Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Wearing my Jesus Goggles to the Tea Party

The post below appeared today on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog. You can also read my more newsy recap of the event at Blast Magazine.

by Steve Holt

100415-tea-party-t-shirtsTea Party Express – the traveling band of conservative speakers, entertainers, and organizers — stops in Washington, D.C., today on its nationwide effort to “vote them out of office” in the 2010 mid-term elections. Sarah Palin, one of the most galvanizing conservatives in years, has joined the Express in an attempt to bring more mainstream conservatives into its ranks. The Alaskan drew several thousand fans, opponents, and gawkers to the Tea Party rally on Boston Common Wednesday, and I decided to head down to experience it for myself.

I did this for a couple of reasons. A big reason I went was to hear Mrs. Palin — to see what all the fuss is about and to bask in her aura. I was not disappointed. She gave the crowd what it came to hear: hard-nosed political rhetoric softened by her trademark small-town colloquial wit. She even worked a “drill, baby, drill!” into the speech, though strangely, she made no mention of President Obama’s move last month to expand off-shore drilling for oil.

My main reason for attending, though, was to be among the people. I have found myself characterizing the Tea Party in conversation without having ever attended a rally, and I wanted to get a clearer picture of who makes up this group comprising roughly 18 percent of Americans. Specifically, I wanted to come at the event with my Jesus goggles on, asking whether this is a group for folks who call themselves Christians.

I knew Tea Party supporters were a patriotic bunch, so the red, white, and blue didn’t come as much of a shock. What surprised me a bit was the support of militarism and American exceptionalism. Last summer, the Tea Parties formed around a largely economic platform: Washington is spending too much money and needs to stop. A good chunk of these folks, including many supporters of then-presidential candidate Ron Paul, were against excessive spending on defense and interventionism around the world. So I was surprised when nearly half the program was spent praising our troops and America’s interventionist campaigns overseas. Palin walked right into the debate over American exceptionalism, stating that as the greatest nation on the planet, America is, in fact, exceptional. (Implying that we can do what we please, thank you.)

This is a curious stance for Palin, a devout Christian. When Paul tells the Galatians (3:28) that they are “neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek,” he is telling them to remember that in Christ, they are one – regardless of nationality. Do we erase all national affiliation when we follow Jesus? No, but we affiliate ourselves first with the kingdom of God, which changes everything. Militarism – even in the name of “freedom” – is wrong for the Christian, in all cases, at all times.

Which brings me to the concept of “freedom.” This really is the operative concept within the Tea Party movement: freedom from excessive taxes and government intrusion of all kinds. This freedom, signs and speakers proudly announce, came at a price – the price of brave American soldiers in 250 years’ worth of foreign and domestic wars. But they opportunistically omit that our freedom also came at the cost of Native Americans, foreign and domestic soldiers and civilians, and our natural resources. I would argue that a Christian cannot blindly accept freedom that sacrifices lives and our Earth, not when the very core principles of our faith were violated to achieve it.

Finally, here’s a reflection I had Wednesday night upon reading the results from the first scientific poll of Tea Party supporters, released yesterday by the New York Times and CBS News. Before Wednesday, information about the group was largely anecdotal, so this poll gave the first clear picture of the demographics and beliefs of a typical Tea Party supporter. This person is likely supportive of the movement on idealogical grounds rather than economic grounds, which, as I mentioned earlier, was the platform for the group’s beginnings. Most likely to be rich, white, and older than 45, Tea Party supporters largely oppose what they perceive to be policies that disproportionately favor the poor over the rich. In other words, most point to differences in class as the reason why they support the Tea Party. Some even go further, citing fear that Obama will favor blacks in his political agenda.

As a Christian, this is troubling. That the fear of someone’s money being taken and given to the poor would drive them to organize in this fashion – and with so much anger, which I did observe Wednesday – should make us pause and rethink our collective moral compass. Capitalism set forth by Adam Smith exists for the common good of all people. Many in this country are being left out of that equation, African Americans being a notable example. We must, as a country, ask ourselves why this is. Surely it’s not because all of them are not trying hard enough to succeed. This might be my biggest issue with the Tea Party movement: at its core, it is selfish.

Are there good people who are involved in the Tea Party protests? Of course. Do they have legitimate concerns about waste and spending in Washington? You bet. Are militaristic, homogenous, often angry protests the best method for airing their concerns, especially for Christians?

I don’t think so.


They’re all the same

For your own good, please take a moment to read EA Hanks’ “Dear The Left: A Breakup Letter.” Or skim it.  I don’t care, really.
I have so many things I could say about this provocative and well-written letter.  “I told you so” comes to mind.  I’ve been saying it for years now, folks: these politicians are all the same.  Every last one of them.  And I’m not just blowing Beck-esque smoke here, either — the proof is in the pudding.  Has anything of real meaning to progressive America gotten done in the last, oh, 40 years?  Anything?  Somebody help me.
I have my theories about why many of us have hung on so long, wishin’ and a hopin’ that change will finally come to Washington.  Maybe I’ll share those at a later time.

