Essay

In the Land of the Caucuses

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

2 Comments

  • Justin says:

    While I agree with some of your concerns, it seems odd to me that you feel that other Christians are near to slandering you as a Christian because of the positions they hold, yet you've written an entire post that seems aimed at doing precisely that to them. You say you're a big tent Christian, and that if someone says Jesus is Lord they're practically kin. But is this how you treat kin? You have to know some of these people are more thoughtful than you give them credit for. Surely you realize that many of them are very concerned about the poor, but feel that the civil magistrate is not the appropriate instrument for facing those challenges? Surely you know that some of them oppose these things precisely because they think that government intervention in this area has a tendency to marginalize the Church and enslave the poor to the interests of the state? Surely you know that some people believe that helping the poor is best done in the spirit of charity and discipleship by those who will walk alongside them, rather than through confiscatory taxation and bureaucracies? There is a soft slander that occurs when people hold labels and fail to live up to the ideals behind those labels. But there is also a subtle slander that takes the form of using concern and an unflattering portrayal of those you disagree with to make them look silly, unsophisticated and beneath us thinking people.

    I'm also somewhat stunned by your apparent dismissal of abortion as something that shouldn't be an all-in issue. Here you have Christian folks (who you are hesitant to share the label evangelical with) insisting that they will not support a candidate who does not adamantly oppose the murder of the weakest and most helpless in our society (something you were eager to see from them earlier in the post), but it somehow doesn't fit the bill? I don't understand. This was a huge issue for the early church.

  • Steve MVW says:

    Thanks, Justin for the push-back. As “kin,” I think we Christians can be tougher on each other, push, ask hard questions. Kin doesn’t equal “nice.” While this blog is of course available to the whole world, it is primarily an “intramural” affair,an in-house critique. In intramural squabbles, I think, slander is less at play. The slander I feel from conservative Christians in the way they act and are received in the wider public, the perception they leave with the public of what it means to be a Christian. And in public they tend to talk about themselves as the Christian voice, they tend to hog the label “Christian.” I, as a Christian or evangelical, am lumped in with their actions. I’m sure I too besmirch the name of Christ in public, but I’m not the one who is seeking the spotlight as the true Christian. Nor am I the one who puts adjectives before other Christians—as in “so-called” or “lame-stream” or “lukewarm.”

    As for your claim that “many of them are very concerned about the poor, but feel that the civil magistrate is not the appropriate instrument for facing those challenges,” I just plain disagree. Most are not concerned about the poor. I just don’t believe it. I see no evidence for it. A few, maybe you and some others are truly concerned for the poor. I hope so. Yes, the church has a vital role to play in caring for the poor. And if truth be told, all the little mustard-seed efforts done in Christ’s name—soup kitchens, shelters, Habitat for Humanity projects, rent assistance—are greater than anyone knows. Still it is unrealistic and frankly a callous shunning of the poor to say “If the church did its task, the government wouldn’t have to.”

    Finally, abortion. Here especially, I thank you for your prodding. Lumping abortion in with concerns about homosexuality and school prayer, as I did, may make it sound like I think abortion is a shallow, sham issue. I don’t. But to borrow from your own method above, surely you know there are many Christians very saddened by abortion, but who don’t believe the ballot box or constitutional amendments or Supreme Court decisions are the best way to address this issue. Rather they believe that giving women hope for their future and the future their unborn children is the best way for the church to struggle with this issue. For example, George W. Bush was elected as an anti-abortion president but I saw very little done to reduce abortion during his presidency. Instead I now hear about 100,000 dead Iraqis. Doesn’t sound at all pro-life to me.

    And as for abortion being an “all-in” issue, I’m not totally sure I understand what you mean. I believe it is an issue, a tragedy, a genuine Christian concern, but I do not believe it is the paramount issue on which Christians should cast their vote.

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