Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where should politics and religion intersect?

Another interesting post went up recently at Revolution in Jesusland, a blog by a former (?) atheist who is studying the movement in Christianity today to revitalize itself. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, but the piece that caught my attention was this.

On those points, the movement answers: "Okay, maybe, but Jesus never taught us to ‘take power.’ And so we must limit ourselves to witnessing from the ‘bottom’ and never try to put ourselves on ‘top’ in positions of power."

In college, I had friends who went off to join a weird little secretive Maoist party that was active on campus. It was a crazy thing to watch as they transported themselves back in time to the China of the 1940s. All their calculations about making social change here in America were messed up because their paradigm was based on the regime that Mao Zedong’s communists lived under as young persecuted revolutionaries. I think there’s a bit of that going on with this movement of Christian revolutionaries today. Too often, they’re applying the Way of Jesus to our modern-day world as though nothing has changed since the first-century Roman Empire.

But haven’t 2,000 years of redemptive history taken place since then?
This is a debate that Ward and I have from time to time. Where is Christianity supposed to be a "personal" phenomenon and where it is supposed to be a larger political force in the world. To break it down to the bare essentials of our argument, I would say the two sides are: (Nomad) "Jesus did not work on a political level and overtly rejected politics as a means to his ends. Thus, we should focus on the person-to-person side of our Christianity." (Ward) "Jesus's teachings affect all aspects of our lives and politics are just one more extension of our lives. Thus, our politics should be an active reflection of our morality and our Christianity." (This is obviously so simplistic as to almost be a caricature of the arguments, but I trust you get the point. Please be charitable in your responses.)

The question I continue to struggle with is how our personal sphere and the political sphere should intersect as Christians. Some people have wrought major change with political movements - Pat Robertson, the Moral Majority etc. But in the end, most of these are seen as failures or even embarrassments to the Church. But overall, the Christian movements that I see which have transformed our society have been apolitical - Promise Keepers, Billy Graham, etc.

What do Mod-Bloggers thing?


Ward said...

Indeed, we do go around on this one just about annually. For me, the public intersection of politics and personal faith are so muddied at this point that it's hard to have a "good" conversation about it. Too many people think "Politics + Religion = Pat Robertson" for example. But I think that Pat and Jerry and James are all embarrassments to the faith when they get into the spotlight. Why? Because they politicize the issues.

I believe that politics should be, must be, formed and informed by our faith and that what we do politically and as a country bears on each of our souls as individuals. But I believe that we can come at that principle from different angles. I might not like Al Sharpton as a political figure, but I respect that he is a man of faith trying to bring about the change that he views is important. I might disagree with him, and that's my right too.

Your faith should direct every action you take and every thought that you form. But we can do that without politicizing the atmosphere and embracing the over-arching image of the Kingdom of God, rather than the man-made kingdoms of political parties and doctrines that we have been force-fed.

So what I'm saying is that I think we can create a narrative of Christian activism that transcends "politics" and moves us to real change in this country.

"Nick" said...

See if you can get a copy of "The Case for Civility" by Os Guinness... I think he really gets to the root of the problem.

Nomad said...

Um, can you summarize it here, Nick?

Anonymous said...

A graduate of L'Ecole Nationale d'Administration told me of "bodies stacked like cordwood" during the guerres de religion, and I've heard Calvin's Switzerland described as a human abatoir. You might say I'm in favor of a secular state. I believe the American compromise is a good one: by permitting all religions, and by forbidding the state from having one, religious freedom is preserved. The greater goal, of course, is to thwart the religionists' perennial penchant for mutual slaughter.