“Signs” is a 1970 song by the rock group Five Man Electrical Band. The chorus begins, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign,” and the song is about dividing people into categories – “long haired, freaky people” versus the better groomed higher class; churchgoers who can afford to drop money into the collection plate versus those who can’t; club members versus non-members.
We still shove people into categories. The most common now is “red versus blue” or “Democrat versus Republican.”
Interestingly, Christians are called to interpret the “signs,” but of a different sort. We are called to interpret the “signs of the times.”
That’s why I – a theologian – and my Good Faith co-host David French – a political pundit – talked this week about the midterm elections. We didn’t wade into the minutiae, the “who won/who lost” political machinations. Instead we attempted to consider the results in a gestalt way, to uncover what this election might be signaling for our country, our culture, and our church.
Specifically, we discussed:
- The Biblical admonition to pay attention to “the sign of the times;”
- Why the “exhausted majority” should tune back into political events;
- The “malice theory” of GOP politics;
- Racial and political balkanization;
- How polarization leads to calcification;
- What the midterms indicate about the pro-life movement;
- Why Christians should defend liberal democracy;
- The discouraging and encouraging news from the midterms;
- The impact the American elections have globally, specifically on Ukraine;
- And how Christians should think, pray, and respond to these “signs of the time.”
DAVID FRENCH: We’re going to talk midterms today, not from the standpoint of – as my friend Jonah Goldberg says – “rank punditry.” If you want “rank punditry,” the rankist of rank punditry is available in our most recent Dispatch Podcast featuring Jonah Goldberg, Sarah Isgur, and me. Also on the Advisory Opinions podcast, Sarah Isgur and I talked about politics the day after the election. Go there if you want all the who’s up, who’s down sorts of analysis.
But Curtis and I are going to talk about what the midterms mean as a sign of our times. At a deeper level, what does this mean through the prism of faith? What does this mean for people of faith who are engaged in politics?
CURTIS CHANG: Today’s podcast is in one of the formats I love the most about our Good Faith podcast: what I call the “point guard format,” where one of us plays point guard and basically feeds the other the ball. David, you’ve fed me the ball on subjects like the spirituality of anxiety or the theology of institutions. When it comes to current political events in the world, I’m definitely the point guard here, feeding LeBron or KD the ball.
Like any good point guard, I have to look for my own shot. I’m going to take mine right at the beginning by talking about what it means to interpret the “signs of the times.” That phrase comes from Matthew 16: 1-3.
“And the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to Jesus and to test Him. They asked Him to show them a sign from heaven, and he answered them. ‘When it is evening, you say, it will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning it will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.'”
Jesus is setting up a contrast. First of all, between signs from heaven that the Pharisees and Sadducees want to get him to deliver, to test Him versus the signs of the times. But God doesn’t just speak from on high, in supernatural ways, on demand, in miraculous cloud writing in the sky. Jesus is saying God also speaks to us through the signs of the times, through events happening in the world.
That’s why Christians are not supposed to just hide their heads and close their eyes to what’s happening around them. This is actually a word to “the exhausted majority,” the Christians who want to ignore politics entirely. However, if you want to attend to God, you have to attend to the signs of the times– not entirely, not obsessively. Paying attention to the world is a part of paying attention to God. It requires discernment and wisdom.
Jesus gives us an example. He says, look, yes, the fact that the color of the sky is red could be a meaningful sign, but it requires the skill of interpretation. Because if the sky is red in the morning, that means it’s going to be stormy. But if it’s a red sky in the evening, that’s normal. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
It strikes me that so much of what passes for political commentary in Christian circles, especially in the evangelical world, is what I call “red-sky-in-evening scare mongering.”
It’s like taking normal weather as a sign the world is about to end.
For example, a commentator who will remain nameless, seeing a random advertisement for Drag Queen Story Hour and declaring that classical liberalism must be overturned by all means necessary. We must defeat our enemy in all out war. And, by the way, the first person we have to execute is David French.
DAVID FRENCH: He’s the real problem here.
CURTIS CHANG: I thought that was just a theoretical example. But that’s an example of “red-sky-in-evening scare mongering.” Part of normal cultural life is blowing things way out of proportion.
Yet, understanding the signs requires the skill of interpretation, context, and discernment. We need help in doing this with assistance from wise people. For years now – long before we started this podcast – whenever I would have oh, wait, the sky is red! thoughts, I’d turn to David to play weatherman. I’d ask, “how should I interpret this?”
That’s what we’re going to do today. David, help us understand the midterms and what God might be saying through the events happening around us.
[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]
HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French
PRODUCER: Kris Carter
The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.
Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons