This is a letter from Rich Nathan, senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, to president-elect Obama. Over the past months and years I've talked, ruminated, considered civilly and ranted uncivilly about what a true biblical engagement in the political arena might look like. For the incivility, I apologize. This letter won't resolve the argument, either, but I'd still maintain that it's a pretty good outline that we would do well to follow, individually and collectively.
(h/t to John)
President Obama, on behalf of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, I offer our sincerest congratulations and encouragement as you assume the awesome task of providing leadership for our country and our world. As a Jewish-Christian pastor of a congregation that includes blacks and whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, the able-bodied and the disabled, old and young, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, we come together now to support you as our president. We pledge to pray for you. Without God’s help we cannot succeed; with God’s help we cannot fail.
The greatness of our nation will continue to be measured by our treatment of the least and the last. In our country the least and the last surely include the unborn and their mothers, immigrants, the medically uninsured, and those who still go to bed hungry in this land of abundance. Our congregation urges you to fulfill your commitment to reduce the number of abortions in our nation. Around the world, America is our brothers’ keeper of those suffering in the Darfur and the Congo. Please work on behalf of those enslaved by global sex trafficking, the billion people who live on less than $2 a day, and those who are the victims of religious persecution. As you lead, remember Jesus’ words: “As you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
America has an extraordinary capacity to reinvent herself, rarely more so than in this election. We remain the screen upon which the world projects its greatest hopes and its most noble aspirations. Live a life worthy of our hopes. Be a reconciler. Be a peacemaker. May God bless you and your family. And may America bless God and the world.
Hmmm. Well spoken. Since politicians are in fact, no more than "managers or administrators of the business of governments" (not to be confused with leaders; those who are typically too smart to become politicians), this is an astute and appropriate charge to put forth. Hopefully, President Obama will seek the advice of "leaders" and the guidance of God as he approaches his management tasks. Whatever passing era or country or government or politician one finds themselves having to endure, this always deserves our prayers.
As Charlynn Johns, a wise missionary with Sunshine After Rain Ministries emailed me from Haiti only yesterday, "Those of us under the authority of the King have nothing to fear. May our hearts be reminded of the Prophet Samuel, upon the appointment of Saul as King over Israel "far be it from me to sin against God and cease to pray for you."
Can't argue with your pastor's words, and you know I would if I could. I do disagree with gb. I've known many politicians who qualify as leaders, and although I did not vote for him, I believe Obama has leadership qualities that hopefully he will use wisely.
By the way, I had no idea your church included Republicans (just kidding).
Bill, re: the demographics of my church, my guess is that we span the spectrum of political views, as most churches do, but that we're perhaps a little more extreme on both sides in that we have card-carrying gun toters co-existing with pacifistic neo-hippies who want to live off the land, man. The challenge, during a particularly contentious and polarizing political season, was to remember that these were brothers and sisters we were branding as clueless reactionaries/communists. So I prayed for the clueless reactionaries.
Okay, I'm joking. Kind of. But it was challenging, at least in part because both sides had their pet web sites, political pundits and, sadly, Christian spokespersons, who were only too willing to demonize the other side. It was helpful to remember that there was only Messiah, and he was not going to be elected president of the United States. Jeff, our pastor, whom you've met, was also instrumental in calling us to focus on working for God's purposes, regardless of which political party happened to champion them. That's what I see in Rich Nathan's letter, too. Rich identifies issues that would typically be seen as "Republican" issues and "Democratic" issues. But they're not. They're God's issues. If we can keep that focus, I think we'll be okay.
I really see nothing in Rich's letter that would be offensive to any thinking Christian. I think that often times we Christians mix up the worthy goal with the means of getting there, and wind up thinking that the means is Christian. For example, I happen to believe that everyone should have some form of health care coverage. However, I also harbor a healthy skepticism of government's ability to do anything well other than fund and coerce. I think the goal is something that all Christians can support, but I realize that some Christians have much more faith in government than I do. Fine. We can disagree without demonizing one another. If the political process works as it should (maybe too optimistic here), a solution should present itself that is acceptable to the majority of citizens. The same logic applies to the poor, the oppressed, the environment, national security, etc.
Maybe we can discuss this some more at Thanksgiving.
Whether you care or not I also attend the Vineyard and the problem I see from Rich's letter is he states to Obama to reduce the number of abortions. Why would you reduce the number when you should STOP abortion altogether. I don't understand how many christian have been caught up in the economy more than life itself and as far as that goes all people. We must start with life first. Our country has turn to the god of money more so than the God of creation. I hope that God will touch Obama's heart an allow him to see sin as the God of creation sees it. Thanks for your blog. God Bless! Jeff
Jeff, I appreciate your comments. And, for what it's worth, I've been asked the questions your asking quite frequently in the weeks and months leading up to the presidential election. So much so that I've assembled a sort of boilerplate answer. Here it is:
I understand why you and many other Christians view abortion as supremely important, and probably the defining social issue of our times. And I'm more than sympathetic to the view that desires to save human lives. How could I disagree with that? But I do believe that Christians, in particular, have been manipulated by the Republican party. I'm tired of politicians mouthing the right words and then not doing anything. And every election cycle we see the Republicans mouthing the right words, and when we look back over their terms, we find that the same number of babies have died. It was time to put up or shut up. And this year I, and apparently some significant number of other Christians as well, decided that it was time for the Republicans to shut up. I grieve for the babies who have died. Truly. And I grieve that even more of them may die under an Obama administration. That's horrible.
But there is a terrible calculus at work here when we must weigh the obvious tragedy of more dead babies against more of the same failed policies, policies that, I'm convinced, if they had continued for another four years, would have resulted in a society so far removed from what the Constitution and Declaration of Independence envisioned that it would be unrecognizable as America. It matters very much that babies are born. It also matters what kind of world babies are born into. I voted in the hopes of a better world, knowing also that babies, and perhaps more babies, will be murdered -- surely an argument that militates strongly against that vision of a better world. I thought it was worth the bet. That's how strongly I believe we were heading in the wrong direction.
I don't in any way view Barack Obama as the messiah, although there are apparently many of his followers who do. I view him as a politician, which pretty much exempts him from Savior status. But I think that we, as a country, need to change. We need to go in a very different direction. I think we have a chance of that happening with Barack Obama. I think we had no chance of that happening with John McCain. I held my nose and pushed the button in the voting booth. This is the way it always is. I certainly think that we need to pray. Never has one man, or a nation, needed it more.
I appreciate your comments but I must disagree with you. Mother Teresa stated that we cannot fight credibly against other social ills while we tolerate mass killings by abortion. Obama supports abortion, therefore he is not equipped to credibly fight against other social ills. Obama states he is for the middle man, but how? By allowing us to continue to kill our children? Obama is about to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which can potentially undo everything the pro-life movement has done to curb abortions. And this is how he will "reduce" abortions? I'm confused. Obama stated at the Saddleback Forum with Rick Warren that one of the evils in the world is child abuse. Yet when asked when life begins, he stated it "was above his pay grade". So at what age will you start to protect the child, Mr. Obama? Obviously not while they are in the womb. Obama supports the death penalty for child rapists, yet wants to protect the child murderer (abortionist). I'm confused. More people were murdered in Chicago (Obama's home capital) per month than were killed in the Iraq war for the same month. I think the real war is in Obama's home state, not in Iraq. And he opposes the war? I'm confused. When Cain killed Abel, God told him that Abel's blood cried out from the ground. Then God said Cain was under a 2 fold curse: (1) The ground would no longer produce (2) he would be a restless wanderer on the earth. The spilling of innocent blood will cause a problematic economy and a nation of wanderers. AS long as you continue to spill innocent blood, we will be cursed. The economy will suffer. The economy was doing very well, mind you, until 2 years ago when America, once again, traded money for morality and booted many Republicans and gave control over to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. The economy has