babies and politics

neaves with  baby.jpgCongratulations to our good East Boston friends, Matt & Pam, who — as of Wednesday Tuesday morning — have a new son, Gideon. This is truly a special family that seeks God and His mission above all other things. We’re blessed to have them so close to us!

Thankfully, mom and baby are healthy and [for the most part] happy.

Gideon Neave. Gideonneave. Rolls off the tongue pretty nicely!

(baby shown to right is NOT Gideon. Apologies to whose ever baby it is … I just couldn’t resist putting a tie-dyed baby with one of the hippiest couples we know)

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Christ tells us that we are to strive for weakness by the world’s standards, the place of dishonor, to be like children, and only then will we be bestowed with strength, honor and respect. A theme I hear popping up among the politically involved on both sides of the aisle seems to be that the church has a responsibility to transform our culture/government (which is Niebuhr’s old “Christ and Culture” argument). The problem, though, is that to do this, the church must capture people’s attention in the same ways everyone else does — by out-yelling their detractors and rivals, organizing around issues rather than people, and even compromising core beliefs.

Basically, in order to be heard, the church must seek the place of honor and of power, while trying to be as least-childlike as possible.

The other assumption that is made among politically involved Christians is that the church is and should be in a central, publically influential position in our culture. (Sort of like how the church steeple was the central object in New England towns in the early years of our Republic.) If someone can find me a verse supporting that idea, I’d be interested to hear it. My Bible points to an exilic, marginalized community of Jesus-followers who gladly take the path of suffering over a position of power.

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OK, I just had to share this great quote that my co-worker passed along to me:

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” &emdash; General Philip Sheridan, Union General in the Civil War

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15 responses to this post.

  1. While Christianity began as a marginalized, oppressed religion, I’m not sure that it *has* to remain that way to be effective, helpful or good.

    On the other hand, it’s possible that the legalization/legitimization of Christianity by Constantine is the worst thing that ever happened to it.

    I could go either way.

    Reply

  2. great post steve!

    the way of Jesus is not the way the contemporary church has chosen.

    however, there is this one pesky little scripture about the shrewd manager… i don’t know what it means and i don’t know anyone who does so it could be used in the way you suggest if one was so inclined.

    the text is in Luke 16

    peace

    Reply

  3. Posted by Anonymous on June 1, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Steve,

    Are there not a lot of assumptions implicit in the assumptions attributed to politically engaged Christians here? Yelling out others? Placing itself into a central position in society? This seems to assume that Christians can only engage culture through secular ways.

    But, there are many ways that Christians have engaged culture powerfully through risk and sacrifice (consider those who boycotted buses in the South, churches who led the sanctuary movement in the 80s). And, there are Biblical models of God’s people who have stepped out and engaged with culture and power-holders to name a public sin or seek liberation: Moses, Nathan. Jesus’ reading from the scroll of Isaiah was very public – in the center of the synagogue.

    Rachel

    Reply

  4. Davy Crockett is famous for saying “you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

    Rachel,

    You make good points about how Christians could influence the system in different ways. Those are the high points of civic action. Yet I find it hard to share the optimism that the current political climate has a place for passionate, reasoned people seeking justice for themselves or others. That does not mean I think you are wrong. I just have a hard time seeing that.

    Reply

  5. Great post steve. This is a topic I have a lot of questions on.

    The examples of Jesus and Nathan were confronting corrupt leaders within the religous structrure not the people of God confronting a secular goverment.

    The example of Moses, if i remember correct he wasn’t exactly confronting Pharaoh on his injustaces, he said let my people go and worship God.

    How do the people of God confront the injustaces of a secular world? Any thoughts?

    Reply

  6. BTW, i tend to lean toward Davy’s take…

    however, we kinda like it when people have a bad opinion of us…

    it makes it less likely they’ll move down here!

    🙂

    Reply

  7. So…what if you both rent Texas AND live in hell?

    Reply

  8. Posted by Steve on June 4, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Sorry I haven’t had an opportunity to check in and respond to some of these comments this weekend. The Red Sox played the Yankees three times this weekend … sue me!

    Rachel – I’m all for engaging culture. Christians need to engage — and even critique — their host culture. But changing laws … soliciting politicians … lobbying votes … is the worst way, IMHO, for this to happen. Houston is dead on in his assessment of our political system; basically, the hands of politicians are tied, rendering them useless to enact any kind of meaningful change. I’d also like to point people to an incredibly insightful post by our own Miller, who uses the immigration issue to demonstrate the inadequacy of government as a vehicle for social justice. He gives three great suggestions for how the church can rise up as the vehicle for social justice, but I’m going to make you go over and read those for yourself.

    Brian, I think you’ve already found them. In response to your great questions, I would have said 99% of what Miller said. Small minds think alike, I guess. (kidding, Miller) =)

    Reply

  9. Posted by Steve on June 4, 2007 at 2:45 am

    As for the public nature of the church, I would say that it is public primarily because of the reputation it garners for its righteousness and not because of its ability to tap into the worldly shouting match that is our political system.

    Reply

  10. Read the Psalms. Particularly Psalm 58.

    The church will be marginalized by the state and by the world. The entire world system is in rebellion against God (Psalm 2, 1 John). The church is a society that is to value justice and seek to establish justice by walking the path of faith without compromise (Romans, Hebrews 11, Matthew 28:18-20). Christians are to engage their surrounding culture by preaching the gospel, serving their neighbors, and standing up for justice and truth with faith, humility, and perseverance. As we do this, culture will be impacted and governments will be impacted. How can they not be? The gospel transforms everything it touches – unless the hearers are in persistent rebellion.

