Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Christians: Take a Season Off from Politics - We Don't Do It Well.

To be clear: yes, Christians should be concerned and involved IN the world. The trick – and our call – is not to be OF the world. The πολιτικό σώμα, the body politic, is certainly a part of our lives. But the partisan politics of America have taken a decisive turn away from the Christian ideals of ethics and morals in how we live our lives in Christian witness. 

From the book God’s Politics, p. 76:

“Most simply put, the two traditional options in America (Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative) have failed to capture the imagination, commitment, and trust of a clear majority of people in this country. Neither has found ways to solve our deepest and most entrenched social problems. Record prosperity hasn’t cured child poverty. Family breakdown is occurring across all class and racial lines. Public education remains a disaster for millions of families. Millions more still don’t have health insurance or can’t find affordable housing. The environment suffers from unresolved debates, while our popular culture become more and more polluted by violent and sex-saturated ‘entertainment.’ In local communities, people are more and more isolated, busy, and disconnected… The political Right and Left continue at war with each other, but the truth is that these false ideological choices themselves have run their course and become dysfunctional.” 

I would add that both parties give lip service to the increasing national debt and unfunded liabilities… and yet both get bigger and bigger every election. Not very fair to our children, and far from a conservative financial practice.

The moral dilemma many voters had in 2016 was one that resulted in the largest undervote for president in recorded history: a record 1.7 million people in 33 states and D.C. cast a ballot without voting in the presidential race (which is legal, by the way) – nearly 1 million more than in 2012. In other words, 1 out of 50 folks left the “choose one” on the presidential ballot blank.

“False equivalency” is the new buzzword people use when folks like me point out the dysfunction of a system that many of us feel passionate about. But there's no getting around the fact that, morally and ethically, people had good reasons not to support either candidate from a strictly moral/ethical standpoint: 
  • People were upset that Hillary Clinton stood by her man, and in so doing put a stamp of approval of silencing his abuse of women “for a greater good.” 
  • Likewise, American Evangelicals put their stamp of approval on Donald Trump, a thrice-married man caught on tape saying some very unflattering things about women, and who publicly stated once regarding repentance and asking God for forgiveness: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there… I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."
Neither of these folks would have survived such in days past. In fact, past presidential candidates dropped out of elections for things far less problematic than what we are willing to "overlook" today.

All people have feet of clay, and all fall short of the glory of God - myself included. In this season, I think it only faithful to act this way: support your candidate and/or party for their political ideology and philosophy. But please leave God and faith out of it, because there’s no way to bring God into this current season of politics - other than asking for forgiveness and mercy. In a Christian ethic and morality, the ends do not justify the means. In the political world, we seem to be comfortable with such. That may indeed be the practical solution to being a citizen in the present political climate. I’m even finding some peace with it, but please: let’s just leave God out of it. 

President Trump may be right when it comes to politics: “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't.” And before we beat up on our present president, know how many presidents – religious or not – have found themselves in similar situations when it came to war, political strategies, and how to win elections. Again – that may be what gets the job done in the political world. And again, my plea is simply: just don’t bring God into the picture. Certainly, don’t ask for the Almighty’s stamp of approval, or tout any candidate as “ordained by God.” That’s the classical definition of blasphemy.

I’m not advocating people divorce themselves of politics, but I am advocating that those who claim to be practicing Christians give it less press (and certainly less vitriol and passion) than we presently are giving it. It has become idolatrous. Ask yourself how people know you best by your public witness – social media, casual conversations, bumper stickers – and then examine such through your baptismal vows: is this how I want to be known in how I am a member of Christ’s holy church and serve as one of Christ’s representatives in the world? Is this how I best witness to the world with my prayers, presence, gifts, and service?

I’m an admitted political cynic: I’ve been a Republican, and I’ve been a Democrat. Now I am neither – as I cannot place either party into a Christian framework and live in either with integrity, and even using the logic of the “lesser of two evils,” I still find that doing such is still choosing evil. I envy those who can find a way to do so. 

Bryan Roberts, a former church planter and now a freelance writer, helped me put my difficult feelings on the matter into words: “Political discourse is the Las Vegas of Christianity—the environment in which our sin is excused. Hate is winked at, fear is perpetuated and strife is applauded. Go wild, Christ-follower. Your words have no consequences here. Jesus doesn’t live in Vegas.” He continues: “I balk when pastors tell me the Church should engage in the political process. Why would we do that? The political process is dirty and broken and far from Jesus. Paranoia and vitriol are hardly attractive accessories for the bride of Christ.”

Roberts suggests that Christians be involved, but that we talk about politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than mocks them. That I could live with. But I can’t abide the way it’s presently configured. My own denomination is beginning to mirror the US’s political environment, because our culture seems to thrive on competition, paranoia, and vitriol. That’s what happens when you move from being IN the world to being OF the world.

Roberts’ seven things to remember about politics might do us some good: as a nation, and as a denomination:
  1. Both political parties go to church.
  2. Political talk radio and cable “news” only want ratings.
  3. Those who argue over politics don’t love their country more than others.
  4. Thinking your party’s platform is unflawed is a mistake.
  5. Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders and to respect those in authority. This doesn’t mean praying the President will be impeached; it doesn’t mean praying your candidate will win and the other lose, and it doesn't mean approving of bad behavior. 
  6. Don’t be paranoid. The country is not going to be destroyed if your candidate loses. Democrats and Republicans have been presidents for a long, long time.
  7. Stop saying, “This is the most important election in the history of our nation.” It’s not. Every generation thinks it’s living in the most important moment in history. We’re not, our parents were not and our children probably won’t be.
In Jesus’ time, Caesar Tiberius was the emperor. He was also a murderer, abused many sexually and mentally, enslaved Jesus’ people, and claimed to be a god. When some asked Jesus about supporting the emperor by paying taxes (and thus trying to trap him), he told his detractors: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” They didn’t respond by saying, “Told you so!” or “Now we know the answer to that question!” They were amazed and couldn’t respond at all… and left on their way. In short: Jesus didn’t play their game nor dignified their questions with an answer. 

Neither should we. Let’s be in the world, but not of the world.