YTLcommunity News, January 20, 2009
Does the Church Stand for Christ’s Love today?
I rejoiced upon hearing that Barack Obama was declared President-elect of the United States of America on 5 November 2008. Immediately, I posted a statement on YTL Community entitled: HIS story has been made! GOD, America and Barack Obama. I celebrated Obama’s victory as a welcomed ‘end’ to the terrible legacy of racism and slavery in America.
I received congratulatory notes and positive feedbacks from Christians for reflecting what many of them were genuinely feeling and thinking. However, I also received complaints from a number of Christians. They argued that by celebrating Obama’s victory, I have given credence to his moral policies deemed contradictory to biblical principles, particularly, partial-birth abortion and gay marriage. Support for Obama is viewed as support for immorality, an unrighteous act for a Christian. Whilst support for John McCain and Sarah Palin is biblically responsible and righteous.
It is not my habit to engage in online debates on YTL Community. Having said this, I am making an exception in this case. My critics have revealed both their misunderstanding of the nature of politics and religion, as well as deep-seated religious bias – a combination that has resulted in rather distorted and unhelpful perceptions of the Christian faith. For this reason, I am humbly making a measured response to these criticisms.
1. The moral and spiritual significance of Obama’s victory.
Contrary to suggestions otherwise, I regard celebrating Obama’s presidential victory as a morally righteous act because US race relations has a moral and spiritual dimension to it.
Racism is an evil tool to empower individuals and groups through the manipulation of fears and prejudices. They sow hatred and discord by condemning others on account of skin colour, purely for reasons of self-interests, greed and power. In the case of the US, hundreds of years of slave trade, racial bigotry, crime and injustice have left the nation broken and divided. The US harboured a deeply embedded tainted moral and spiritual legacy.
However, on 5 November, Americans rose to elect Obama. This was, I would argue, their individual and corporate act of faith. There was a willingness and determination to repent, to exorcise (figuratively speaking) the guilt of past racial crimes and discrimination, and to move on. I applauded this.
I. Personally, I can see that maybe God meant for this tainted legacy to be broken and Obama’s victory being part of His grand scheme to bring reconciliation to the US.
In my statement, I spoke of the Blood of Christ bringing forgiveness and reconciliation. I also spoke of how for many years, the seeds of this forgiveness and reconciliation were faithfully sown by men and women of faith, even to the point of persecution and death i.e. the Blood of the Martyrs.
I believe that by the grace of God, the fervent prayers of these great men and women were answered on Election Day. Our Lord Jesus gave the US nation an amazing opportunity at turning over a new leaf and at reconciliation.
“For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1 vs. 19 – 20, Holy Bible (New International Version).
II. I also believe that Obama was an ‘instrument’ that put an end to this legacy. God is God! He chooses whomever to achieve His goals.
It is my hope that US Christians could both appreciate the end of this appalling legacy, and make good on an amazing window of opportunity at national reconciliation. They themselves have certainly been liberated from a terrible blemish on their Christian testimonies. Let us not forget the role played by many US Christian forefathers in perpetrating and defending the slave trade, indirectly justifying racial hatred and atrocities.
Even the world all over can see and celebrate the impact of this profound development. Across the world, the beacon of hope that is the US, is shinning again. There is a sense that justice has been served.
2. One vote legitimises all?
Celebrating Obama’s victory does not mean I am lending credence to his moral policies on abortion or gay marriage. To suggest otherwise, is mistaking the complex relationship between politics and religion in any political context, not least in the US.
Identifying the US Presidential candidate of one’s choice is a most difficult task. Just when one feels comfortable towards a candidate’s stance on an issue, inevitably, another issue crops up to cloud it. At best, one chooses a candidate who closely reflects his or her views regarding a host of issues. Or, decide on a candidate based on a hierarchy of issues.
Granted, many Christians put abortion and gay issues high on their agenda in the recent US Presidential election. In my case, it was the issue of race. But does this mean when one voted for Obama, he or she signed up to all of Obama’s policies? Certainly not!
