As usual, David Fitch (and Slavov Zizek, of whom he is speaking), nails it with this post about theology, ecclesiology, and political theory.  Their questions define to a T where I am in my understanding of the Christian’s role in the political circus.  Here’s a sample, but read the whole thing:

We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. It is simply a lot less work to support Barack Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world.

I know Zizek might appear way too skeptical here for most of us. And there is always the cry “why can we not do both – vote for Obama and be missional communities for justice in our neighborhoods.” Yet (at the risk of being over provocative) I think the question is worth considering: “Are we supporting Obama because it’s easier than being God’s justice in the world ourselves?” Is our participation over here in electoral politics sapping our energy (or worse even assuaging us) from participation in the work of justice as an extension of the church.


18 responses to this post.

  1. I’m starting to suspect that it’s the other way around: that our participation in *church* is sapping our energy from “participation in the work of justice”.

    I’d think that a borderline-emergent type like yourself would be inclined to agree.


  2. Posted by thepriesthood on February 26, 2008 at 3:18 am


    I’m feeling pulled toward this way of thinking. this post really nailed me, so to speak. so i shared it with fellow g-readers. altho it seems Homer Hiccolm ain’t rethinkin nothin–he’s going to vote for Obama.

    Matt, tru dat. I think Fitch’s understanding of “church”–or as he calls it “the seeding of missional communities”–have it in their DNA to radically pursue justice, mostly in a local way, not at the political level.

    i’m beginning to think my country is stuck on a path of injustice. if we loosen our tight hold on the reigns of global politics, we’ll be killed. i don’t know. i’m no political theorist. but i’m beginning to see that if all our chips are on the political sector doing our bidding for “justice”, we’re screwed.


  3. “all our chips” reminded me that we’re also probably looking at a false dichotomy here: a lot the people who run church would love for us to think that justice can be pursued using either religious means *or* political means, but not both. There’s really no good reason to think that’s the case. I’ll go with Homer on this one – I’m off to vote for Obama.


  4. Posted by smhjr on February 26, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Matthew – Let’s define our terms here. What do you mean by “involvement in church?” Because if by church you mean attendance at a meeting, involvement in programs, or other activities that detach a person from real life, then I would agree. But I, as a “borderline-emergent guy”, try to espouse and live out a more holistic and robust definition of church, one that basically means living as a community that seeks justice and redemption in the world. So the framing of your question / comment is a bit fuzzy.

    Priest – Thanks for sharing this blog post, man. It takes some kahunas to speak out against Obamaism in the left-leaning emergent church.

    I think the issue here is not whether you choose to vote for Obama or Hillary or whomever, but how much stock you place in them to bring about peace and justice in the world. I like Obama as much as the next person, but frankly, after the election (if he’s elected), he’s the leader of the Free World and the commander of a nation that is “stuck on a path of injustice.” (I agree with you, Tyler)

    Government, like “church” (in the institutional sense), is self-sustaining and self-serving by nature. If justice-seeking Christians in big cities and small towns aren’t acting and praying, no one will.


  5. Posted by Daniel Gray on February 26, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    I think I learn towards Matthew on this one… I think our zeal for “church” can hamper our action and call to justice. But I definitely see your side, too, Steve.

    I enjoy political discussion and think it is important. But I don’t see it as the end-all for solving the problems of the world. I could say the same for church, but that would be sacrilegious.

    I think we find a happy medium where we allow for the engagement of both. But the solution to the problems of the world is me, not church or government. I’ve definitely seen people burn a lot of energy on both with no success.

    And by “me”, I mean the power of Christ in me to engage people in the love of Christ.

    Now, I’ll wait and see if that made any sense…


  6. Posted by Jocelyn on February 27, 2008 at 4:12 am

    Hi, Steve. I sometimes read your blog and don’t comment, but I feel that this post warrants a reply. Please consider.

    Fitch says, “[I] think the question is worth considering: ‘Are we supporting Obama because it’s easier than being God’s justice in the world ourselves?’ Is our participation over here in electoral politics sapping our energy (or worse even assuaging us) from participation in the work of justice as an extension of the church[?]”

