Have Evangelicals become Missionaries of Darkness?

With about three weeks left before the highly anticipated mid-term elections I know it’s hard to keep up on events occurring in other parts of the world. I like to think of myself as someone that is fairly well read, especially when it comes to foreign affairs, but a story from last weeks New York Times caught me a bit off guard. Brazil, the country known for bringing us such fabulous imports like Soccer star Pele and the thong bikini (Aren’t we all indebted to the thong for inspiring Sisqo to produce such an amazing song?) was embroiled in a heated presidential election.

While I’m no expert on Brazilian politics I have followed the countries developments to improve education, eradicate poverty, and improve the welfare state. I was an admirer of previous president Lula da Silva, and was intrigued with Brazil’s desire to implement a Universal Basic Income. I know that the recent President was removed for office and that much controversy surrounded the “soft-coup” that removed her from power. However, I did not realize how polarized the country had become politically.

As I learned in the article Brazil is a country undergoing a radical change in religious values and practices. 22% of the countries population is now “Evangelical Christian.” This is an interesting new development, particularly when one considers that Brazil has historically been an important foundation for the growth and power of Catholicism in South America. Consider that in America, where Evangelicalism plays an extremely important role in politics, culture, and civil society, the U.S has about 26% of the population claiming the “Evangelical” mantle.

While Evangelical Christianity is fairly “young” Brazilian political observers have noticed an increasing influence of Evangelical thinking on the nations politics. Once considered a country set apart for it’s “democratic socialist” ideals, the Pew Forum on Religion notes that some estimates have “54% of the population reporting that conservative political and cultural views dominate their electoral decisions.” What has been the result of such a dramatic change in the religious and political make up of the country?

One thing that stands out is the spread of the American based Assemblies of God organization in the country. The Assemblies of God denomination (for those who may not know, Assemblies of God is the Christian denomination that former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin belongs to) is the “fastest growing Evangelical group in the country.” The New York Times reports that “many American pastors from the Assemblies of God in America have been flocking to Brazil to set up Churches, train Pastors, and create infrastructure to help the organization increase its footprint in Brazilian life.”

As an Evangelical who hold extremely left-wing political views (sorry Mom and Dad) I tend to support organizations like the Assemblies of God that work hard to spread the message of Jesus, and pray that they stay far away from trying to influence local politics. However, as the New York Times is reporting, this has not been the case at all. The Assemblies of God have become deeply involved in Brazilian politics. The results have been nothing short of disastrous.

In Brazil Presidential elections start with  anywhere from 4 to sometimes 10 candidates on a ballot. Barring that any one candidate receives over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates to receive the most votes will head to a final election later in the year. Two weeks ago conservative politician Jair Messias Bolsonaro won the highest percentage of the vote and will be taking on liberal politician Fernando Haddad.

As to be expected the countries Evangelical community is strongly backing Conservative Bolsonaro. However, it’s the statements and political history that make this support so troubling. For starters, Bolsonaro has stated, “human rights are used to support criminals,” and that “I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” If those statements aren’t enough to question why the Assemblies of God are so keen to support this candidate than consider this statement he gave when asked by reporters what he thinks about a female liberal politician whom he works alongside in Brazil’s Congress: “I wouldn’t rape her. She isn’t worthy of it.”

Politics is a messy business. I’ve worked in politics and have seen that it can bring out the worst in people. As Christians, however, we have a special call to follow the words of Isaiah 49:6. In this passage God tells the Prophet “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” As Evangelicals go out to other nations, we must ask ourselves if we are spreading the light that Christ has demanded we let shine?

As an Evangelical who is also politically progressive and uses the scriptures to inform my political outlook I have no problem with Christians getting involved with politics. However, this involvement must be grounded in scriptural justice. That means that when a candidate like Bolsonaro says Black Brazilians “ don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more” we must stand up and speak words of life. We must make sure that “our salt has not lost its flavor.”

Polls are showing that Bolsonaro, with his almost unanimous support among the countries Evangelical’s, will easily win the second round of elections and become Brazil’s next President. I pray for Bolsonaro. I pray that Christ will change his heart. I pray for the Christians of Brazil. I pray that they meditate on the Scriptures and realize that “gaining the whole world and losing your soul” is a process that must be rejected. I pray that justice reigns in Brazil and that hate is shunned. To my fellow Evangelicals I say this: WE CAN DO BETTER! LETS BE TRUE MORAL, SPIRTUAL, AND ETHICAL LEADERS!

 

 

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The First Amendment V. The First Commandment

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

1 Corinthians 10:23

 

On Monday my Social Media was abuzz with opinions regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop Vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I would say that the opinions of my friends, much like that of the country was a clean partisan split. Interestingly I found that those friends who I can label as self proscribed “Christians” were the most outwardly happy with the Courts ruling. This is not all that surprising, however, it does raise an issue that I think Christians should think about in greater depth.

