Political idolatry?: Proposing a new single-issue voter

images-washingtonpost-comTwo days ago, I posted a link to a recent Christianity Today editorial (Speak Truth to Trump). Christianity Today, established by Billy Graham and other evangelical leaders in 1956, is as close to an official evangelical magazine as you can get. Andy Crouch, writing for the editorial board, begins by noting that Christianity Today has always remained neutral in past elections. But, like many pastors and leaders, they feel the need to speak out this year:

“Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent.”

He describes the absolute rulership of Christ, and the implications for his followers:

“The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.”

Crouch reminds us of the danger of being so involved in worldly rulers that it becomes idolatrous.

The editorial then briefly reviews the problems with the two major party candidates, beginning with Clinton and then continuing with Trump. Crouch observes that, while criticism of Clinton is very common among evangelical Christians, many have not “shown the same critical judgment when it comes to the Republican nominee.” He lists again some of the obvious red flags regarding his character (which I’ve briefly described here, here, and here), and then concludes of Trump:

“He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”

Crouch notes that most Christians who support Trump are doing so “with reluctant strategic calculation.” This strategic calculation is focused on the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the impact on vital constitutional issues such as the sanctity of life and marriage, and religious freedom. Crouch then returns to the danger of idolatry in our current situation. This key point is so crucial, I’m going to quote the entire paragraph. I would encourage all of us—especially evangelical supporters of Trump—to consider this carefully:

“But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.”

A question I have repeatedly asked is: Does God need Donald Trump? By insisting that we must vote for Trump for the sake of the unborn children (and to preserve religious liberty), are we not implying that—at this time—Donald Trump is necessary, that he is needed? Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate, there is no hope for the children or the church? What does this say about our trust in God?

Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate,
there is no hope for the children or the church?

What does this say about our trust in God?

Here’s the view of the editors of Christianity Today:

“Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.”

Please notice the wording in that last sentence. If voting for Trump is imperative for evangelical Christians, then we are putting our trust in his rule. Such trust is tragically misplaced. And as these editors, I, and many others have warned, this will have devastating consequences to our witness to the world. (Anyone paying attention to social media will see that it already is.)

A new single-issue voter

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of a “single-issue voter.” These aren’t people who are concerned with only one issue, but those who view one issue as of paramount importance. This doesn’t mean hasn’t meant they’ll vote for just anyone who expresses support for their key issue, but they refuse to consider someone who doesn’t share their viewpoint. Not supporting their position on this single issue is seen as a deal-breaker, distinguishing candidates they can support from those they cannot. For many evangelical voters, this single issue has been the sanctity of life and opposition to legalized abortion.

I’m proposing a new single issue. I say we shouldn’t even consider supporting a candidate who doesn’t have a basic personal decency, who isn’t an essentially moral, trustworthy person. Bad character should be automatically disqualifying regardless of the positions the candidate claims to support. If a candidate seriously lacks good character, their claimed positions are worthless. Treating the claims of dishonorable, unprincipled people as if they are worthy of serious consideration—even defending them!—lends credibility to unscrupulous people and makes us co-conspirators in their duplicity. I say if a candidate is someone who even the world widely views as a person of poor character, then we should not even consider such a candidate as worthy of evangelical support . . . . . . unless we are more trusting in the American political system to protect us and bring about societal change than we are the power of God.

In times of trouble, Israel often looked to earthly powers for help rather than relying on God—and God judged them for it. Christians have also misplaced their trust in worldly rulers before, whether it was the early church putting their trust in Constantine or German churches putting their trust in Hitler in the 1930s. We need to be very clear about our Christian priorities, and with whom we can and cannot ally ourselves. As Peter Berger once wrote: “He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon.” Or as Scripture itself makes so clear:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.
How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness?
How can light live with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14

Are God’s people trying to advance the light by partnering with darkness? May it never be!

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:7-8

Speaking truth to [and about] Trump (from the editors of Christianity Today)

This morning I reread this excellent editorial from Christianity Today (long considered the flagship publication of the evangelical movement). These thoughts are timely ones for us to consider as we draw closer to this election.

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Patrick Semansky / AP

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. . . .

Finish this article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?share=8zSGgP1pMb8F3tcGaT86AnjYoxtbEmnx

For my thoughts on this article and related issues, see my next post.

The NIV controversy, part 1

It’s not unusual for the release of a prominent, new translation of Scripture to cause controversy. At the beginning of the 5th century, a scholar named Jerome produced a new translation in common, everyday Latin. This translation was called the Vulgate because it was rendered in the “vulgar,” or common, language of the people. Jerome was the first Christian scholar to produce a common version of the Bible by translating the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew manuscripts rather than from the traditional Greek version. This resulted in some readings that sounded strange to the people. For instance, instead of God providing a “gourd” for Jonah, Jerome translated this more specifically as a “castor-oil plant.” The reaction? Rioting in the streets! The people didn’t appreciate anyone messing with their familiar readings of Scripture.

Ironically, over a thousand years later the Vulgate was itself firmly entrenched as the common Bible of the Western world. It was also badly in need of revision. In the early 16th century, Erasmus printed a Greek New Testament, based on the best Greek manuscripts he could find. Alongside the Greek text, he provided a brand new, up-to-date translation in Latin. As you might guess, this new translation faced great resistance. How dare Erasmus change the accepted Word of God that had been the authorized version of the Catholic Church for over a thousand years!