    I read this and it seems obvious to me that the answer to both questions is “no.” Supporting Senators Obama or Clinton or McCain or any other politician isn’t easy, I would hope, for any Christian. Politicians’ agendas do not entirely line up with the Kingdom’s agenda. Yet we recognize that there are ways the government can organize people and money that churches just can’t. The government can contribute to education, Social Security, Medicaid, health care reform, immigration reform, housing legislation, foreign policy–so many areas where at least limited justice can be done.

    So while we, the Church, recognize that the Kingdom of God brings its peace and justice through humility rather than power, we are not excluded from joining other members of our society in proclaiming justice through secular systems. And it’s totally possible to vote and still be very active in the ministry of the Kingdom. Just like it’s totally possible to, say, be involved in the arts and still be active in the Kingdom. Or to work at a corporation. Or to join a social civic club like the Kiwanis. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

    If someone has a hard time setting appropriate priorities when it comes to being involved in politics and being involved in the Kingdom, I think that has much more to do with that person’s priorities and less to do with politics. That same person is just as likely to have their energy and attention swept away by Oprah or a diet craze as they are by Barack Obama. So perhaps we ought to spend more time in our churches rooting people in deep, meaningful theology rather than railing against political involvement.


  7. Posted by smhjr on February 27, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Daniel & Jocelyn –
    Thanks for reading and commenting. Both of your comments are thoughtful and valid points.

    I would say this with regard to doing “deep, meaningful theology”: my understanding of Christianity and politics — as well as that of many more thoughtful than I — come as a result of “deep, meaningful theology.” I agree with you, Jocelyn, that more people in churches should do this communally before railing against political involvement. This is precisely the problem we now face in America — a lack of theology in the church’s approach to politics. I applaud both those who conscientiously abstain from or actively engage the political process, so long as they come to their position after much prayer, discernment, and study.

    That said, both of your points about “engaging both” the church and government (as we would the Kiwanis or a corporation) are well-taken. I’m not sure how far this line of thinking practically goes, to be quite honest… Pull the kids out of public school? Refuse public medical and police help? I would say this: In all things a Christian engages, the Christian does so from a different perspective than the mainstream, critiquing the status quo and promoting the Kingdom of God.

    I have no problem with a Christian deciding to vote. I would simply question why they are doing so. We have a broken system that, by its nature, rewards those on top and tramples those on the bottom. Even our political process is set up as such. (I think my poor neighbors would put up a candidate altogether different than those of the major parties, were they given a voice) Even the legislative process is slow and arduous, constructed in a way that very little gets done and any bills passed are based on compromise.

    You said it: Our politicians do not operate under the principles of the kingdom.

    Why do we put so much stock into such a system?

    [it might be helpful for some of us — myself included — to research the popular views of the Roman government among early Christians. Not only do I think there were some uncanny similarities to our current system — though polished up a bit — I think we might be broken of some of the starry-eyedness we have toward America that is programmed within us from an early age]


  8. Posted by smhjr on February 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    “I’m not sure how far this line of thinking practically goes…”

    I’m referring to my view of abstaining from the political process.


  9. Posted by Daniel Gray on February 27, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Well, said, Steve. I get frustrated with people who demonize people on either side (vote/abstain, Dem-Rep).

    I think your question of why a Christian is voting is great… I definitely think it’s something we need to challenge each other with in any field — to ask each other why, to make sure this is a process that has been thought out.

    And I think it is something that should be part of the church — to examine everything in society that we participate in and ask “why?” and to not be ashamed of discussing different responses.


  10. The government can contribute to education, Social Security, Medicaid, health care reform, immigration reform, housing legislation, foreign policy–so many areas where at least limited justice can be done.

    i wasn’t going to say anything here but i just can’t stand it.

