Keep It Simple

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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

 

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Showing 13 comments
  • Avatar
    Walter Hansen
    Reply

    Jesus complicated our lives in his Great Commission by the phrase “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I wonder how your single issue politician applies our Lord’s teaching to care for the “least of these:” the hungry, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I think my single issue politician would say Jesus never had to win an election. If focusing on one of those issues would get my young politician elected, he would craft his message around that but he knows, as you say, that would complicate things considerably.

  • Avatar
    Cathy Primer Krafve
    Reply

    Thank you, Fred. This is excellent, as usual, sir. Timely.

  • Avatar
    Nancy Crawford
    Reply

    Best article I have read in a while and perfectly matches my experience of growing up in the 50’s. Thank you so much for writing it. i have spent most of my adult life learning to let go of “single issues”. It has be quite liberating, to say the least.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Nancy. We can be grateful for so much of what shapes us and at the same time leave parts of it behind without anger.

      • Fred Smith
        Fred Smith
        Reply

        Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate your reading it!

    • Avatar
      Tony
      Reply

      Fred, this is disenchanting news! Does this mean “simple answers for complex problems “ is not Always a great strategy ?

      • Fred Smith
        Fred Smith
        Reply

        I have complex answers for simple problems.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Nancy. I had thought there might be some pushback but really not much – and that makes me happy!

  • Avatar
    John Willome
    Reply

    Since you didn’t mention what the single issue was by name, I tried to write my comment by leaving it out, but I couldn’t. Sorry.

    I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a friend who is a single-issue voter based on abortion (although, he supports many other ideas as well that I believe would also drive him to a similar voting decision, but abortion is the deal-breaker). I told him that I’ve wondered a lot about what dominoes get knocked over if abortion is outlawed in the United States. Will those who are pro-life (and I’m talking about myself here too) think our work is done and walk away, or will we be ready to help the children who will not be born and their mothers? Are we ready? What is our plan? The answer, which scares me, is there is no plan. We’ve grown so used to just complaining about that court decision and trying to overturn it, we have lost sight of what it will mean for those children who will now be born. Our focus is very one-dimensional. For those who are pro-life and pray about this issue, we need to be like the person who brings an umbrella to a prayer meeting for rain in the middle of a drought. We need to do the work now to help those who are already born to difficult, at-risk situation and then be ready to ramp up when there is a surge in those types of children and parents due to an outlawing of abortion.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      You are right about my not limiting the focus to one issue. There are several, of course, but none as divisive as abortion. That would have hijacked the blog, I think. That said, I agree with your concerns and it’s worth serious conversations by everyone.

      We are on our way to Kerrville for the week-end.

  • Avatar
    Bryan
    Reply

    Yes there is more than one issue. However some issues are more important than others. The shedding of innocent blood ( ie abortion and infanticide) in scripture brings judgement on a nation. You can tell a lot about a candidate how they advocate for abortion etc. which Biden- Harris certainly militantly do. God will judge individual candidates for personality issues ie Trump, but he will judge our nation for the promotion of killing the innocents. Of course the liberal left never gets accused of being single issue when indeed Barrett is being opposed for that very reason of being pro life. If this was meant to shame us for being pro life focused. It did not work. While it may not have been the intent it seemed like a veiled attempt to.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Bryan – You open up so many issues here! God’s judgment on nations. Single most important issues. Personal judgment. Left and right. Shame. Let me just address one. I agree with you that some issues are more important than others and that making certain issues a priority is just fine. I was not addressing abortion. I was addressing the danger of making all your decisions based on a single issue – whether it is abortion, Second Amendment, Supreme Court appointees, or anything else.

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