Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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 …)


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.

Christian Politics, rd 3

If you checked out yesterday, you may have noticed that a story about Shane Claiborne and the “Jesus for President” tour was the lead story on the front page for a while.  Here’s the link.  (ht)

Here’s an excerpt with a good quote from the interview with Shane:

They endorse no candidate and make no effort to sway the voters for one party or another.

After the speech in an interview with CNN, Claiborne said, “This is not about going left or right, this is about going deeper and trying to understand together. Rather than endorse candidates, we ask them to endorse what is at the heart of Jesus and that is the poor or the peacemakers and when we see that then we’ll get behind them.”

Claiborne says the movement of younger evangelicals is growing and looking at the Bible in more holistic terms. He is quick to say the call of Christ has more to do with how people live their lives on November 3 and 5 than how they vote on November 4.

“It’s certainly easy to walk into a voting booth every four years and feel like you’re going to change the world but that’s not going to do it.”

OK, so how can we begin to engage in the subversive politics of Jesus without selling out to a broken and corrupt system?  If it has more to do with how we live our lives on Nov. 3 and 5 than how we vote Nov. 4, then what would that kind of life look like?  I really am curious to know what you think…


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.