Don't Drink the Kool-Aid at the Tea Party
I’m not a Tea Party sort of guy; I like coffee. But a lot of people I love are Tea Party people, and I can live with that. I did read with some interest about Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington this past week-end and number of people (evidently somewhere between 2 dozen and 2 million, depending on who is doing the estimating). You really have to admire the guy for his ability to work a crowd. The way that a successful TV personality becomes a successful TV personality is astute audience analysis and the ability to give that audience what they want-- Glenn Beck does that better than anyone.
Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.
Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.
Leaders will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out the sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their movements.
Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.
Either we believe the gospel or we don’t. We can believe the gospel and be politically conservative or liberal… or not political at all. But what we can’t do is believe the gospel and think that the answers to society's ultimate problems can be solved politically or that somehow political parties and programs have anything at all to do with the kingdom of God.
By the way, it is jaw-dropping amazing to me how many conservative, fundamentalist types Christians all of a sudden have no problem with Mormonism. Glenn Beck (and Mit Romney) are Mormon, so all of a sudden folks who are pretty exclusive in their views of who is a real Christian open their umbrella wide and embrace Mormonism as another branch of our family tree. Of course, President Obama isn't a real Christian; he is a Muslim and a proponent of Liberation Theology (never mind that you can’t be both at the same time). I'm not suggesting that all Mormons totally accept the official teaching of their church. I'm not suggesting that Mormons can't be Christians despite their church's teaching. But I am saying that this little cartoon does summarize pretty well the basic official Mormon worldview. So don't be too quick to drink the Kool-Aid at your Tea Party!