688) A Politically Inconvenient Truth

by Alexander Griswold, 9-25-13 at:  www.juicyecumenism.com

     The Constitution of Virginia bans the imposition of any religious tests on candidates for office.  In fact, Virginia was fairly ahead of the curve, as one of two states that banned religious tests before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  But many in the media world must have failed to get the memo.  Apparently, they believe only Unitarian Universalists are fit for office.  That seems to be the only fair interpretation of the media outrage surrounding recent comments by E.W. Jackson, Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

     In addition to his political role, Jackson is also a pastor and founder of the nondenominational church Exodus Faith Ministries.  In his role as a pastor, Jackson gave a sermon over the weekend at the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasburg, Virginia.  During the sermon, a Democratic operative recorded him saying the following:

Any time you say, ‘There is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion,’ that’s controversial.  But it’s the truth.  Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light.  No man comes unto the Father but by me.’

     A number of left-leaning outlets picked up on Jackson’s comments about ‘false religion’ and ran with it, highlighting it as yet another in a long line of controversial statements from the candidate.  Often, the reporting of Jackson’s comments was downright deceitful.  “Jews Follow ‘False Religion’ Says Virginia Candidate” was The Jewish Week’s headline, giving the false impression that Jackson singled out Jews for criticism…  Other outlets running with Jackson’s comments include The Huffington Post, The Richmond-Times Dispatch, The Washington Post, and liberal blog ThinkProgress.  All of them seemed to take for granted that Jackson’s comments were worthy of widespread national coverage…

     Even Jackson recognized his comments would be controversial.  But the basic nitty-gritty of what he said ought to be noncontroversial.  The vast majority of world religions claim a monopoly on the truth of the most important tenets of their faith.  Many Christians recognize that other faiths might contain some elements of truth, such as a belief in the God of Abraham or moral imperatives to love ones neighbor.  But the specific issue Jackson was discussing, Christ as the only means of salvation, is essential to the faith.  If you pushed even most liberal Christian ministers, they’d have to admit that religions that deny Christ’s divinity or his role in salvation are “false” on those issues.

     Christians are called to preach God’s Word, and that Word is pretty clear on the authoritative truth of the Bible.  Preaching necessarily means calling attention to the differences between Christianity and other faith traditions.  If Jackson did anything wrong, it was failing to preach the Gospel in a conciliatory way and using language that might repel nonbelievers.  No one likes being told they’re following a “false religion.”  But I find it hard to criticize Jackson even on that count, given that his comments were secretly recorded from a sermon given to a crowd of churchgoing Christians, not in a public interfaith forum.  Pastors also have a responsibility to reinforce the fidelity and conviction of their flocks, which may require harsh denunciation of common heresies.  For all we know, when Jackson speaks to members of another faith he softens his language.

     But even if one were to take issue with Jackson’s strong language, similar phrases are scattered throughout the Bible.  Jesus Himself denounces “false prophets” in the Sermon on the Mount, claiming nothing good can come from them: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:17-19).”  By comparison, Jackson sounds downright liberal.  In total, the NIV Bible contains sixteen references to “false god(s),” twenty-three to “false prophet(s),” four to “false teacher(s),” and yes, even a solitary reference to “false religion.”

     It’s worth noting that many of the outlets critical of Jackson have also bemoaned the lack of openly atheist politicians in America.  By definition, atheists believe ALL organized religions are false.  Why is a Christian who professes that non-Christian religions are “false” so much more offensive than an atheist who says the same, but includes Christianity?  Perhaps it’s because Jackson doesn’t buy into the relativistic view that all religions are more or less equal.  While atheism holds every religion in equal contempt, Jackson unfashionably believes in one religion, while disbelieving in the rest…  In the end, Jackson’s transgression isn’t any specific religious beliefs; it’s that he holds any to begin with.

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John 14:5-6  —  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Psalm 4:2  —  How long will you people turn my glory into shame?  How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Erasmus

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