By Clayton Childers, Special Contributor • • •
Hijacked calls the “evangelical church” to recognize that its close identification with the political far right is undermining its outreach and needlessly compromising its mission.
The book challenges the church to wake up and realize that a new generation of Christians is seeking a way neither left nor right, red nor blue. “They are striving together to reclaim the radical and inclusive mission of Jesus by tearing down the partisan divides that separate us,” the authors assert.
Published at the start of this election year, Hijacked comes at a propitious time. God is greater than the partisan politics so prominent in our divided nation. The church has an opportunity, in the midst of this profound ideological divide, to offer an alternative that rises above partisanship.
The Rev. Mike Slaughter is lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio. Among his other books is Change the World.
Dr. Charles Gutenson has served 10 years at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky and is a regular contributor to Sojourners and Huffington Post. He is the author of Christians & the Common Good.
Dr. Robert Jones is the chief executive of Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C. He writes a weekly column for the Washington Post “On Faith” section. He is frequently featured in national media stories on religion and politics.
Their new book traces the partisan alliance of the evangelical church with the political right to the leadership of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Kennedy and James Dobson. Each led the evangelical church to identify itself with the far right of the American political spectrum. According to them, to be a loyal Christian, you must be a faithful conservative. There is no other choice.
This book takes issue with this uncritical loyalty within the religious right. As Christians, our ultimate loyalty must be to God alone, the book emphasizes, because God is greater than any political party. We must be continually vigilant to never let our faith be “hijacked” by any political ideology. Blind loyalty is not a virtue. This is a lesson Christians of all political stripes should take to heart.
Hijacked challenges the perspective presented by former Fox TV commentator Glenn Beck who directed his listeners to “run as fast as you can” from any church that addresses issues of “social justice” or “economic justice.” “Go find another parish,” he said, and “alert your bishop.”
The authors challenge Mr. Beck’s perspective by pointing out that Scripture calls us to care for the oppressed and lift up the cause of the poor, the widow, the alien and the orphan. Hijacked points out: “Beck was correct in his statement that some Marxist groups have used the term ‘social justice.’ But he is wrong in connecting Marxist use of the term with biblical theology. . . . God is the God of justice.”
The book questions the perspective put forward by Dr. James Kennedy and promoted by many evangelical leaders, that America’s “form of democracy is ordained by God and our Constitution is ‘Spirit-breathed.’” The book also rejects the common practice of placing the U.S. flag in church sanctuaries.
“The church stands in prophetic tension with all earthly political systems and becomes corrupted when used in a supportive role for political ideologies of flag or color,” Hijacked declares. “The church does not represent the United States or any other nation of the world. The church represents the Kingdom of God.”
Chapter five, “Escaping the Ideological Bubble,” is especially useful. Its headings include: “Be Aware”; “Select News Sources with Care”; “Don’t Be Seduced by Sound Bites”; “Do Not Allow the Loudness of the Presentation to Trump the Soundness of the Argument”; “Do Not Allow Anecdotal Evidence to Outweigh Statistical Assessment”; “Do Not Let Non-experts Convince You They are the Experts”; and “Consider the Broader, Historical Christian Tradition.”
Hijacked is a prophetic challenge to the church in America. We need to take a hard look at ourselves in light of Scripture and consider again the motivation behind the political positions we take. Church should be a place where we can consider openly and honestly the most difficult issues our society faces, and seek to understand them in the light of the gospel of Christ. The church should not be a partisan tool of any political party, right or left.
The book does have some limitations.
There may be some disappointment among United Methodists that Hijacked makes no mention of the denomination’s Social Principles, which are a learning tool intended for “prayerful studied dialogue on faith and practice.” They address a broad range of difficult issues, offering guidance and perspective. Other denominations and church groups have developed similar documents.
The Social Principles, while not church law, do represent the current positions of the denomination. They provide a good jumping off point for groups or individuals wanting to delve into some of the most difficult and complex issues of our day. Such discussions can help shift the church’s approach away from partisan loyalties to prayerful, studied issue analysis, strengthening both the faith community’s understanding of issues and its public witness concerning them.
Hijacked also would have been strengthened by pointing readers to the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” The quadrilateral uses four tools: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience to help in analyzing difficult issues from a faith perspective. An ethical analysis recognizing the value of each of these four tools would have been especially helpful in the book’s section that presents liberal versus conservative understandings of homosexuality.
And, Hijacked would have benefited from a section lifting up the scriptural call to faithfully pray for those in leadership roles. Prayer can be a unifying tool, moving participants to assume a posture of humility before God. Prayer leads us to acknowledge shared need. Leaders need prayers for wisdom and guidance, grace and strength.
The church should also be cautiously aware that prayer, itself, can be “hijacked” by persons wanting to promote a particular partisan agenda. This is not true prayer. It is a guise. True prayer for our world’s leaders and the challenges they face could be a healthy, unifying practice that every Christian should gladly embrace.
Hijacked is a provocative book. It challenges Christians of all political stripes. We must be eternally vigilant, never to allow the church to be co-opted by the principalities and powers of this world. We must never become either the partisan pawns or the “kept prophets” of any political party.
Instead, we are called to be faithful interpreters, guided by faith, always lifting up the promise of God’s reign that stands in judgment over all the injustices of this life and world.
The Rev. Childers is director of annual conference relations for the General Board of Church & Society. He is on special assignment to develop advocacy programs supporting the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign.