Thursday, September 01, 2011

Utilitarian, Prophetic Religiosity: The Handy god of Evangelical Politics

In a campaign appearance last weekend, Michelle Bachmann said,
I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Washington Post blogger and President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, responded:
[Ms. Bachmann] imagines not only that there is meaning and purpose to such events and that they are controlled directly by God, she imagines that she knows the mind of God and can tell America what such events mean. That is called prophecy, especially when done in such an immediate and direct way, and as far as I know Michele Bachmann doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Or does she?

While not making that claim overtly, Ms. Bachmann consistently approaches both politics and religion from a position of absolutes - the kind of absolutes which, if not absolutely 100 percent correct, can be pretty dangerous. From defaulting on our national debt to abortion to this weekend’s hurricane, there is, according to Michelle Bachmann, only one right answer - hers. And unless someone speaks with the absolute knowledge that most believers ascribe to God or prophets, that’s a pretty dangerous way to speak.
Though I'm rather confident that Hirschfield and I don't share the same view of God and the gospel, I agree with every word he wrote about Bachmann. But because of what I do believe about God and the gospel, I'm persuaded that there's more to be said, and I'll get straight to the point.

Bachmann's comments are utterly indefensible. Some, Hirschfield apparently among them, believe her speech will further damage our national political discourse. I agree, but I suspect it (and so many others like it) is actually more detrimental to the Christian faith. As the prophet Joel reminds us, God does intend for natural disasters to direct our attention toward the certainty of future and greater divine judgment on human rebellion. But the notion that judgment falls on us for rampant spending grossly distorts the human condition and cheapens the gravity of our fundamental need. Bachmann claims the comments were made in jest. If that's true, she's treating God and his verdicts lightly—taking his name in vain—and the offense is only greater.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "We will never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more." (You may have read that somewhere before.) The price of Bachmann's comments is the marginalization of the gospel of God's eternal kingdom in exchange for immediate and temporary political influence. I wish evangelicals and the God-users they vote for would learn what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes knew—that fixing our hopes on that which cannot last and will not satisfy is emptiness and striving after wind.


Shayne McAllister said...


Chad said...

Fantastic post

Gerry Carlson said...

Can't disagree with you, Ben. But isn't this just another example of someone practicing their continuation gifts (and maybe some powerful political self-esteem too)? When you open the barn door for revelatory prophecy you get lots of strange breezes and wild twisters. Evangelicals have a hard time telling anyone they can't practice this stuff.

Ben said...

I suppose some would. Presumably it would vary from person to person depending on how exactly they understand NT prophecy.

Shayne McAllister said...

I don't think for a minute that Bachmann is charismatic in the slightest. She's Lutheran. A stronger explanation is that she's a politician trying to make the point that Washington is corrupt and using the acts of God to support her case.

All kinds of non-continutationists might see that "God's trying to tell us something" by a random event. That was about a third of the chapel services I heard at BJU (OK, it wasn't quite that much).