Let’s Talk: politics, voting, faith, A series of conversations on hard topics

By Jonathon Soder, Faith Co-Editor

Last week OBU students had the opportunity to participate in the seminal event of the democratic process – voting. While this election included no voter riots or protests outside Raley Chapel, countless national elections in years past have resulted in lessthan-cordial discussions nation-wide.

In today’s society, where voters have instant and unhindered access to the national stage via social media, how can we talk about politics without resorting to name-calling and yelling?

Dr. Sherri Raney, professor of history and political science, said that we must resist having the mindset that individuals who vote opposite of us are evil.

“I think that we have a contempt problem in this country,” Raney said. “And I’m not the first person to notice that. We don’t respect other people fundamentally. We hold other people in contempt, beneath us, for a lot of different reasons. When we start off with that attitude of having this contempt, disdain, for people who disagree with us, then there’s really not much point in having a conversation.”

Dr. Galen Jones, chair of Christian leadership, said that the best way Christians can avoid yelling matches is to do what the Bible says and not jump to the conclusions Raney said we’re prone to embrace.

“Seek to understand rather than to be understood,” Jones said.

Jones said that, by taking time to learn about someone else’s background, experiences and why they think the way they do, it will become easier to understand why they vote the way they do.

“If I only think about what I think is right in a politician, or what we’re voting for or the larger issues, then we’ll never really have a way to engage one another,” Jones said.

One stumbling block in political conversations, which leads to heated encounters, is the tendency of voters to fixate on one particular issue. Different issues will be of different levels of importance to individuals depending on their age, gender, race, locale, etc.

“For instance, a lot of white evangelicals focus on abortion,” Jones said. “Evangelicals who are African American don’t necessarily believe in abortion, but what we think about is the life that we have now. My life right now matters. I should value the life of that unborn child, but in the case of the police, we don’t see them the same because they’re not my friend.”

“And so, we need to be able to hear that from one another to understand that the legitimacy of my experience is just that – it’s legitimate and yours is as well.”

Another issue with fixating on particular policies is the reality that, perhaps despite a politician’s best intentions, some policies are administered unequally or in a manner not intended by the policy-maker. One example, Jones said, is welfare.

“Over 55 percent of all the caseload of welfare is white rural people. So, the picture of the welfare mother is not a black single woman. It really is a married, rural white woman,” Jones said.

“But in urban areas there is a policy or a practice of a ‘no man in the house’ rule. If your family is on welfare, then there’s not supposed to be a man there because, in essence, the government is supplying those things.”

Since focusing on one policy can present problems, Raney said that we should instead take the whole of a political candidate’s platform into consideration as well as considering the candidate’s credentials.

“The most important thing [a politician should have] is experience in politics,” Raney said.

While this will differ for student government because SGA is often the first stepping-stone into politics, aspiring career politicians will understand the process of government better if they participate locally and at the state level first Raney said.

Jones said that one thing Christians specifically should look for in a candidate is “fidelity to the gospel.” However, with fewer Christians surviving on the national stage, Christians must remember that their ultimate authority is Christ and that voting isn’t a Christian right or necessity.

“We have become confused that America is a Christian nation,” Jones said. “It never was, never has been and never will be. It’s not called as that; it wasn’t created as that.”

An issue or candidate can blind individuals to the humanity of others. On example of this misconception is the idea that the founding fathers were all Christian. However, neither Benjamin Franklin nor George Washington were Christian men. Franklin, though he grew up in a Calvinist-Christian home, became a deist; Washington, though he attended church services with his wife, would always get up and leave when communion was taken.

“We have what I and others call ‘euphoric recall,’” Jones said. “We do, as Christians, with our government, what we are never supposed to do with our Bible, which is called eisegesis; we read back into it from our own lens and perspective.”

“If we look at it for what it actually was – if we exegete history and the founders – you’ll find out they weren’t talking about the same Christian identity that we understand as Evangelicals.”

With the understanding that America isn’t bound by necessity to Christian morals, Jones said that Christians in America are supposed to fill a prophetic role in their location just as the prophets fulfilled their role in the place God called them to.

“We are to speak for God whether the politician ‘Christian’ is doing that or not,” Jones said. “I think we have to take the onus away from voting.”

This will open conversation up not only in the public sphere, but also in the context of the Church where differences in opinion can be misconstrued as a lack of proper faith.

Raney said that we must have respect for one another when having political conversations and follow the Golden Rule. Devotion to a single issue or candidate can blind individuals to the humanity of others.

Jones said there’s one more thing Christians specifically must remember: “Your candidate is not the Messiah.”

Let’s Talk: Short term mission trips, a series of conversations on hard topics

By Jonathan Soder, Faith Co-Editor

According to a 2017 article on Fortune.com, the United States ranks as the 12th richest country in the world per capita. In a 2018 article, USA Today reported that the three richest Americans – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – together own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of Americans.

