The Christian and Politics: From a Secular and Christian Perspective (Oct 1992)

By Matt Dabbs

excerpts from a speech given on June 10, 1992 at the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ, Nashville, by Dee T. Travis
October, 1992

6On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy rode through the streets of Dallas, Texas, on his way to give a speech at the invitation of Trammell Crow, at the Dallas Trade Mart. There is a black and white photograph hanging today in the Administrative Offices of the Dallas Market Center, showing the leaders of Dallas standing at their tables, awaiting the arrival of the President. It was a speech that, had he given it, would have been remembered as one of Kennedy’s best. The following is an excerpt from the speech John Kennedy never gave:

We are by destiny, rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our strength, with wisdom and restraint, and that we may in our time and for all time achieve the ancient vision of peace on earth, goodwill toward men. That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in van.”

Now, 29 years later, because of the unique position that America holds as the truly undisputed leader of the world, those remarks have never been more relevant. A minister who had once served as mayor of his town told me, “I’ve been involved in elective politics and church politics, and church politics is much dirtier.”

Lest there be some who believe the church is above politics, or that it has ever been, let us review our spiritual heritage. In Acts 6, deacons were not appointed because the widows were being neglected. Deacons were appointed because the non-Hebrew widows were being neglected. In 1 Corinthians 1, a class system was developing, apparently based on who baptized the disciples. In Galatians 2, Peter fraternized with the Gentile Christians until Jewish Christians came, and then he withdrew from them, in order to be more politically correct. Paul called his hand on it. In James 2, we are warned against “Robin Leachism” – paying undue attention to those living the lifestyles of the rich and famous. So, it would seem that the problems of elitism, racial discrimination, and power politics have been around for a long time.

First, let us take a look at politics from the secular vantage point. We in America doe not live in a democracy, but rather in a republic, a form of representative government under law. I was once fortunate to serve in that system of representation as a State Senator in Texas.

I used to keep a cartoon taped to my desk as a humble reminder of reality. Senator Snort walks out of the chamber, turns to a colleague and says, “I’ll tell you what I thought we were voting on if you’ll tell me what you thought we were voting on.” That is more true to life than I like to admit.

That only accentuates the critical nature of the call to arms for Christians to get more involved. Just because someone gets elected to public office, that does not make him or her an expert on every topic, or any topic for that matter. Elected official need input. They need to be guided, and they will be. The question is, “Who is doing the guiding?” The answer is, “Those who choose to get involved.”

I was an eyewitness to one of the darker times in American political history. I was working on Capitol Hill in Washington during Watergate. I met and visited with G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean. One of the things that John Dean said seemed to capsulize the whole tragic series of events. He stated, “I became blinded to my own ambition as to what was right and what was wrong.”

It is so easy for that to occur today in American politics because we have allowed style to overcome substance. President Dwight Eisenhower held the first live televised Presidential Press Conference and things have been going downhill ever since. Major issues of extreme complexity are reduced to 10 second sound bites. Phrases such as “There you go again” or “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” have become ingrained in the American mind.

I am convinced that we have reached a point in American history when Abraham Lincoln could not be elected President today, because we would not be able to sell him on television. No disrespect to Raymond Massey, but Lincoln was 6′ 4″ and very thin. His clothes never fit. He did not grow a beard until after he was in the White House, so his face appeared drawn and gaunt. He had a high, squeaky speaking voice. He would be a tough sell in today’s media markets.

Even when we hear something live, the spin doctors come on right afterwards to tell us what they want us to remember. Truth becomes packaged, sometimes to the point of making it unrecognizable.

The formula for success in this secular setting of politics is as follows: Money and/or access equals power. That formula is also often valid in business, as well. Karl Marx wrote, “History is economics.” The New Golden Rule is not the one you learned from Matthew 7:12. The New Golden Rule is, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

Access, in our political system, is so often controlled by lobbyists. The term comes from the administration of General U.S. Grant, when the President would walk the two blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from teh White House to the Willard Hotel. There he would relax at the bar in the hotel’s lobby, drink whiskey and smoke a few cigars. People would constantly come up to him in that setting and ask for favors, and he called them lobbyists.

Placing the secular mode aside for a moment, let us look at this from the spiritual perspective. Alarmingly, the view is not always that much different.

Louis XIV was arguably the last ruling monarch with truly worldwide impact. At his funeral, the greatest collection of leaders the world had ever seen assembled in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. There were not lights in the massive Gothic structure that day, only the light from a single candle atop his casket. The bishop rose to give the eulogy to this most revered leader. He said, “Only God is great,” and he blew out the candle.

Philippians 2:10 says, “[A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That list of confessors will include Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria, Mikhail Gorbachev, Joseph Stalin, Rameses II, Nebuchadnezzar, every U.S. President … and Louis XIV.

In Revelation 2, the angel said (paraphrased), “You are doing the right things. You’ve just forgotten why. You know what is most important. You’ve just forgotten who is most important.”

One way for that to happen in a spiritual context is for us to revert back to the secular model that we reviewed and bring it over into the church. The elders become the Board of Directors. The ministers become the Executive Committee. The members become the Stockholders. The church is not a corporation; it is a family. God is not a president; he is the Father.

After Jesus died, his disciples met in a room behind locked doors. It was a time of crisis. Dante wrote, “The hardest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of crisis, preserve their neutrality.”

I believe we are in a moral crisis in this country today. Proverbs 14:34 reminds us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” As a nation, as a people, as God’s people, where do we stand on the major ethical issues of our day? Is the taking of life from innocent children just another political issue to us, comparable with budget and tax agendas? As Christians, are we willing to stand up first and oppose racial discrimination, or are we willing to let others be the Good Samaritan while we play the parts of the Priest and the Levite? Are we prepared to stand up and be counted in the public debate over the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles? What position is the church and its members taking on drinking, or smoking, or abuse within families? Where are we on these issues? All too often, the answer is that we are right where we started 2,000 years ago. We are sitting in a room, behind locked doors.

One of the greatest challenges that I faced as a candidate was the attitude that Christians should not get involved in politics. With so much at stake in our society today, we simply cannot allow that myopic viewpoint to prevail.

As a State Senator, I introduced a resolution to remove from federal jurisdiction the issue of prayer in public schools. One of the witnesses who testified in favor of my resolution was Bill Murray. He said, “In 1963, I was the little boy who stood in front of the United States Supreme Court building as my mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, removed prayer from public schools. I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to turn that around.” I asked Bill why he had come such a long way to testify for my resolution. I will never forget his asnwers. he said, “I am here because I have to be here. You see, if I were not here, my mother would be. I don’t have a choice.”

In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus tells the parable of the man who had an evil spirit. The evil spirit left and the man cleaned his house, put everything in order, but left it empty. The evil spirit returned with seven others and the state of that man was worse than before. In the moral and ethical battles being waged in our society today, rest assured that the vacuum will be filled. Just like Bill Murray, we do not have a choice.

It is time for God’s people to stand up and be counted for what is decent and for what is right. May we, as a nation and as a people, always stand with Abraham as we look for a city which hase a foundation, whose builder and maker is God.Wineskins Magazine

Dee T. Travis

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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