American Idol — Politics

Title: American Idol — Politics
Text: Matthew 22:21
Time: November 1st, 2012

We are now only days away from the presidential election for 2012, and I have to say that I’m grateful that it will soon be over. Why? Because I’m already pass the point of weariness in hearing political ads and political talk, interviews and discussions. I’m already saturated with political news and campaign rhetoric, and I’m not the only one. And this has been going on almost four years – since the last presidential election! It’s only gotten worse in the last few decades, with the growth of modern communications technology like TV, radio, the Internet and smart phones. It seems as if America is obsessed with politics. It’s on television 24/7, as well as radio and in the newspapers. You can’t get away from it. Reporters are bound and determined to tell you the latest development in the presidential campaign. And if that’s not enough, you’ll run into somebody at work, in the neighborhood or on the street who is all too eager to talk politics with you, or debate this or that point. It isn’t going too far to say that American’s have a new idol – politics. Not that there hasn’t always been political idolatry in our country going back two hundred years, but most recently it’s reached a critical mass where now almost everyone is following politics, and obsessing over it. Now don’t get the wrong impression. I’m not Amish. I don’t favor ignoring our civic duties or not voting or participating in the democratic process. God ordains governments and calls us to have influence in their operation to the best of our ability. So I’m a responsible citizen and will exercise my responsibility at the polls come November 6th to vote for the candidates I feel best represent my Christian values so that society is shaped along the lines of righteousness and justice, not their opposites. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about our growing worldly obsession with politics in this country. What about a balanced sense of proportion and perspective? What about keeping politics in its proper place in society rather than letting it become too important, too much of a priority? Jesus teaches us to give to government what is due government, but not to give government what is due God. But I’m afraid we’ve changed that teaching to something like rendering unto government what is due government and also rendering unto government the things due God as well. In other words, we are beginning to give too much time, energy and resources to politics, while we neglect more important spiritual and moral priorities of life – in other words, the things of God. That’s why I feel that politics has become just another American Idol. I’m gradually working my way through America’s top ten idols. I’ve already mention TV in a previous message, so today’s theme is the American idol of politics. I figure before this year’s presidential election would be a good time to talk about this particular form of idolatry. Let me explain.

First, it’s important to acknowledge our responsibility to be good citizens. Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Notice Jesus teaches us to give or render unto government what is due government. Now not all forms of government are the same. For example, our form in the United States is democracy, but that isn’t found everywhere in the world. Some countries operate under a monarchy or kingdom, where a king or queen rules. This form is slowly fading away almost everywhere, but it’s still around in some places. Being a good citizen under a monarchy is a little different than under a democracy. There are also dictatorships in some countries. Being a good citizen within a dictatorship is different also than being a good citizen of a democracy. So in order to obey Jesus’ teaching we have to apply it differently in whatever context we find ourselves. But in the United States we live under a democracy where the government invites us to give input, yes, requires that we give input in order for government to function properly within our system. Some Christians say that they want nothing to do with politics, but that’s not being a good citizen within a democratically organized country. Our form of government only works if citizens participate. So in our context, within our form of democracy in the United States, fulfilling Christ’s command to render unto Caesar – this being a symbol of government – the things that are Caesar’s, means at least minimally being informed on issues and candidates, and voting whenever we are asked. It can also mean more involvement in the political process if that’s our calling. But for the average citizen it will mean being an informed voter. It also means praying for our political leaders according to 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “I urge, then , first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving by made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Now rendering unto Caesar, or in other words, giving to the government, means fulfilling our responsibilities as good citizens in our form of government. But it doesn’t mean robbing from God in order to give to government. It doesn’t mean spending too much time, too much attention, too much money, too much of our lives in political concerns. I’m reminded of the time during the Revolutionary War over two hundred years ago in this country. The colonists had experienced spiritual revival in the years preceding the War, but according to the historical record, spiritual progress stopped abruptly during the conflict, and it took many years afterwards for the Christian community to recover from the spiritual decline. What happened? People became preoccupied with politics, with the cause of liberty, with winning political freedom. They shifted attention from God to government, from the kingdom of God to the kingdom of man. Thankfully, the proper balance was recovered some time after the War was over. But we can learn a lesson from this historical memory – being a good citizen doesn’t mean losing perspective and turning politics into an idol. We must not rob God in order to give to government. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Second, it’s important to acknowledge our responsibility before God. Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Our priority should be God, not government. Jesus said it best, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well,” Matthew 6:33. But politics can so easily become an idol because it’s subtle and tempting. We can begin to think that it’s more important to convert a person to our political views than it is to convert a person to Christ. We can begin to start judging people on the basis of their political affiliation instead of loving them as someone made in the very image of God. We can start to see and treat people as enemies because they oppose our political agenda. Now don’t get me wrong, I have strong political convictions, especially on clearly moral social issues; for example, like my opposition to abortion and gay marriage. These are clear-cut examples of spiritual and moral issues that have become political issues as well. In this case, I’m very outspoken about my opposition to social evils like abortion and gay marriage. But that doesn’t mean I must follow the political party line of the Republican Party because it too opposes these things. I may disagree with Republicans on other things. In other words, my loyalty is first to Christ and his kingdom, not some man-made kingdom or party on earth. I’m not obligated to defend everything the presidential candidate I vote for favors either. But more important, I’m not obligated to carry on as if my candidate is the next Messiah or Savior of the world. That can easily happen in politics, candidates and personalities become larger than life and actually take on the characteristics of idols. We see this happening around the world in other political contexts, for example, in North Korea, where there is virtually a personality cult of leadership. We can turn our political leaders into almost cult leaders if we aren’t careful. President Obama’s election victory speech and the reaction of some people come to mind. But it’s not just candidates, it’s the whole political process that can become the idol – the following each and every twist and turn during the campaign, the endless talk, discussion and debate about issues, the win-at-any-cost attitude the divides our citizens, the preoccupation and obsession with all things politics. I’ve never seen it this bad in all my years of observing politics in this country. In the middle of this political idolatry we forget about God and his priorities. We forget that Christ’s kingdom advances no matter what political party is in power, no matter which candidate wins the presidency. The early church thrived despite the fact that it had to operate under a dictatorship in the Roman Empire.

