Posts Tagged ‘Brian McLaren’

Christian Politics, rd 4: Takin’ on McLaren!

OK, let’s get back to it.  Christianity.  Politics.  What are we to do?  Does God care?

I have already made the suggestion in these posts that Jesus was radically political, but not in the way his disciples or enemies thought.  He came to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God, which would bring sight for the blind, health for the sick, freedom for the captives, and so on.  Everyone thought he’d do this by way of a military coup, but boy did he have everyone tricked.  His method would be just a little different … like, try the complete opposite.  He’d give himself willingly over to the authorities, take an unthinkable tongue-lashing and physical beating, and then take up his cross and carry it to a prolonged and excruciating death.  And then, three days later …

I’m also suggesting that Jesus’ political example was not simply one more cute thing the Son of God did that we can gloss over and chalk it up to the whole “being God” thing or to context or whatever — I think his political posture was quite intentional and intended as a precedent for his movement.

What is this movement?  A movement that actually joins the risen Lamb in his Luke 4 mission.  A movement that refuses to settle for a “gospel of sin management,” as writer Dallas Willard phrases it, where we set out to answer basically two main questions: “What do we do about original sin?” and “How do we go to Heaven after we die?”  Indeed, the mission of the church — and the gospel, even — are probably quite a bit more far-reaching than we ever imagined.

Brian McLaren photoThis brings me to some material I ran across on Brian McLaren’s blog.  McLaren, of course, writes lots of good books and speaks a lot.  His book titled The Secret Message of Jesus probably did more for my understanding of Christ as a radical, subversive, prophetic-yet-action-oriented man than probably any other work.  McLaren’s latest book, which I haven’t read, is titled Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.  Nice title!  As you can see, McLaren and I agree on the broad, far-reaching scope of Jesus’ work int he world.

Well, McLaren has been posting a series on why Christians should vote.  You can read them at the following links: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (more to come, I’m sure…)  While I still greatly value McLaren’s voice and scholarship, I must take issue with some of his points regarding the Christian’s political responsibility.  The post I take the most issue with is Part 1, where he explains why he feels Christians should vote, in 4 points.  (you should click on the link above and read the whole article if you have time)  I definitely think he gets most of the big theological stuff right, but I’m not sure his conclusions and calls to action mirror the meta-narrative he’s conveying. (I’ll put his writing in quotes and respond directly underneath)

1. True, there are plenty of reasons to be disillusioned with US politics (corptocracy and plutocracy being major ones). But in my travels in other countries it has become clear to me that even though our system has a lot of problems (and that was a gentle understatement), many other nations are far more corrupt, far less transparent, etc. If we in the US don’t try to make our system work, we’re setting a pretty poor example. Besides, in every other area of my life – church, family, business, etc. – I don’t let disappointment or disillusionment or setbacks make me withdraw into inaction. Rather, I become more committed to make things work.

Tony Campolo once said, “America may be the very best Babylon in the world, but it’s still Babylon.”  McLaren’s turning this statement around in an effort to justify participation in Babylon’s corrupt politics as a means to seek change.  Setting a pretty poor example?  Of what?  What’s a better example: A nation where every Christian votes, or a nation where every Christian lives like a Christian and takes care of the broken world around them?  To me, Christian participation in American politics as a primary means to see lasting change falls under Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  Ask some of the original members of the Moral Majority how that worked out for them…

2. I don’t expect any candidate to be perfect. In fact, my theological beliefs tell me that I will always be choosing between the lesser of two evils – or more positively put, the better of two less-than-perfects. The fact that candidates are willing to endure the hard work, the media scrutiny, the pressure, the responsibility – of both the election and the office – can be seen a sign of something good. After all, if all a candidate cared about was personal peace, personal comfort, or personal wealth, there are a lot better ways to get ahead. So rather than say, “I don’t think either candidate is good enough for my vote,” I’m more prone to say, “Thank God that people are willing to run at all, and thank God that we have two candidates as good as the ones we have.” We could be choosing between Mugabe and Mugabe.

