How about a fast from citizenship?

David Kuo served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until he resigned in 2003. He has been critical of the office’s effectiveness since that time but his opinions really made a splash in his recent book, “Tempting Faith.” The book airs some specific criticisms regarding the implementation of the administration’s faith-based initiatives. Anecdotes also highlight the apparent contempt some White House staffers have for evangelicals. He closes by suggesting that Christians should go on a “fast from politics,” in favor of compassionate works.

In an “October surprise” way, the media have made Mr. Kuo their darling in apparent hopes that Christians might be discouraged from voting this November. I have no reason to doubt the sincere intent of the book but many who are praising the work have a highly politicized agenda.

I might add that David Kuo says that he does not mean that Christians should not vote. He also claims to have had no control over the release date of the book. OK, we still find that many who are quoting joyfully from the book are skipping over his Christian testimony and his firm pro-life, conservative assertions, adding instead his “fast from politics” terminology to the chorus of people who have expressed horror at the influence, let’s face it, the existence of biblical Christianity.

His ideas, based on some disillusionment with the nuts and bolts of political influence, are being used by those who will repeat nothing else he says in service of their goal of defeating a political/moral direction they consider dangerous. Maybe this is a misinterpretation of “Tempting Faith,” but the functional difference between a pundit who equates biblical Christianity with the Taliban and an author who suggests that the process of public policy is beneath Christians is uncomfortably slim.

My question is simple. Why should we take David Kuo’s advice?

I don’t think we can step aside. We are citizens and Christians. Our Christian identity defines our citizenship. We are not free to “sit this one out” to make a point or because our feelings are hurt.

Christians are also called to affect our communities. In our culture, political engagement is one way that we can do that. Our freedom to vote is a rare freedom in the history of the world. God has used our freedom for his glory on countless occasions. One day, the only way we can impact our culture might be by disobeying the law and suffering the consequences. Here and now, we can support or oppose a cause, vote for or against a leader, and make it stick. We should do that as long as we are able.

I don’t think we should step aside. It is not ours to determine effectiveness. Some people quit when they lose the first or third or 30th time. That doesn’t change the right and wrong of an effort. If we believe God wants us to do a thing, we’re wrong to quit just because it doesn’t turn out as we wished. We don’t serve ourselves, a political party, or a candidate.

Compassion is expressed by the climate we help create for all Americans, not just the food we put in their pantry. Some stands we take, including those often-ridiculed stands for life and family, are stands of mercy for the helpless. So are stands against gambling, pornography, and expanded alcohol consumption. Hate the truth of it if you must but being for people means you must be against some things that destroy people.

The thought that we support or withhold support from a cause based on whether the other people involved respect us adequately is repugnant to me. Certainly many in government do not get Christianity. Some in our churches don’t get it either. That’s a petty reason to give up.

I don’t think we need to step aside. As indicated above, compassion and citizenship are not contradictory ideas. Mr. Kuo seems to believe that evangelical Christians typically give to and do more for political causes than they do for people. I reject the dichotomy but even so he is wrong. Those who tithe and make special offerings are far more invested in world evangelism (the greatest compassion, and one David Kuo admires) and hunger relief than we are in political campaigns. Those of us who actually participate in our churches give more time to serving people in a month than we give to assisting a political campaign in a year.

I also reject the notion that working for stronger families and a cultural respect for human life is “merely political.” Politics is the way we accomplish things in relationship with other people. Like anything else (even hunger relief), it becomes wrong and soul-less when our motivation is mercenary.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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