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Gettin’ Political

As elections and whatnot are coming up, my mind has been on politics.  I tend to have a postmodern agnostic paralysis about politics, that is, I feel that the issues and the candidates are so complex, representing so many interests that for me to land a solid opinion on anything is far too dizzying of an ordeal.  I share with many a deep suspicion about “what’s really” in those propositions and who the candidates will “really” have to answer to once they’re elected.

I’ve realized though that this sort of posture doesn’t really do anybody good.  Maybe this paralysis is rooted in a desire to really hear everybody out, or it may be a deep fear of failure–voting for the wrong candidate or issue.

My friends who are in the public sector seem to have grown for the most part cynical.  Too bad for them.  But what I’ve learned from them is that politics rarely an arena of black and white, of good guys and bad guys.  Even if it were possible to discern every motive and pick apart every provision, I wonder if I would actually feel worse, not better, about making a decision.

I think the other difficulty about politics is trying to vote and think as a Christian.  People like to say that we should avoid legislating morality–but that’s just a bunch of modernistic bull crap.  There are so many things that are morally rooted that most of us agree on–lying under oath, murder, child pornography, racially motivated crimes, torture, etc.  I don’t think you’ll find me saying boldly that we should legislate morality, but to sloganeer against it is really shrinking the definition of morality to only personal morality.  Not all laws are necessarily moral in content (some are downright immoral), but to ignore that there is a huge overlap is naive. 

I suspect such language grew out of some people’s fear that Christians (e.g., the “Moral Majority”) would legislate a specific set of moral codes to govern everyone’s lives.  That’s a legitimate fear, because I’m not sure how happy I would be if suddenly Muslims (no offense) became the “Muslim Majority” and legislated shari’a law.  This sort of approach from the conservative Christian right I believe is actually very well-intended.  And I refuse to castigate them as somehow less Christian or less human because they seem crazy to many of us.  I’m sure that by the time my kids are old enough to vote, they will think I’m even crazier.  But we’re all brothers and sisters just the same.  In any case, I think the approach of the Moral Majority was terribly confused.  In their zeal to bring God’s kingdom to America, they ended up confusing the kingdom with America.  Hence, the whole metanarrative about reclaiming a Christian America.

I don’t think that the counterparts on the left have been a whole lot different though.  The construction of their own narratives to promote a liberal secular society mirrors that of the Christian right.  And to think that universally applied laws about smoking, littering, welfare, and hate crimes haven’t been the result of moral restrictions held by liberal would be foolish.  Everyone has morals and we all believe that at least some morals have universal application.

So in my struggle to think politically as a Christian, I begin with several principles:

  • Jesus entered the scene 2000 years ago as a highly charged political figure (albeit with politics unlike anyone).  He campaigned universally against every existing power structure (national, regional, and religious leaders).  He came proclaiming in his life, death, and resurrection God’s kingdom and himself as the King.
  • There is no identification between God’s kingdom reign with any nation(s).  Yet, as disciples of Jesus, we pray for God’s “kingdom come” and that his “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • The Church does not serve the State but, through the power of the Spirit, is serves God in the world.  God’s primary means of effecting his will in the world is through his Church, not nations or rulers.
  • Regardless of the laws of the State, the Church lives in submission to God and his norms.  The primary means of convincing people to live in submission to God is through the power of our lives, not through power plays (e.g., the political process).

If you’d like to add more, go ahead.  But my point is not to be exhaustive here, but to give you an idea of where I’m starting.

The norms of the God’s reign include both personal and social morality (and the interplay between the two).  Does God care more about adultery or oppression?  That’s sort of a dumb question since God compares Israel to an adulteress when they go off to serve other idols and begin oppressing their less powerful kinsmen.  But the question is how much do I push for in the political arena?  How far do we support legislation about adultery? about systemic oppression?  I have a gut response to these questions, but I don’t think my gut is a good source of authority.

Another important question is how much of my involvement in changing the laws and structures of government is an act of abdicating my responsibility within the Church to see God’s kingdom come?  Am I more zealous about the government welfare system?  Or about walking with the poor?  Do I spend more money to defend the “institution of marriage”?  Or loving my wife, teaching other couples the same, and showing the world what God’s intention looks like?  I know it sounds like I’m leaning toward withdrawing from the political process, but my point is really that the Church’s mission and the kingdom of God are so much larger than what the political process alone can represent or accomplish.

And, with the complex web of special interests supporting candidate and various legislation, how much do I separate the goals/ideals with the process it takes to get there?  That is, as a Christian, not only do I wonder if the ideals represent a kingdom cause, but do the means by which those ideals are pursued represent a kingdom ethic?  Environmental standards are great, but does that mean exporting our waste to poorer nations?  Reducing poverty is squarely within the kingdom vision, but what other imbalances are created in the process?

So much for leaving behind my paralysis.

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