Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham and senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is once again claiming “that evangelical Christianity has been tarnished by its association with the religious right.” Tarnished by whom? Who is making this claim and where are they getting their information to formulate an opinion?
“Over the course of the last 20 or 30 years,” he told co-hosts of the MSNBC program ‘Morning Joe,’ “evangelicalism, specifically their association with the religious right and conservative politics, has done more damage to the brand of Christianity than just about anything else.”
Christians did not designate themselves as part of a movement called the “religious right.” That was the media’s take on Christian social and political involvement. The use of “left” and “right” to describe political associations goes back hundreds of years. There are two political parties in the United States, and the Republican Party was more open to evangelicals and their moral worldview.
After the 1973 pro-abortion decision, should Christians have stood by as more than a million unborn babies were killed each year? Was it a mistake for evangelical pastors to oppose abortion publicly and to speak out on the sin and horror of abortion from the pulpit?
Was it wrong for English politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and his fellow Christians to bring Christian moral principles to bear on the kidnapping and enslavement of human beings? “He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.”
Weren’t these efforts part of the “good news,” the very definition of “evangelical,” for those who were freed from slavery? Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:15-23). Speaking out against injustice is the heart and soul of the gospel. James writes that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-18). Do good works stop at the church door?
Tchividjian told the Morning Joe crew, “That’s not to say that Christian people don’t have opinions on social issues and we shouldn’t speak those opinions, but Sunday morning from behind the pulpit is not the place.” If not the pulpit, then where?
He would have to skip over vast sections of Scripture in his preaching not to address social issues like abortion, slavery, education, taxation, civil injustice, same-sex sexuality, and war.
Tullian Tchividjian needs to gain a sense of pulpit history to understand the centrality of the pulpit:
“Unlike modern mass media, the sermon stood alone in local New England contexts as the only regular (at least weekly) medium of public communication. As a channel of information, it combined religious, educational, and journalistic functions, and supplied all the key terms necessary to understand existence in this world and the next. As the only event in public assembly that regularly brought the entire community together, it also represented the central ritual of social order and control.”1
Pastor Tullian Tchividjian makes the mistake of assuming that the opinions of non-evangelicals are based on accurate information. Where do non-Christians generally get their news? Mostly from woefully misinformed and prejudiced secular sources. I’ve done interviews with liberal journalists, and I can tell you that most of them are neither honest nor knowledgeable when it comes to the topic of religion when moral absolutes are on the table. See my article “My Experience with Red-Meat Journalism” for several examples.
How did the enemies of Jesus represent Jesus before Pontius Pilate? They lied:
“Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’ So Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’ But they kept on insisting, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place’ (Luke 23:1-5).
It was propaganda, misinterpretation, character assassination much like we hear today from secular news sources that often shape the opinions of what non-Christians think of evangelicals and their political concerns which are minimal.
Christians who are involved politically don’t want to “take over the government.” They want to shrink the size of government, and that’s a huge threat both political parties.
Jesus said very little about politics. He healed sick people, raised the dead, forgave sinners, and fed thousands. You can’t get any more evangelical than that, and yet they wanted Him dead (John 8:59; 10:33; Matt. 26:62-66; John 5:18).
It can be said that no matter what Christians do there always will be people who will oppose their message if it requires a change in a person’s moral worldview. Does the gospel offend? You bet it does (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Gal. 5:11; Rom. 9:33), but not if it doesn’t mention sin. Remember, “everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), whether it’s practiced by your neighbor or a civil official (Mark 6:14-29; 2 Sam. 12).
People will find any excuse not to believe and attack the message and the messengers (Acts 5:17-32; 7:54-60; 12:1-4; 17:1-3, 16-34).
Pastor Tchividjian goes on to say,
“As a preacher, my job when I stand up on Sunday mornings to preach, is not first and foremost to address social ills or social problems or try to find social solutions. My job is to diagnose people’s problems and then announce God’s solution to their problems.”
If not “first and foremost,” then how about “second” or even “third”? What should a pastor do when he comes across passages that have social and political ramifications? Does the pastor skip over them and tell his congregation that these types of issues don’t concern Christians, and if they do there can’t be any political engagement?
I’m sorry to have to say it, but Pastor Tchividjian is part of the problem. The day may come when the State shuts down his church for non-compliance with government edicts that he refused to address from the pulpit. Then what will he do?
- Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 3.
“Over the span of the colonial era, American ministers delivered approximately 8 million sermons, each lasted one to one-and-a-half hours. The average 70-year old colonial churchgoer would have listened to some 7,000 sermons in his or her lifetime, totaling nearly 10,000 hours of concentrated listening. This is the number of classroom hours it would take to receive ten separate undergraduate degrees in a modern university, without ever repeating the same course! . . . The colonial sermon was prophet, newspaper, video, Internet, community college, and social therapist all wrapped in one. Such was the range of its influence on all aspects of life that even contemporary television and personal computers pale in comparison.” Harry S. Stout, “How Preachers Incited Revolution,” Christian History, Issue 50 (Spring 1996), 3. [↩]