I am not a sports expert, but I know that almost every sport at some point in its history has a coach or owner that breaks out of the box of conventional thinking and transforms that sport with a new way of playing it.
As a South Carolinian that is easily illustrated by our head football coach, Steve Spurrier. Love him or hate him, his years at the University of Florida transformed football from a game that was based on defense and brutally running the ball relentlessly up the middle to a high-flying ariel show which put 5 times the points on the scoreboard. He received a coaching epiphany where he knew that if he was to win he was going to have to change the playbook. Some thought him crazy, but conference wins and a national title tend to silence your critics. His innovations changed the landscape of the game.
Evangelical Christians are at a similar point when it comes to political philosophy and strategy. We have been listening to the old guard of party politics for so long that we have believed the lie that politics can only happen a certain way. We have practiced those ways and to be perfectly blunt…we are getting our tails kicked.
To name but a few:
- In Indiana, conservative groups patiently worked for months the political process in order to get a RFRA bill passed and signed (and let’s be honest, it was tepid at best). Yet in head spinning fashion it was not only eviscerated in less than a week by a so-called “fix”, it was actually used to turn the tables on us with regards to religious freedom.
- The tsunami-like wave of change with regards to same-sex marriage and sexual orientation laws has literally drowned us in potential liberty litigation.
- The 43 years of unfettered abortion despite the fact we have voted in conservative governors, presidents, legislatures, and congress all through those years.
At what point do we stop and say to ourselves, “It might be time for a new playbook”. We cannot continually practice the conventional strategy and expect different results from what we have seen for the last 50 years. It is time to see that some of our political counselors from the party need to be fired and some new coaches brought into the game.
The sooner we see that, the quicker we can change it. It is time to receive an epiphany of sorts and think differently about how we are to reform a culture. We cannot always be defending our values. No team can win that has it’s defense on the field constantly. We must find some “plays” that can begin to recover and restore our values which have served this nation and humanity well for thousands of years. No one would say that Christianity has performed perfectly through the years (after all, human beings are still fallen), but of all possible ethics and value systems an incredibly strong case can be presented that a Christian (Biblical) worldview works for ALL people; even those who reject it.
I want to suggest five (5) things that could be “game changers” if we follow through and execute the game plan in the next years. I do not believe that these 5 alone are all that is needed, but I do believe they represent a philosophical shift from what we currently see and experience.
1. Pastors must lead in cultural engagement and the Church must follow.
In a recent local congressional election in South Carolina there was a close republican primary run-off in my district. One of the candidates was a well-known Christian gentlemen who was a stellar choice with impeccable character for the office despite being a “rookie” candidate. The other candidate had some important personal issues, but had held previous office and was a familiar name in the state and district. Over 70 pastors publicly endorsed the Christian “rookie” candidate. That’s an incredible number in a congressional district. That number, as large as it was, still was not enough to overcome the recognition of the veteran politician. That illustrates an important point. If pastors step out and lead, the church needs to follow.
In a previous blog I mentioned how challenging it is to solicit pastoral involvement. My personal understanding is that pastors are biblically considered to be “Watchmen on the Wall” and “Elders at the Gates” of their cities, regions, and state. To put it bluntly, the politicians are not the leaders of our communities despite the fact it currently seems to be the case. Civil authority has an important place in God’s order, but it is still accountable to spiritual authority. Most of our political candidates claim some form of Christianity. Many of them say they are “born-again”. Yet they legislate and vote in contradiction to their testimony and the One to whom they say is Lord. Pastors are the spiritual authority that can confront these inconsistencies and hypocrisies by reminding them that their faith did not end at the steps of the Church yard, but it goes with them into their careers as civil servants. Politicians who claim that Jesus is Lord of their life are under the same expectations of allowing Christ’s Lordship to invade their career as any other business person or employee. Pastors have an authority to hold their feet to their confession of faith.
An optimum scenario would be to develop a pastors alliance (like the Indiana Pastors Alliance) which would provide a forum for every political candidate who desires office in the state to be interviewed and vetted by a small group of pastors. Politicians are comfortable circumventing pastoral authority by simply holding large meetings where they give their ambiguous stump speeches or stand behind pulpits and only share their “testimony”. They need to be carefully analyzed in their positions and promises by pastors who would then report those findings to their congregations and the Church at large. Candidates who opt out of that forum would simply be reported as “unconcerned about our values”. The vision would be that there would be no viable candidate for any public office without first sitting down with the pastors in the state.
This template could be expanded from state to state in order to give the pastors influence and voice at the national level. If the church were to follow the pastor’s recommendations and analysis, it would eventually “smoke out” candidates who use our vocabulary and terms without any intention of following through with substance.
