Yesterday, in my previous post concerning the Larcycia Hawkins/Wheaton College story, I tried to reflect on what the more fundamental issues really were. I also referenced a recent blog post by Peter Enns, in which he observed that, although it certainly was not the only factor in this case, Ms. Hawkins’ endorsement of evolution within her comments on Muslims very well could have played a part in Wheaton College’s decision to try to fire her.
I ended yesterday’s post by putting forth the idea that maybe the “Muslim issue” and the “evolution issue” both pointed to a more critical issue in our society today: that of political idolatry and the supposed “culture war.” As I said yesterday, I wonder if the driving force in Wheaton College’s reaction to Ms. Hawkins’ comments wasn’t really so much about actual Muslim-Christian relations, or evolution, or even the proper interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Rather, it was related to how some people tend to confuse certain biblical and scientific questions with political and culture agendas.
Today, I want to unpack my thoughts further.
Which Side of Political Aisle are You On? Should you be?
Before you think I’m simply trying to beat up on “those young earth creationist nutty fundamentalists” like Ken Ham, let me say that this kind of political idolatry can be found in both the “conservative Christian” camp and the “progressive Christian” camp. (Yes, you might be thinking, “How does this have to do with the issue at hand at Wheaton College? Just go with me…I’ll get there).
This kind of political idolatry completely baffles me. I do not understand how we have linked a particular view of Genesis 1-11/evolution to a host of societal, cultural, and moral issues. Think about it (and perhaps do a bit of self-evaluation too):
- “Conservatives Christians” believe Genesis 1-11 is historical and evolution is false. This view is somehow tied to being pro-life, anti-gay marriage/LGBTQ, tough border security, pro-gun/second amendment, denying climate change…the list can go on. And oh, in this presidential season, it apparently means supporting either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
- “Progressive Christians” do not believe Genesis 1-11 is historical, and they accept evolution as true. This view is somehow tied to being pro-choice, pro-gay marriage/LGBTQ, claiming a wall is racist, pro-gun restrictions, climate change is real, etc. And apparently, it also means supporting Socialist Bernie Sanders.
Without making value judgments on those cultural issues themselves, let’s face it, these descriptions seem to be quite accurate, don’t they? Why? What logical connection is there between believing the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and supporting the second amendment? Why does accepting evolution seem to always mean one is pro-gay marriage?
And, possibly depending on your political bent, why are some of you are thinking right now, “Joel, hold on…are you saying you’re pro-choice? How can you be a Christian, if….” or “Joel, you’re not an intolerant bigot toward the LGBTQ community, are you? How can you be a Christian, if….” Let me suggest that impulse within all of us is the root problem of what we’re seeing, not only in the Hawkins/Wheaton College case, but with so many other hot-button cultural issues.
Now, it seems to me that in the case of Ms. Hawkins, Wheaton College has caved into the demands of certain “conservative Christians” whose agenda and concerns are more aligned with the GOP party platform than the Kingdom of God. Just look at the popular “conservative Christian” websites—they seem (at least to me) to be proclaiming more of a Gospel of the GOP than they are the Gospel of Christ. I’m sorry, Evangelicals who are supporting Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, they are not your savior.
By the same token, it is quite easy to see that when it comes to other instances in our current culture, that there are many “progressive Christians” whose agenda and concerns are more aligned with the Democratic party than they are with the Kingdom. Just look at the popular “progressive Christian” websites—they seem (at least to me) to be proclaiming more of a Gospel of the Democrats than they are the Gospel of Christ. I’m sorry, progressive Christians who are supporting Bernie Sanders, he’s not your savior.
That is why I’ve come to disdain any label like “conservative” or “progressive” that comes before the word “Christian.” When label yourself (or others) in that way, there is a danger of aligning yourself more with a certain political party than with Christ.
Now, I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t support the political party or candidate that you think would best be able to run the government. What I am saying is that Christians in America—both conservatives and progressives—sometimes get dangerously close to equating the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with a particular party platform. That is the indication of the growing godlessness and secularization in our society: people thinking they’re serving Christ, but in reality are looking to just another Caesar to be their savior. It is political idolatry that tears a country apart along the lines of all the difficult societal and cultural challenges we face.
Okay, But Back to Ms. Hawkins and Wheaton College
What does this have to do with Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College? I think everything.
I think American Christianity has lost its handle on the politics of the Kingdom of God, and the result is the growing split between “conservative” and “progressive” Christians who have come to view each other as the political enemy, rather than fellow Christians in the Kingdom of God. And what has happened is that far too many Christians (both conservative and progressive) have taken hold of the political platforms of the Left and Right, slapped “Jesus” on them, and then have proceeded to beat the holy hell out of the other side. And thus we end up with this: “compromising, pro-evolution, gay-loving, liberal secularists” vs. “intolerant, anti-intellectual, bigoted, fascists.”
Yes, who can discuss and reason with those epithets flying around?
When this happens, I fear that we are becoming the pawns of the darkness because we are looking to our political parties for some sort of moral salvation. Oh, no one will actually say that Ms. Hawkins isn’t a Christian…but she’s a little too friendly with Muslims and she believes in evolution…sounds kind of “liberal!” So let’s just move to fire her and get her away from us. And the same sort of thing happens the other way around. No one will say, “That conservative Christian isn’t a real Christian,” but they will say, “He’s an intolerant, homophobic fascist.”
Again, I’m not saying that if you have conservative or liberal viewpoints that you’re somehow not a true follower of Christ. By all means, state your political positions and convictions, make a case for, and take a stand on, the pressing cultural concerns of our day, support your presidential candidates. Just don’t confuse the party platforms for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. I want Christians in both parties. I want them to be able to emphasize the specific stances of their party that really do reflect the politics of the Kingdom of God, and I want them to speak out against their party’s stances on certain things that, shall we say, don’t really measure up to the politics of the Kingdom of God.