This new scholarship by Erasmus and others was used by the translators of the King James Version, which was published in 1611. It may come as a surprise to many that the King James Version itself faced vehement opposition when it was first released. For over fifty years, many people resisted this “new innovation.” Prominent church leaders decried it as a perversion of the Word of God. This translation, which is now widely hailed as one of the most beautiful works of English literature, was considered by many to be unfit for public worship or personal study. The Pilgrims, who used the Geneva Bible, refused to allow the King James Version on board the Mayflower.

Of course, the King James Version withstood this opposition and went on to become the dominant version of the Bible for over 300 years. But by the late 19th century, many Bible scholars realized there was a great need to revise the King James Version. Not surprisingly, this Revised Version faced withering criticism. Many people felt that anything other than the reassuringly familiar King James Version simply wasn’t the Word of God. To this day, there are some who teach that it is wrong to use any Bible but an “authorized” King James Version.

In 1978, the New International Version (NIV) was published. Despite sometimes stiff opposition, the NIV became the preferred version of Scripture for the vast majority of evangelical Christians. Because of an ongoing commitment to provide a translation of the Bible in current, up-to-date language, in 2005 the translators of the NIV released a new translation, Today’s New International Version (TNIV). And once again, the church went through a firestorm of controversy regarding a new translation of Scripture.

While a large number of highly respected, eminently qualified, solidly conservative scholars praised the accuracy and quality of the TNIV, its critics waged an all-out campaign to bury this new translation.  Accusing the TNIV translators—many of them well-known, conservative scholars themselves—of stealthily promoting a liberal, feminist agenda, they appealed to the suspicions of Christians who were mostly ignorant of the process of biblical translation. Many people began signing protests and complaining to Christian bookstores and churches about the TNIV without adequately understanding the underlying issues.

Generally, when a Bible publisher releases an update of a translation, they stop selling the older version. But Zondervan, the publisher of the NIV and the TNIV, faced a tough choice. They were publishing a brand new translation that many saw as the rightful heir to the NIV; but the NIV (which hadn’t been updated since 1984) was still a bestseller, and they apparently didn’t want to kill the golden goose. So they decided to advertise the new TNIV while continuing to offer the familiar NIV. In actual practice, most of their energy and resources were dedicated to supporting the money-making NIV. Many observers felt this strategy was a mistake, effectively eliminating any possibility for the TNIV to succeed. The TNIV quickly got a reputation as ‘the best translation no one will ever read.’

In 2009, Zondervan sought to rectify this situation by announcing that a new edition of the NIV would be released in 2011, which would replace both the TNIV and the 1984 version of the NIV. Dubbed the NIV 2011, this latest version of the NIV was released to the public earlier this year. Soon after it was released, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a strongly-worded resolution opposing the new version. The reaction of many evangelical Christians was a weary, ‘Here we go again.’ Christianity Today published an editorial in response to the SBC resolution, titled Battle for the Bible Translation. The editorial was well-written, clearly explaining the relevant issues, and rightly decrying the divisive and unnecessary stance of the SBC.

CT’s editorial was posted online, and quickly began receiving comments in response. Unfortunately, these responses tended to reveal the ignorance and hostility of many of the critics. Despite a few commenters who oppose all functional translations (including the original NIV), most of the new NIV’s opponents showed through their comments that they have a naive and overly simplistic concept of Bible translation. Though some of these commenters seemed well-intentioned, many had an almost superstitious perception of how Bible versions are produced. Few seemed knowledgeable of the complexities of real translation. While a few critics expressed themselves graciously, others apparently felt no qualms about slanderously attributing erroneous motives—sometimes in shockingly mean-spirited language—to men who had dedicated their lives to serving the body of Christ.

After teaching from the NIV for years, I was an enthusiastic supporter of the TNIV, feeling that it was an excellent translation. My enthusiasm didn’t wane until I became discouraged by Zondervan’s surprising lack of support for their new translation. Happily, this discontent led me to examine the New Living Translation, and I’m now even more enthusiastic about this translation. While I refer to many versions in my studies, my primary reading Bible is the New Living Translation, and our church uses the NLT. I wish the NIV 2011 great success, but I don’t foresee ever returning to an NIV-family text as my go-to Bible for reading or teaching.

So I have no personal stake in this debate. But I am dismayed to see this kind of hostility expressed toward fellow believers, and for evangelical Christians to be so unknowledgeable and naive about the translating of Scripture. Such paranoia and religious McCarthyism have no place in the body of Christ and must be strongly opposed. Those who follow the way of truth must not fall prey to sensationalistic conspiracy theories. And it’s the responsibility of evangelical pastors and leaders to speak out.

I’ve already addressed the need for Christians to handle controversial issues in a loving, Christlike way. (Contentious Christians: How should we handle controversy?) The translation of God’s Word is obviously of extreme importance, and it’s appropriate for us to discuss issues related to Bible translation vigorously. But we must also do so with Christian love and with fairness. And we must do our homework first so we truly understand not only what we’re opposing and why, but why fellow Christians disagree with us. My next post on this topic will explore the specific characteristics that some people find questionable about the NIV 2011.

Related posts:

The NIV controversy, part 2

Which Bible version should I use?