Separating Church and State: Confessions of an Idolater

In 2011 I was participating in an online Bible study group with some friends. We studied the Bible, prayed for each other, shared struggles and inspirations, and recommended extra-Bible reading.

It was during one of these sessions that one friend recommended the book Radical by David Platt. I downloaded the book to my Kindle and… let it sit there. For over six months. Why? I was put off by the subtitle: “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”

Why did that put me off?

That turned out to be an excellent question to explore.

My faith was wrapped up in the American dream. The two were so coupled that, to me, they seemed one and the same. I was, as I now describe it, an “American Christian.”

Being an American Christian meant that I:

  • voted for one set of candidates, from one party
  • was a consumer of christian culture
  • was a fan of Jesus

I read the book very cautiously. I kept waiting to find the flaw in the logic, the exaggeration, the false positive correlation, the peg on which to hang my reservations and cling to my old rugged ‘Merican dream.

Instead, through much angst, conviction, and (finally) repentance, the Holy Spirit used brother Platt’s words to change my heart. It was perhaps the most powerful transformation since confessing Christ in February 1982.

Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’ve overcome all that now, that I have (finally) arrived. Rather, I want you hear my confession:

I became aware of my sin of idolatry. I was mixing Christian faith with faith in my nation and its government.

The movie The Usual Suspects opens with the line, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It’s an interesting quote that’s applicable to my condition prior to conviction of my idolatry in this manner: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was simply unaware I’d coupled being a conservative American with Christianity.

But I had. It was a kind of blindness, denial, and lack of self-awareness.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

In 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (emphasis mine).

I’m writing this confession because some of you are suffering as I was. I promise I’m not judging you, any more than a physician who tells you that you have the flu is judging you. Like the physician, I want to help.

If you, like me, find yourself believing that your support of our nation is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully examine that belief. Perhaps read the book Radical. Especially if you are a conservative. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American conservatism to become an idol.

Also, if you are not a conservative and you believe that your resistance to the current administration is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully consider that belief. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American liberalism to become an idol.

This is a test. If you agreed with one of the preceding two paragraphs and disagreed with the other, that’s a strong indication you are suffering idolatry.

Many progressive brothers and sisters rightfully champion God’s attributes of justice and love. So do I. More now than ever. God is love and God commands us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (emphasis mine). Although God is love and God is just, love is not God and justice is not God. I humbly submit that it’s possible to misunderstand God’s love (I am Exhibit A) and justice (ditto). It’s possible to put these awesomely good and cool attributes of God ahead of God.

It’s happened before.

In Numbers 21 we have an account of Israel in the wilderness becoming impatient. They complained about Moses and his leadership, and God punished them by sending “fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” At God’s command, Moses made an image of a fiery serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. When people were bitten, they looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

Fast-forward 1,000 years to 2 Kings 18. Hezekiah, king of Israel, destroys the bronze serpent because “until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

The point? God commanded Moses to make something that was perverted into an idol.

Was the bronze serpent evil? Nope.
Did the bronze serpent become an idol? Yep.

I struggle with idolatry daily. When I pray, “Lord, today help me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow You,” I’m asking Jesus to reveal idols in my life, help me put them away, and help me recognize Christ as King of my heart, mind, soul, life, money, work, and everything that I am. My experience in 2012 made it abundantly clear to me how blind I can be to idolatry, and to how insidious a sin idolatry is. Kyle Idelman’s book, Gods at War addresses idolatry. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more.

Something to consider: Idolatry might just be the root sin of every sin.