With all this wealth, American Christians and non-Believers alike have adopted a model of charity, known as “the compassion industry.”

This model of charity embraces charitable giving to impoverished individuals, both at home and overseas, with the expectation of nothing in return. This, in large part, describes the aim of short-term mission trips, especially those lasting several weeks or
less.

However, author of Toxic Charity Robert Lupton, along with other contemporary
critics both Christian and not, says these efforts as irresponsible and ineffective. Specifically, Lupton said the propensity for pure charity to cause the receiver to become dependent on the giver.

“Why do we miss this crucial aspect in evaluating our charitable work?” According to Lupton, “Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by
the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served. We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage.”

Despite this fault, Christians will undoubtedly continue to participate in short-term mission trips. In light of this, how might the popular compassion model be revised or replaced to effect positive lasting changes in the individuals short-term missionaries
interact with?

Both Lupton and WMU professor of missions, Dr. Bruce Carlton, said the need for missionaries to take into account the dynamics of the community they are serving.

“The best way to assure effectiveness is to spend enough time as a learner, ask enough questions, and seek wisdom from indigenous leaders to gain an accurate picture of both existing realities and future aspirations of the community,” according to Lupton.

“Then, having made a realistic assessment of the time and asset commitment you (or your organization or church) can invest, offer low-visibility support to community-led activities. A patient, sensitive entry into grass-roots involvement can open future opportunities to assume a larger strategic role in transforming a neighborhood.”

Carlton, who served as a long-term missionary with his wife for 20 years in Hong Kong, Cambodia and India, said that one way Westerners fail in “offer[ing] low-visibility support” is in the tactics used to establish churches overseas.

“One of the criticisms I’ve heard over the years is that Christianity is a foreign religion, and this is where short-term missionaries sometimes muddy the waters a bit,” Carlton said.

“I used to get upset when people would say that because Christianity is not a religion of the West, but then I began to look around and look at all the churches we’ve started around the globe, and they’re exactly right.”

The result of church-planting overseas often results in the organization of churches that follow a similar model to Western congregations. Worship comes before the sermon, and popular Western hymns are sung, just in the local language.

“We’ve made people into our image, rather than focusing on making them into the image of Christ,” Carlton said.

“So, with short-term missions, if they’re not aware of that, then they perpetuate that model of church and Christianity continues to be seen as a Western religion.”

Serving in a foreign context is difficult for short-term missionaries who often are ill-prepared to relate to the people they are serving in terms of their own culture instead of in terms of Westernized Christianity.

One fix that may be offered is a shift in primary focus of short-term missionaries to serving and supporting the long-term missionaries they assist.

“The beauty of short-term groups or individuals is that they come alongside and enhance the work that is being done on the field,” director of Global Outreach, Dr. Joy Turner, said.

“Full-time field workers are able to learn the culture and peoples they are working with and their strategy can take on a long-term view. They can also adjust their strategy as they learn and grow which would make them more effective in their work. For short-term teams the learning has to happen quickly and a lot of emphasis is placed on pre-trip preparation and reliance on the field workers for their wisdom.”

One aspect short-term missionaries often bring to the field is passion. For long-term missionaries who have years to affect the people they are sent to serve, the temptation to become complacent represents a very real threat to their ministry. The passion of short-term workers can help to rejuvenate career missionaries in their ministry efforts.

“We work very hard at the Global Outreach center to focus on enhancing the work already being done on the field,” Turner said. “It is not about us, it is about advancing God’s kingdom.”

 

This doesn’t mean that short-term missionaries should refrain from interacting with other cultures at all.

“Of course, we desire to minister and share our faith but only in the context of what the full-time workers are doing and under their leadership,” Turner said.

“We hear many stories from the field that our students helped advance their work in ways we could not have imagined.”

One such example comes from a New York City pastor who received 11 students and two mentors from OBU as workers during the spring break.

“They handed out almost 13,000 granola bars and invitations to the Easter service at the church they worked with,” Turner said. “We just heard the church had 259 first time visitors and 63 new believers.”

While the goal of handing out invitations to the Easter service was a simple one for the students, it’s consistent with Carlton’s belief that short-term missions must have a “clearly defined task.”

On the other hand, one thing which Carlton and Lupton both warn against is participating in a short-term mission trip to “sample” missions work. Such intentions lend themselves to a consumeristic view of missions.

“Short-term missions fulfill another need, at least in terms of people from the West,” Carlton said. “People want to ‘try out’ so to speak. They want to see if missions is a career they want to pursue. So they’re not willing to sign-on for a lifetime until they’ve had the short-term experience.”

In terms of responsibility, missions (a.k.a. spreading the Gospel) is not a suggestion but a command which Christ gives in Matthew 28 and Mark 16.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19.

However this commission is fulfilled, whether long-term or short-term, at home or overseas, missions is a careful collaborative effort between the long-term missionaries,
short-term workers and those being reached.