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It’s no secret that over the last few weeks, our country has experienced troubled waters. With day after day of government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of employees are left to wonder when they will they get back to work, if ever. This “madness” as Barry Black, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and Seventh-day Adventist pastor put it, is revealing in ever more glaring ways, the polarization of America. What moves me today to write on this subject is time (since I now have much of it over the weekend due to doctor’s orders) and circumstance. I am frustrated; frustrated by a fear that Seventh-day Adventism seems to be on its way to following the path of many well meaning denominations by identifying itself with partisan politics in a way which will undermine our witness.
“What do you mean?” you might ask. Let’s begin with what we see going on today. Today’s world is all about storyline and narrative. Like a compelling book or movie, we try to make sense of our experience and develop our worldview (again, a term I’ll call “narrative” for the rest of this entry). When this narrative is passed on in a way that makes sense to someone else, they buy into it. This is how everything–from philosophical positions, religious beliefs, or political persuasions–are formed and passed on. A bothersome component to this narrative concept, though, is that sometimes, like every good story, there has to be an antagonist or “bad guy” for the “hero” in your narrative to be up against.
Oftentimes, specific groups, races, or even entire countries are seen as foils to the hero of the story, an enemy that your hero has to overcome. A perfect modern example of this component of narrative idea is what is unfolding in the political discourse you hear in the news. Here is the brief and simplified way the narrative is presented on both sides during the current shut down:
Republicans (especially the Tea Party): “We are trying to protect the values and freedoms granted to us within the Constitution. These liberals are trying to force us to become a socialist country through Obamacare and we are standing our ground for the future of America.”
Democrats: “The conservatives are holding a gun to America’s head. They do not believe in democracy and they are willing to gamble the country’s economy as a way to deny people from receiving the healthcare that they actually need.”
Both see themselves as the defenders of America, while the other side are the villains. Now whenever the two sides meet and one of these narratives is brought up, almost immediately there is a counter-argument presented in order to justify one position and discredit the other. “Yeah, but those liberals did so and so,” or “But don’t forget that these conservatives are all about this and that.” This is basically another way of deciding who is right and wrong, who is really the hero or the villain in the story.
Now, if you are looking for a conversation on who I think is right or wrong in this shutdown situation, you’re missing the point.
“Right and wrong are not what separate us and our enemies. It’s our different standpoints, our perspectives that separate us. Both sides blame one another. There’s no good or bad side. Just two sides holding different views.”
I haven’t watched the news recently because I don’t have cable at home, but I am amazed to see how original thoughts or willingness to find mutual solutions come few and far between. Most people get their news from one of the major news stations: Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN (what? Some people only seem to watch ESPN!). And when they view these stations day after day, they learn how to say what you’re supposed to say (or the way I describe it: believe their narrative). So if you have your liberal or conservative lingo, talking points, or principles down, when you meet someone that has different views than you, you won’t be able to think outside the box because you’ve already been instructed on what to think. I see it every day on my News Feed and it is not only dangerous, but annoying.
The heart of what is bothering me is not political; it is spiritual. This “us vs. them”narrative has recently crept everywhere and, as well intentioned as it may be, several prominent Adventist ministries and personalities have recently been promoted on politically “conservative” media outlets. Sure, while we as a church are traditionally more “conservative” in terms of our values, two things jump out at me once I think about these recent events:
- Not all of our members are political conservatives (as a matter of fact, the overwhelming majority of Adventists are outside of the United States, and outside of our partisan politics entirely).
- Jesus did not leave any room for deep political identification with either party (for more on Jesus’ political thoughts, see Matthew 6:24; 22:17-21, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:25 for starters. If you want to see Jesus’ followers had to say about politics, you can check out 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:17; Philippians 3:20; Titus 3:9).
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Glenn Beck recently featured The Great Controversy and Remnant Publications on one of his shows. I’m not as concerned over the advertising of this book itself, since any producer has the liberty to decide what they bring on the air. Also, as some might quote, “any publicity is good publicity.” However, it is also true that you oftentimes judge a book by its cover and when the message (however “good” or “true” it may be) is promoted by a messenger who is no stranger to insensitive, combative, and downright divisive rhetoric in our country to begin with, you have to wonder if you might be undermining the image you want associated with your message by way of your choice of messenger (I would say the same if the book was to be featured on a “liberal” show like The Daily Show with John Stewart [which it most likely wouldn’t, but I’m using this to say that I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you’re talking about–the point is still the same]).
My bigger issue is with the well-known and beloved Adventist figure, Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson has recently been in the news due to his vocal opinions about the President and, specifically, his dissatisfaction with Obamacare (also known as the Affordable Care Act [yes, there are still some people who “prefer” one over another without realizing that they are in fact the very same thing! For more on this, search for “Jimmy Kimmel Affordable Care Act” on YouTube. It’s funny but also sad.]).
One of the most disappointing remarks came when he recently said the following:
Dr. Ben Carson, a conservative commentator and neurosurgeon, on Friday likened the health care law to slavery.“Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing to happen to the nation since slavery,” Carson said, speaking at the Values Voter Summit. “And it is slavery, in a way.”
Read more about that here.
Before offering criticism, I think that he is a great role model to all young people; his example of hard work, education, and philanthropy are worthy for anyone to emulate. I remember reading some of his book Gifted Hands when I younger and being encouraged by his story. On that end, I am happy and proud to call him a fellow Seventh-day Adventist.
Also, as a citizen of the United States, Dr. Carson is free to express his opinions any way he wants; he is free to chose to be a Fox News contributor (as he did recently). I am glad to live in a country that allows people to express their opinions this openly. I applaud that! However, as a pastor, my concern and disappointment stems from the fact that, in the last few months, we now have well-known Adventist literature and personalities promoted on politically polarizing venues.
As a pastor, when someone hears the word Adventist, I don’t want the first thing that comes to their mind to be Fox News, Glenn Beck, Tea Party or any sort of political term due to Dr. Carson’s contribution as a Fox News contributor or consider The Great Controversy as a book written with a political agenda to get across. The main narrative that informs a Christian’s perspective is not a political one, because it was not a politician who founded it. I wish Dr. Carson the best in his future path, but pray he does not become a pawn for political use and become exploited for being a successful black conservative.
You can be a religious or political conservative or a liberal (which personally, I find “liberal” and “conservative” as stupid categories anyway because you always consider yourself as “balanced,” which you probably are not), but Christ is not exclusive property of either side. God is as unbiased as the Sun; it shines on all people regardless of where they stand (unless it is winter in Michigan, in which case it is equally hidden from all… thanks to the permacloud that takes up residence for months on end).
Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
We are all currently developing the narratives of our lives. The question is, when it is said and done, how do you want be remembered? Another worthy question is: what is the “righteousness” that we want our nation to have? Is that the same “righteousness” that we find in the Bible?
Let’s put another spin on it: what does your Facebook wall say about your life’s narrative? Christians, are you representing the narrative that you learned from Christ faithfully as it was given it to you, or is it being mixed in with the political divisiveness that has kept our government closed for the past few weeks? Are we in danger of bringing in that ridiculous concept of “right” and “wrong,” “liberal” vs. “conservative” nonsense into our lives and dividing amongst ourselves?
I’ll again mention Chaplain Barry Black. I love what he’s doing through his prayers on the Senate floor. In his prayers, he is asking God to speak to the hearts of our leaders and bring understanding in the midst of discord. He is being a modern-day Daniel and we need more of them in today’s polarized world. May we all be like Daniel and work toward unity instead of adding to the madness that drives us apart!