Friday, October 12, 2012

Fridays on Faith and Politics - The Inner Dialogue of a Political Basket Case

This is the third installment in this series on faith and politics. You can read the other installments here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4 and Part 5.

So, the first couple of weeks were pretty general philosophical questions about the nature of our role as Christians in the political sphere.  I'm not sure that we really settled anything except perhaps that what we do in the realm of electoral politics matters, but perhaps not as much as the rest of our lives. As my friend Aaron pointed out in his comment last week, politics is more than voting, it is the sum total of our engagement with the polis. So in that sense, perhaps it is who we are on a day to day basis that matters much more than our actions in a voting booth.

But anyway, general philosophical arguments aside, this week let's get a bit more specific. My guest post over at Brandon's place this week was about burning it all down and finding the foundations underneath.

Today, I'm the guy with the flamethrower.

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 [CAVEAT: The following is a glimpse at my internal dialogue on these issues. It is, essentially, the conversation that has taken place in my head over the last few years. All of the positions I'm going to criticize below I have held at some point or do currently hold, which should show you that I'm just as much of a basket case about this as anyone.]

[Some of these criticisms might feel a bit harsh, but I promise, I'm not being critical solely for the sake of being critical or to look like Mr. Smarty Pants. This is the journey that I've gone through in exploring the role of my faith in my political engagement, and my hope is that sharing it here might help you along in yours.]

So, let's begin.

"I'm standing up for Biblical principles."

Translation: I'm standing up for those principles I have deemed to be important from my approach to interpreting Biblical narratives.

Reality: We all pick and choose what parts of Scripture we adhere to or emphasize, and which parts we don't.  Perhaps the only "Biblical principles" that enjoy any kind of universal recognition are notions of Love and Redemption, but those are never really the "Biblical principles" I'm standing up for, and often, the "Biblical principles" I'm standing up for often run in direct opposition to Love and Redemption, so something must be wrong.

"I'm standing up for justice."

Translation: Well, this one kind of speaks for itself.  Justice is the idol that I have raised in place of the Gospel.

Reality: I'm not saying that standing up for justice is a bad thing, but what I've realized in my own life is that my zeal for seeking justice in the realm of electoral politics often outpaces my zeal for the Kingdom of God. It is no coincidence that Christ said to seek first the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the earthly manifestation of these concepts of Love, Justice, Mercy, and Equality that we're so often fighting for. When I seek to change my own life, my own environment, and the culture around me, these things just come naturally, and when I seek this crude facsimile of justice that we see in electoral politics, I'm just settling for second best.

"I'm worried about my children's future."

Translation: I'm scared that my kids might not be as well off as I am, and I've so completely and thoroughly bought into the materialistic, consumerist American worldview that I see that as the worst possible eventuality, and I would rather my children prosper at the expense of others than vice versa.

Reality: I don't have enough faith in the Kingdom of God (or community, commonwealth, economy, whatever language you wish to use) to believe that my children's futures might be secure in it, so I'm not going to invest in that Kingdom community or help to create the kind of world for my children that doesn't measure their quality of life based on their job or their house or their car or the letters after their name. I'm going to settle for the terms dictated to me by our culture, and I'm going to participate in politics that reinforce that culture and maintain the status quo.

"I'm caring for the least of these."

Translation: I'm abdicating my responsibility for caring for the least of these to someone else. I'm mailing it in.

Reality: I see supporting a progressive policy agenda as an excuse for not doing what we're all called to do in caring for the least of these. I see it as a chance to continue living my life in a particular way and still nominally caring for the least of these while avoiding being made uncomfortable in any way. My care for the least of these only goes so far, and supporting policies such as these allows me to maintain a veneer of caring for the least of these while still maintaining my own privilege. 

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So where the heck does that leave us??  Well, as you can see, I'm still figuring this thing out too, but I can't help but think that the parting words of I Cor. 13 (Message) come into play here:
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!  But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
The witness that I bear to the world of Christ's redemptive work in my life, when taken as a whole and in the specific case of my political involvement, should be measured by these three things:

Does it help people move into a trusting relationship with God?
Does it serve to foster hope in places that have only known despair?
Does it emanate, unmistakably, the aroma of extravagant Love?

If the answer to any of those three statements is "No," then I'm doing it wrong.

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What do you think? Have you thought some of these same things? Did you come to different conclusions? Tell me about it in the comments.

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