Yesterday we noted two of the stories cited by Christianity Today as the top ten happenings of 2010, selected for their potential for shaping evangelical life, thought, and culture. Those stories, #3 and #5, noted federal court decisions impacting hiring practices and membership in organizations. Another story, #4 on the list, also came from the political world, noting that in the midterm elections the number of pro-life democrats in the U. S. House of Representatives was cut in half. Conventional wisdom (is wisdom really conventional these days?) suggests that backlash over the health care bill outweighed all other considerations, as angry voters, including many conservative Christians, rushed to throw the rascals out. It would be ironic, if not tragic, that the pro-life movement will have inadvertently damaged its hopes of success.
The uneasy relationship between Christianity and politics is not confined to the United Sates. This is reflected in other stories included in CT’s list. Evangelical leaders from around the world gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss religious liberty issues around the globe, an event identified as the second most important story. Relatedly, a story which did not make the list is unfolding in India, where movements to restrict religious freedom have gained some momentum in the national debate. This occurs at a time of significant tension with Pakistan and its Muslim majority, and increases in importance during a year during which India surpassed China as the most populous nation on earth.
Christian influence in politics was also a concern in Uganda. Though not exclusively motivated by Christians, a proposed bill in the nation’s legislature would punish homosexual acts with life imprisonment or even the death penalty. That drastic measure, made somewhat more understandable by the horrendous AIDS crisis in that region of the world, qualified as #7 on CT’s list. The magazine reports a division among evangelical leaders in other parts of the world, notably in the USA.
One other story, #10 in the countdown, has political implications. It revolves around Terry Jones, the pastor of a small Florida congregation, who made national and international headlines with his promise to burn a copy of the Qur’an in protest of the planned Muslim Center near Ground Zero in New York City. Many questions arise from this story. Among them are the following: Does the government have the right or the responsibility to step in and stop an act of free speech in the interest of public safety; is this a legitimate form of protest for a Christian to make to the situation; what authority does anyone have over a Christian who proclaims himself a pastor; does this man have any responsibility for the reputation of all Christians, many of whom strongly disagree with his intentions?
I suspect we shall never be without such stories at the end of any year until the return of Christ. It is inevitable for a faith which, rightly in my view, does not confine itself to the private recesses of the one’s mind or heart. Ours is a faith which carries implications for all of life, including how we conduct ourselves in the broader society. The difficulty will always be in making and respecting a distinction between having a biblical view of matters and using political means of enforcing them on the world as a whole. For the secular world, everything is politics; for the Christian, however, everything is under different authority and different power–that of the Holy Spirit of God. How we respect that distinction is open to question and debate. Comments welcome.