2. Political candidates must fear God, respect the Church, and respond to His servants.
It’s honesty time. The reason evangelical Christians get “thrown under buses” is because politicians can do it without any fear of repercussion. They exploit our redemptive nature and manipulate our desire to give “second chances”. They understand our naiveté in politics and the ease with which we accept their excuses that “legislation is sausage making” and “we can only take little steps at a time”. Have you noticed how large of steps our political adversaries take? Have you noticed the speed at which they seem to be able to move?
We can no longer afford to be nicer than Jesus. It has been our achilles heel. We hire (vote for) candidates that are commissioned to advance our values. If they lie to us, dodge legislation important to us, or fail in attainable goals with regards to our concerns, then they should be challenged in a primary and replaced. Remember, this isn’t about our friendships. This is about reforming a nation. This is about the next generation’s ability to enjoy Christian liberty in their nation. This is bigger than who let’s us sit in their office. We must understand that those who feel no responsibility to move forward legitimate Christian concerns are really not our friends. Until we understand that many of these politicians are laughing at us behind closed doors and get serious about changing that, we will continue to be patronized.
3. Force political candidates and elections to our conversations.
Have you noticed how many people want the “social issues” to go away? There is a growing number of voices who would rather abdicate the foundational issues of a nation to the “real” work of taxes, roads, and infrastructure. They are more concerned about the cost of roads than the generation that is being aborted who would drive on those roads. Instead of running away from these discussions and debates, let’s run into the middle of them and force the conversation. We will never win the great social issues of our day by allowing candidates a “stealth” position in order to maintain their “electability”.
We need to force candidates to defend unfettered abortion which is practical infanticide. Force candidates to address religious liberty by asking why they perpetuate “anti-Christian bigotry”. Force our candidates to defend their acquiescence on traditional marriage. Force them to deal with potential scenarios a generation from now in much the same way a budget discussion would proceed. We demand pro-active, forward planning on our roads and development, but we never ask those same questions with regards to social concerns. We need to own our values and quit apologizing for positions that we know are right and ultimately work. This means we need candidates who own our values and do not apologize for them.
4. Find political candidates that will lead on our issues and not simply acknowledge our issues.
Several years ago a political candidate sat in front of my desk seeking my endorsement and use of my influence. This candidate had experienced a moral collapse and I mentioned to him that I was unsure if he could lead with any credibility the causes I considered most important. His response to me was that he agreed that he might never be the “face” or the leader for family values but he could promise that should ANY legislation cross his desk that dealt with my concerns I could count on his vote.
While I appreciated his promise to vote correctly “IF” legislation comes his way, my greater need is to find LEADERS who will champion these causes. Candidates that will not champion our concerns should no longer be acceptable. It should concern us that we must lobby the very party who says on their platform that they identify with us. It should concern us that we must expend incredible energy lobbying politicians to vote correctly when they stood in our churches and told us that we would not have to worry about that. It is time we found leaders, groomed leaders, and supported leaders that will champion our concerns. One idea is to create a Pastors PAC (Political Action Committee) where pastors can train, educate, and fund the candidates we need to accomplish our goals. Without leaders, we will continue to be frustrated by the pool of candidates from which we choose.
5. Coalesce evangelical Christian voters into a responsive voting force.
I am told that in 2012, there were 15 million evangelical Christian voters who stayed home. That number activated and engaged would have changed everything this past year. The challenge lies in activating and then coalescing this group into a values voter block. This is more easily analyzed than activated. Again, if pastors are enlisted, educated, and engaged; this becomes a possibility. The Church is the greatest built-in network in our nation which, if mobilized, can turn things quickly.
The Indiana Pastors Alliance is working on strategies right now to accomplish this very goal. Something as simple as sponsoring voter registration drives in churches with the direct expectation of growing a new pool of primary voters which can circumvent the entrenched, established primary voters can go a long way in impacting the playing field. Encouraging pastors to find a person in their church who could be a “cultural-engagement director” that would keep their finger on the current issues moving through statehouses and Congress. We must continue to find “out of the box” strategies that can activate the Church into its full potential in influencing the culture and the values our legislatures codify.
I am reminded that during World War 2, MacArthur proved in the Pacific that you could lose a few battles, retreat and regroup, then come back and win the war. It is obvious that in recent days the evangelical Christian concerns have taken a beating. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a “silver lining” under any of the storm clouds. However, the good news is that the final chapter has yet to be written in some of this. We have watched our adversaries move their agenda at what has appeared to be at times…light speed. How much greater, faster, more powerfully could our God move if we began to apprehend His strategy and thought “outside of the box”? I am reminded that there are many accounts in the Scripture of battles. Every battle had a new plan revealed by the Lord. He never used the same plan twice. Perhaps that’s a precept we need to embrace and lose our old play books and believe for an unveiling of a new one.
I still believe I am on the winning side.