proof-text the multiple passages that clearly and unequivocally condemn homosexuality as a pleasing relationship before God. The same is true for the doctrine of hell. Or the exclusivity of Christ. Conservatives don’t take into account the immediate historical context, the theocratic state of OT Israel, the “trajectory” hermeneutic, and a multitude of other reasons why our reading is wrong. But when someone as repugnant as Donald Trump comes along, things change. The left are now willing to attack Trump’s character based on verses from the sermon on the mount and malign his policy decisions by highlighting words from the Old Testament.
And the attacks are not limited to Trump. The aggression I have seen from the left in responding to conservatives who disagree has been enlightening, even calling into question the depth of their faith. That is the very thing the left abhors from conservative evangelicalism.
“Yeah, but this is different” they will say. Of course it is. It’s different because it is a topic they passionately believe deserves a strict adherence. A fundamentalist spirit.
I do not condemn Christians for speaking out against Trump’s policies. But the way we defend our positions will speak volumes.
All of this is to say that it’s hard to be consistent. If we see an open door that will support our opinions and biases, the temptation to run through them is often too great. Even when we become the thing we hate.