Ortberg on “Political Sins”

John Ortberg has an interesting post up at Out of Ur about “political sins” voters may commit.
Messianism. The sin of believing that a merely human person or system can usher in the eschaton. This is often tipped off by phrases like: “The most important election of our lifetime” (which one wasn’t?); or “God’s man for the hour.”

Selective Scripturization. The sin of using Scripture to reinforce whatever attitude toward the president you feel like holding, while shellacking it with a thin spiritual veneer. If the candidate you like holds office, you consistently point people toward Romans 13: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” If your candidate lost, you consistently point people to Acts 4:10 where Peter and John say to the Sanhedrin: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” It’s just lucky for us the Bible is such a big book.

Easy Believism. This is the sin of believing the worst about a candidate you disagree with, because when you want them to lose you actually want to believe bad things about them. “Love is patient, love is kind,” Paul said. “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.” But in Paul’s day nobody ran for Caesar. There was no talk radio.

Episodism. The sin of being engaged in civic life only on a random basis. The real issues never go away, but we’re tempted to give them our attention only when the news about them is controversial, or simplistic, or emotionally charged. Sustained attention to vital but unsexy issues is not our strong suit.

Alarmism. A friend of mine used to work for an organization that claimed both Christian identity and a particular political orientation. They actually liked it when a president was elected of the opposite persuasion, because it meant they could raise a lot more money. It is in their financial interests to convince their constituents that the president is less sane than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Alarmists on both sides of the spectrum make it sound like we’re electing a Bogeyman-in-Chief every four years. I sometimes think we should move the election up a few days to October 31.

One Issue-ism. Justifying our intolerance of complexity and nuance by collapsing a decision into a simplistic and superficial framework.

Pride. I couldn’t think of a snappy title for this one. But politics, after all, is largely about power. And power goes to the core of our issues of control and narcissism and need to be right and tendency to divide the human race into ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’

What do you think?


11 thoughts on “Ortberg on “Political Sins”

  1. I don’t want to believe bad things about Obama. I just find believing them to be inescapable. “Talk Radio” called him a Socialist, and his first acts as president elect, other than to placate pro-abortion groups, were to craft a website (since removed) calling for mandatory public service, and to advocate a nationalized auto industry.

    All this high-minded stuff about being reasonable become much more difficult when were are confronted with political leaders who act beyond reason.

  2. Elton says:

    Each one of these “ism” was utilized during the election. Unfortunately for McCain, he couldn’t articulate his “pride” (“fight with me” instead of “yes we can”) for the voters and demonstrate some kind of leadership, and the credit crunch caused people to buy into Obama’s “messianism” as created by Chris Mathews (“I felt the tingle going down my legs”), et al.

  3. Heck, people were guilty of Messianism under Bush. I heard people continuously espouse that Bush was clearly the guy God wanted in the White House for 9/11. But a lot of these definitely apply regardless of who is running, as many of these seem to be “sins of partisanship”.

  4. I heard a lot of people say they were glad that a Christian was in the White House, and Calvinists believe that every president is appointed by God, but I heard very few say Bush was especially appointed.

  5. I never heard people say they were glad a Christian was in the White House. It was *always* some implication that Bush was a unique president raised up for a special time, with unique blessings from God. So whose experience trumps whose? ;)

  6. I think most of the stuff on the list seems reasonable. But 2 things I probably, although not completely, disagree with.

    1. God’s man for the hour – couldn’t someone actually be God’s man for the hour? I’m thinking of someone like George Washington or Abe Lincoln. Someone who, if they weren’t there, history would be radically different. I have no idea if God does such things, but Israel’s history is certainly complete with examples of “God’s man for the hour”

    2. One-issue-ism – What if the one issue was a major one? And I’m not really thinking of abortion here. What if the one issue was to kill people with disabilities or to start another Third Reich? Wouldn’t those be pretty big issues? But perhaps Ortberg just means the sin of not wanting to make hard decisions so you simply “collapse” your decision to one issue. But then he should probably name it something else. Like lazy-ism. :)

  7. gpok says:

    Now I feel all full of myself, because when it became apparent that “my guy” would lose, I turned (and pointed my friends) to Romans 13. As much as I disagree with Obama, I will not resort to “Not My President”-ism. It’s conservative Christians’ chance to act the way liberal Christians should have for the last 8 years. I’ll give President Obama whatever taxes, revenue, respect or honor I owe him.

  8. e. barrett

    1) Abe Lincoln, to cite your example, was not even a Christian. Again, Gos has a hand in electing everyone, and Lincoln was a special leader. I see nothing wrong with thanking God for good leaders, and praying for God to replace bad ones. But unless you have revelatory knowledge of the anointedness of a particular president, it is best to hedge your bets.

    2) Again, to cite your example, the Third Reich wasn’t an “issue”, per se, but the symptom of a larger series of problems that bad been bubbling to the surface in Germany. Eugenics, hyper-nationalism, racism, and a disposition toward war resulted in a party that largely reflected the will of the people. Nazi Germany was the change its citizens were waiting for.

    Let’s look also at the abortion issue. Yes, legal abortion is an atrocity, but it is the product of a series of fundamental issues. In addition to the eugenics movement, we have FDR’s role in politicizing the judiciary to thank. Combine this with a wholly invented right to sexual privacy (recognized not by the Constitution, and certainly not by scripture), and voila, our own little Holocaust.

    A principled voter must be grounded in a host of issues, lest he accidentally politic for the wrong argument on the only issue of import.

  9. Kevin:

    Thanks for your insight. I don’t really even disagree with any of the points you make. I fully reconginze that we can’t, necessarily, know if someone is chosen by God. (I’m highly skeptical that any President has been.) But that doesn’t mean God COULDN’T choose someone. The same is true of one issue-ism. We can probably all think of reasons why “one issue” would be legitimate to not vote for someone (i.e., what if they were a chronic liar?)

    I love Ortberg, but I think some of these “sins” he lists aren’t necessarily “political sins.” Sometimes they may be foolish mistakes. Perhaps even a majority of the time. But in some cases, they might be good judgment.

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