A call to maintain separation of Church and State.
It began with a snarky comment in the form of a question on a social media thread. The article provoking the remark was titled, “How can you follow Jesus and support Donald Trump?” The snarky comment? – “How can anyone follow Jesus and support any form of abortion?” Despite the apparent demeaning tone, I believe Christians on both sides of the aisle have honestly questioned those who claim Christ on the opposing side. A clear pattern struck me. We have somehow as a nation assumed polarized identities. If someone is not for us, many of us tend to believe they are quite literally and intentionally against us. This is remarkably the opposite of Jesus’ words, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (referenced in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50). We consequently miss the nuances of rationale behind the issues individuals appear to “support” as referenced in the aforementioned comment.
So, does a vote for a liberal candidate automatically qualify one as someone who must support abortion? The conservative Christian voter will often assume that there is no other option but to vote conservative in respect to the abortion issue. When we look at the issues Jesus faced during his time on earth and how he responded to them, we find a much more neutral approach.
Jesus was a proponent of separating Church and State.
When asked by the Pharisees if it is lawful to pay taxes to Cesar, Jesus replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” pointing out that Caesar’s likeness is on the coin to be taxed (Matt. 22:17-21).
Jesus did not bother to involve himself in politics as wisdom and history will reveal that righteousness does not rely on a callous and corrupt system. It has no need to. Jesus was all about relationships- not petty rules and qualifiers.
The problem with putting our trust in a man-made and managed system is that we quickly find ourselves backing the system rather than meeting people where they are at, loving them unconditionally, and sharing God’s message. We prefer 12 step programs, 3-point sermons, and the 10 commandments to simply illuminating the path to truth. That path will and does look different for each of us, which is why step-by-step instructions that might work for overcoming addictions, does not pave the way to personal and intimate truth in Christ.
As humans we are continually becoming.
Think of a moral deficiency you have overcome or are even in the process of attempting to overcome. Perhaps it’s an addiction, a habit backed by mal-justification, or even a swollen sense of pride. Now imagine if while you are in the process of self-assessment and moral reflection, someone else comes along to affix their rubber stamp of disapproval of your progress (or lack thereof)- making a distinct judgement and bookmarking your unfinished process. The result is disorienting since the trigger that was originally motivating your desire to change has now become eclipsed by a source assuming moral authority and demanding you perform to their egocentric preferences. They may gaslight you and tell you it is for your good, but this only further exacerbates your annoyance with the authority attempting surrogacy to what was originally motivating the change you were pursuing prior to being so crudely interrupted. You now bear the label of “drunk,” “thief,” “baby-killer,” “adulterer,” “addict,” or any variety of known disqualifiers among religious communities. These titles not only serve to create boundaries between the socially qualified from the disqualified- worse, they distract any authentic process of overcoming by demanding authority through various substitute consequences and impotent reinforcements.
The Power of Natural Consequences
Perhaps Jesus did not pursue any legal backing to his righteous standard because he knew what most motivates humans to pursue righteousness is a personal and authentic calling to holiness, and not a socially enforced standard that serves to separate and qualify based on calloused reward. Psychology refers to this as intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic= innate desires and natural consequences with long-term results. Extrinsic= controlled incentive that often does not match the behavior it is used to endorse and serves as a short-term reward often obscuring any intrinsic motivation.
Religion approaches moral expectations similar to a dentist who rewards a patient with candy following a preventive procedure. While a dentist’s warning of pending pain is often a successful motivator to submit to a mildly painful preventative procedure, the motive is tied to fear with an atta-boy candy reward (that likely led you to the problematic cavity in the first place)- and the process begins again. Whereas someone who has either felt the pain of a cavity or taken the time to learn the science behind tooth decay is much more intrinsically motivated to maintain teeth and gum health because they are driven by long-term organic consequences rather than performing to the short-term, extrinsic, puppet-on-a-string mentality of extrinsic baiting. Eventually, the bait either has to continue to outweigh the former reward- or we need to experience the natural consequences of oral hygiene neglect and let physical and financial pain speak for itself.
Think this isn’t you? Remember your first burn- regardless of how many times your mom/dad warned you to stay away from the stove or to reapply sunblock? Remember deciding to wait to buy new auto tires until next year in an attempt to be frugal and spend the money on a plane or concert ticket instead? What about that decision to procrastinate on that group project that your team ended up suffering the consequences of your lack of preparation? Maybe you have left the house on an early spring morning dressed in full confidence of the weather forecaster’s prediction rather than listening to that intrinsic voice reminding you that a jacket is typically your best bet regardless of the forecast. If this is not you or does not trigger even a remotely related event, you my friend are the exception. Glad I could provide you with some helpful insight into the rest of us.
Who isn’t more proactive about applying sunscreen after suffering burn blisters, purchasing tires after a scare from sliding on ice with bald tires, or bringing a jacket regardless of the forecast? Although some of us are slower to respond than others, it is the hard lessons that stick with us and shape how we ultimately respond to our environment.
The Significance of Freedom
John 8:32 proclaims, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Although a measured dose of fear and patronizing may get our attention for a while, a genuine knowledge and understanding of the truth will ultimately lead us to an authentic reflection of righteousness. While religious leaders and followers often feel justified in backing extrinsic motivators believing they are doing the rest of the culture a favor by championing morality without the tough lessons of natural consequences, they are often more successful at delaying the intrinsic voice needed to sustain authentic moral integrity. In effect, assuming the rightful place of God. What good is it if we pattern this world after moral righteousness, but in the process fail to lead people to an authentic relationship with the God whose moral standard we represent?
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25). In this current political climate, I think it would be wise to review this passage in the context of abortion- especially when it comes to patiently enduring evil and who is ultimately responsible for granting repentance and knowledge of truth. No mention of adopting legislative agenda or propaganda in the pursuit of pro-birth morals. But shouldn’t we, “Open y[our] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Pro 31:8)? Absolutely, but there is a world of difference between providing a convincing stance for those who can’t represent themselves and the extreme response of demanding obedience to righteous conviction. If we are aiming to reflect God in our response to others, there is no defense for reintroducing the law when Jesus died to grant us authentic freedom.
So, does a vote for a liberal candidate automatically qualify one as someone who must support abortion? I can confidently testify from personal experience and scriptural backing; the answer is no. Render to the United States what is the United States’ (i.e. infrastructure, healthcare, military support, taxes), but reserve the alignment of moral conviction for the One who created it and within the construct of personal relationships. If we truly want to reflect the character of God, we must be willing to offer gentle direction without taking the wheel of other’s lives through social ostracizing and fear-based propaganda. We can begin by taking a back seat to the One who entrusted his only son to a culture that would reject and abort that ministry, and consequently grant freedom through that sacrifice.