It is election time in Tennessee.  We are bombarded with information about the upcoming election- from our media and from our mailboxes.  Just how involved should we as Christians and Baptists be in our government?  Baptist history in the 1600s and 1700s was filled with government-sponsored persecution as Baptists sought to worship God freely in Europe and America.

Our pastor recently told us about the flogging of Obadiah Holmes, a Baptist minister, in 1651 by the Puritans. Holmes survived the flogging proclaiming, “You have struck me as with roses.”  It was good that Holmes survived since one of his direct descendents, born in a log cabin in Kentucky, went onto become the 16th and most revered president of the United States.  John Leland, a Baptist minister from Virginia and friend of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, was thought to have influenced the addition of the first amendment to the Constitution.

Walter Rauschenbusch, theologian and Baptist minister, played a major role in advocating the Social Gospel, a late 19th century and early 20th century movement designed to bring Christ’s kingdom to earth and encourage Christ’s return.  The Social Gospel emphasized social justice, the elimination of poverty, improved schools, better healthcare, the end of child labor, and other societal improvements.  The Social Gospel began to lose force around the horrors of World War 1.  The gradual decline of mainline churches and the rise of religious fundamentalism may also have played a part.  Nevertheless echoes of the movement remain.  A Baptist leader from Montgomery, Alabama, said that Rauschenbusch  left “an indelible imprint on my thinking.”  That minister went on to lead the most important civil rights movement of the 20th century.

Social Gospel and Jesus

The Social Gospel may have had its origins with the ancient Hebrew prophets.  The Minor Prophets were highly critical of the oppression of the poor and privilege bought with money.  The prophet Amos particularly criticized taxes levied against the poor, injustice in the courts, and wealthy socialites.  In Jesus the social aspects of the gospel became more evident.  There are roughly sixty commands scattered throughout the four gospels.  These deal with both personal behavior and social justice.  Paraphrased among them are the following:  give to the needy; store up treasures in heaven, not earth; you cannot serve God and money; sell your possessions and give the money to the poor (we tend to especially ignore that one); love your neighbor as yourself; the greatest will become the servant and the humble will be exalted; take care of the stranger, the poorly clothed, the sick, the prisoners, the hungry, and the thirsty; be merciful to others; proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick; love your neighbor even though he may be someone very different from yourself – even an outcast; do not store up material possessions; invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to your banquet; feed and take care of my sheep; and love one another.

So what does the Social Gospel have to do with politics and this election season?  Adult II Sunday School is reading a book by Tony Campolo entitled Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics.  The book’s illustrations are dated, but the principles remain valid.  Campolo argues that we should focus on issues, not political party.  Issues today corresponding to Jesus’s commands might include poverty, poor healthcare – mental and physical, income inequities, incarceration, homelessness, violence, and immigration.  Campolo also says we should look to leaders who have lived sacrificially giving them real authority, not just power.  Finally we should be informed.  That is in keeping with Matthew 16:12 which warns us to guard against false teaching.

Advice on Becoming Informed

To conclude this blog, I’ll focus briefly on a new way (at least for me) to become informed.  My wife Catherine has discovered a website that appears to provide an objective assessment of media bias. assesses sources on a seven-point scale from Extreme Left to Extreme Right.  Among the least biased are the following:  Center for Public Integrity, Center for Responsive Politics, the Economist, Roll Call (reports on Congress), Wikipedia, and Oyez Project (on-line collection of Supreme Court decisions).  Considered left-center are the Hill, Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Sojourners, BBC, NPR, CBS, NBC, and ABC.  The right center media groups are the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, and Christianity Today.  On the left are CNN and MSNBC.  On the right are Fox and Liberty News.

Combined with you should be able to ferret out any false information about candidates and political issues.  Good sources strive to be thought-provoking; bad sources just strive to be provoking, to incite outrage.  Read about the issues, think about Christ’s admonitions to us, and vote.


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