For now, here’s the short of it: We cannot trust our government to bring about peace and justice.  We just can’t.  And the thing is, I don’t know how to recognize that reality with my feeling that some issues need to be legislated on: human trafficking, aid for Haiti, civil rights, slavery, etc. But the sad truth is that we simply don’t have the political will nor the common sense to truly address many of these crucial issues in our world.  (We can’t even mobilize the right medical supplies and aid for a country in desperate need not 500 miles off our coast!)

Don’t expect me to go running off to join a tea party or anything.  (those people don’t get it either)  I’m just going to set out all the more vigilantly to love my neighbors and build community and make small changes in my community, and invite others along for the ride.  I’m convinced that as our system stands today, that’s all we can do.

[end rant]

Why I Voted

I blogged about politics a lot this year.  Our Christian faith bears heavily on our ability to put much or any hope in earthly governments.  At one point, I believe I even said I wouldn’t be voting on November 4.  Well, here’s the shocker: I voted yesterday.

It basically came down to my desire to “give a voice to the voiceless.”  Specifically, I was thinking about the millions (perhaps billions?) of people around the globe whose negative view of this nation is shaped primarily by the “cowboy presidency” of the last eight years.  I was thinking about our friends’ friends in Tanzania (which we visited in September 2007) and Uganda who were just as invested in the outcome of yesterday’s election as anyone in this country.  I was thinking about the millions of marginalized people in this country who, for reasons we cannot imagine, face economic, physical, spiritual, and emotional obstacles that kept them from going to the polls yesterday. (like our good friend and neighbor Sylvia, whom I’ve blogged about, who is raising two young children by herself)

Ryan Bolger put into words my rationale for voting better than anyone had before:

We need to ask, for a particular context and time, is voting a liberating or an oppressive activity? Was voting a Jesus-like activity in South Africa when blacks voted for the first time in 1994? I would say it was. Is voting a Jesus-like thing when a one-party government has 99% support? Probably not — voting would reinforce the illusion of support that those in power hold.

So, the question must be asked — is this a time to vote, is it a liberating activity for those in our country or or not? Does this election offer a means by which those who have been shut out and lack a real role in the political process receive their voice?  I think for many in the country, voting in this election represents a turning of the tide. I believe we have, in this election, an opportunity to elect a person who represents voices that have rarely been heard, at this level, in the political process. Giving a voice to the voiceless is something Christians need to rally around. And back up with a vote. Today. (read the full post here)

We’ll see how this all turns out.  A lot depends on how Obama presides as president.  I just couldn’t go another four or eight years carrying the cynicism that I’ve carried the last eight.

(I will note that my lovely wife came to a different decision on whether to vote or not.  I support her in this.  Voting would have violated her conscience, and violating one’s conscience is never advisable)

One thing’s for sure: As I alluded to in my last post, we’re not off the hook in our responsibility to care for the least of these, love our neighbors, and join God in rebuilding our world.  Our government OUGHT to be equipping the American people to be the change they want to see.  When it fails to do that, we call it out.


I have read several pieces of election commentary written by conservative Christians in the last day that all have a similar tone.  Most of them touch on the idea that we as Christians belong first and foremost to the kingdoms of this world, but to the kingdom of God.  That we must not lose hope because “our guy” didn’t win yesterday.  That we must continue to preach and live like Jesus, fight for the cause of the oppressed, and enjoy our Christian citizenship over and above our American one.

Funny … I agree.

The irony is that maybe it takes a political disappointment like this to cause those on the Religious Right to get their priorities in order.  Let’s pray that left-of-center Christians do not begin to put unhealthy doses of hope in Obama to solve the major moral crises of our time.

The illusion of power is a cunning mistress.

Trickle-Down Justice

A friend of mine and I ate breakfast together today at our favorite cafe, as we do every week.  Our part of the neighborhood is seeing an influx of young, urban professionals — “climbing the professional ladder,” as my friend put it.  Broadly speaking, these folks are well-educated and left-leaning, with entrepreneurial personalities.  They know how to have a good time, and local shindigs — beer dinners, meet-and-greets, and other social events — are frequent.

There seems to be a disconnect, though, in the lip service paid to acts of justice / social action and the direct work they do with their hands. (the mentoring, the tutoring, the serving)  I could be missing it altogether, but I haven’t seen it.  Lack of time seems to be a major factor here.

But almost unanimously, these folks will vote on Tuesday for Obama, whom they believe has the best policies to help the poor.  But with the apparent lack of direct service with the disenfranchised, you might call their social philosophy “trickle-down justice.”  This is ironic, given the ideological differences between these neighbors and the Reagonomics (trickle-down economics) now espoused by conservatives in America.  “If I vote for Obama, he’ll set the policies into motion that will help my neighbors.”  I’m certain that in most cases, this isn’t intentional or malicious (and many of them would resent my accusations), but it is something I’ve noticed.

Trickle-down anything is not enough.  We, ourselves, must touch … serve … interact with the “least of these.”

