In case you missed it, there was an election recently! If you weren’t aware of that, I suspect that the spacecraft on Mars is not as “unmanned” as they say! The entire nation, and world, was watching November 6th with great, and even anxious, interest. And of course, Barak Obama won. You may be sick of the deluge of commentary that has been spewed upon the public both before and afterward, but it would seem that one more blog on the subject is in order.
Here are some thoughts on what the last presidential election revealed to the Church in America. I am not claiming the Church heard what was said; only that it was said.
First, the polls were right. They were saying Obama would win, and he did. Now I am not ready for a minute to concede all expertise to sociologists or pollsters. Often their interpretations are skewed. However, when they keep asking people who they will vote for, and the majority keeps saying the same candidate, it would appear naïve to be surprised when that is indeed the result. It appeared, however, that there were many conservative groups who refused to believe the data. They suggested that there were any number of factors that mitigated against the polling results and that, should certain factors all align on November 6, Romney, not Obama, would win.
It seems to harken back to the Middle Ages when the conservative elements did not find it convenient to accept what people were saying about the earth being round . . . And this is the point for the Church: we need to pay attention to what the polls are saying about us. Recent polls reveal that the fastest growing group in America today is those who claim to have “no religion.” We can look at certain mega churches that appear to be growing and hold to the view that Christianity in America is not as bad as pollsters claim. But Election Day is coming!
Second, Liberalism is advancing. Conservative Christians despise Liberal Christianity because it appears so theologically weak and ethically unsustainable. And it is! But we make the mistake of assuming that because an idea or an approach is weak that it can’t do well. That’s not true. American society has never been known for thinking or voting at a sophisticated level! Just because a viewpoint doesn’t make sense, doesn’t mean it won’t attract a lot of votes! The fact is that conservative views on theology or morality or economics are becoming the minority. The church can’t assume that because it upholds biblical standards, average Americans will accept, or even tolerate them. Liberalism is alive and well.
Third, criticism works. One of the reasons Obama beat Romney was that he pounded away at a caricature of his opponent. Obama portrayed Romney as an out of touch millionaire. The fact that Obama is also, now, a millionaire, never seemed to matter. That’s because Obama also portrayed himself as someone who was in touch. Even though Romney had not had direct control over his company for years, Obama managed to blame him for all of its decisions anyway. It was aggravating, but effective. Again, what’s the point? Well have you noticed the Church get’s misrepresented to American society as well? It is portrayed as hatemongers, anti-women, closed-minded, bigots. And that is from some of its kinder critics! But we indignantly proclaim, “But that’s not true! That’s not who we are!” Of course. But Romney proclaimed his innocence as well, all the way to defeat. The Church had better take control of its own Public Relations, because there are others who would gladly handle that for us.
The Church in America actually is doing a lot of good things. They are caring for the poor. They provide free medical care to those without any (I don’t see a lot of hospitals founded by atheists, do you?). There are Christian groups addressing world hunger and poverty as well as providing drinking water. But for large numbers of Americans, the Church is that group of people who picket abortion clinics and hate homosexuals. We need to do a better job of telling the real story.
Fourth, America is not only multi ethnic, it is being increasingly influenced by ethnic groups. Romney won the majority of the white vote. He lost. Obama won 80% of the Latin American vote and 90% of the African American vote. He won. Republicans are realizing they have to connect with the ethnic community if they are to be anything more than a declining retirement center for aging whites. Sounds like a message for the Church!
Finally, people want to know what’s in it for them. Another critique Romney leveled at Obama was that he had so many people receiving something from the government (the infamous 47%), that he had half of Americans in his hip pocket. Regardless of where you stand on that charge, the truth is that people are motivated by self-interest. They want to know what you will give them. Romney talked about long-term benefits. Obama talked about what he would give people today. He won. What does that mean for the Church? We might want to offer more to people than heaven when they die! What’s in it for people today, when they walk with Jesus? The Church has a lot to offer. It desperately needs to tell its message better and not assume that the truth is self-evident.
There are more lessons the Church could learn from the election, but that might be enough for now. History will show whether the Republican Party learned from the election and made the necessary adjustments. Parties like that don’t change easily or quickly. In some ways they are a lot like the Church.