The following is Cameron Strang’s First Word column from the November/December issue of RELEVANT.
In August, I was invited to pray at the Democratic National Convention. The invitation came as a surprise, considering I’m not famous, not a minister, not a Democrat and have differences with the party on several issues.
But the Democrats have been proactively addressing some moral issues that should be of concern to all Christians. I thought, what if more Christians would be willing to cross party battle lines and work through disagreements to champion issues of common good—ones that should be bipartisan anyway? Maybe together we could rise above the political fray and see lasting change happen.
And, after all, I’m a nobody who would probably get the 2 p.m. workshop prayer slot. I’d be no big deal. So, I accepted. Then, a week later, they told me I’d be giving the benediction on the opening night of the convention, as part of the national broadcast. That changed the stakes a bit. What I would have intended as a bridge-building gesture would have been seen by millions as an unequivocal endorsement, which I wasn’t comfortable with, considering my differences with the party on issues like abortion legislation.
Nevertheless, I was interested in continuing a positive dialogue behind the scenes and challenging the campaign to address issues of concern to Christians like us. For instance, if we can’t agree on abortion legislation, can we at least work together to proactively reduce the number of abortions? You have to be present to have a voice. So, I withdrew from giving the prayer and instead participated in a forum discussing these issues. It was a positive dialogue, and frankly, I wish the Republican convention had done something similar.
You would not believe the firestorm of calls, email and media attention that followed me during that journey. Thousands on the fringe right wing sent me emails ranging from all the reasons I’m going to hell for even talking to Democrats, to actual pictures of aborted children. On the other extreme, after pulling out of the prayer, I was accused by the extreme left for being a coward and representing all that’s wrong with Christianity. It was an interesting few weeks, to say the least, and yet another reason I’m glad the hate-filled political season is over four days after this issue hits newsstands.
Some critics used the invitation (and my willingness to initially accept it) to “prove” that RELEVANT has gotten too liberal, that we’ve chosen a works-driven social gospel over promoting a relationship with God. And while I acknowledge the magazine has begun covering harder-hitting issues over the last year—as well as spotlighting people who are living counterculturally, giving their lives to make a tangible, eternal difference in the world—I strongly disagree that this is a liberal shift. The spiritual foundation of our magazine is unchanged. We believe the Bible is the only complete and infallible written Word of God.
We believe God is moving and still speaks to us today. And we believe Jesus came to provide eternal salvation to a lost and dying world. It is actually a better understanding of our faith in Christ that compels us to care about the social issues we’ve been covering. If Jesus said it, we believe it. If Jesus modeled it, we want to live it. If Jesus commanded it, we want to obey it. We believe everything Jesus practiced and preached is as relevant for us today as it was at the time of Christ’s earthly life.
Jesus stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. Ultimately, he gave His life to save those who could not save themselves. And we should model the same mindset today. My primary disagreement with the Democratic party, and the source of so much of the controversy I experienced, is my belief that life begins at conception, and it is our moral duty to protect innocent lives. To me, that is not just a matter of faith; it is a matter of objective fact. “Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction, but a demand of justice,” Cardinal Justin Rigali reminded pro-choice Catholic candidate Joe Biden in September.
However, and this is where many on the right miss it, the example Jesus set for us to stand up for the defense of the innocent does not end at birth. Just as they do for abortion, Christians should be on the forefront of standing against things that take millions of innocent lives around the world every day—systemic poverty, preventable disease, unnecessary wars, slavery, genocide. The list goes on.
In April 1859, Abraham Lincoln wrote these words in a letter to Henry Pierce: “This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.” It’s simple, folks: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Christians shouldn’t just be known for being “pro-life,” a term which will never be disassociated from 1990’s abortion clinic bombers. Instead, we need to embrace a more holistic definition of Christ’s love and example. We need to be “whole-life.”
Whole-life means standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It means seeing a need, like Scott Harrison did (pg. 60) and giving your life to serve it. It also means more everyday things, like being conscious consumers and not supporting companies that subject people to illegal, exploitative working conditions, or promote slavery, like our cover story uncovers. Being whole-life means living out Jesus’ example in our world today—fighting injustice, promoting life, being good stewards of our natural and financial resources, and showing God’s love in a tangible way. A Christian’s compulsion to stand for what’s right should be far deeper than someone who does not have faith in Jesus.
To dismiss these as liberal issues is to miss the very heart of God. It’s only our Western, partisan mentality that has blinded us from this practical application of scriptural living.