2016: THE YEAR OF ANGRY POLITICS
The depth of anger which has been manifested openly and without restraint during the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle perhaps has been greater than at any time in a generation or more. At the center of the debate for many people has been the religious beliefs of the candidates or, perhaps more accurately, what people believe the candidates believe. On the Democratic side there was an ethnic Jew named Sanders who teeters between agnostic and atheist. And, though he did much better than many expected, the Vermont Senator fell short of gaining the Democratic nomination for President. Instead the laurels fell upon Hillary Rodham Clinton, a self-described follower of the "Methodist Tradition," who laid the blame for the repression of women's rights at the feet of people of faith in an April 2015 address at the Women of the World Summit saying, "...deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."
This says nothing of the Democratic Party platform which stands in stark contrast to the fundamental doctrines of the three global Abrahamic Faiths.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a fierce battle raged among over a dozen candidates each hoping to convince the American Right that they were the most qualified to defeat a Democratic challenger in November. Among these were individuals such as Ted Cruz, a Senator from Texas. Cruz stormed onto the campaign trail with all the vigor and pulpiteering of the itinerant clergymen of the Great Awakening with a host of "Holy Warriors" riding metaphorical, philosophical white horses following closely behind. In contrast to this was a businessman named Trump who, when interviewed in August 2015, said the Bible was his favorite book but couldn't name a favorite verse. This was followed up by an address at Liberty University where 2nd Corinthians was cited by Candidate Trump as "Two Corinthians."
In the end, Cruz - the superhero of the Evangelicals - fell to King Donald of Combovershire.
Meanwhile, rioters and protesters have taken to the streets of America many of which have been spurred on by the sense of anger engendered by the current campaign season. News media has been riddled with headlines from "Trump Supporter Assaulted With Crowbar" to...well, okay, there hasn't been a lot of reporting about Clinton supporters having their bodily features rearranged by crazed, right-wing, tool wielding assailants (not to say it hasn't happened, just that I haven't seen it). But that's all outside the realm of the Church, right?
THE PENTECOSTALS OF ENTANGLEMENT
In some incidents, Pentecostal Ministers stood and declared that, "God has sent us a man," while pointing at Ted Cruz. Others looked to Dr. Ben Carson as the most moral of the candidates while others still heralded perennial candidate Mike Huckabee as the bastion of the Religious Right. Others, poor unfortunate souls, saw which way the wind was blowing early on and cast their lot with Donald Trump. (I call them "poor unfortunate souls" because they were being pelted with stones much longer and by a larger group than anyone else.) Regardless of who the candidate of choice was, lines were drawn. Now, this is not normally a problem because, in the end, there is usually a consensus and a return to normalcy once the primary season has ended. But what transpired during the 2016 Primary in regard to the reaction from within Pentecostalism was unprecedented.
In my opinion, the great divide started in earnest back in August 2015 with the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, one Kim Davis, who refused to allow her name to appear on documents sanctioning the union of same-sex couples. It was that event more than any that brought a sudden "cause" for Pentecostals because, as the news media soon made everyone aware, Mrs. Davis was a member of an Apostolic Pentecostal Church. To suggest that Mrs. Davis decision might have been unwise or her methodology misguided suddenly was treason against the very cross of Christ.
When she was jailed for her decision, some Pentecostals, including ministers, actually quit their secular employment to protest in front of the jail. One individual posted on Facebook, "Following the voice of God - headed for Kentucky." They had to quit their job to go. Later that same day, while the individual was en route to Kentucky, it was announced that Davis had been released. The next Facebook post was one of confusion over why "God would tell me to go." The answer to that scenario is quite obvious, but we needn't digress down that trail at the moment. Suffice it to say that the Pentecostals who, normally, had been fairly quiet in political hostilities, were now very quick to look at their own Brethren and chastise them for what was, by their definition, inactivity.
This event was not yet cold when Republican Presidential candidates began pouring out of the woodwork. Pentecostals, fresh on the heels of the Davis matter, felt compelled to choose sides again. On social media, the "block," "unfriend" and "unfollow" buttons began to be engaged with ferocity. Forums and discussion groups saw a dramatic increase in arguments due to whom individuals had chosen as "their candidate" in 2016. Pentecostal Cruz supporters began "cyber disfellowshipping" Pentecostal Trump supporters. "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" began to give way to, "get on my bandwagon or you're a reprobate." In some instances, people were chided as "unholy" and "backslidden" for supporting certain candidates. Some individuals even issued "prophecies" against such individuals for their support of "unrighteous" candidates.
