The Lake Avenue Essays # 2: Whose Agenda?… And Whose Pigeonhole?
If Jesus came back to America today, he might conclude that we were already in the midst of a presidential campaign. Candidates are being measured and issues debated. Christians are being courted because our vote matters. The candidates are measuring us, analyzing how we might vote. They, and most Americans, see us as the “religious right,” politically conservative, likely Republican.
How do you like that? Not here five minutes and already you’ve been pegged into a pigeonhole?
You might be comfortable with that particular niche. But the point of this piece has little to do with where you actually fit on the political spectrum. My point has to do with what most Americans would think when they learn that you’re a Christian.
Michelle and I came back to the States from Senegal in 1989. We had spent most of the 1970s and 80s in missionary training and living in Africa. We had been isolated from much that was happening in American culture—living in a kind of Christian bubble. What we found here was a far different country from the one we had left.
A little history: The Nixon landslide in 1972 made political operatives sit up and notice how much clout Christians could have as a voting bloc. Roe v. Wade in ’73 pushed a button that demonstrated Christian anger and willingness to speak up about the changing social and political agendas in our country. By 1980, a number of organizations were claiming to speak for conservative Christianity, including the “Moral Majority.” The “Christian right” or “religious right” was now a force to be reckoned with.
Those were heady days for Christians. The possibilities of power were exciting. It seemed to many that standing up for “family values” could stanch the seepage of moral sewage from the ‘60s and restore a more Christian America. But, somewhere along the line, many forgot that hearts are not changed by the ballot box or moral law, and (as Chuck Colson said), salvation doesn’t come on Air Force One. The American church was lured away by a political agenda—deflected from following the agenda of Jesus.
Jesus had an agenda? Your first thought might be, “Well, he was intent on getting to the cross.” Or, “He tried to get us to preach the gospel to everyone.” And you’d be right … sort of….
Jesus’ agenda can be seen in the Gospel accounts. It’s not rocket science. Some feel the Gospels are difficult, the parables confusing, so they largely ignore them or read small bits or perhaps John. But I want to remind you of something your English teacher taught: “What’s the main idea?” The question is, what did he teach his disciples—his apprentices, if you will—over and over? What’s the pattern? Jesus taught them to think and showed them his Father’s heart—to see who he is, how he thinks, and gain his perspective—that they might know him who dwells among us. “The presence of God is the central fact of Christianity” (Tozer). Israel missed God and had no light to reflect. We face the same danger.
You may be aware that Gandhi spent much time in Britain, living among British Christians. Afterward he had this to say: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I don’t know about you, but if I am to be persecuted, I want it to be for the right reasons. Just what am I known for? What light am I reflecting? Into whose pigeonhole do I fit?