Sunday, September 28, 2008

Is there A Christian View of Politics?

My friend James Howell, pastor of Myers Park UMC, always writes thoughtful columns on important subjects. Here is a recent one of his on politics.
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So what is the Christian angle on politics in America? Aren’t we supposed to buy into the conservative line, as we’ve been told for years? Or could liberals be onto something important? Or are they the ruin of everything we hold dear?

People ask me: are you liberal? or conservative? Sometimes my reply is: it depends on the issue – but my true answer is: neither! The Church drifts into absurd irrelevance if we do nothing more than baptize one or the other of the prevalent options society has dreamed up. We have our own perspective, which at times seems in sync with this or that policy – but then Bam! …we surprise everybody with a wrinkle, a twist. We are not middle of the road, although when we are most faithful to God we are likely to annoy (and occasionally to please) liberals and conservatives in equal measure.

How could this be? Human institutions, political parties, and even the noblest people who choose public service, are sinful, flawed; self-serving agendas get in the way, or the perils of the moment blind us to a greater good God would have us pursue. And frankly, not everybody out there is exactly “lost in wonder, love and praise,” deeply immersed in the Bible, and prepared to “take up your cross and follow” (Mark 8:34). Many citizens in both parties don’t think twice about God, or God is like a good-luck charm they think will help them get the goodies they crave. Politicans fawn over the electorate; they will “say anything,” and they even hire wizards to advise them on how to talk religious folks into voting for them. Parties and politics are not surprisingly out of sync with God.

We can see the wisdom, then, in John Howard Yoder’s words: “Jesus refused to concede that those in power represent an ideal or acceptable definition of what it means to be political. He did not say ‘You can have your politics and I shall do something else more important.’ He said, ‘Your definition of politics, and social existence, is wrong.’” Our intentions may be praiseworthy, and at times we rise to the occasion; there is so much that is marvelous and to be cherished in American life. But God quite mercifully calls us to something better than the inevitably compromised options of Democrat or Republican.

Tony Campolo has recently written about Red Letter Christians – those who take their cues, not from Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore, but from the words of Jesus; no political operative can tell us what to think, for we are Christians, believing Jesus is the way. Red letter Christians can be Republican or Democrat – and hopefully both! They can and should be the “leaven” in the world; they “should be the ultimate swing vote, holding both sides accountable to a broader moral vision” (as Campolo wisely states).

There is always – always! – a “contrarian” bent to the Christian political angle. After all, in the Roman empire the complaint filed against Christians was “they are turning the world upside down” (Acts 17). In a world that does not love the Lord Jesus, we will expect to find ourselves at odds with business as usual; we shun a judgmental spirit, but we do not refrain from making judgments. “The Church is not simply a ‘voluntary association’ that may be of some use to the wider public, but rather is the community constituted by practices by which all other politics are to be judged” (Stanley Hauerwas).

Abraham Lincoln told the truth about “sides” who boast of God: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered… The Almighty has His own purposes.” Knowing this, we treat each other charitably, and look to God for something better: “With malice toward none; with charity for all… to bind up the nation’s wounds – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

James

james@mpumc.org

11 comments:

ia said...

In light of this post, it would be good to see you review Bell's newest book. I have a feeling most evangelicals in America will hate it. Personally, the book made me cry and punch the air. I loved it.

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Wants-Save-Christians-Manifesto/dp/0310275024/

Singing Owl said...

That was well said.

Marine Chaplain said...

Ben, I usually cringe when I see you blog about politics, mainly because it's not your expertise and I read you for your NT work. Fortunately you don't blog about this as much as you used to. I cringe because try as you might to sound objective and middle of the road, you (and others like Campolo, Bell) come across like Democrat partisans. That is fine if you are, like Campolo, a registered democrat. What irks me is how some Christians have knocked down the Christian right straw man in the name of objectivity only to all but endorse their man on the left. I think many who speak from your perspective are now doing what we from the right have been accused of for many years.

Chaplain Mike

Georgia Mountain Man said...

Why is the "Christian Right" so quick to accuse and categorize anyone who writes something such as this? It doesn't appear to be partisan at all, unless you write between the lines.

Jeff Prillaman said...

I agree that this was a thoughtful and well written article. Thank you for sharing it. What if..we changed a few words as below in the middle section. Would this describe many, many churches in our world. Perhaps the issue is within, not in the gov't or secular institution.

"Human institutions, political parties, and even those who choose to lead churches, are sinful and flawed; self-serving agendas get in the way, or the perils of the moment blind us to a greater good God would have us pursue. And frankly, not everybody out there is exactly “lost in wonder, love and praise,” deeply immersed in the Bible, and prepared to “take up your cross and follow” (Mark 8:34). Many congregation members in both parties don’t think twice about God, or God is like a good-luck charm they think will help them get the goodies they crave. Politicans fawn over the electorate and pastors appease their congregations; they will “say anything,” and they even hire wizards to advise them on how to talk people into voting for them. Churches, Parties and politics are not surprisingly out of sync with God.

ChrisB said...

No party is 100% right, but that doesn't mean one isn't more right than the other.

We have to be cautious not to endorse everything that sounds compassionate. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

sepherim said...

And just where in the Bible does it say "the road to hell is paved with good intentions?"

Rob Penn said...

I'm actually reading Resident Aliens right now.

"The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross."

I've only just gotten to the third chapter, but it's pretty been pretty eye opening so far.

Todd H said...

Great post - love it. Some people seem to think that if you aren't going to tow the Republican line then you must be a Democrat of some sort. Transcending left/right divisions is hard because nobody is ever really happy with what you think, and you never really fit in with either side. But I think it's the best place to be.

JKG said...

Marine Chaplain: I fail to see how BW is in any way knocking down a Christian right strawman in this post. Are you referring to other things BW has written? Not being a longtime reader of this blog, it leaves me wondering, are you accusing the author of sounding like a partisan Democrat because you don't there is room for anything but Christian Right politics in the Christian Church? I fail to see this article having a partisan Democratic bent.

Drew said...

There are many Christian views of politics. While I am at Duke Divinity, I don't care for Hauerwas/Yoder. This perspective has been accepted by too many people without criticism, because it is the perspective that seminaries are currently shouting the loudest..

Give me Niebuhr any day of the week. I am not an Anabaptist and don't ever intend to be.