Keep It Simple
Listen to “Keep It Simple” by Fred Smith
“Thank God the evangelicals are a single issue bloc of voters. I don’t know what we would do were they not.”
My friend, the aspiring politician, had read the tea leaves, put his finger to the wind, and digested all the polls for coming to that conclusion making it easier for him to send the right message. In some areas of his district, he would not even spend money and time campaigning as long as the religious voters knew he was solid on that single issue. Nothing else mattered. Find the one issue about which they were united regardless of their other differences in denomination, worship, theology, and history. Pound away on that one point and they are yours at the polls.
Where did evangelicals learn to be single issue voters? When did evangelicals decide to collapse all their other differences and conclude there is but one thing that matters?
In church. That’s where we learned to believe in single issues.
Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in church there was no doubt about the point of the sermon. While the context could have been Leviticus and the dietary laws or the genealogies in Numbers, it was a foregone conclusion that somewhere near the end of the sermon the direction would shift to a call for personal conversion. Without the invitation at the end of the sermon we had not been to church and the preacher had not done his job. I’ve written before about Mrs. Perkins in my small Baptist church who was forever fearful she was not right with God.
Mrs. Perkins stepped out from her pew and walked down the aisle of our Baptist church to rededicate her life on a regular basis – almost monthly. It was a mystery to those of us who knew her to be one of the kindest and godliest people in the congregation. Sunday School teacher, model wife and mother, and a light in our dark adolescence, we were confused. In time, we figured out the pattern. Whenever the pastor ended the service with, “If you were to die tonight, would you know for sure where you will spend eternity?” Mrs. Perkins rushed to the altar. Even in her 80’s and a baptized member of the church her entire life, she had not resolved that question.
Every missionary visiting would tell of their progress in completing the Great Commission. The budgets and programs were heavily weighted toward supporting foreign missions. Evangelical philanthropy was shaped by the compelling challenge of bringing millions of people around the world to Christ. On the radio and early television we would listen to evangelists telling us how they were “reaching the lost at any cost” and “only what counts for Christ will last.” Of course, we all knew what counted for Christ. It was evangelism, bringing friends to church, supporting missions, and personal witnessing.
The New Simplicity
Where did we learn to be single-issue people? In church, at home, in Christian schools and colleges, mission conferences, and crusades. Virtually every part of the Christian life was focused on bringing the lost to Christ and at the same time bringing in the Kingdom of God.
However, at some point, the clarity of that calling began to fray. Added now to the motivating force of reaching the world and “then the end would come” there were Christians talking about other issues in an increasingly complex world. They were preaching that Christ also said, “Occupy until I come” and shifting the entire focus from “bringing in the sheaves” to a new awareness of what it meant to “rescue the perishing.” The perishing were not just the unsaved but the poor, the disenfranchised, the overlooked and locked up. The single issue was fracturing into many and we were adrift in complexity. Everything around us had changed. There was no “one thing needful” or most important commandment to rally around.
No one can dispute the power of thousands of congregations and millions of people gathered around a single priority. Organizations, institutions, publishing companies, music industries, and an entire economy grew up around a single issue and while there is no disclaiming the amount of good accomplished, it, like all grand ideas, lost its dominating force. It was not just one change in the world but many that made people brought up exclusively on the Great Commission look for something to replace it and make things simple again. There needed to be one idea, even one enemy around which they could focus their energy. Not five things. Not even two. We needed the organizing force of one thing. We needed to capture the new simplicity.
So, here we are, making my friend’s run for office so much easier. He has found his story to tell and his Christian soldiers. Somehow, I don’t feel better about that.
Art by Esra Gülmen