Let me be candid. Just because I support Samson, does not mean I condone his womanising with Delilah. I could champion a King David, but I would never condone his adultery with Beersheba, nor his murder of Uriah, her husband, to cover up the affair.
And for Evangelical Christians like myself, for whom the German theologian, Martin Luther is the father of the Reformation, I could nod my head happily to his theological expositions and even marvel at the beautiful lyrics of his hymns. However, I do not condone all Luther’s writings on the Jewish people. Some of his writings are deemed anti-Semitic. Equally, I am not to emulate Luther’s known character flaws – his abrasive nature towards his critics, when his “language could also move towards crudity and hatefulness” (in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p.29).
I have included the following newspaper excerpt to conclude my point:
Most of California's Black Voters Backed Gay Marriage Ban (53% of Latinos Also Supported Proposition 8)
Washington Post Staff Writers, Friday, November 7, 2008; Page A03
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 6 -- Any notion that Tuesday's election represented a liberal juggernaut must overcome a detail from the voting booths of California: The same voters who turned out strongest for Barack Obama also drove a stake through the heart of same-sex marriage.
Seven in 10 African Americans who went to the polls voted yes on Proposition 8, the ballot measure overruling a state Supreme Court judgment that legalized same-sex marriage and brought 18,000 gay and lesbian couples to Golden State courthouses in the past six months.
3. Is a Bible waving Christian President sufficient?
I wish to add another observation following my previous point. Many Christians in the US and the world around, regularly vote in hope that their political candidates will pursue their moral interests once in office. We are wiser if we do not assume that by having a Christian in office, all will be well. Equally, a rhetoric rendering, Bible waving US President could prove quite fallible or just as ineffectual. There is also no guarantee the President elected will keep his promises.
Of course, we vote for political candidates who champion our views. But the reality is politicians are all fallible. There are no ‘finished products’ going into the White House nor ‘finished products’ coming out of it for that matter. Political institutions are also man-made. As such, they are just as fallible.
The question in truth is how do we hold politicians and their institutions accountable. We should never give political leaders blank cheques. Godly principles of ‘good stewardship’ demand that we must keep check of what we entrust political leaders with.
Obama’s victory begins a new chapter or a new legacy in US history. Potentially, he could facilitate the healing and reconciliation within America. For this simple reason, this new chapter in US history carries with it a great weight of responsibilities. Will he succeed or would he falter? I am praying that God can work through Obama to bring much good to the US people and to the world.
I. US Christians can and should also be an integral part of the writing of this new chapter in US history. Certainly, to be a channel of God’s grace to the US nation.
The Christian community in the US should reassess the way they handle political engagement, debate and dialogue, and get heavily involved in national reconciliation and if possible, the spiritual transformation of the nation. And by all means, doing so holding firmly to their Godly principles and values. There is no contradiction between the two.
Judging political leaders while standing on the sideline is ineffectual. Condemning Christian leaders who engage with politicians with differing religious views does not achieve positive outcomes either.
I refer to Pastor Rick Warren’s invitation to Obama to speak at Saddleback Church’s AIDS Conference. Time’s write-up on the controversy is quite revealing.
II. US Christians can and must also hold Obama and his new administration accountable, even on issues relating to morality and religion.
For example, Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners plans to scrutinise Obama’s commitment to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. (Sojourners is, I understand, a progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture that seeks to build a movement of spirituality and social change.)
4. What does the church stand for today?
After reading the correspondences sent to me, I researched with greater depth, Obama’s moral policies and religious views.
To know what Obama’s moral and religious policies are, please read:
‘Call to Renewal’, Keynote Address by Barack Obama, Building a Covenant for a New America Conference, 28 June 2006
‘Q&A: Barack Obama’
I also came across things written about him from the Christian community both in the US and the world around that I wish I had not. I was appalled and sick to the gut.