    It seems to me that you are not marginalized at all. You seem to be playing by the rules the state has laid down for you. Aka – Enjoy your religion, if you so choose. Just keep your religious beliefs completely separated from politics. As such, the world doesn’t really have a problem with you. You’re not marginalized.

    But if you started proclaiming the full gospel – insisting as the Bible declares that people are to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ and pointing out injustice whenever and wherever it happens (aka – not just when a crazy guy shoots up VA Tech), then you will find yourself marginalized. Then you might be able to rejoice in the knowledge that you are suffering for Jesus.

    As it is, it seems like you want God’s people to experience shame and dishonor – and this while you enjoy your comfortable life. No disrespect intended here Steve-O. But we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. How have you been loving the folks in the military? I have been loving them through friendships, but also by fighting the cultural/spiritual/political war – pointing out that all human activity is either obedient to God or disobedient to God – including politics. How have you been loving the folks in the Darfur? I have prayed and written my Congressmen – urging them to take action to establish Biblical justice. How have you been loving the Iraqis and the Iranians? I have been praying and urging Americans everywhere to elect wise people into government who will deal with the Iraqis and Iranians in a way that is wise and just. And I’ve been praying that people all over the Middle East would have “Road to Damscus” experiences (perhaps on the road to Damscus).

    How can you, in good faith, suggest that the church is not supposed to impact society? Or am I totally misunderstanding you?

    The Bible talks about justice all over the Bible and about loving each other all over the Bible. To sit back on our comfortable American lives and say, “I’m not going to engage in anything political, because I’m just into loving Jesus” then I would submit that that is not valuing justice and it is not loving the maximum number of people that we can in our few years we have on this planet.

    I would suggest that to engage in politics is to love your neighbor. After all, if your next door neighbor was in the habit of killing her children, would you do something about it? Cause if you did, it could be argued that you engaged in politics (remember the etymology of the word). And if you didn’t, then I think you would have neglected justice. Or do you hold that “killing your children” is not a political issue, but “killing your unborn children” is a political issue?

    Yeah… I would definately encourage you to read, meditate on, and pray the Psalms.

    Our biggest sins, I think, are not that our sinful desires are too strong, but that our righteous desires are too weak.

    What are you trying to accomplish by posting a thread like this? It seems to me that you are encouraging complacency (not intentionally). Complacency is a sin.

    Note: I am not saying that we should trust in government. I am saying we should confront the government with the truth of the gospel and call each individual to repentance and faith.

    If you are going to criticize a person’s actions (like their political activism), I would suggest that you identify the Biblical name for the sin they are committing and then in humility and wisdom, call them out specifically on their specific sin. Are you saying that all political activists everywhere are “sinning” by being politically active? Or are you saying that “so-and-so specific” is committing this specific sin of (pride, envy, lust, greed, etc). If you are not observing people breaking the 10 Commandments (or the spirit of the 10 Commandments – as Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount), then I don’t think you have a biblical leg to stand on to criticize political activism.

    I’d also point out that to criticize political activism is a different kind of political activism. Thus, by trying to convince people not to be politically active, you shoot yourself in the foot.

    Reply

  11. Transforming culture/government is a good goal–these are huge areas of life and humanity that are largely outside God’s kingdom (His range of effective will as defined by Dallas Willard).

    I don’t think the question here is whether we should be complacent about what is going on in the world about us–far from it! Rather we should be actively proclaiming truth and speaking against evil and injustice. But I am going to have to side with Miller and Steve on this one: government activism and politically lobbying are probably not the most effective ways to accomplish this transformation.

    Subversive infiltration of the culture might be a good option. We live in a democracy which hopefully reflects the views and values of its people, so if large numbers of people individually change then our government and culture should naturally follow suit.

    If individuals, households, & communities begin to transform into Christlikeness then we might have hope.

    Loving people, not governments, is where we should concentrate our limited energies.

    Reply

  12. oh, and I love the tie-dyed baby plastered on Matt & Pam’s picture

    well done!

    Reply

  13. […] When I got home, I noticed that my friend Steve Holt at Harvest Boston just recently said something very similar and deeply true: “Christ tells us that we are to strive for weakness by the world’s standards, the place of dishonor, to be like children, and only then will we be bestowed with strength, honor and respect. A theme I hear popping up among the politically involved on both sides of the aisle seems to be that the church has a responsibility to transform our culture/government (which is Niebuhr’s old “Christ and Culture” argument). The problem, though, is that to do this, the church must capture people’s attention in the same ways everyone else does &emdash; by out-yelling their detractors and rivals, organizing around issues rather than people, and even compromising core beliefs. … My Bible points to an exilic, marginalized community of Jesus-followers who gladly take the path of suffering over a position of power.” 0 Comments posted on “A marginalized community of Jesus-followers” Post a comment […]

    Reply

  14. We should not “fight” as the world fights. I give you that.

    But we should fight.

    We should be praying the imprecatory Psalms.

    We should be praying that our leaders will hear from God and will obey God.

    On the local level, we should be bucking the system. That is, in our workplaces, at school board meetings, in homes, and in community centers of various types, we should be proclaiming in word and in deed the message of the cross.

    As this happens, the government will be transformed, but that is a by-product of God’s Kingdom being established in the hearts of men. The goal is the Kingdom being established in peoples’ hearts.

    I just know that once the Kingdom takes root in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s heart, she will repent for her pro-choice dogma. I know that when the Kingdom takes root in Giuliani’s heart, he will recognize that an unborn baby is a human person created in God’s image with fundamental rights.

    If that doesn’t happen, then either, they have never been justified by grace through faith, or, if they have, they still have a major sanctification process to go through.

    One more thing…
    We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a constitutional republic.

    Reply

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