Christian Politics, round 2

We must see what is going on today. Something different is happening. We have wasteful technologies used by billions of people growing exponentially, more expansive exploitation, more powerful bombs. And yet people’s hearts are the same as they were thousands of years ago: a chaotic mix of love and hate, creativity and destructiveness. But this is the problem. Our tools have “advanced,” but we haven’t advanced spiritually or morally. And so we, normal people, with the tools of destruction and wastefulness available for daily purchase, cannot handle the power. With all of the destruction that has ravaged the earth since the Industrial Revolution, one wonders if we can even call it advancement. Those who are convinced that we are at “the end of history,” at the apex of civilization’s development, fail to notice that the twentieth century was the bloodiest and most toxic in world history. And to sanctify this chaos, as our friend and priest Michael Doyle has said, the church’s precious words have been co-opted for profit: trust, fidelity, mutual equity. We can see them all around us in bank statements and on billboards.

Maybe, as a response, we in the church work for legislation that attempts to turn the tide, but these efforts often do not change the way we, as communities, live or think. Addressing our needs versus our wants and making sacrificial choices to buy less or differently is not something the state can do for us. We can see one reason why Jesus exorcized unclean spirits and opened eyes — the state wasn’t doing it. It’s the small things we do every day — the logs in our eyes — that are of great significance. (Even worse, in the face of escalating tension in the world, after 9/11 the government called us not to be frugal and thoughtful but to go shopping. One wonders if a nation that wholeheartedly buys into this scheme while launching two costly wars should have dangerous weapons anywhere near them.) We might hope to change the world through better, bigger programs to stop global warming, but global warming will not end unless people become less greedy and less wasteful, gaining a fresh vision of what it means to love our global neighbor. (Jesus for President, Claiborne & Haw, pp 192-193)

Another example of this is the civil rights movement.  Yes, I know many use civil rights to justify political action in order to remedy social injustices.  But have things really gotten better?  Sure, blacks can now use the same drinking fountains and bathrooms and attend the same schools as whites, but what about the racial tensions that remain?  Segregation still exists, people.  Today, we have thousands of ghettos full of millions of minority families struggling just to find their next meal, and we tell them that it’s solely their fault that they’re in this pickle. Desegregation led to white flight which led to suburban sprawl …

Did the civil rights legislation (I’m talking about the rulings here, not the peaceful demonstrations and prophetic words of folks like MLK) fix the human problem of racism?

And what about the other issue commonly used to defend political action: slavery.  Sure, whites don’t chain black people to each other and force them to work our fields anymore in America, but has slavery really been abolished?  What about the sweat shops in developing countries owned by American corporations?  What about the sub-human working conditions of immigrants across this great land of ours?  What about the turmoil those aforementioned minority families must go through in order to make enough money to survive?

No, slavery hasn’t ended … it’s just been reconfigured, cleaned up, outsourced.

Until we begin to view and treat others as our neighbors — loving them as ourselves — we won’t see permanent solutions to these problems.  I know one thing is for certain — no political legislation is going to enact this change.  Only the love of Christ, “made flesh” in radical communities across the world who are joining God’s redemptive work in the world, can.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kevin Williams on June 26, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Steve. Good stuff. I have enjoyed both of your posts on politics. The second makes a beautiful argument for a theology of political action in the world. Are call is to do more stand up against our the misginvings of our society, but to take part in active change.


  2. Posted by Daniel Gray on June 27, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Steve, I agree that political action does very little, but it is better than nothing. All change happens incrementally, political and social. But I don’t think that suggests that we ignore political action. People who fought to end slavery, people who marched on Washington — started something. School integration politically forced people together, which eventually led many to reconsider their prejudices. The problem with change is that it occurs slowly and generationally, but I think that means that we push our society from all sides — political and social.

    I agree that there are Christian principles that will never be legislated (contentment, simplicity, conservation, etc.) and Christians should be socially active about these things, but I can’t help but feel your comments are a bit defeatist. Social justice is an uphill battle and occurs slowly and painfully– which is why I think we resort to all means necessary to push people to change. Even if we fall short of the complete idea of justice that we seek, I can’t help but I think our political action (both Christians and nonChristian together) at least does something to contribute to that cause.

    Have you read “The Story of American Freedom” (Eric Foner)? It definitely paints a picture of widespread American injustice that I never heard in elementary school. I like the historical analysis because it reminds us that justice is slow and costly, and it moves both politically and socially.


  3. Steve, Great posts. It’s good to see you blogging again I have missed your insightful commentary.

    I agree that political action alone is not the answer to our country’s problems. Followers of Jesus have the unique perspective of being able to see not only the systematic evil in our world but also the individuals contribution.


  4. […] – RELATED: see Steve Holt Jr.’s series of posts on Christian Politics (Part 1, 2, 3, and […]


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