Friday, September 28, 2012

Fridays on Faith and Politics - An Introduction and a Question

So, as if there wasn't enough chatter around the interwebs about politics and religion (and, might I add, their in-many-cases-unholy alliance) I decided to do this little series on faith and politics in the run-up to the election. (The subsequent installments can be found here: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)


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Now, if you know me (or have ever met me...or possibly glanced at my twitter account...or talked to me in the line at the grocery store), you know that I am...ahem...a passionate person when it comes to politics.  Really though, I'm less passionate about politics itself as a discipline, and much more passionate about the values that inform both political conversation and political action. So, it would be a bit silly, if not a bit disingenuous, to completely ignore the giant elephant (and donkey) in the room and avoid any political discussion at all on the blog here. 


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However, much like forest rangers conducting controlled burn, I'm purposefully limiting myself to 1 day a week (and the day of the week where nobody really reads blogs anyway, let alone ranty ones about faith and politics) just to get all of the old, built-up crud out before lighting strikes and we've got an out-of control blaze.

So, for this and the next five Fridays up until the election, I'll be writing about the intersection of faith and politics.  I promise there will be little or no name-calling, and that this will be a dialogue, not a diatribe. 

 (Also, if you've got a suggestion for a specific topic you'd like me to address, please feel free to leave it in the comments section below!!)

Well, that was the introduction part, and now for the question. It's simple really:

what does our politics say about our faith?

Now here, it's easy to paint with broad strokes and make sweeping generalizations about how "conservatives" do this and "progressives" do that, but let's be honest, that's not really all that helpful. Labels tend to otherize people in a way that makes it far too easy for us to dismiss them, but actions, I think, paint a much clearer picture of a person. So, I'll just ask a couple of questions that deal with the government taking on responsibilities that, traditionally speaking, have belonged to the church (taking care of the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for orphans and widows, etc.) in the hopes that our answers might unpack that notion of our faith informing our politics a bit.

  1. If the government is performing one of these functions, and I am actively advocating for politicians and policies that would inhibit or completely restrict the government from performing one or all of those functions (but not offering a meaningful personal or corporate alternative), what does that say about my faith? What does it say about the value I place on Christ's commands to (personally) do these things? What message does it send to those who might potentially suffer as a result of these policies?  And most importantly, does my taking this stand and advocating for these politicians and policies (and the manner in which I do so) express the Love of Christ?
  2. If the government is performing one of these functions, and I am actively advocating for politicians and policies that would continue to provide and expand the government's role in performing one or all of those functions (but not actively participating, whether individually or as a part of a local faith community, in the meeting of these needs), what does that say about my faith?  What does it say about the value I place on Christ's commands to (personally) do these things? What message does it send to those who benefit from these policies?  And most importantly, does my taking this stand and advocating for these politicians and policies (and the manner in which I do so) express the Love of Christ?
So that's it, just a little food for thought for your Friday.  Let me know what you think.  Really, honestly, I want to know what you think, because I'm still not entirely sure what it is that I think. Let's figure it out together.

19 comments:

  1. 1 and 2 are basically the same thing then.

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    1. I think they're driving at a similar conclusion, but I wouldn't necessarily say they're basically the same. I think both point to a need for an examination of our priorities, but perhaps from different perspectives.

      Functionally speaking, they're *very* different though. Certainly from the perspective of those affected by the particular policies/politicians being advocated, they're not basically the same. Would you agree with that?

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    2. Agree. From the perspective of the individual acting though they are the same in that there is no action.

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    3. Is it coherent to say that there is no action from the individual that is acting? I think here is where the planes of action I referenced below might come in handy. Certainly there is some action, the question then is at what level that action is taking place, no?

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    1. The problem, I think, is that we've been underthinking this problem for too long. It's high time the pendulum swung back the other way.

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  3. As far as the (personally) part, in my limited experience those who do those things personally tend to also support politicians who advocate for government to do those things. I suspect that's simply because it is important to them, and how it happens is not all that relevant.

    I appreciate the question of "What does that say about my faith?" I think a lot of times we fail to realize our actions indicate what our faith is. In other words, regardless of what we claim to believe, we act according to our actual beliefs.

    If your taking requests I'd like to hear your thoughts on the idea of choosing the lesser of two evils versus getting behind a candidate who will lose but you can feel good about supporting.

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    1. I've certainly had that experience as well, but I've also seen the consumerist mentality that says "I gave at the (IRS) office" that seperates that act of giving from the recipient of the gift. That detachment is really what I'm driving at here. I don't think that Christ's commands to take care of the least of these were only for the sake of the least of these; they were just as much for those of us who are more fortunate. Humanizing the "other," by putting a face, a name, a voice with a need tends to shock our systems into recognizing our own privilege and working that much harder to alleviate the suffering we see around us. The detachment that comes from the consumerist model of charity eliminates that humanization aspect, which is, I think, where the real danger is.

      I think the "what does that say about my faith" question is, perhaps, the most important one (if we really take our faith seriously). If we truly believe in things like grace, redemption, love, and the Kingdom of God, that should *absolutely* be reflected in our politics.