    Jocelyn, all respect… i’m sure you’re a very intelligent and thoughtful person!

    i just want to ask if you’ve ever read Jonathan Kozol. if you think for even one instant that the government can dispense justice you should read rachel and her children or amazing grace by this author. he paints a picture that is far different than your hopeful thesis about the government and justice. and it’s ethnographic in nature and to my thinking much more reliable than most other stuff i’ve read.

    i really don’t think a system that has done such a terrible job with every domestic program it’s touched should be asked to do more. i mean really, social security! they’ve totally screwed that up by continually borrowing from it. welfare has proven to be a system of oppression if ever there was one, creating a fatherless poor family and generational dependence all across the nation. more government in health care will only result in systems as broken as SS and welfare. and don’t even get me started on education… again i reference Kozol, but it isn’t difficult to see the injustices here if one only thinks about which schools they would like to send their own children to. is it the inner city school or the suburban school? and why should it be different? the inner city schools usually have the most federal aid… shouldn’t they be the very best?

    i don’t know. as you can tell i have some thoughts on this… i don’t mean any offense, really! i just can’t agree with your stance that government needs to get more involved in social justice.



  11. Posted by Jocelyn on February 28, 2008 at 3:10 pm


    I’m not going to get into a blog argument with you. We obviously have come to very different opinions after much reading, prayer, and discernment. I am not blind to the corruption and imperfection rampant in our systems of government. I just believe that, if we want to change those systems, we have to engage them with the spirit of Christ rather than withdraw from them and stand in judgment on them. So that’s one reason I vote. Among many others.

    That’s all I’m going to say now. I really don’t want this to turn into a blog argument that only inflames deeply felt emotions.



  12. jocelyn,

    i really wasn’t trying to start a fight and i didn’t think my language was inflamatory… and i assumed that you were thoughtful and well read. i’m sorry it came off the wrong way. on rereading my comment, i can see how it sounded insulting… i’m sorry.



  13. Posted by smhjr on February 28, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Well said, Miller. I didn’t think your comments were inflammatory at all … maybe that’s cuz I know you. =)

    (in all fairness, Jocelyn, Miller is only trying to engage in a stimulating dialog … not picking a fight. He used to pick fights online, but he’s grown up since then. He’d admit it, too!)

    Here’s a curve ball question for everyone: What does it say about our elected leaders, our electoral process, and justice in America when the President elect has to be the one who raises the most money? (can such a person really have the interests of the “least of these” at the forefront of his/her heart/campaign?)


  14. Posted by smhjr on February 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    looking at that question, I see that it is awkwardly worded. you get what I’m trying to ask, though, don’t you?


  15. oh yeah, i get it!

    it’s rhetorical isn’t it?



  16. Posted by smhjr on February 28, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Doesn’t have to be rhetorical …


  17. Posted by Mitch on February 28, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    So all of this sounds like the “I’m a member of a higher kingdom” idea. I can respect that stance. I just don’t really know — mainly because I haven’t experienced it — what this kingdom is that everyone talks about.

    I guess my view of the kingdom doesn’t really have to do with my stance on divine intervention or my theological conversations or going to church or talking to non-Christians about Jesus. If I had to define a “Kingdom” (notice the capital K) in my life, it would involve some of the following:

    -Helping the poor — not only through non-profit support but also through buying lunch/dinner/breakfast/snack for the homeless guy on the street.
    -Trying to make sure everyone is given equal educational opportunity in our country, not being penalized simply because of their unfortunate geographic location or inherited social class.
    -Rallying with my Abilene neighbors to promote social and political change.
    -Walking/riding instead of driving.
    -Being nice to people.

    Now some of these I can accomplish or at least attempt without being politically active (like recycling, walking, being nice, etc.). If I was a true activist, I could join Teach for America or some other educational non-profit to improve education in poverty-stricken areas. But the truth is, I have aspirations that fall outside the political realm. I can’t be as active as I’d like for this reason.

    Politicians may have their own agendas in office, but all the same, I don’t see how even half as much social change can come about without the government’s involvement. Not only am I going to vote, I’m going to vote for the person who I feel has the best plan to execute some of the elements of my “Kingdom”.

    Basically, my social activist shortcomings need to be supplemented by what the government has to offer.

    That’s why I’m going to vote in a nutshell.


  18. Posted by Mitch on February 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Oh, and that’s why I am going to vote Obama in 2008.


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