The shepherd was outfoxed by Fox.
John MacArthur ended up on Tucker Carlson Tonight to explain the most important reason for the church he leads, Grace Community Church, refusing to stay closed during the COVID-19 lockdown in his home state of California.
So Tucker Carlson begins with a bit of a crack at the local Democrat political leaders, and the fact that a liberal denomination is right behind the shut down. Which he presumably disagrees with.
And then he opens with this juicy slow ball question just ripe to be hit to the boundary (or into the bleachers):
“Thanks for coming on. Give us a quick overview of why you think you should reopen.”
To which MacArthur replied:
Thanks Tucker, well first and foremost it’s a gospel decision. Jesus is king and he rules his gathered people by His Word. We gather because our hope is in the gospel of the coming king and kingdom, and there is a day appointed for the king’s return at which point every president, prime minister and prince will bow the knee.
“Go on,” said Carlson, settling in and looking interested, “We’ve got a half hour slot to discuss this, so we may as well unpack the nuances of the debate.”
Well, Tucker, once we stop meeting together as God’s people, the risk is that we lose sight of the fact that this world is NOT all there is. We lose sight of the fact that God’s people are to honour the government – even if we disagree with it – because we realise even at its worst, it has been placed there by God. We “fear” God, and hence we can honour the “king”, so to speak. We acknowledge the legitimacy of our governmental system, even if not its totality. That means we can give up our rights for the sake of a good witness before a watching world, which already thinks that the church has pulled the rights lever once too often.
Course he didn’t say that. He had two and a half minutes on Fox News, which is one half of the voice-piece of the US culture wars. Given that short soundbite (and remember the medium is the message), MacArthur said this:
Well first of all and foremost, it’s a First Amendment right, and this is the United States of America…
Have a listen to the rest of it yourself.
MacArthur went on to say:
“We’ve had 21 weeks of no ministry to a thousand little children, to a thousand university students, to junior high students, to high school students, to senior adults. We’ve had no funerals (though he may get a few more than he bargained for: Ed), …”
I get it. I really do. We’ve had people sick and we’ve had people lose loved ones during COVID. But it was the rights based foundation that got me. Especially after the initial statement which called out the gospel reasons, or named the reasons as gospel reasons.
There were a few pointers at a more radical gospel message than that in there, and if he’d had half an hour perhaps he would have nuanced it, but it was two minutes washed over in a sea of red, white and blue. And the take home message was about rights. My rights. Our rights.
That blew it for me. Here’s the chance to go radically gospel in the face of an organisation that, let’s be honest, will allow anyone a voice who furthers its political agenda. It’s perfectly entitled to do that. The church is perfectly entitled – nay required – to throw the gauntlet down to any Left or Right agenda and say “Not on our watch!“.
When it comes to naming the issues in the progressive secular culture that are hostile to the gospel, I have skin in the game. I mention these things in my blog quite frequently. But I want to hold the tension of not cosying up to the conservative culture that is all too happy to have the Christianised framework (or part of it at least), without the Christ of that framework.
MacArthur chose “first of all and foremost” – as he himself put it – given two minutes of airtime to line up with the rights based movement of a conservative voting public who are happy to have Christendom without Christ.
I have a real problem with the rights based movement of a progressive voting public who want, as Mark Sayers puts it, the Kingdom without the King. But MacArthur had the chance to skewer both of those false kingdom ideals here, and he simply fuelled one side of the fire. He was useful to the network in the ongoing, and increasingly bitter, culture war.
The shepherd was outfoxed by Fox.