LOPEZ: Is there something confusing to people — even scandalous — about hanging out and joking with people who we believe represent evil policies — abortion, the erosion of religious freedom?
METAXAS: That’s a spectacular question. And the answer is complicated, because ultimately this is a judgment call, with two sides that need to be considered carefully.
On the one hand, God commands us to love our enemies. He makes clear that if we think we are morally superior to them, we are mistaken. In his eyes, we are not, and he loves our enemies because they are children created in his image. If they are wayward children, utterly lost and misguided, it breaks his heart and on some level it should break our hearts too, and motivate us to prayer, not just to anger. Also, the idea that I cannot sit at a table with the purveyors of awful ideas is something like saying Jesus ought not to have spent time among prostitutes and drunkards. That’s what the Pharisees thought. So yes, we are to go to those who need help the most. It’s an opportunity to reach the lost with the love of God.
On the other hand, the Bible clearly says that Christians are to be very careful with whom we associate, that we are to avoid even “the appearance of evil.” So if I’m seen hugging the leader of North Korea, that can send a message that he’s not such a bad guy, and by the way he is a very bad guy. We have to think about the Christians being imprisoned and tortured by him for their faith. So hanging out with Kim Jong Un could be a very bad idea. Billy Graham got in trouble for this very thing, for naïvely letting the Soviets use him in photo ops. And yet Pope John Paul II visited Cuba during Castro’s regime. In my Bonhoeffer book I talk about how Bonhoeffer was disgusted that some Christians still had this naïve idea that Hitler and Himmler could be converted and were making efforts to get personal time with them, when Bonhoeffer said that that time is past, that these men must be assiduously avoided.
So that’s the question: Has the Obama administration’s record on abortion and on religious freedom made it impossible for serious Christians to reach out to them? When do we say: Enough is enough. We will no longer allow you to co-opt us and pretend that you care about these issues when it seems clear from you actions and policies that you don’t? The president’s track record on religious freedom is scary. So yes, I take this seriously. But I don’t think we are to shrink from judiciously reaching out. We are to speak the truth in love and use our judgment and discernment as best we can. We won’t always get it right, but we must try.
LOPEZ: “You must obey God.” Isn’t that a very backward idea, and one that’s antithetical to freedom?
METAXAS: That all depends on who God is and on what freedom is. If God is an authoritarian killjoy, as many think he is, then yes, the idea of obeying him is indeed antithetical to true freedom. But if God is the Author of liberty itself, then obeying Him is not just not antithetical to freedom, it’s the only path to true freedom. And if freedom has been twisted to merely mean “license,” then yes, God is the enemy of mere “license,” which is itself antithetical to true freedom.
LOPEZ: How is prayer “real faith in God . . . not phony religiosity.” Couldn’t it be said that it’s simply talk?
METAXAS: Yes, but it’s honest talk. It’s not highfalutin talk, and so it doesn’t have to be laden with thees and thous. God wants us to talk to him honestly. He loves us and wants to hear from us. He doesn’t want us to feel that if we talk to him we need to get all formal and “religious.” He’s the King of the Universe, but he’s also our heavenly Father who loves us. We’re his sons and daughters, and he wants us to know that and not to fear him. He may be a King, but he’s made a way for us to approach him. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
LOPEZ: How do you know that “He knows the terrible selfish things you have done that have hurt others. And he still loves you”? Is that true, or is it just something that makes us feel better?
METAXAS: It would take more time than we have here to explain the omniscience of God, but everything I have read and understood and observed tells me that the God of the Bible does know everything concerning us and he loves us unconditionally. In fact, he loves us so much that he’s given us the freedom to reject him, which should terrify us.
LOPEZ: You write: “When he was tempted in the desert, who was the one throwing Bible verses at him? Satan. That is a perfect picture of dead religion. Using the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It is grotesque, when you think about it. It is demonic.” Do we do that more often than we realize?
METAXAS: Of course. And we need to remind ourselves over and over that “religious” behavior, like quoting Scriptures or going to church, can sometimes be used for evil ends. It often is used for evil ends. God looks at our hearts and we can’t fool him. We can try to fool other people, but God is not fooled. So whatever we do, we need to do with the love of God. That’s something Satan cannot do, incidentally.
LOPEZ: You also said: “If you believe abortion is wrong, you must treat those on the other side with the love of Jesus.” How can you do that and convert people to your point of view?
METAXAS: To love our enemies is a command, but that doesn’t mean agreeing with them. In fact, it usually involves telling them the truth. But we must communicate in a way that shows God’s love. So if we demonize those with whom we disagree, we negate the message of truth. True love — which must never be mistaken for mere “approval” — is the only thing that can “convert” people to anything. People can ignore logic and they can ignore shouting, but who can ignore love? It’s not so easy. If people see God’s love in us when we disagree with them, there’s a chance of getting through. We have to remember that in God’s eyes, we are no different than that person. There are places in our own lives where we are doing things that are wrong. So we must bring God’s grace and love to bear on the situation, just as we want that to be how others — including God — approach us when we are wrong.
LOPEZ: What’s a “biblical view of sexuality”?
METAXAS: That’s not easily summed up, but in my speech I’m mainly alluding to the idea that sex between anyone other than a married husband and wife is out of God’s will. Clearly this has both heterosexual and homosexual ramifications, but most recently our culture has focused on the latter, and has demonized those who would take a traditional biblical view of the subject.
LOPEZ: How is that view not backward?
METAXAS: You’re implying that all things are evolving in the right direction, but of course that’s just not true. Some old ideas are very, very good and some new ideas are very, very bad. Are Shakespeare’s plays “backward” because they precede the plays of Neil Simon? Is Van Gogh “backward” because he precedes Leroy Neiman? Help me out here.