I come from a long line of Texas Baptists, growing up in a world where there may have been a few closet Democrats but not many. One of my greatest influences has been my grandfather, who grew up during the Great Depression and ended up being successful in the oil business but has always dressed and lived like he was still a poor country boy from Premont, Texas. So when people stereotype Texas Republicans as being cigar-chomping fat cats with some nefarious plan to rule the world, I know they’re not talking about my grandpa. He really does believe that every penny of what he owns belongs to God, and he has lived out his belief by quietly helping people pay their college tuition, start new businesses, and develop organizations like the Palmer Drug Abuse Program in Corpus Christi, which helps addicts get back on their feet.
I tend to have somewhat conservative views, though they don’t always line up very well with the Republican Party line. I loathe pop culture and the degradation that it has caused to young people in our society. Because of this, I’m very suspicious of laissez-faire capitalism which is the engine that made pop culture the monstrosity that it has become. I don’t believe that “government experts” have all the answers, or at least it depresses me to think that they would, because I want to live in a world where people feel competent and empowered to take care of each other in their local churches and communities. I would rather see churches and local civic organizations come together to help out the marginalized in their communities than for the federal government to orchestrate this from a centralized location. However, I would rather see marginalized people get helped out by the federal government than not at all. I’m not a fan of war, but I’ve met some of the people who have to fight in it, and they’re beautiful, sensitive people who deserve our utmost respect for facing a world of very difficult moral decisions that the rest of us will never have to contemplate.
This is all a preamble to a concern that I would like to express as an evangelical Christian who’s also a lifelong Texan at heart even if God keeps me in Virginia for the rest of my life. Apparently, because Texas governor Rick Perry held a prayer rally and announced that he was running for president a few days later, he’s supposed to be my candidate. At least that’s what the news is saying. I’m supposedly part of a voting bloc that the Republican Party can keep in their pockets as long as they mention homosexuality, abortion, and Israel enough times in their campaign speeches. I have my own opinions about all the social conservative “wedge” issues, and they’re a lot more nuanced and complicated than Republican strategists probably want them to be.
But my main concern with the presidential campaign that will happen over the next year is not with who wins the race. I’m worried about how badly God will lose. As an evangelical, what I care about the most is building the kingdom of God. If things in our economy or government aren’t as efficient as they could be, but we have a cultural environment in which people are open to God’s word because it hasn’t been blasphemously misrepresented, then the kingdom of God wins regardless of whether the secular world falls apart around us. I want for the gospel to be something that can be heard by Democrats and Republicans alike, and frankly right now there is a very large percentage of our population, particularly among the younger generations, who will not even give Jesus a chance because they think His name is the exclusive property of the political party whose name starts with the same letter as rich people and rednecks. It’s all too easy to blame the stereotypes we’ve accrued on the “liberal media” without taking responsibility as conservative Christians for how we conduct ourselves.I fear that many politicians who wrap themselves in the name of Jesus will once again destroy the ability of other Christians like myself to share the gospel with people who are reasonably angered and alienated by their lack of integrity and heartlessness.
How many thousands or millions of people will be dissuaded from ever walking in the door of a church when they watch all the attack ads put out by supposedly Christian candidates this next year? How many social workers who went into their profession because they felt some sense of God’s calling to help people will wonder if they’re welcome at church when their jobs are described as “government waste” by supposedly Christian candidates? How many teachers will feel belittled and patronized by supposedly Christian politicians talking about what a lazy, apathetic unionized workforce they are (even in states where collective bargaining is illegal for state employees)? How many undocumented immigrants will be wary of white churches that want to start Hispanic ministry programs because of the hatred that supposedly Christian white people spew against them on the radio?
Evangelical Christians can disagree on which social programs should be run by the government and which ones should be run by the church. We can disagree on whether unions are generally a good or bad thing. We can disagree on which political party best represents our interests. But to be evangelical means that evangelism is our chief concern, which means that, in any political climate, we care the most about how we represent Jesus, especially to people who disagree with us politically. Thus I am staunchly opposed to any self-professing Christian candidate who uses political games or tactics that make Jesus look bad. Anything that reinforces the stereotype that Christians are mean-spirited, selfish, judgmental people undermines the only campaign that matters: the invitation for others to join the body of Christ. I have to trust that God will deal with those who misrepresent Him appropriately.
Rick Perry apparently fasted on his national day of prayer. I fasted three days last week, not because I’m a pious person, but because I felt dirty and arrogant and needed to be reminded of my dependence on God. I hope that Perry will continue to pray and fast even when he doesn’t announce it with trumpets (Matthew 6:5-7, 16-18) and that his praying and fasting will help him to represent Christ by the way that he talks when he expresses his disagreements with Obama (assuming he gets the nomination, which seems more or less like a done deal). If a politician who has made a lot of noise about his Christian faith actually exudes Christlike humility in how he conducts himself, then his election campaign might be of service to God. I know that God will win in the end; I just want for more people to get to share in His victory.