I think he’s settling here.  Is it God’s desire that his followers ever choose “a lesser evil”?  Isn’t this where the upside-down gospel breaks in and provides a “third way?”  OK, so I like the fact that Obama wants all Americans to have healthcare, but I also know that he will take our nation back into bloody war if need be, while continuing the trajectory of American empire-building.

Theologically, I’m not sure the continuation of McLaren’s argument flies.  Celebrities of all kinds — movie stars, musicians, artists, adult entertainers, etc — “endure the scrutiny, the pressure, the responsibility” of being in the limelight.  I don’t think Brian’s saying we should put just anyone who meets these criteria on a pedestal or play by their rules, is he?  And let’s not fool ourselves here with the motives of politicians … power, money and fame are enticing mistresses indeed. (God knew this all along, but the Israelites just had to have a king…)

3. I believe there is much to protest in our current system. But noninvolvement, it seems to me, generally empowers those who are in control. So non-voting becomes a kind of passive vote for the people in power.

OK, he really confuses me here, because passages he’s written in recent books have contradicted his sentiment above.  Since when is it the task of Christians or the church to prevent the people in power from having their power?  What’s more, doesn’t voting do the same thing he’s warning against here?  Both McCain and Obama are already powerful guys, and the guy who loses will have lots of power right along with the guy who wins.  My view is that putting one’s hope in this system where whoever raises the most money wins simply reinforces a worldly — not a Jesus-y — definition of power.  It says that in order to get X, Y, and Z done, we need to elect so-and-so, and basically accept all the awfulness that goes along with the process.  A) I don’t buy it that we need to have so-in-so in power to get X, Y, and Z done.  My Jesus has been working miracles in lives and communities since the beginning of time, and I think our biggest problem is that we simply haven’t trusted him enough. And B) We should mourn, not reinforce, the racket that is the election system.

4. I believe that a commitment to Christian discipleship should make me a better neighbor, employee, spouse, child, or parent too. Similarly, I believe that “citizenship in God’s kingdom” should make me the best kind of citizen possible, not the worst. Of course, because of my commitment to God’s kingdom, I have a broader range of concerns than I would without that commitment. (More on this in the next post.) But I believe that those concerns would in the big scheme of things make me an even more valuable citizen. My civic responsibility would certainly not end with voting, but I can’t wee why it would stop short of voting either.

OK, Brian, I’m with ya through most of the overarching points here here.  But I’m not sure “being the best kind of citizen possible” = playing by the political rules of our host empire.  Wouldn’t it be like Jesus to model a way of living that gives the powers and principalities of this world fits?  I strongly question the witness of a church that follows the “lamb who was slain,” takes the lowliest seat at the table, and becomes like a child, yet jumps headlong into a system that, by its very nature, embodies the opposite of these values.  And in the last sentence, he seems to imply that a vote is just a little part of being a citizen of this country, so why not bite the bullet and do it.  Because it’s a matter of principle!  How can a church whose commander-in-chief is a Lamb who was slain cast even one vote for a candidate who seeks change in a completely different way?

McLaren is such a trusted voice in the ongoing conversation about what it means to follow Christ in contemporary culture.  In no way am I denigrating him as a prophetic figure in the church.  (in fact, go ahead and check out this PowerPoint presentation he made at the Sojourner’s Pentecost event in D.C. recently … really good stuff)  I do, however, think he would approve of my jumping off some of his points to spur on a little healthy dialogue.  Also, I realize that some of what I’ve written above may sound a tad abrasive, especially to those who will most likely vote in November.  While I want us to have a free and open dialogue on the journey of being shaped into Christ’s image (and I want us to be shaped into Christ’s image as well!), I also want to recognize the diversity in the body, and the reality that really faithful believers have and will come to a different conclusion on the role of Christians in politics.