Monday, March 14, 2022

Anonymous Asks (188)

“Are you more likely to trust politicians who claim to be Christian?”

Some people are reluctant to claim to be Christians. Jordan Peterson has dodged the question for years, sometimes more adroitly than others, for reasons he explained in a recent video clip: “Who would have the audacity to claim that they believed in God if they examined the way they lived? Who would dare say that? To have the audacity to claim that means that you live it out fully, and that’s an unbearable task, in some sense.”

Well, I don’t know about unbearable, but it’s certainly impossible. Nobody fully lives out their claims to believe in God or to follow Christ. But it does not follow logically that the claim to be a believer is therefore audacious. Salvation requires the confession that Jesus is Lord. If that isn’t an explicit claim to believe in God, I’m not sure what is.

Claims and Proof

A claim is a useful tool for observers. In and of itself, a claim proves nothing. Nevertheless, at bare minimum a claim sets forth a proposition which can then be tested in the real world. Okay, so nobody who professes faith in Christ follows him with total consistency. Nobody who claims to believe in God lives out that belief fully or perfectly. That much we can concede. All the same, when we carefully examine how such a claimant lives his life, we can start to speak in an informed way about what he is in general and how he behaves most of the time. There will be failures and exceptions, but other than in the cases of extremely erratic individuals, there will also be observable patterns of behavior that are either creditable or discreditable.

Jesus thought it entirely reasonable to assess a tree by the quality of its fruit, and so should we. And, as the Osmonds sang, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” The occasional exception really does prove the rule. Moral failures offend us most in people we had come to believe were above them.

Expectations of Perfection

When we come to the political arena, we should probably lower our expectations of perfection in professing Christians even further. After all, they are working for and with men and women who are not pursuing the same agenda and may be virulently opposed to theirs. Congressman Eugene McCarthy wrote this about Christians considering careers in politics:

“In approaching politics, the Christian must be realistic — politics is a part of the real world. In politics the simple choice between black and white is seldom given. The ideal is seldom realized, and often cannot be advocated. For example, a Christian politician in a society in which many marriages are broken, may have to advocate and support divorce laws for the sake of public order.”

McCarthy’s divorce example is not outrageous. Jesus also told his followers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives.” Sometimes in our fallen world we have to live with things that fall far short of God’s ideal. People have hard hearts. The Christian politician who seeks to change human behavior incrementally rather than in one fell swoop is often criticized for compromise, but he may be making the best possible choice given the options open to him.

Imposed Limitations

So then, when judging the Christian-ness of Christian politicians, we need to be conscious of the constraints our Western systems of government impose on the individual. No one person is able of his own volition and energy to instantly transform society by means of a mechanism that is intrinsically ponderous. It was designed to be that way, and when governments do occasionally move with alacrity, they are almost always doing the wrong thing, as our recent crisis demonstrated very well indeed.

That said, even if we decide to be uncritical and expansive in our judgment of so-called Christian politicians, it has to be conceded that they are not very thick on the ground these days. McCarthy thought they should be, and that a certain amount of Christian engagement with the political world was a necessary part of following Christ. Not every Christian feels that way, and those who choose to engage in the political realm are often targeted for unusual amounts of abuse by their fellow politicians on the left and right of the aisle.

Playing the Christianity Card

More often today, we find politicians using Christian language in order to manipulate believers into doing what serves their purposes. It is questionable whether many of them believe a word they are saying. For example, when Vice President Kamala Harris announced “The act of getting vaccinated is the very essence of what the Bible tells us when it says, ‘Love thy neighbor’ ”, commenters responded predictably. “I’m sorry, but Kamala Harris wouldn’t know the Bible even if God personally dropped one on her head,” wrote Michelle Lesley. Another woman wrote “Kamala Harris wants to bring up the Bible but she ignores every other part of it, especially where it says ‘thou shalt not murder’ ... she supports the killing of thousands of babies every day.” We don’t expect perfect consistency from Christian politicians, but including Kamala among their number is an epic stretch. Again, we come back to “What does the fruit of this tree look like?” The answer is not flattering.

More recently, Canadian Liberal Member of Parliament Pam Damoff played the Christianity card when defending her government’s decision to put pressure on banks and private companies to cut off funding to the trucker convoys protesting in various parts of Ontario even though a judge has since ruled the convoy organizers had not violated any legal standard. “My brand of Christianity is very different than yours if it includes hate,” said Damoff in her response to the owner of a website that helped with the funding. I’ll happily stipulate that Damoff’s brand of Christianity is indeed very different from mine. It’s hard to see how the current policies of the Trudeau government she’s defending meet the most basic standards of ethical secularist behavior, let alone Christian morality.

Trust is Earned

So, am I more likely to trust a politician who claims to be a Christian? Trust is earned over time, not granted on the basis of a single claim or series of claims. The Pew Research Center notes that “nearly all” American presidents claimed some sort of Christian denominational affiliation, if not a personal relationship with Christ. Such claims are open invitations to examine what these various leaders produced during their time of political activity.

The fruit always tells the tale. If politicians are not trusted, it is probably because they have failed to demonstrate themselves trustworthy.

No comments :

Post a Comment