For those of you new to this list. I apologize for the niche content of this post. There is a faction within my denomination which seeks to narrow, and in some cases, redefine our big tent doctrinally. This is reposted from an earlier blog post, but as the Holiness Partnership has posted the article outside of their magazine, it is timely again.
Issue number five of the Holiness Partnership’s official publication, Remnant, is out and continues the trend of improving overall as a resource while still containing articles designed to stir the factional pot.
Christians should be concerned and take part in the political processes within their geographical contexts according to their own convictions and understanding of important ideas. However, the brand of political engagement that men like Rev. Tim Throckmorton appear to want is control and power rather than influence and example. This is the second issue in a row which calls us to be engaged, especially within a narrow United States context. The article on political engagement, like in Issue 4, places the U.S. in a special position and ignores the reality of our history, as is typical. Throckmorton even includes a story about Peter Muhlenberg, which is widely considered apocryphal by historians. Even if it were true, it seems counter to many Wesleyan-Holiness pacifistic tendencies. Wesley himself was opposed to the American Revolution on those and other theological grounds, but we can disagree on those points amicably. As a student of many things, the history of my country is important. I believe it helps to cut through dogmatic and often nostalgic readings of history to understand a few points.
Throckmorton points out that the founders of the U.S. place God as sovereign over rulers and individual human beings. What he does not mention is that this was intended to create support for a rebellion against a sovereign king in a long history of theo-political insistence that God’s sovereignty installed human leaders to rule on earth. The U.S. founders were making an argument from natural law that God’s rule allowed regular human beings to overthrow governments they found to be oppressive. That context helps to understand the copious uses of God throughout their writings, even as many lived in no way like we would expect faithful Christians to live. Idolizing the founders and their supposed zeal for God is counterproductive in our current social context. The good should never obscure the bad when we regard history.
Throckmorton works for the Family Research Council, which is a lobbying organization who argues for Christian laws and ideas which would make the U.S. an explicitly Christian nation rather than a nation of personal liberty. That context helps to explain a paragraph within his article which I would like to examine. FRC argues that the term Christian Nationalism is a left-wing smear even as multiple conservative Christians have begun openly advocating for Christian Nationalism. Stephen Wolfe’s book The Case For Christian Nationalism and other published works are explicitly arguing for Christian Nationalist movements in the U.S. Wolfe’s is considered the most scholarly and it contains racism, xenophobia, and calls for the punishment of non-Christians. So FRC's claim that Christian Nationalism is a left-wing smear is a hollow claim. FRC also has a hand in the recent (Corrected for clarity) study by Arizona Christian University and George Barna (not the Barna Group) on worldviews which does not define worldview nor reveal the methodology, yet that report is used to claim that pastors in the United States largely do not have a “Biblical Worldview.” I will remind anyone that this report argues that majority Hispanic congregations supposedly only have 7% of pastors who hold to a “Biblical Worldview.” (For a larger discussion of the term biblical worldview, see my friend Dr. Bob Hunter’s guest post here: Using biblical as an adjective.
Here is Throckmorton’s claim in the article:
“You and I have been entrusted with an incredible moment of stewardship in this moment in history and especially the history of the United States of America. We have been entrusted with a season of witnessing the foundation of morality destroyed and biblical principles torn asunder and relegated to the trash heap of history by those whose inclinations are in no way biblical. I have heard it said that the fruit of our lives grows on the trees of others. May those who follow us know the fruit of freedom!” (Throckmorton, Rev. Tim. “Can We Engage in Politics.” Remnant, Issue 5, pg 14)
Statements like this harm the witness of the American church. The statement seems to believe that the U.S. has somehow had a spotless record of morality until the current season. According to many writings out of tHP, the 1950’s and before seem a wonderland of Christian holiness poured out. This rosy picture ignores the facts of Jim Crow, voting and citizenship suppression of BIPOC human beings, genocide, and other actions by the nation. Recognizing the previous and often ongoing harm to human beings made in the image of God helps our cause while seeming ignorance of our past harms that cause. The implication in Throckmorton’s statement is that the U.S. had more morality in the past; yet the past still has slavery as a hallmark of the economy of the young U.S., systemic oppression and genocide of indigenous peoples of the American continent, and the suppression of paths to citizenship for Asians and others prior to civil rights actions in the middle of the twentieth century. I find it hard to believe that the country has suddenly lost morality when the country has always had a tenuous hold on morality within a deeply Christian context. This season is like all others, except the American experiment in personal liberty has extended to sexual contexts and somehow that is the issue which destroys our morality. Instead, we need to understand that the American understanding of freedom and liberty has little resemblance to the freedom and liberty we believe available to us through Christ. One highlights the individual's freedom, while the other highlights freedom to be truly human in relationship with God.
I will conclude with this quote from the article; “Christian withdrawal opens a moral vacuum susceptible to influences that pressure government to move outside the purview designated by God. Politics affects government, shapes society, and influences culture. Christians must care about politics, and the easiest way to be involved is by voting. Remember, every elected official from dogcatcher to the President only reflects the values of those who vote!” (IBID) Rev. Throckmorton mentions that most abolitionists were pastors, but leaves out that most slavery advocates were Christians and pastors as well, including Wesleyan traditions. The last sentence I find incredibly ironic because many in the Holiness Partnership pushed for American Christians to vote for Donald Trump. They argued we must focus on political issues and ignore any character or value problems. There were even comments that not voting for Donald Trump, even if choosing to vote none of the above, was a vote for supporting evil. Rev. Throckmorton has made the bold claim that elected officials reflect the values of those who vote for them. That is a very damning indictment of over eighty percent of American white evangelicals and I applaud Rev. Throckmorton for being honest about politicians reflecting the values of their voters. Maybe this can be the common understanding which allows us to unhitch our partisan approaches to politics and allow the American Church to speak prophetically to all parties in the language of the Family of God rather than theo-political language.