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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

When You're Thrown Under the Political Bus

jenmichel@me.com

I’ve touched a political nerve with my recent her.meneutics essay, “How Canada Convinced Me Not to Vote.” Although I don’t think my piece advocates that people shouldn’t vote, this seems to be what many have found most offensive. They feel I’ve shirked my civic duty, buried my proverbial political talent, and failed to value the freedom for which my fathers and mothers have fought hard.

As I expected, others have cited the abortion as the most pressing political concern of this (and every) election and are outraged at my apathy in the face of slaughter.

One woman has gone as far as to say that if I, “have a problem standing up for these principles then I need to re-examine my heart and relationship with Jesus Christ.”

There’s little to say that I haven’t already said in my 900-word piece, except to note that some of the comments in the thread bear out the unfortunate tenor of our political conversation.

We often fail to be charitable and believe the best in one another, especially during election season.

Many still believe that one of the political parties is inherently more “Christian” than the other.

I am thankful I wrote the piece, and I’m grateful for the thoughtful comments, many of which have really forced me to re-consider what is my Christian responsibility this election season. I certainly don’t have all the answers: in fact, my piece tries to tease out the many political complexities that face every Christian who steps into a polling both. But I am willing to continue reading and exploring, especially as I ask whether my failure to vote is a sin.

Another Christian essayist, Branson Parler, explains why he’s not voting at Think Christian. I find his reasons important to consider.

He suggests we take a look at Ross Douthat’s recent book, Bad Religion, and consider how we may have imbibed the political heresy of “nationalism that ascribes ultimate importance to the state.” Parler (and I assume Douthat) concludes: “It is clear that some Christians give precedence to the American kingdom over the kingdom of God.”

I would tend to agree that our Christian and civic responsibilities are often confused, and from the description of Douthat’s book on Amazon, I know this is a book I must read.

“As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most provocative and influential voices of his generation. In Bad Religion he offers a masterful and hard-hitting account of how American Christianity has gone off the rails—and why it threatens to take American society with it.

Writing for an era dominated by recession, gridlock, and fears of American decline, Douthat exposes the spiritual roots of the nation’s political and economic crises. He argues that America’s problem isn’t too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.

These faiths speak from many pulpits—conservative and liberal, political and pop cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably “spiritual”—and many of their preachers claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity—not the real thing. Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.

In a story that moves from the 1950s to the age of Obama, he brilliantly charts institutional Christianity’s decline from a vigorous, mainstream, and bipartisan faith—which acted as a “vital center” and the moral force behind the civil rights movement—through the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s to the polarizing debates of the present day. Ranging from Glenn Beck to Barack Obama, Eat Pray Love to Joel Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey to The Da Vinci Code, Douthat explores how the prosperity gospel’s mantra of “pray and grow rich,” a cult of self-esteem that reduces God to a life coach, and the warring political religions of left and right have crippled the country’s ability to confront our most pressing challenges and accelerated American decline.

His urgent call for a revival of traditional Christianity is sure to generate controversy, and it will be vital reading for all those concerned about the imperiled American future.”

* * * * *

At the end of the day, we are going to decide these things differently. That's Ok. But whatever political decision we make (or don’t make)  November 6, the Scriptures call us to active and redemptive participation in the world around us.

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

However we may each choose to express our welfare-seeking, whether by political vote or small acts of beauty in our neighborhoods, schools, and cities (or both!), I’m praying that Christians can lose the vitriol that we so readily unleash on each other and circle around the gospel’s call to bless.

I have a feeling that civility in the face of difference, honor in the midst of disagreement may indeed accomplish what Jesus said it would: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," John 13:35.