Why did this happen? The Word of God gives us the answer:
"No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." - 2 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)
The Greek word translated "entangled" gives the sense of being "entwined" in something. It is used only one other time in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:20, where it speaks of the effect of returning to sin after an individual has been delivered. The problem that has arisen in this election cycle is that many of us have turned into the Pentecostals of Entanglement becoming so entwined in secular politics that we would lash out at our Brethren in the most cruel and improper of ways. Sadly, many acted in this manner claiming to be "aiming to please" the Lord. How distracted, if not deceived, must one become to really believe the Lord Jesus Christ is a supporter of ignoring the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace and the unity of the Faith in the name of a political candidate or party platform?
The very moment we become so entwined, entangled and completely enveloped in secular politics that we can no longer treat our Brethren with civility, honor and respect while following peace with all men, we need to disconnect from politics until we can get our spirit under control. At that point, we have bypassed godliness and holiness and, forgetting our calling, entangled ourselves in the wrong pursuits. In the end, we fail to please the One who enlisted us in the great Army of the Living God.
SHOULDN'T PENTECOSTALS HAVE A SEAT AT THE TABLE?
No one is suggesting that there is not a way to be involved without being entangled. Even soldiers have opinions and vote. In fact, soldiers tend to be a fairly consistent voting bloc. There is no reason a Pentecostal could not run for elected office nor serve his/her country in a political position. But the primary purpose of a Christian must be to seek first the Kingdom of God. The pursuits of any Christian, whether in regard to their education, career or any other facet of life, must be centered around the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Any other hub will result in the wheel falling apart. If one can maintain that focus, why couldn't they hold elected office?
But when anything of the outside world brings a child of God into its mastery, disaster awaits. This is the premise behind the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything." When politics causes you to compromise your integrity, you've been dominated. When it robs you of your ability to faithfully and dutifully serve God wholeheartedly, you've been dominated. When political talk and opinion leads you to drive a wedge between yourself and your Brother or Sister, you've been dominated. When you can't control your anger in a political discussion, you've been dominated.
Ultimately, we must come to the realization that God turns the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), removes them and sets them up (Daniel 2:21) and that He ordains authorities and expects us to be obedient to them (Romans 13:1-7). In short, even in politics God has it all in control. Why, then, should we violate the commandment of God by being anxious over it? Or why should we allow wedges to be driven between us as Brethren? Or why should we be the ones used as tools of Satan to bring about division within the Body of Christ because of the affairs of this present life? No, there is no reason Pentecostals should not have a seat at the table. But they should realize that it's not their seat nor their table and, ultimately, serving God in unity is paramount.
In the not too distant past I was involved in a conversation on Facebook with a Minister concerning a certain politician. The conversation went from an exchange of opinions to a question of callings. It was the first time in my life an individual had called into question my calling as a Minister because of a secular political opinion. At first, I thought it was a joke. When I tried to contact the individual privately I was met with a radical rebuff. I was shocked to the point of tears. No, I'm not one of these "crybaby" individuals who turns the waterworks on every time someone raises their voice in my general direction. But, on this occasion, I was flooded with emotion.
The reason was that I couldn't understand how a Man of God could be so twisted by politics. I felt nothing but absolute sympathy for the individual. In fact, I felt absolutely sorry for them. If secular politics has become our measuring stick by which we gauge the validity of another Christian's calling in the Kingdom, we have missed the mark and become altogether too entangled in the affairs of this present world. The source of such anger is not holy no matter how much "righteousness" is claimed in the indignation. It is a spiritual shortcoming and an altogether unrighteous attitude. Repentance must follow lest destruction overtake.
But it is not only one man who has fallen prey to the desire to act in such a manner. Social media has allowed insignificant individuals to have broad platforms from which to spew whatever venom pleases them. Furthermore, it has removed the barrier of personal contact thus making a person feel comfortable saying that which they never would have said to another individual face to face. In the avenue of doctrine, every false prophet has been made into an international evangelist thanks to the internet. In sports, the armchair quarterback now rules and reigns from behind a laptop. For the philosophically minded, their pedantic ramblings may be pounded out until the letters rub from their keyboard to be disseminated to a multinational audience.
Meanwhile, on the political front, Christians beat other Christians over the issue of Cruz v. Trump, Sanders v. Clinton, Trump v. Clinton and forget that the real issue is Salvation v. Damnation in the arena of eternity. Focus, Christian! Stop getting so distracted! God is in control. Let us all endeavor to at least act like we still believe that.