Even now, Obama is being called many terrible things under the sun – the anti-Christ, the great deceiver, the terrorist, the big sell-out etc. Can anyone believe such hatred coming from Christians? Even from some very prominent leaders? In fact some suggest that on Obama’s account, God will bring a whole host of disasters and calamities on the US nation. Far worse, some wish his death and assassination.
Where does all this hate come from? When did Christ teach us to hate in such manner, especially against those who disagree with His teachings? Is such hatred the signature of Christ?
MOST CERTAINLY NOT!
I. Yes, we Christians are emotional because some of Obama’s moral views contradict God’s word. But without love, are we not just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals?
Did the Apostle Paul not remind us that without love, the gift of prophecy, the ability to fathom mysteries and all knowledge, even the faith that moves mountains are as good as nothing? (In 1 Corinthians 13, Holy Bible).
Did the Apostle John not write, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in Him” I John 3 vs. 14 – 15, Holy Bible.
II. Is this not the kind of gracelessness that turns people away from church and gives Christians all around the world a bad name? There is a clear line between speaking truths and being blatantly ungracious. Our Lord Jesus stresses that “love never fails.” If we fail to love, are we not just hypocrites?
III. Does the church stand for Christ’s love today? Are Christians willing to love Obama? Because God loves Obama too!
The ability to love is not only a sign of confidence in Christ, but a true knowledge of what Jesus did on the cross.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” I John 4 vs. 18, Holy Bible.
It appears there is a lot of fear in the churches throughout the US and the world around.
My good friend, George Verwer wrote in The Revolution of Love (pp.13-14):
This is, I believe, the basic ingredient that is largely lacking in Christianity today, and the lack of it is the source of most of our problems. It is the cancer that is eating away at the church, but it is no secret. In fact, it is so non-secretive that it is written on almost every page of the New Testament. And yet, because our hearts are so hard and cold, and because we are so self-centred, we do not see (or we do not really believe) that the basic message of the New Testament is love!
…There are thousands, even millions, of people who claims to be ‘orthodox Christians’ because they cling to a certain set of beliefs in accordance with the Bible. They are aware that they do not practise much humility, but they do not think that makes them any less orthodox. They are aware that they do not really love other Christians (especially those who are different from them), but that does not cause them to think their teaching is not biblical.
They may admit that they know nothing of serving others and considering other better than themselves, and yet they consider themselves Bible believing, orthodox Christians.
They could not be more wrong! This is not Christianity but a travesty of Christianity – thinking we can be orthodox without having humility, thinking we can call ourselves Bible-believing Christians though our lives do not show love or the other fruits of the Spirit. In fact, I believe that is the greatest error that has ever hit the church of Jesus Christ!
Today, 20 January 2009, is Obama’s inauguration. The US is in turmoil and the world is in no less trouble. These critical moments in US history require the involvement of Godly men and women not only in prayer, but bravely driving the national agenda of reconciliation, change and progress.
I have read enough about Obama to believe that he is a Christian. The fact that he honestly articulates his moral views and expresses the reasons why he supports e.g. ‘partial-birth abortion’, convinces me that he has a teachable spirit.
I am not at all condoning his moral views. Far from it! But I am willing to believe that if the Christian community engages with Obama and doing so with more Christ-likeness, I think we may just be surprised by his receptivity.
Obama may be the holder of the highest office in the US, but he is also very human. Now the questions we must ask ourselves are:
■ Who will love Obama and shower him with grace? Would our religious views prevent us from doing so?
■ Who will mentor him (spiritually) – hold him accountable and challenge him when necessary?
■ Will evangelicals in the US even get close enough to engage and disciple him, especially with the level of shameful un-grace shown towards him? Or would they just pelt him with more slurs and insults?
Let me finish by asking this fundamental question again: Does the church stand for Christ’s love today?
Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh
Managing Director, YTL Corporation Berhad
20th January 2009
Please also read this article: Faith Beyond His Father’s