DNC, RNC musings

I just have to re-post Josh Brown’s reflections on the political conventions (thanks to Revolution in Jesusland for posting it first), because they are my sentiments almost to a T.

For pure entertainment value I watched the DNC 2 weeks ago and was reminded of a Michael Jackson European tour in the late 80s with people crying and trampling each other to touch the cloak of his garment. It was sad and yet almost understandable to see people so desperate for change that they worked themselves up into an emotional frenzy over a person and a process that by himself can do more lasting change than the previous rich grey heads that have sat in the Oval Office.

For pure sleeping aid, I have watched the RNC the last 2 nights to lull myself to sleep with a bunch of the rich grey heads waking up from their sleep every 5 minutes when a speaker says the word terrorism. It has seriously lacked any energy or “heart” at all. That is until Rudy G – every conservatives whipping boy during the primary until he became a cult hero as the keynote – took the stage. All the rich white people who were driving their SUVs and flying their coach, first class, and chartered planes to the convention started chanting “DRILL BABY DRILL” for close to 5 minutes. It was the loudest they got in 2 days. I’m pretty sure I saw a few people salivate and/or piss their pants.

I’m not sure which convention was more full of fluff. The rock star status that Obama got at the DNC or the Cracker Barrell crowd that fell asleep out of sheer boredome at the RNC.

Oh Come and Rescue Us From This Madness.

I’ve also enjoyed the theater GOP vice prez nominee Sarah Palin has brought to the campaign.  Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up.  It’s just too good.  Many, many people have written long and worthwhile pieces on Palin and this campaign already, so I won’t go there.  I will, however, point you to one of the funniest things I’ve watched in quite a while, a clip from the most trusted name in “media,” Jon Stewart.

You have to believe politicians slept better before the advent of the video recorder.



Ahhh, satire.  You are a shrewd and honest lady.  (ht)


jesus / Obama

I’ve admitted a number of times that Barack Obama’s rhetoric of changing the world, creating a new world, bringing hope to the world, etc., stirs me a little inside.  I’m stirred because that’s what I want.  I live by the idealistic mantra that “another world is possible.”  That the world is broken, but slowly and surely, it is being put back together.

My problem, however, with Barack Obama is this: He doesn’t point to the Risen Lamb as the source of this new world.

His religious rhetoric implies that he views Jesus as the supporting actor for the real leading lady, politics.  I don’t doubt that his faith in God is real, but I simply don’t think he’s asking the question, “How would society be different if God were running the show, not man?”

Furthermore, as the linked article above satirically points out (along with magazine covers, news reports, and daily conversations with Obamites), many people view Barack — consciously or subconsciously — as a sort of savior figure.  As if one man could really bring about the kind of “new world” he preaches.  Christians, especially, should know that this is impossible.

But, like the Israelites, many Christians on both the Left and the Right are yelling, “Give us a king to lead us!

From time to time, when I hear an especially stirring Obama speech, I can find myself yearning for such a one.  Lord, forgive us.

Christians & Politics, Rd. 7: Links Galore

So, it seems like everyone in the blogosphere (or at least the corner that I read…) is discussing the role of Christians in the political process.  I’ll share the three links that came across my Google Reader just today.  The first two are crucial, and the third would be good were it not for its crackpot author. =)

David Fitch writes a thoughtful post called, “‘Not Voting'” as an Act of Christian Discernment: Calling the Emerging Church Into a Different Kind of Faithfulness.” His 3 points?

  1. The State is an (Preserving) Order of Creation
  2. Voting is Violence
  3. “The Christian Nation” — or, the impulse to vote is to see justice take hold through the public sector. reports on a talk by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the always colorful and radical New Testament scholar and cultural critic from Duke. Hauerwas always offers us a thoughtful and impassioned perspective on just about any subject, particularly those related to issues of church and state.  His comments at Renovatus Church are no different.  Here’s a snippet, but read the entire thing (and listen to the audio if you have time):

I’m told I’m supposed to be a ’sectarian fideistic tribalist,’ is the description of me, asking Christians to withdraw from the world. I wouldn’t mind withdrawing, but hell, we’re surrounded. There’s nowhere to go. The question is how to just keep going through, and you’re going to take some losses. So we have to be wilely as serpents on these matters. I’m not asking you to withdraw from politics. I’m just asking you to be there as a Christian.

There’s nothing more important in American politics than being able to hold people to truthfulness, and the reason that American politicians are afraid of telling us the truth is because the American people don’t want to know it.”

Very interesting perspectives, admittedly different from what I’ve been saying.  I’ll share theologian N.T. Wright’s views scriptural perspectives on the “public nature of the gospel” in the next post.  Oh, and it’s interesting to note that both Fitch and Hauerwas say they’ll probably vote for Obama.

Finally, here’s a piece I just had published over at the zine, Jesus Manifesto, reviewing more carefully the Al Jazeera report on U.S. religion and politics.  Nice of them to print it.  (by the way, if you’ve liked this series on politics and religion, you’d love many of the articles over at JM …)