I grew up in South Alabama during the height of Jeff Foxworthy’s popularity as a standup comic. His “You Might Be a Redneck…” routine resonated with my people because there was truth in it. We all knew people who had cut their grass and found a car. We understood the cultural context that necessitated the practice of hauling a can of paint to the top of a water tower to defend our sister’s honor. Foxworthy’s jokes were hilarious because there was a grain of truth in each one.
Last night I spoke at a “Faith and Freedom” rally. While I share many of the conservative political values of my hosts, I was hesitant to accept the invitation. I’m not a Trump supporter. (Don’t worry, I don’t support Biden, either). I don’t find conspiracy behind every liberal policy. I don’t think this is the most divisive period in American history. I’ve come to peace with my own political homelessness in this world. I communicated my hesitancy to my gracious hosts, but they were insistent that I was the right person to lead off their gathering.
In the spirit of one of my historical heroes, the Baptist pastor and theologian Andrew Fuller, I chose as my topic, “The Danger of Political Idolatry.” In 1801, Fuller published The Backslider, in which he voiced concern over the way in which deep interest in politics often leads to a loss of zeal for the Lord. Fuller, in his own way, was describing political idolatry. In the words of Tim Keller, idolatry occurs when anything “absorbs our heart and imagination more than God.” For many, politics has done just that.
In Foxworthy-like fashion, I ended my talk with my own test for self-identification. You might be a political idolator if…
…the opinions of Ben Shapiro or Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow carry more weight than the voices of the prophets and apostles, or even of the pastors of your local church.
…you are more publicly identified with a political party than with Jesus and his church.
…your public discourse (often what you post on social media) parrots the talking points of political tribe rather than the radical call of neighbor love.
…your tone has more in common with the slander of angry politicians than the meek, yet authoritative way of Jesus.
…the victory of party gets you more excited than the victory of the gospel in the fulfillment of the church’s mission.
…the sins of your political enemies make you angrier than the sins of your own tribe.
…fear of the other side winning overrides the comfort of resting in the fear of Lord, who sits in the heavens and laughs at the raging of the nations (Psalm 2).
…you can’t miss the evening Fox News line-up, but you’re fine missing out on worship with Christ’s assembled saints on Sunday morning.
…you’re willing to excuse lies and scandal as long as it benefits your political team.
If you’re a political idolator, or any other kind of idolator, I’ve got good news. Join the club. Full forgiveness is offered for anyone who will repent and seek mercy in the cross of Christ. Our Savior died to save sinners. He rose to defeat death. He reigns so that his people can live in this world in quiet confidence. You don’t have to be a political idolator because all the kingdoms of this world already belong to him (Revelation 11:15).
So how should we think about politics as Christians? I’ll let Fuller have the last word: “If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but, bearing good-will to all, seeks the general good: by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of Christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.”