Religion and Politics: A Curious Home Brew

In this post I’m going to deviate somewhat from my discussion of prophecy and give you a glimpse of my own upbringing. Maybe you’ll understand more clearly where I’m coming from as I post these thoughts.

My Religious Instruction

When I was a girl, Mom F told me, “If you ever have to go to the hospital, or any other time someone asks you your religion, say United.”

Because this is what we were. Period. Not that we ever attended church. I can recall going to a couple of services with my Mom F, and once, when I was in my late twenties, my Dad actually came with us to an evangelical church service for some special day. Dad & Mom Vance (my birth parents) never attended church as adults, to my knowledge.

The United Church of Canada would be about like the United Methodist Church in the US. In 1925 the Canadian Methodists, most Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists merged to form the United Church. This was the predominant church here in the West, with congregations in almost every town and city.

“The Social Gospel” teaching – “We need to fix this world!” – was spreading through evangelical circles at the end of the 1800s and the Methodists definitely picked up on it. In time the social gospel became the United Church’s main religious teaching, leading them to get involved in agitating for human rights, universal suffrage, fair labor laws, etc.
One time a cartoonist spoofed a United Church message board this way:
Sunday morning service. 10 am. Message: The Hell of High-Cost Housing
Evening service 7:30 pm. Message: God and the Minimum Wage
His “nail-on-the-head” humor makes me chuckle.

By the time I was an adult, United Church members needn’t accept the authority of Jesus or the Bible – or even believe in God, we discovered – but they HAD to be pro civil rights and against all discrimination, inequality in wages, etc. Attendance has dwindled, but this is still the position of the United Church.

As soon as I was old enough, and for half a dozen summers, Mom sent me to a week of Baptist Bible camp. So I did get some exposure to evangelical thinking and did call myself a Christian, but attending church services wasn’t for us. Only after I was married to I start.

The Politics of My Parents

(The other topic you’re not supposed to discuss.)
“We vote Conservative.” End of subject.

Informed voters? Not really. They knew who the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates were, but at the polls there was only one party to support: the Conservatives. Because the Liberals were for the East, for the big cities, for the French. The New Democrats were for labor. Folks from a rural prairie background were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. I remember an election when I was twelve where every seat in our province – most of the prairie seats – went Conservative.

When I was a girl Mom told me about an old farmer here in the West who was watching a political broadcast on his television. He got so angry about the things Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson was saying that he got his shotgun and blasted the tv. Not a very well thought-out response. But perhaps it was for the best. Someone with that kind of a fuse is probably better off not listening to political speeches.

Politics Generates More Heat Than Good Sense

Actually, I suspect most people would be better off not listening to political speeches. It’s so easy to be swayed by charisma, promises, and wishful thinking — or the lack thereof. Not to mention the biased, sensationalist reporting of what was said and done, such as we get these days. Accusations fly freely, pro and con this or that, until no one actually sees clearly anymore.

My folks didn’t have enough concern about religion for it to have much impact on their politics. They knew they hated Liberals; otherwise politics wasn’t a topic often discussed. In the United States, on the other hand – according to Douglas Frank’s book* – religious views and prophetic theories often motivated Protestant Evangelical Christians in their political choices. The unique blend of religion and politics we see in the States seems to the rest of us like a curious home brew. Sadly, non-evangelicals are finding it – maybe have always found it – bitter.

Did evangelicals in the past simply ignore the complaints until they got too loud to ignore? But then Prohibition was a major disaster; divorce laws were challenged; Roe versus Wade cracked the abortion laws open, the LGBT community pushed for acceptance. Like the veil in the temple, the US status quo was rent from top to bottom.

Reading various comments these days, I get the impression that – in spite of current religious stats – evangelicals still hope they can bring America back to the Christian nation they believe they once had. I often see PEC’s quote these verses God spoke in reference to Israel:

“And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

It seems to me that PEC’s, like all of us during this pandemic, are wishing for a return to “the good old days.” They’re saying America could be fixed if everyone would turn back to God – but people aren’t listening. Perhaps they wish for an Enforcer, a Messiah of sorts with the political clout to bring back all those sensible rules that once held the country together as a Christian nation? (While it appears non-Christians, led by the media, are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that doesn’t happen!)

And now, here comes Donald Trump. Fixer? Enforcer? Nightmare? Disaster? Wildly varying opinions are being expounded – and, oh, the animosity!

You could say I’m a bipolar observer here: I tremble to think what may happen if he wins, and I tremble to think what may happen if he loses. 🙂

*LESS THAN CONQUERORS
How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century by Douglas W Frank.
© 1986 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

Of Prophecies and Theories

Sharing my thoughts on the Kingdom of God and how it now appears.
Here are the first parts, if you’d like to read them:
Part One: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
Part Two: The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel
Part Three: Three Things God Needed
Part Four: Kingdoms and Dominions to Come
Part Five: We Have Seen His Star
Part Six: The Roles Jesus Refused

Today we read much about the climate, the environment, what’s ahead for Planet Earth. Data is collected, theories are presented, predictions made. At the current rate, how long will this Earth support human life? How long will there be potable water? How long before the seas are dead, polluted beyond redemption?