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  4. This is where I find myself. I grew up in a fundamentalist/very conservative home. As I grew I could sense this is NOT where I truly fit and kept pushing the boundaries of what my family and community thought was politically acceptable.

    I am now in a much more progressive/liberal faith community and I realize I am probably somewhere in between...way too liberal for my conservative friends and too conservative for my liberal friends.

    Trying to reconcile personal responsibility (as a Christ follower) and social responsibility (as a Christ follower).

    It seems, for me, in looking at my conservative friends, that Proverbs is used as the answer to everything. And that, I have a problem with. I don't understand how Proverbs 17:16, Prov 10:4, Prov 13:4, etc, somehow trump JESUS.

    My current church does a LOT for the community. A LOT. When I heard the percentage of funds that goes to ministries that feed the homeless, mentor children, etc I was shocked. I feel so blessed to be part of a church that is working in obedience to what Jesus commanded.

    So, when I look at your questions, I think about what my church does. And even if all churches acted in a similar manner, it still wouldn't be enough.

    There is so much need. So much hurt. And I can't say that it's okay and look past it.

    As a follower of Christ, I think it's my duty to both as an individual and a member of a faith community work to ease the needs of others. I also feel it is my duty to advocate for a government (which my friends swear is based on God) to do the same.

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    1. Stories like yours encourage me. :)

      I think that you hit on a couple of really great points, but the one I want to highlight is the various levels or dimensions of action. Your story pretty clearly highlights what I see as three distinct (but connected) planes of action: personal, organizational, and universal. The personal plane of action says "I am doing X to meet these needs. The organizational says "we are collectively doing this to both meet these needs and equip others to meet these needs" and the universal plane says "We are putting in place these societal mechanisms (or keeping them from being dismantled) that serve not only to meet immediate needs, but challenge structural injustices that continue to create specific types of needs."

      I think the philosophy underpinning all of these planes should be somewhat consistent, but I think the extremes on either side are missing a part of one (or two or three) of them.

      Does that make sense at all?

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    2. Absolutely! It's one thing to take the step to say that we need to on that personal plane take action. And I think there are a lot of good Christian folk who do that, but seem to think that's where their responsibility ends(and giving to your church who gives to the poor doesn't, in my opinion, get you "off the hook" in helping the poor....that's just a good starting off point and good stewardship for a church).

      I just can't get past (and I am speaking of people I know, not trying to make sweeping generalizations) those who on one hand are fighting so hard to keep this a "Christian" country, but on the other hand complain about "entitlements." If you want your nation to be founded on God, then the nation's government needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

      There are people who have problems that are not just individual problems - they are born out of societal problems and as a society (and a specific subset of society that follows the teachings of Christ) we need to help them.

      So, yes, you make complete sense!

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    3. "If you want your nation to be founded on God, then the nation's government needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus."

      Whoa. I think that might be the thread winner right there. :)

      Seriously though, I do think that it's a valid criticism. There's certainly some incoherence in the whole "America as a Christian nation" concept.

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    4. That is one of the most backward statements I have heard about the church and state in a long time... That statement is completely off-base scripturally. You have "Been taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy." I urge you to search the scriptures without the glasses of progressivism. God Bless...

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    5. Cool story bro.

      I urge you to search the scriptures without the glasses of feckless American exceptionalism.

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  5. Because I know and love specific poor people and know what would happen to them if social services were axed, I have a bias in thinking about government programs though ideologically I find centralized power distasteful. I think that our current social order is the product of an utter lack of imagination. The municipal level of government needs to be strengthened. Taxes should be increased on a local level so that people with needs can be cared for by people who know the unique needs of their community.

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    1. I tend to be an advocate of localism as well, though I think the civil-rights era south might give us some strong arguments *against* it. I suppose my question here would be a kind of "what do we do in the meantime" one. For example, redesigning tax codes to distrubute resources locally takes time and political will (much of both), so how can the Church (or *should* the Church) step into the breach in the interim?

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  6. I've made a shift on this in the last few years. Basically from a more detached "let the government do it" attitude to a less detached, "woah, this is what it really feels like to KNOW how privileged I am, and how painful it is to KNOW how much need there is, and how close it is to me." I feel appreciative of your questions. I didn't shift politically. I still vote generally progressive, but I did have to do the hard work of acknowledging that there are lots of folks on "the other side" who are doing beautiful, hard, important work, and that even though I was where I wanted to be ideologically, I wasn't by any stretch on higher ground. It is humility and gratitude that I have to reach for to keep Jesus in the house during election season.

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    1. Oh goodness, this is so important. Even amongst progressives, I think the whole "I built this" concept still lurks at the corners of the subconscious. Acknowledging our privilege (and subsequently turning it around into something positive for the under-privileged) is a huge part of this. Thanks so much for bringing it up.

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  7. Religion and Politics have complemented each other since civilizations began Political pressure has led to Holy Wars and vice versa. The fake Redc vs. Blue Election cycle in the US is getting worse because the differences among the candidates and the people within the parties is so vast. Many Republicans across the country will sit home in November because of Mitt Romney and how he will impact their religious freedoms. Polarization is death to a democracy because we cannot even agree on something we agree without political pressure from religious or civil special interest to do nothing.

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