Review: Hijacked

February 3rd, 2012

Hijacked, by Mike Slaughter, Charles Gutenson, and Robert P. Jones, is a summons; a call to the "evangelical church" to recognize that its close identification with the far political right is undermining its outreach and needlessly compromising its mission. Hijacked challenges the church to wake up and see that there is “a new generation of Christians who are seeking a way that is neither left nor right, red nor blue. They are striving together to reclaim the radical and inclusive mission of Jesus by tearing down the partisan divides that separate us" (p. 31). God is greater than the partisan politics so prominent in our divided nation and the church has an opportunity, in the midst of this profound ideological divide, to offer an alternative that rises above the partisan divide. We are called by Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, to be God's peacemakers in the midst of conflict. We are called by Christ to love our neighbors, even the ones who disagree with us. Indeed, Hijacked challenges its readers, to follow the age old adage: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity. It is a summons to civility in a season of pronounced political division.

Hijacked traces the partisan political alliance of the evangelical church with the political right divide to the leadership of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Kennedy, and James Dobson. Each of them, in their own way, led the evangelical church to identify itself with the conservative politics of the far right wing of the American political spectrum. According to these icons of the right, to be a loyal Christian, you must be a faithful conservative. There is no other choice. This book takes issue with this uncritical loyalty to the "religious right." As Christians, our ultimate loyalty must be to God alone; God is greater than any political party. We must be continually vigilant to never let our faith be "hijacked" by any political ideology. Blind loyalty is not a virtue. (A lesson Christians of all political stripes should take to heart).

Hijacked challenges the perspective presented by former Fox TV commentator Glenn Beck who directed his listeners to "run as fast as you can" from any church that addresses issues of "social justice" or "economic justice." "Go find another parish,” he said, and "alert your bishop." The authors challenge Beck's perspective by pointing out that Scripture calls us to care for the oppressed and lift up the cause of the poor, the widow, the alien and the orphan. The book also challenges the perspective put forward by Dr. James Kennedy and promoted by many evangelical leaders, that America's "form of democracy is ordained by God and our Constitution is 'Spirit-breathed.'" It also rejects the common practice of placing the U.S. flag in church sanctuaries. "The church stands in prophetic tension with all earthly political systems and becomes corrupted when used in a supportive role for political ideologies of flag or color." "The church," according to Hijacked, "does not represent the United States or any other nation of the world. The church represents the Kingdom of God." (p. 104).

Chapter five, "Escaping the Ideological Bubble," is especially useful. Its headings include: Be Aware; Select News Sources with Care; Don't Be Seduced by Sound Bites; Do Not Allow the Loudness of the Presentation to Trump the Soundness of the Argument; Do Not Allow Anecdotal Evidence to Outweigh Statistical Assessment; Do Not Let Nonexperts Convince you they are the Experts; and Consider the Broader, Historical Christian Tradition.

The book does have some limitations.

As a United Methodist (a tradition I share with the authors) I would have liked to see mention of the United Methodist Church's Social Principles. The Social Principles, while not church law, do represent the current position of the church and provide a good "jumping off point" for groups or individuals wanting to delve into some of the most difficult and complex issues of our day. Discussions like these can help shift the church's approach away from partisan loyalties to prayerful, studied issue analysis, strengthening both the church's understanding of issues and its public witness concerning issues. Similarly, I think the book also would have been strengthened by pointing readers to the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral," which uses four tools—Scripture, tradition, reason and experience—as a guide for analyzing difficult issues from a faith perspective. An ethical analysis recognizing the value of each of these four analytical tools would have been especially helpful in the section that presents liberal versus conservative understandings of homosexuality (p. 72-75).

Finally, Hijacked would have benefited from a section lifting up the scriptural call to faithfully pray for those who are in leadership roles. Prayer can be a unifying tool, moving participants to assume a posture of humility before God. It leads us to acknowledge shared need. It can remind us that our world's leaders have very difficult jobs, especially during trying times. Leaders need prayers for wisdom and guidance, grace and strength. The church should also be aware that prayer, itself, can be "hijacked" by persons wanting to promote a particular partisan agenda under the guise of "prayer." This is not true prayer. True prayer, sincere prayer for our world's leaders and the challenges they face could be for our churches a healthy, unifying practice, which every Christian should gladly embrace.

Hijacked is a provocative book, a prophetic challenge to the church in America. We need to take a hard look at ourselves in light of Scripture and consider again the motivation behind the political positions we take. Church should be a place where we can consider openly and honestly the most difficult issues our society is facing, and seek to understand them in the light of the gospel of Christ. It should not be a partisan tool of any political party, right or left.

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