As a recent example of Christians forgetting their spiritual and moral priorities in favor of political posturing, I mention the decision by the Billy Graham organization to remove Mormonism from a list of non-Christian cults on its web page. Now why would Billy Graham and his organization remove Mormonism from its list of cults? Mormonism teaches that everyone can become their own god, that God Almighty was once a man who grew up to become a God, and that someday anyone who works hard and stays faithful could become a God themselves with their own planet with people worshipping and praying to them just like we worship and pray to God Almighty now. Sound strange? It is strange; in fact, it’s heretical. That’s why Christians have always classified Mormonism as a non-Christian cult. Billy Graham’s web site had always classified it as a non-Christian cult before also. But not anymore. Why the change? Because presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who happens to be Mormon, visited with the elderly Billy Graham at his home in North Carolina. After the talk, a few days later, Mormonism was dropped from the list of cults on Billy Graham’s web site. What just happened? Billy Graham got his priorities mixed up. He put politics before Christ. Instead of rendering unto Caesar the things due Caesar, he rendered unto Caesar the things due God. Is Mormonism a non-Christian cult or isn’t it? Of course it is. Ok, then let Christians continue to teach that it is, whether there is an election or not, whether it’s good for politics or not, whether it helps “our guy” win or not. Now Mitt Romney’s a nice guy and a strong leader. I’ll probably vote for him for president, not because he’s Mormon, but despite the fact he is Mormon. I’m voting for a president to run the affairs of the country, not voting for pastor-in-chief. But my point is, Christians have no business fudging with spiritual and moral truth for the benefit of politics. It’s idolatry to put a political conviction ahead of a moral or spiritual conviction. It’s a false priority. But politics is subtle and tempts us to do such things. Politics can easily become an idol if we aren’t careful. What is an idol? Simply put, it’s anything we put ahead of God in life. That means virtually anything can become an idol in our life if we let it. Money, if we put it ahead of God, can become an idol. Material possessions, a job or career, health, fame, pleasure, and so forth, anything we put ahead of God (and the things of God) can become an idol for us. A political cause, even a good one, has the potential of becoming an idol, yes, even a religion for us. For example, for a growing number of people in the United States, politics is becoming their religion – it’s what they eat, sleep and drink. That’s idolatry.

Third, we must ask God to give us wisdom to know how to balance our responsibilities. Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” What is the proper balance between our responsibilities to earthly kingdoms and our responsibility to God’s heavenly spiritual kingdom? That’s what we will all have to wrestle with our whole life. There are no easy answers. For example, was Billy Graham correct in taking down Mormonism from the list of non-Christian cults? He no doubt thought that removing it, at least until after the presidential election, was prudent and helpful in helping Mitt Romney possibly win the presidency. He probably feels that for Mitt Romney to win would be better for promoting Christian values in society. I can’t disagree with the logic of that. But I question the act of removing Mormonism from the list of cults. If it’s a cult, let’s list it as such. It’s more important to get the truth right, to teach the truth, than it is for even a good candidate to be elected. We should never compromise the truth of God for political purposes. But politics tempts us to compromise our spiritual convictions. It did also cause the leader of the Moral Majority, the late Jerry Falwell, to compromise. And he serves as a good example for us all. During the Reagan years, Jerry Falwell had access to great political power and position because of his help getting out the vote and electing the president. One day Falwell got a phone call from Reagan who asked him not to object to Sandra Day O’Conner as nominee for Supreme Court Justice. She didn’t have a solid pro-life record and it was doubtful she’d vote against Row v. Wade if it came up on the Court. So against his instincts pro-lifer Jerry Falwell agreed to withhold criticism of Reagan’s nominee. Well, as it turned out, she was selected for the Supreme Court and she did vote to uphold abortion once on the bench. For political reasons, Jerry Falwell helped nominate a pro-abortion Justice. Because he compromised as a political favor to the president, Falwell actually undermined a very important moral and spiritual cause, the pro-life cause. This is an example of Christians compromising because of politics, and we should never forget it. Whenever we start thinking the political cause is of higher priority than the moral or spiritual cause, we’re finished. But it can easily happen, because like I said before, politics is seductive and tempting. It promises the world, but for a price. It promises power and position, but at what cost? We need wisdom to participate in politics without being used by politics. We need to keep our spiritual and moral priorities straight so that we don’t subtly compromise away our convictions or spend all our resources fighting earthly battles with worldly means. I don’t have all the answers as far as the proper balance for our responsibility to both church and state, to both God and government. But I do know that we must beware of the creeping idolatry of politics. Let’s keep first things first. Jesus said it best, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”

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