Monday, October 18, 2010

My Detest of Politics

I think these younger Christians are the vanguard of some major new religious, social, and political arrangements that could make the older form of culture wars obsolete. After they wrestle with doubts and objections to Christianity many come out on the other side with an orthodox faith that doesn’t fit the current categories of liberal Democrat or conservative Republican. Many see both sides in the "culture war" making individual freedom and personal happiness the ultimate value rather than God and the common good. Liberals’ individualism comes out in their views of abortion, sex, and marriage. Conservatives’ individualism comes out in their deep distrust of the public sector and in their understanding of poverty as simply a failure of personal responsibility. The new, fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God p. xix

If there is something I truly detest it is politics, and with the advent of the internet, political blogs, and and endless stream of television devoted to said subject, it is very difficult to get away from it.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if folks told the truth about what they believed.  Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if opponents didn't lie about each other so much and sling mud.  Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the extremes didn't seem to dominate.  Perhaps if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his butt every time he hopped.  But a frog ain't got wings.  I'm just saying...

From a Christian perspective, the rule of politics is a complicated matter.  On the one had, we are engaged in the political process.  We are called upon to be members in both the church and the state.  We are also called to allow our Christian convictions to guide us when casting our votes.  Yet, within the church, allowing one's deep seeded belief guide one's voting hand has often turned into advocacy within politics.

Now, let me be clear about what I believe.  I believe that advocacy is not a bad thing in and of itself.  I engage in it all the time.  Whenever I say that I believe abortion should be severely limited in its availability (only in the cases of rape, incest, and endangerment to the life of the mother), I am advocating a particular point of view.  Also, whenever I say I believe no one should go broke because of catastrophic illness, I am advocating another point of view.  Both of these convictions come from deep within my understanding of the Christian faith.  I believe abortion for the purposes of birth control violates the commandment "Thou shalt not kill."  I also believe loving one's neighbor as one's self demands us to care for our neighbor in times of need.  Siphoning off all a neighbor has because that neighbor has a catastrophic illness is not loving one's neighbor.  Now, I know there are those who might disagree with me on both of those points, but I have come to both of those positions after much struggle and thought.  You'd have to have a strong argument to sway me.

Yet, as deeply as I hold these convictions and advocate for them, I do not take the next step and try to impose these positions upon society in general.  Why?  What prevents me from doing such a thing?

Simply put, it is not the church's role to dictate politics.  The Religious Left and the Religious Right have it wrong.  History is filled with circumstances in which the church tried to govern and rule in the realm of politics.  The results were almost always disastrous.  For a religious organization that preaches love and compassion, when the church has garnered political power, it has generally turned into an abusive, corrupt institution.  The Spanish Inquisition and Russian pogroms bear witness to such a fact.  So do the Salem Witch Trials.  Not exactly pretty moments in the history of the church

I fear the same thing is happening with the Religious Left and the Religious Right.  People in both of these arenas are pushing to have the United States' government adhere to Christian principles.  Both are short sighted, as Keller points out.  Both are relentless in their pursuits: one side almost blindly supporting Republicans and the other almost blindly supporting Democrats.

For people like myself, such blind support is appalling.  This is why I have written in candidates for the past several years when it came to voting.  I couldn't stand the options because neither seemed to encapsulate the values I held dear--values, again, that come from my Christian faith.

I mean, as a Christian, I hold for myself a high standard of morality.  I do not like the permissiveness of the sexual culture that surrounds me.  I don't like how women and men are turned into objects for mere gratification.  I don't like the prevalence of divorce, and while I believe there are cases when divorce is necessary (I've even a counseled a few to obtain one), I believe it should be very difficult to go through.  I believe should I choose to invoke the name of God at a school function, I should be allowed to do so as a witness of my faith.  I believe homosexual intercourse is a sin.  I believe that even though I have a hard time following all the tenets of the Christian faith, I am still called to uphold them as best as I possibly can.  Try articulating such beliefs in the public arena, and one is immediately pigeonholed as a lunatic, right wing conservative.

And, they would be right in one sense.  But they also might be surprised to learn: I believe the government should provide a safety net for those who fall on hard times (although I think there should be work created for folks to get that safety net).  I don't mind paying taxes when I know they go to a young man with cerebral palsy whose mother has forsaken all to care for him and keep him alive.  I don't mind my taxes going to pay for his health care one iota.  I also would like to see some sort of civil service which allows gays and lesbians to receive the benefits of marriage without calling it a marriage.  I hate it that my wife's uncle's partner could technically be refused entry to a hospital to visit him because he's not "family."  I also believe there is such a thing as institutional poverty, and we should work diligently to address the failures of every form of government to address that poverty.  I believe every person should have access to basic health care--at what point we draw the line between basic and intensive, I haven't figured out yet.  I believe immigration reform is a dire need so that folks can come and work to provide for their families--yet I also believe safeguards must be in place so folks cannot game the system.

Tell me: where do I fit in politically?  Do I fit comfortably with Democrats?  Do I fit comfortably with Republicans?  Nope.  I'm a hybrid of some sort.  There really is no place that I fit on the political spectrum.

Given time, I believe most Christians would find themselves near to where I am at.  If they really examine their beliefs, I believe they would find themselves morally conservative and socially liberal--just as Keller articulates. 

Yet, and here is the kicker, we must not try to impose such an imposition upon the rest of the culture.  We are not to seek power.  We are to seek to be salt and light.  We are called to add our flavor to the surrounding culture and change it by our humility and witness to Jesus Christ.  It is only when others see our faith in action--our willingness to make sacrifices, care for others, and uphold morality, that they will be convinced our way of life is different and worth seeking out.  This is what it means to be a witness to our Christian faith (Acts 1: 7).  We do not seek to influence through power, but through service.

Politics is about power, and that is why I hate it.

No comments: