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If You Don't Want People's Opinion, Don't Ask

A familiar mantra comes from Billy Graham’s grandson:

“The core message of the Christian faith has been lost in the public sector because what we are primarily known for is our political ideology or opinion,” Tchividjian told The Christian Post.

Over the last 30 years, the Religious Right has replaced Christianity’s foremost message of the Gospel with that of a political movement, argued the current pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

One thing that gets lost in this debate is the simple fact that the New Testament church didn’t have political action as an option.  The only meaningful political action Imperial Rome knew about was violent overthrow of one kind or another, and the New Testament is consistent in closing that as an option too.

That made things a great deal simpler.  It doesn’t guarantee that being disliked by the government won’t happen; Rome eventually saw Christianity as an existential threat, and we see this in China today.  But no one could accuse the Roman church of trying to change the government until perhaps Constantine, and the Chinese church is similarly innocent.

Until recently at least we’ve had an electoral representative government where people were allowed to express their opinions in a public forum and act on those in the electoral process.  Christians had the bad taste to do this, and now they are disliked for it.  Looked at another way, they asked for our opinion, we gave it, and they got mad.  (Shouldn’t have asked for it to start with…)

Now our system is breaking down in intransigence and corruption and a creeping fear of debate of any kind over a variety of important topics.  So, shorn of the political option, perhaps American Christianity can revert to its New Testament idea.

One thing that is doubtless influencing Tchividjian’s thinking is that he’s in Ft. Lauderdale now.  There’s little danger of a “religious right” takeover in South Florida, and this has been the case for a long time.  But the land “where the animals are tame and the people run wild” has been a reality check for a long time, and that’s a tradition that continues.


4 Replies to “If You Don't Want People's Opinion, Don't Ask”

  1. Don,

    Young Tchividjian’s comment could be read as a criticism of his uncle, a noxious right-wing propagandist who poses as a pastor, were it not for the more nuanced political careers of his grandfather, Billy Graham, whose fame is the basis for both their careers.

    Graham is a laughingstock of American politics because of his absurd prancing around with every Republican, and even a few Readers Digest Democrats, he could get close to for a couple of generations. The ridicule would be well-earned, were it not for the fact that he did in fact play one honorable-looking role in politics, in opposition to segregation when the pre-Southern Strategy Republican Party had his support. During his “crusade” in Arkansas in the late 1950s he refused to segregate seating by “race,” i.e. skin color, at his meetings in Little Rock.

    (Adlai Stevenson’s mockery of the whole scene, was probably crafted my his secretary, and my ex-boss, later the excellent Congressman from Indiana, John Brademas: “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”)

    Political motivations at that time were not always crystal clear on any side. “Daddy” King, the senior Rev. MLK, was an equally florid supporter of Richard Nixon, but there is at least a suspicion in the air that this was as much from his solid Baptist fear and hatred of Rome as it was from support for the now extinct “Party of Lincoln.”

    A small coda, Don. You say “Now our system is breaking down in intransigence and corruption and a creeping fear of debate of any kind over a variety of important topics.” This seems incorrect to me. The system is not breaking down. It is being used as it was designed to be used. Six years of massive filibuster in the Senate and the stone-walling of the House whenever it has been Republican are the system at work, modulo only the fact that the Republican House majority is elected by a minority of voters: the Democrats won the total House vote by over four million citizens’ — not yet companies’ –votes.

    The present cunning Republican obstruction will cease very promptly under one of two situations. If the Republicans ever recapture control of government, they can carry on with their free-spending ways, and probably with the good Keynesian stimulus of a war or two.

    Alternately the Democrats can take control, and bring back the balanced budgeting, and the very conservative social democracy, of the (first) Clinton era.

    Or we may see more of the present division of powers. No harm done beyond continuing the war on the poor, as long as we can keep the little Donny Rumsfelds, and the Feiths, Yoos, and Wolfowitzes of this world out of military policy.



    1. If our system is working as it’s supposed to these days, I’d hate to see it when it’s dysfunctional.

      The Clinton years are interesting in that, after 1994, he faced a Republican Congress (divided government). But he, to his credit, took lemons and made lemonade. Personally I think he was just as happy with Congress in the hands of the opposition, even when they impeached him. We got welfare reform (which Obama is trying to undermine) and balanced budgets. Clinton is the best American politician of his generation. Unfortunately the DLC types have been left behind; the Democrat party is under control of its hippie dreamers.

      I don’t see real fiscal responsibility return to the US until the Boomers and dollar hegemony pass.

      As far as Billy Graham is concerned, I never was much impressed with his hob-nobbing with presidents. But that’s in part a POV issue. Growing up in Palm Beach, I saw firsthand the gap between the gentile way of those at the top with what’s presented in the New Testament, and didn’t see the latter having much impact on the former. But Americans traditionally are aspirational; they like to see those they admire at the top because they see themselves there too, if only vicariously. Graham’s way went against a lot of the Fundamentalist establishment (esp. Bob Jones, who said he would never amount to anything). But I don’t see anyone filling his shoes when he’s gone.


      1. Don,

        A pleasure to see we are more or less in agreement on Clinton.

        What do you mean about the Boomers,” and what is “dollar hegemony”? I hope you know that marginal propensity to invest increases monotonically with the age of cohorts; there is not even a blip at age 65, and it doesn’t turns downward during life.

        I don’t know the overall figures on the dead, but my friend Jerry Garcia still seems to be making $30 million a year twenty years after his death. This may increase soon, once his newest band gets on the road.

        Social Security is under no threat as long as you can keep Jeb Bush in Florida.




      2. I think the Boomers, for a variety of reasons, will continue to make deficit spending routine for the foreseeable future. And I’ve discussed the problem of servicing that debt earlier.

        As for dollar hegemony, I’ll leave it to the great Henry C.K. Liu to explain that. I’ll bet his stuff is in Chinese, which will make it even better for you.


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