suffered ever since. Since Roe v Wade was legalized in 1973 we have seen a continued increase in the National Debt. President Bush inherited a 4 trillion dollar debt from President Clinton. God cannot bless a nation that continues to ask for curses when that nation continues to pour innocent blood on the ground. Also, you stated that President Bush did nothing to reduce the number of abortions. You are incorrect. President Bush saw that 2 conservative Supreme Court Justices were appointed to the Supreme Court to outlaw the horrific practice of partial birth abortion. I wonder how many babies were saved by that. Did President Bush do enough? No. But at least he was headed in the right direction. Obama has stated, again at Saddleback, that the Supreme Court Justices he would not have appointed were the conservative ones. McCain said he would not have appointed the liberal ones. Obama is a liberal. Period. He will support homosexual rights and abortion. He will continue to support those things that kill the foundational building blocks of our nation: family and marriage. He is confused and lost. He does not believe Jesus is the only way to God, as he has stated, therefore he is a heretic. So, what we have just elected is a child-murderer, a sexual pervert supporter and a heretic. Not to mention a socialist in capitalistic clothing. He is the King Saul that God told the Israelites not to ask for. And thanks to our "Christian" leadership, such a Rich Nathan and Bishop T.D. Jakes, we have helped place him into power. God is just in condemning and judging this nation. We have traded morality for money. Christians have belittled a sister in the Lord in Sarah Palin while admonishing a liberal non-Christian in Joe Biden as the second most powerful person in the world. I stand grieved over what our nation has done. You, sir, have contributed to this grave sin, and you, my friend, along with all the others we helped put Obama in office will have the blood of the aborted babies on your hands. God has called us to be a voice for the weak and the oppressed, and we have become a voice for the politically correct. Rich Nathan needs to take his Darfur and Sudan trophies off his wall and repent. Rich Nathan should stand up as a voice that God has called him to be and inform Obama that he risks the fires of hell lest he repent and change his ways. Obama's seductive speeches do nothing to ears of God. You sir have abandoned the fight and joined the other team. And I'm not speaking of Republicans and Democrats. Isn't it interesting how God let the current financial crisis hit just before the election. I think the Lord was testing us-to see if we would vote money (economy) or morality. We saw who one. And it wasn't morality.
Thanks for your comments, Sandy. God bless.
Sadly, what a perfect illustration of how God's children have become so distracted that some actually believe, have even become obsessed with the notion that any politician or party or government or country is in control of the future and not God. When did some Believers actually fire God and give such faith and control over to any man? If God doesn't get all into a tizzy over whomever some group of people happen to periodically hire as their temporary, rotating administrative manager of government... why would we? They can do nothing outside of the permissive will of God. Forever, God has used bad circumstances to bring about good. That's what He does.
In fact, this is the absolutely perfect opportunity for ALL Believers to actually practice exactly what they preach; have the sense (and heart) to live out what God says does conquer all: LOVE. Truly, deeply, even sacrificially love everyone... everyone. Remember: Christ did not offer this as a mere suggestion. It is the deepest essence of who we are, what we believe. It is the greatest power on earth to change lives. Christ never mentions politics as being the vehicle for change, changing lives or changing the world. Was He just ignorant or has what's happened since then proven His point?
Thought: Maybe there is a much, much bigger reason that current events have taken such an interesting turn recently. Maybe well-meaning Christians need to realize who/what they may have inadvertently shifted their confidence and faith to. Fluctuating economies, moral issues of the day, elected bureaucrats, wars and rumors of wars... this is old stuff and Christ said that Believers have their hands full just trying to live out their daily lives FULLY loving those (everyone) whom they DO have personal contact with.
Unless God died and many of us did not get the memo, He is and will remain in control. Rejoice! OH... and love... everyone... in extraordinary ways.
In case anybody believe's that republicans and democrats are anything different than a bait and switch every 4-8 years I would encourage you to read this excellent article concerning our two partied monopoly and how Obama fits right into it:
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