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So what do I think?

March 23, 2012

Taking polls, and interpreting polls, seems to be trending toward an American obsession of late.  In politics is seems that leaders and candidates need a poll to find out what they think about the various issues of the day.  I have this ludicrous picture in my head of a politician rushing into the office of his assistant saying “Quick!  Commission a poll on this and let me know what I think about it before the day is out!”

Concurrent with this ever-increasing poll frenzy in politics is another obsession, the desire to understand “the evangelical vote.”  As the would-be Republican challengers to President Obama slog through primary after primary we are treated to continual interviews with “experts” trying to figure out what “evangelicals” think.  Political leaders try and capture us and many church and parachurch leaders want to speak for us. 

I confess that I, for one, find myself wincing every time I hear the phrase “the evangelical vote.”  How in the world did such a fine word as evangelical, a word indicating we are bearers of good news, become a voting block?  I wince still more when our culture, and even more our churches, develop lists of things I must believe if I want to use that term for myself.  It is not surprising to me that many Christians respond by dropping the word evangelical and others retreat to silence on their actual views.

It comes as no shock to me to learn that polls are being taken not only to learn what we evangelicals think but also to learn what the public at large thinks about us.  Just this week the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a poll showing that the trend of people increasingly believing that the church should stay out of politics that has been going on for a few years crossed a milestone.  For the first time a majority of Americans (54%) feel that the church needs to stay out.  It is not rocket science to predict that this trend will continue.

It seems the culture war is on at full speed and everyone needs to choose a side ASAP.  Even today there are “Stand Up For Religious Freedom” rallies planned in 131 cities across our nation.  And yet it gets increasingly hard to understand how this war started, who started it, and who is winning.  The only person I’ve heard of who seems clear he is “winning” is Charlie Sheen.  In the culture war both sides seems sure they are under attack from the dastardly other side and merely defending themselves.

There is one thing in the polls about evangelicals that interests me however.  Increasingly, particularly among younger evangelicals, we are getting harder to stereotype.  On traditional “evangelical” positions some are trending up in support and others trending down.  This encourages me because I see it as a sign that my younger brothers and sisters are thinking more for themselves and less willing to be told what they believe.

But still the culture war rages and I am told I need to take a side.  So here it is – I am going to follow one  of the longest standing positions of faith on war issues.  I’ve decided that I am a conscientious objector in the culture wars.  I don’t see the culture war as for me.  I am not judging my culture warrior brethren, nor the 54% of Americans who say we should stay out of politics.  I just have no interest in choosing a side.

I am well aware of the long history of scorn and ridicule that gets heaped on conscientious objectors in our society.  It is the warriors that are defending our (in this case religious) freedom!  OK, fine.  Our nation has another long-standing position on CO status – alternative service.  I am only too glad to comply and to engage the ills of our world.  Maybe I can go behind enemy lines in the culture war and tell the other guys about Jesus?

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