When I was growing up, I loved to play sports in our urban neighborhood. To compensate for the crowded conditions, cars, and by-passers, we often used rubber or waffle balls. The minute we played with a regulation baseball, everything had to change---our location, our clothes, and, most of all, our attitudes. The game became serious. Hardball was exciting and explosive. It was an adult game, played for fame and fortune. Skill could really count.
As I have thought about the Church today, I realize that we must make some clear choices. Sports, cinema, music, education, business, the arts, and politics are all fields with the potential to explosively impact the culture. The Church can choose to play hardball in each one of these arenas. If we make the choice to step up to the plate, are we ready to make the big play?
For some reason, the political realm seems to be the most elusive area for true Christian authority. Perhaps our problem is that we only desire to support the good guys. In the quagmire of real-world political struggles there often are no good guys. Instead of siding with the championship team which is morally superior, the Church is forced to deal with the lesser of two evils.
In these situations, we may wait for one side to do the right thing or keep a promise that they have no real intention of keeping. The Church may need to take the lead, declare what it wants, and enforce its will in a world filled with conmen and imposters.
Lets reflect on the last two years. Many of us voted our consciences and values in the 2004 elections. With unprecedented unity, the sleeping giant (the U.S. church) rallied to protect traditional marriage and limit abortion-on-demand. Black and white, rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant together staved off an all-out attack on our nations most deeply held traditions. Just after the election, we applauded ourselves because of our unified heroic effort. Naively though, we have been lulled back to sleep. Weve been waiting for someone else to step up and take the lead.
In my mind, President Bush was supposed to lead the Republican Congress to reverse the damage done by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Instead, he began to champion Social Security reform and issues which had nothing to do with the moral mandate he received from the Christian community. Was I disappointed?
As an African American, I have been called Uncle Tom and other racial slurs by many in my own community because of my support for George Bush. My allegiance was not simply to President Bush. My allegiance is ultimately to Jesus Christ and a biblical standard of morality.
I feel betrayed by one party and disrespected by the other. I must honestly confess that I have had to resist the temptation to be angry with presidential handlers such as Karl Rove. They received our votes and support without delivering on their promise of moral reform. I have concluded that no one else can do the Churchs job of calling our society back to moral accountability. Not withstanding the important strides made by confirming conservative judges, protecting traditional marriage may only be possible in the next three to five years.
The question of the hour is, Are we only playing waffle ball while thinking we are competing in the major leagues? The words of Jesus in Luke 16:8 ring in my head. the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. These words suggest that believers are often unaware of how lame and ineffective they are until it is too late. Fortunately, theres no spiritual law against asking for wisdom and taking prudent action.
If the Church is to play political hardball, she must set a clear agenda and demand both parties to comply. The nation is poised to believe that the Republican Party is a party of faith. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Abrahamoff scandal and other recent disclosures suggest that the Church must be its own voice. The Christian community cannot rely upon a fraudulent and deceptive system to represent the social agenda of the King of Kings. On the other hand, we have to work within the real systems of the day. Essentially we must not let any party take us for granted. We must hold parties and candidates accountable to follow through on our agenda.
To do this, we must get involved in the nitty-gritty level of the political world. Voter registration, campaign contributions, campaign volunteer efforts, voting in both primaries and general elections are just a start. Lets roll up our sleeves and engage our culture with a good old fashioned game of hardball!
Bishop Harry Jackson is the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland (www.thehopeconnection.org). He is also chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition (www.himpactus.com), the nonprofit organization which drafted the Black Contract with America on Moral Values.