I am currently reading a book entitled "Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989" by Presidential historian Michael Beschloss. It is quickly becoming one of my top ten books of all time. Beschloss points out that the greatest leaders in United States history were those who were willing to buck popular opinion, follow one's conscience and conviction, and implement change for the good of the nation as a whole. As President John Adams said when he sought peace with France during a time that the vast majority of Americans desired war with the French, "Popularity is not my mistress."
There are three positions I am committed to take as a Southern Baptist for the next decade that may not be popular, but I am convinced that each of them is the right course of action for me.
(1). I am committed to love those Christians with whom I disagree.
I shared in my blog comment string yesterday that I am a die hard Republican. One of my best friends is a Republican National Committee member. Our former Republican Governor, Frank Keating, used my office on a regular basis when he would travel through northwest Oklahoma. I am a right wing conservative politically. I am pro-Israel, and anti-abortion. I support a consitutional amendment on marriage and believe the war in Iraq is just. You will not find a bigger supporter of George W. Bush than I, and I am absolutely convinced history will be kinder to him than the current polls. I love America and am a very strong capitalist. Yet . . .
I refuse to be defined by my politics when it comes to relating to, and cooperating with, my Christian brothers and sisters. I don't care if my brother in Christ is a Democrat, or a left wing politian. I don't care if he is politically anti-Israel, and refuses to fight against abortion in the same manner as I - I will still call him a brother in Christ. I don't care if he dislikes George Bush, believes the war in Iraq is unjust and favors more money for welfare and blushes at the presentation of colors - I will still call him a brother in Christ. I don't care if he is black, Asian, Hispanic or Jewish, if he calls Christ His Lord - he is my brother. He may view the world different than I; he may relate to the world different than I; but if he is my brother in Christ I will extend to him the right hand of fellowship and love.
I will, however, make a deal with him. When we get together, let's not talk about politics. When we worship together, let's just focus on Christ. When we see a need in the world around us, let's do our part to meet that need through cooperation. We may never see eye to eye politically, philosophically or even theologically, but we will commit to love each other with the love of Christ. I shall refuse and resist to become caustic, angry or bitter towards my brother or sister in Christ, and would hope the desires would be reciprocal. But even if my brother in Christ tries to provoke me to anger by attacking me, I will steadfastly refuse to respond in kind.
I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. -- Booker T. Washington
(2). I am committed to be firm in my convictions, but humble in my relationships.
I am not scared to dialogue with others who disagree. I am not afraid to listen to those with opposing views. Only the weak silence dissent. Only the insecure wish the dissidents buried. Those strong in their convictions have the ability to be humble in their approach. Meekness is controlled strength, and only strength of convictions under control give rise to meekness in relationships with others.
In fact, I will go even further. When evangelical conservative Christians seek to make friends of liberal non-evangelical Christians, liberalism is destroyed. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, and it is the goodness of conservatives that leads non-conservatives to a greater appreciation for, and ultimate conversion to, a more conservative view of their world and their faith. Animosity, anger, bitterness and hate only turn people away from the fulness of the gospel, but love, grace, meekness and patience lead people to it.
Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? -- Abraham Lincoln
(3). I will absolutely refuse to allow any of my political, cultural, traditional or national views transcend or trump my view of the gospel of Jesus Christ and my relationship with those who follow Him.
That does not mean I will not maintain my national, political, and cultural identity, for I will. To deny who I am would be dishonest. However, in everything Jesus Christ will be preeminent. I am not interested in people living like those of us in Western Civilization. I am not even that concerned that people view the world as I view it. World views are important, but Christ has a way of changing the perceptions of His people, and He does not need me to do it for Him.
I will keep the main thing the main thing. I desire to know nothing among you save Christ and Him crucified. It is my desire to win converts to Christ, and His kingdom transcends everthing. I will resist with all my might ANY attempts to politicize the spiritual. We Baptists always err when we are more concerned with politics, denominationalism, national identity, and Western Civilization than we are the kingdom of Christ. I remind all of us however that the Apostle Paul clearly told us that the purpose of goverment is to 'bear the sword of justice,' while the purpose of the church is to proclaim to the world the gospel of Christ.
When I am around my brothers in Christ I will pray with them, support them, encourage them, partner with them, and praise them -- but I will not seek to make them like me politically, culturally, philosophically or even theologically. Nor will I bend if they attempt to make me like them. My bond with my brothers and sisters in Christ is Christ alone.
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. -- Bishop Desmond Tutu
I look forward to the next ten years in the SBC.
In His Grace,