Defeating Evil and Getting Rich: Why the Religious Forum Struck a Nerve

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Well, I guess Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw is really starting to rub off on me, because I was surprised by how passionately I reacted to something that was said at the religious forum on Saturday night.

The forum was held at a Rick Warren’s enormous Saddleback Church in California, which has over 20,000 members. During a question and answer period with the pastor, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain were asked to clarify their views on religion and public policy.

My understanding is that the audience was full of evangelicals, people who say they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I watched with only mild interest until Rick Warren, (who I like very much), asked John McCain an excellent question.

 “How should we respond to evil?” asked Warren, "Should we ignore it, negotiate it with it, contain it or defeat it?"

John McCain responded forcefully, “We defeat it!”

The room erupted into a roar of cheers and applause.

McCain then vowed to “chase Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell” if it were necessary. The crowd went wild.

The enthusiastic response of the audience really struck me as out-of-place in a church that claims to teach the Gospel of Jesus.

Jesus said this:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

And the Apostle Paul taught this:

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Jesus stayed true to this message to the point of death on a cross. Even under one of the most repressive regimes in history, Jesus did not start a rebellion. Even when His people called for a warrior for a Messiah, Jesus did not resort to violence. Even in the face of the worst evil ever committed—the slaughter of the innocent Lamb of God—Jesus did not resist, but said, “Father forgive them.” He was showing us that this is how it’s done.  He was showing us what “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” looks like in real life. This is how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, and this is the only way that the world will ever change.

Now, let me clarify:

I understand that the role of the government is to protect its people. And I understand that protecting its people may sometimes require force.  I probably would have felt better if McCain had said, “My role as president will be to protect U.S. citizens from evil as best as I can. But as a Christian, I know that evil cannot ultimately be defeated by military force. It must be overcome with love.”

(Obama gave an answer that was more along those lines.)

 I wasn’t bothered so much by John McCain’s answer to the question, but by the audience’s response.  I seriously cried for about an hour. I felt so alienated from the evangelical culture at that moment, so frustrated by the way the very essence of the gospel was cast aside for the seductive temptation of “ridding the world of evil,” one dead terrorist at a time.

 It seems to me that as a set-apart people, Christians should be wary of cheering on violence as a means to defeating evil, when we know good and well that no amount of killing will ever make evil go away.

Again, maybe it’s just the Shane Claiborne influence, but I felt really uncomfortable with the politics and religion mix.

Later on, I reacted to another statement.

In talking about taxes, John McCain said, “I don’t want to take money from the rich. I want everyone to get rich.”

The audience of Christians erupted into thunderous applause.

But Jesus said this:

 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied….But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”

He also said:      

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despite the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

And then there’s this:

“Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It seems to me that if Christians took Jesus seriously, we would approach wealth with great trepidation, seeing it not as an entitled right, but as a potentially dangerous impediment to the gospel.  It seems to me that the last thing we would want is for everyone to get rich!

Again, it wasn’t really John McCain’s answer that bothered me. Most Americans think of wealth as a right. It was the response of the audience that depressed me so much. Followers of Christ aren’t supposed to be like most Americans. We should be different.

(Let me add here that I struggle A LOT with the whole wealth thing. I love a closet full of cute clothes and a shelf full of books as much as anyone. In this country, it is very very hard not to be seduced by materialism. I am most certainly guilty of it...probably every day.)

At the end of the day, totally understand why evangelicals are pro-life. This makes sense to me. I guess I'm still a little unclear as to why they are pro-war and pro-unrestricted capitalism.

So I guess this “Jesus for President” book has made an impression!

What did you think about the forum?

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