But all Christians, Left or Right, must remember that the politics and values of the Kingdom of God are not always the same as either the GOP or the Democratic party. We must remember that the pressing cultural issues of our day, be they abortion, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, and Muslim-Christian relations…and yes, evolution…do not have simplistic, black and white, clear cut answers.
It’s idol worshippers who give simple answers: the kind of answers that fit on a bumper sticker, or are splashed on a 30-second political ad. But human beings who are made in God’s image are not simple, and the issues and challenges that face our culture aren’t simple—they are complex and nuanced. It takes real human beings to discuss those complexities in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of the truth. If the extent of your discussion on controversial cultural issues are bumper sticker slogans or political sound bites, and if you uses those slogans and sound bites to tear apart “the other side,” then you might want to ask yourself where your true worship and loyalties lie.
Come, Let Us Reason
Let me encourage you to listen to this podcast in which the topic of “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” It is a conversation between Miroslav Volf and Nabeel Qureshi. Simply put, Dr. Volf argues that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God, whereas Dr. Qureshi argues that they don’t. But if you listen to their discussion, it becomes quite clear that both Christian men realize that the answer to that question isn’t that simple. They agree with each other on many points, and the points on which they disagree are always qualified. This, I suggest, is the proper way Christians should handle and discuss controversial cultural issues.
Yes, the problem is that you can’t fit it on a bumper sticker; it actually takes time to discuss complexity. But that’s how Christians need to go about it. I have to think that if the Wheaton College administration and Ms. Hawkins sat down to really talk about this issue regarding Muslims and Christians, they would see that they largely have the same view, and the point where they disagreed could still be understood and put into perspective.
Unfortunately, it seems that Wheaton College is being pressured to render judgment on her career based on a few short statements. I hope they resist that pressure and allow room for discussion and clarity. If they do, though, I can guarantee they’re going to get hammered by certain Fundamentalist gate-keepers who will accuse Wheaton College of being “too liberal.”
Incidentally, I grew up in Wheaton. A few years ago I went back to visit my old high school, and I got into a conversation with one of the ladies who worked there. She told me that Wheaton College was becoming Marxist. Can we say that is over-the-top, politically-driven paranoia? I think we can. Wheaton College is going to always be faced with this challenge: some people (like Ken Ham!) accuse Wheaton College of being too liberal and secular; other people, based on this incident involving Ms. Hawkins, are accusing Wheaton College of being too fundamentalists. They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
But let’s just realize something: Wheaton College is filled with Christians, just like us, who are struggling to figure out complex issues. Sometimes they’ll get things right—and people will criticize them; sometimes they’ll get things wrong—and people will criticize them. And when mistakes are made, as with any of us, healing, peace, and clarity won’t come if we take the opportunity to unleash political-inspired bombs. It will only come if we come and reason together.
Abortion: An Example
This principle applies, not just to the Muslim-Christian question, but to the other hot-button cultural issues as well. Take abortion for example. I am very much pro-life, and I think human life is sacred. The early Church whole-heartedly condemned abortion, which was acceptable in ancient Rome. But at the same time, let’s face it, they had no understanding of sperm and eggs and conception as we do today. Back then, the ancient understanding was that the man “shot his seed” into the woman, that “seed” essentially being a really teeny, tiny person; and the woman just was the “fertile field.” The woman contributed nothing. By the time someone in the ancient world would have an abortion, the baby inside would have obviously grown to where it was noticeable. So the challenge for us today is to relate what the early Church taught, taking into consideration what they knew about conception, and balance with what we now know.
Here’s what I think: I don’t see how anyone can approve of late-term abortion—those were the kind of abortions the early Church were clearly condemning. For that matter, I have a huge problem with second-trimester abortion as well. Yet at the same time, in cases like the life of the mother, I see there is no easy answer. In those cases, I feel it should be up to the couple; I don’t know of anything in the Bible or in the early Church that says, “Under no conditions are you to abort the baby—if the mother dies, then she dies.”
Then there’s the first trimester, or let’s go back even further: if a man and woman conceive one night, is that cluster of cells the next morning (though certainly human life)—is that a person? The biblical writers and early Church would not have even known about that situation. Is the “morning after pill” an “abortion” that they would have condemned? I don’t think so. Could I be wrong? Sure. But here in the real world, this is a complex issue that we simply need to work through the best we can, and we need to pray that God has mercy on us, even when we get things wrong.
But the thing is, no resolution to abortion will ever be achieved as long as both sides of the political aisle are beholden to bumper sticker agendas that leave no room for discussion—and that is the nature of idolatry.
Let’s Wrap Up
As you can see, I think that the root problem in the Hawkins/Wheaton College story isn’t simply one of Muslims, or evolution. Those controversies step from the deeper problem of a destructive form of political idolatry. When we recognize that root problem, then hopefully we will be able to gain clarity, not simply on these two issues, but also a host of other issues as well.
What’s dividing our country, what’s causing Evangelical colleges to fire professors over singular comments, what’s causing organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis to condemn certain Christians because they don’t adhere to young earth creationism, and what’s causing some progressive Christians to write off Evangelicals as intolerant, homophobic fascists, is that Christians on both sides of the political aisle have mistaken their particular party’s political platform for the politics of the Kingdom of God.
If Christians of both political persuasions can come together, reason, and discuss these issues as a Christian family, we as a country wouldn’t be so susceptible to the divisive idolatry that has come to dominate our politics. In fact, we might over the long haul, change the very divisive nature of the way we do politics.
But it will never be easy. It will always be complex. We’re human, and that’s part of human life.