While scientists occupy themselves with these concerns, Christians are also engaged in much speculation about what will come to pass in the political realm. Examining Daniel’s prophecies, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Apostle John’s visions, and doing some creative cut-and-paste, evangelicals have put together some very interesting theories about when Jesus will return and in what way. No one really knows for sure, but it’s intriguing to speculate.

Prophecy is an intense subject and scholars, historically and currently, have spent many years trying to decipher it. But when we think of all the scriptural knowledge the Scribes and Pharisees had at the time Jesus was born, we marvel at how they totally missed recognizing him. His arrival was no big secret, what with angels singing in the skies over Bethlehem and the shepherds going around telling everybody about the infant Savior-king.

Also, a caravan of oriental magi arriving in Jerusalem and going right to the palace to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East.” This made a big splash.
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes…together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written, And thou Bethlehem… art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Matthew 2: 1-8

This verse, Micah 5:2, is one of many Old Testament verses that foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Governor, Shiloh. But the details didn’t all jive. Isaiah wrote:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
– Chapter 9: 6-7

But he also wrote:
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Chapter 53: 1-5

One lesson we can learn from the scholars of Jesus’ day: while they believed the Messiah would come, and though they had all the verses memorized about his coming, the prophecies varied enough that they didn’t recognize him. Even his own disciples were confused until Jesus came to them and talked with them after his resurrection.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” See Luke 24:13-35

Regarding the understanding of prophecy, I’ve lived long enough to see various changes of interpretation in what scholars said were “scriptures that show clearly such and such will happen.” I’ve also read enough to know that Christians of other ages have been just as convinced of a completely different interpretation.

Prophecies and Interpretations: A Quick Recap

AMILLENNIALISM

Amillennial teaching says that Jesus did come planning to suffer and die. When He rose again, he defeated Satan, the ruler of this world. He did set up his kingdom, but it’s not – and never will be – a visible nation or country on this present earth. The entrance into his kingdom is the New Birth. Jesus came to be the Door, to open the Way into the Kingdom of God. Ever since his resurrection, he has been reigning in the hearts of all people who choose him as their king. Someday he will come again to gather his own to be with him in heaven.

The citizens of God’s kingdom may live anywhere on earth, but are not “of the world” — which is why they pay taxes (render unto Caesar) and obey all laws, but may decline to vote or bear arms in defense of the country they live in. (The words of Jesus, such as “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, etc.” are taken literally.) Rather, as Paul explains, Christians act as official ambassadors of their King, entreating on Christ’s behalf, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

As I understand it, this has been the traditional belief of the Mennonites, Amish, and some groups of Brethren. Few, if any, Protestant Evangelical churches teach this.

POST-MILLENNIALISM

Back when we were learning about prophecies, the pre-millennial theory was so prevalent, that I was quite shocked when I read Douglas Frank’s book, Less Than Conquerors (c 1986, Wm B Eerdmans), and learned that in up until the US Civil War almost all evangelical Christians believed the POST-MILLENNIAL theory. Which is:
The world will get better and better and finally it will be so good that Jesus will come back to earth and set up his kingdom. American Christians who believed this theory threw their support behind abolition and the Civil War because they thought they could help things along by getting rid of “the blot of slavery.” With Christians improving society, making it more hospitable to Christ’s return, the world (or at least the USA) would get so good that Jesus would come and set up a kingdom on earth.

Alas for their dreams! The Civil War brought so much death and destruction, and generated so much animosity that the world — or at least America — was even farther from being ready for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In the next twenty years evangelicals abandoned the theory en masse. In my lifetime I’ve never met anyone who advances, or has even mentioned, post-millennialism. I wonder how many Christians today have even heard of it?

In a different vein, it must have been one of the most bitter disappointments any group of people has experienced, when southern blacks, set free from the shackles of slavery, found that FREE didn’t mean EQUAL in the eyes of most whites. Not in the South for sure, but sadly, not in the North, either.

PRE-MILLENNIALISM

According to Frank’s book, evangelicals gave up on the post-millennial theory and switched to pre-millennialism. Because it’s such a complexity and so entwined with dispensationalism, I’m going to save it for another post. A bare-bones explanation would be:
Jesus is coming back to claim his children, and at some point establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. From there he and his followers will rule over the whole the earth for 1000 years, at the end of which humans who don’t accept his rule will stage a major revolt. Then he’ll call an end to time and the great Judgment Day will begin.

“And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24: 46-48