Some quick background on the case: A Christian baker in Colorado was asked by a gay couple to make a wedding cake for their upcoming ceremony. The baker declined and explained to the couple that he believes making the cake would violate his Christian values. The Civil Rights Commission of Colorado (A government entity) found the baker in violation of the couples civil rights and levied fines. The Supreme Court (I will leave it here just to give a quick cursory telling of the story) found that the Civil Rights Commission violated the rights of the baker.

Now, as an exercise in political thinking I found the Courts decision very interesting. What really sparked my interest, however, was an article in the New York Times documenting more cases like this that will test boundaries of “religious freedom and civil rights”. One such issue the Times discussed was a Bill recently passed in Oklahoma (SB 1140). This bill essentially allows private adoption agencies the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples when placing children. This Bill, which before reading the Times I was unaware of, will most likely push the “Christian Rights vs. Gay Rights” debate to the forefront of the Supreme Court in the coming years.

I don’t know all that much about adoption/ child welfare issues. I did work, for a very short period of time, as a Social Worker who would visit with newly adopted children and families to help offer services as they transition into their new lives together. For the most part I came across very loving parents and very excited children. They were always so happy to have a new place to call home and new people to call Mom and Dad. What I did learn during my time in the field, is that those children waiting to be adopted face the constant fear of instability, sexual assault, educational neglect, and emotional abuse. Children waiting to be adopted too often experience fear when living every day in group-homes, foster care facilities, and in some foster homes.

While I was not responsible for finding foster kids adoptive homes, I did hear stories from other Social Workers who had this job, and these stories still shake me. I was told of a thirteen year old child that was given one meal a day by his foster family, beaten for minor infractions like spilling milk, and forced to eat his own vomit after getting sick. Luckily, in this story the authorities learned of the crimes that occurred while the child was in foster care and they were able to find a nice adoptive family to take him in. Authorities also were able to persecute the foster parents who committed the gruesome crimes. In this instance the child was lucky. I often pray that this is not the reality being experienced by any of the over “107,918” children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family.

After learning about SB 1140 I did a quick Google search just to learn a little more about the law. I came across many “Christian” organizations making the argument that this law is necessary because it will allow religious organization the ability to “provide social welfare services congruent with Christian values.” I found a few op-eds from Christian writers who saw this as a victory for “Christian liberty”, “Godly values”, and “traditional families”.  I did not see, from any Christians at least, statements on how this will positively impact (according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services) over 9,000 kids in Oklahoma in need of adoption.

I understand that for some Christians there is a belief that sexual politics is an arena where there can be no compromise. While I don’t share this view I would never ask someone to act in a manner that violates his or her deeply held spiritual convictions. However, since the people speaking in these op-eds and in the media are proclaiming to be fellow “Christians” I feel as though I can engage in a little debate and push back on these feelings.

In the beginning of the blog I quote 1 Corinthians 10:23. Here we see the Church struggling with issues of ethical Christian living. The Church in Corinth is asking what it should do about issues regarding a proper diet, morals, etc. The answer given in the Scriptures is one that speaks to our current times. Essentially we are told that since Christ came to renew our minds and hearts there no longer should be worries about trivial matters like diet. We are told that everything is now permitted, however, we must realize that we can’t go “overboard.”

We learn in the scriptures that Christians should feel free to eat anything they want, however, as good brothers and sisters of Christ they should realize that this freedom may have to be put aside for the greater good of others. Many Pastors will use this scripture when teaching about things like alcohol consumption. They usually will say things like “sure, you can drink alcohol as a Christian just don’t be a drunk and act in ways that would embarrass Christ. You should be careful though and realize that there may be a Christian Brother or sister that is struggling with alcohol abuse. It may not be wise to drink around them. So in essence, yes, as a Christian feel free to drink in moderation, just recognize that this freedom comes with a responsibility.”

I think this teaching serves as a great parallel to something like SB 1140. In America we are granted freedom of religion and freedom to engage in faith and moral traditions that proscribe certain standards of behavior. However, we are Christians first and Americans second. We are often looked at as examples of “good behavior” even if we don’t mean to be. Yes, maybe some Christians feel that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt because it violates Church teaching. I argue this does not outweigh the duty we have as Christ centered individuals to continually work to be the salt of the earth.

As Christians we must ask ourselves this question: does allowing private organizations the ability to refuse children in our care an adoptive home simply because we find an individuals lifestyle to be “sinful”? It may be legal but does it edify the spirit of Jesus and the witness of Christ’s saving grace?

I would ask Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, who at an event organized by Franklin Graham stated “I’m not scared to walk my faith because my faith plays a role in the decisions I make” to stop and consider those children who may be victims. I would ask all those Christians who publicly stand against the L.G.B.T community to ponder if its “sin” they are against or if it’s the feeling of being outwardly “righteous” that makes them stand in condemnation of our Gay brothers and sisters?

As Christians we have always lead movements for peace, justice, and love. From abolishing slavery, to establishing Unions and marching for civil rights, Christians have a heritage we can be proud of. I pray we don’t tarnish that heritage because it’s politically expedient.