How to succeed in primaries (and lose in life)

Political primaries are intended to be a “survival of the fittest” ordeal.  If you have the stamina, popular support and financial backing to win state contests and accumulate delegates, presumably you would make a worthy nominee.  As far as such things go, it’s probably as good a process as any, and better than most.

There is a problem, though (and I’m not speaking about just the Democrats here, who are actively involved in the primary process this year; in a different year the Republicans would be exactly the same). One of the traits that helps a species in the wild or a candidate on the stump survive is adaptability.  Conditions change.  Available resources change.  A weasel, buzzard or lizard (no personal attacks on any particular candidate or candidates in general should be inferred from my entirely random selection of animal species) that thrives on warm sunny days but cannot tolerate the cold and damp will either adapt or die.  The strong ones adapt.  The weak ones wind up on Sierra Club posters.

Politicians are even less fortunate.  Primaries are like Chinese buffets; we love to have a wide variety of choices, but eventually we just want to put something on our plates and be done with it.  Dying candidates seldom receive life support, either from donors or the media.  We enjoy the variety of options in the beginning, but before long we want to thin out the herd.  And we will typically take every opportunity to do so.

So, adaptation becomes paramount.  The proper action or statement in one situation may be different from, or even contradictory to, what is best in another situation.  You’re in Oregon?  Stress your commitment toward environmentalism.  Now you’re in West Virginia?  Promise to protect coal miners.  I actually like the quote from former presidential candidate Al Gore (I couldn’t find it, so I am working from memory here) regarding his attitude toward tobacco.  He said, basically, “If you’re talking about the cash crop that provides a living for thousands of my fellow Tennesseans, I’m for it; if you’re talking about the poisonous weed that gave my sister lung cancer and eventually killed her, I’m against it.”  It’s a trap question.  You might as well jump in with both feet; maybe you can get a laugh out of it.

A cynical observer might say that this process refines one of the most important aspects of the work of the president: to deflect blame and criticism in the face of undeniable facts, and emerge unscathed.  But I digress.

If adaptation is advantageous in the short term (getting the necessary votes to move forward in the process), it may be disadvantageous in the long term.  Most of us, I think, would rather be remembered for who we were rather than what we did.  And furious flip-flopping from one position to another leaves our true identity in serious question.  Did we ever really believe in anything?  Did we ever really stand for something?  Are we leaving a legacy of values or of lies?

Living for Jesus is not a pragmatic exercise.  It does not evolve — at least, not beyond certain basic parameters.  We can grow in our faith, certainly (2 Peter 3:18).  But we grow our faith in the same way we came to faith in the first place — through exposure to the gospel (Romans 10:17).  The gospel given to the apostles is the only gospel (Jude 3).  Alternative gospels are anathema (Galatians 1:8-9).  Those who teach them will be destroyed (2 Peter 2:1).  We can “micro-evolve” to the point where we are sharing video sermons on the internet instead of writing letters on sheets of papyrus and sending them out via donkeys.  But if those sermons do not preach the only gospel with the power to save (Romans 1:16), they will not bring a single soul closer to heaven — regardless of the vehicle of choice.

The world, on the other hand, evolves constantly — even daily, it seems.  Attitudes toward marriage, proper behavior, speech patterns and other aspects of daily life are constantly in flux.  That is neither good nor bad; it is inevitable.  But from time to time, these changing attitudes make inroads into our walk with Jesus Christ.  Divorce becomes more acceptable and even advisable, in violation of Matthew 19:9 and other passages.  Ungodly behavior is embraced and celebrated, as with every other culture that has rejected God’s word (Romans 1:28-32).  Course, vulgar speech like that described in Ephesians 5:3-4 becomes trendy, and those who reject it are thought to be stodgy, rooted in the past, and antiquated.

We are given a choice in these circumstances: remain rooted in the truth of the gospel, or force the gospel to evolve along with the world.  Many Christians choose the latter, and they very well may see numerical growth and satisfied, happy souls in the pews every Sunday.  If so, they will almost certainly see the “success” of their approach as vindication.  But Jesus never rationalized rebellion based on its popularity.  And deliberately subverting the truth of the gospel for personal agendas, however well-intentioned we may think them to be, is rebellion.  Jesus constantly chastened and turned away would-be followers because of their refusal to do exactly what He said in exactly His way (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 9:57-62; Luke 18:22-23; John 6:24-26).  We are short-sighted and arrogant to think He will adopt a different attitude with us.

I hope and pray we take the pure and noble approach to life in Jesus, rather than the pragmatic one.  Making up our philosophy as we go will likely get us out of uncomfortable situations (or into comfortable ones) today; however, we will answer to God eventually.