I normally blog about religious matters, and those religious matters are not really theology as such, but are related to my personal walk of faith, the spiritual life, or the life of my community. I also make use of social media a good deal in order to read what other people write and also to share what other people write. People who follow me on Twitter, have me in their circles on Google +, or are my friends on Facebook have likely noticed that I tend to post a lot about politics and, given the content of the posts I share (and my self-identified political views of Facebook as being “Social Democrat”) it is fairly obvious that I am on the left side of things in American politics and, really, the far left side of things. I am, in fact, a type of socialist.
With the amount of time I spend reading about politics, talking about politics, sharing about politics, or otherwise engaging with politics, it is quite possible for me to be pigeon-holed into someone’s caricature of a progressive-liberal or, worse, for people to assume that my hope for the salvation of the world is in politics. I hope to address both of these concerns in this blog post.
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The last time I wrote a blog entry about politics was in the lead up to the presidential election between Senator McCain and then Senator Obama. I wrote a piece that, honestly, was the reproduction of the narrative Obama fed a lot of the young people, with a particular Christian twist. I had no good grasp of policy, not that I have a fantastic grasp now (I don’t think anyone not paid professionally to affect legislation really has a great grasp of policy, and even then it is iffy), and I oversimplified the contest. Essentially I said that I was voting for Obama because he wanted to help the poor and, though he is pro-choice, his agenda included battling one the root causes of abortion: poverty. I concluded that I figured Jesus would vote for him too. Oh, and I threw in an argument from Brian McLaren about Obama’s “narrative” of peace and McCain’s “narrative” of war.
Anyway, I was confronted rather quickly with the fact that I was making Obama the messiah. I took down the post after a couple of days, apologized for making Obama equal to Jesus, and then went to the poles and voted for him.
I would vote for him again against any of the Republicans running for President. I still basically assume the things I said in that blog post three years ago. But, I have evolved considerably in the way I engage this particular world of ideas.
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Let me state as clearly and unequivocally as I can: Jesus Christ is the Lord and savior of the earth. Only when he returns will The Kingdom of mercy, peace, and justice be established fully on the earth. I am so glad that my hope is in God and not in humanity because, let’s be frank here, humanity has royally screwed up this world.
The Christian narrative asserts that it was humanity who brought sin into the world. Through sin, death also came. All of the diseases, natural disasters, systemic injustices, poverty, and personal sins, and even aggression by animals against other animals is a result of the Fall of Humanity.
The Christian narrative asserts that there are forces in this world (traditionally understood as demons and Satan) who oppose God’s plan and seek to trap humanity in the bondage of sin.
The Christian (and Jewish) narrative asserts that there is coming a day when God’s Anointed One, a savior, will come to earth and set everything right. Imagine that! No cancer! No sex trafficking! No lying! No betrayal! No racism! No poverty! The savior will fix ALL wrongs and, more than that, will establish a Kingdom where everything is right.
The Christian narrative asserts that the Anointed One came once, 2,000 years ago, and, by dying on the cross, he (Jesus Christ) somehow (there are lots of atonement metaphors, but that is for another time) triumphed over both our PERSONAL sin and over the CORPORATE sins of all. Additionally, he conquered the dark powers that have kept humanity in bondage from the beginning. In the way I understand the atonement, both the substitution and Christus Victor models are true.
The Christian narrative asserts that the Anointed One will return a second time to destroy the dark powers once and for wall, establish his Kingdom of mercy, justice, and peace and, finally, destroy death itself. In this way, all of the results of the Fall of humanity are rectified in the Restoration of humanity. The last thing the Bible describes God doing is creating a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.
There were some optimistic Christian theologians on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who argued that Western society would somehow evolve into the Kingdom of God on earth. At the rate society was progressing, it would be able to end all war and fix all poverty. The world wars pretty much smashed this view point into the ground.
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How does this fit in to my politics?
Well, it goes like this:
I am a values person. By this I mean I have a core set of values through which I look at everything else. The same values which tell me that “that’s what she said jokes” are wrong also tell me that the sex trafficking here and abroad is wrong. The value that informs this is that women are people, and, more than that, they are image-bearers of God. They deserve the respect that is taken from them by both of these things, though sex-trafficking is a far greater problem.
Even more broadly, the same value that tell me that I should act like a Good Samaritan and assist the beaten man on the side of the road also tells me that I should seek to make sure that the systemic causes of poverty are repaired. As Rauschenbusch has said, “The Good Samaritan did not go after the robbers with a shot gun, but looked after the wounded and helpless man by the wayside. But if hundreds of Good Samaritans traveling the same road should find thousands of bruised men groaning to them, they would not be such Good Samaritans if they did not organize a vigilance committee to stop the manufacturing of wounded men. If they did not, presumably then the asses who had to lug the wounded to the tavern would have the wisdom to inquire into the causes of their extra work” (305, Christianity and the Social Crisis).
My values are simple.
- God made people as the highest creation, and then called those people his children.
- People deserve respect as children of God.
- Christians are people of the cross. A people who, like Jesus, take on the pain and suffering of the world and redeem it for God’s glory.
- One day God will fix everything but, until then, as a regenerate people we showcase God’s glory by working for the betterment of all.
As a citizen of the United States of America, I have the political right to participate in the running of my country. My true citizenship, however, is in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it clear in the parable of the Shrewd Manager: use whatever temporal resources are at your disposal for the sake of the Kingdom. Since the coming Kingdom is one of peace, mercy, and justice, I ought to use whatever tools are at my disposal to bring about those aims, knowing full well they won’t be totally realized until Jesus returns. I will, then, as a citizen of the US, use my rights to affect the way our society is governed to make it look more like the Kingdom.
I honestly think that Christians of all persuasions can get to this point. The disagreement is over what policies best affirm mercy, peace, and justice.
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Some Christians have abandoned participation in politics because they do not think it has to do with God. I respect that position (held by many Mennonites and by David Lipscomb), but I totally disagree with it. Paul said that government was God’s instrument on the earth for the ordering of a good society. In the country in which we live, we have unique opportunities to influence the pagan society for God.
For those Christians involved in politics, the question has to do with which policies bring glory to God and love neighbor better than self. I do not have the space or time to delve deep into why I think extremely liberal policies do this the best, but I can give a brief list of resources that have influenced me in that direction from a Christian perspective. I am not saying all of the below authors come to the same conclusions I do, but their works certainly led me that direction.
- The Old Testament Law regarding distribution of land and treatment of foreigners.
- The Old Testament prophets crying out that it was exploitation of the poor that brought judgment.
- John Howard Yoder argues persuasively that the demonic forces and powers in the New Testament are exemplified in the -isms, structures, and systems of our world. For instance, the international economy that helps the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. For more on this see Professor of Psychology at ACU Dr. Richard Beck’s blog.
- Shane Claiborne’s book Jesus for President.
- Walter Rauschenbusch’s book Christianity and the Social Crisis written in 1907 in response the the oppression of workers during the Industrial Revolution.
- Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes us Just which explores the inadequacy of charity as the Church’s social mission.
- Any of the papal encyclicals in the Catholic Social Teaching.
- Gustavo Gutierrez’s book A Theology of Liberation regarding freedom and oppression in Latin America.
- The works of Jim Wallis including God’s Politics: How the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it.
- The Catholic teaching about a “Seamless Garment of Life” from conception to natural death.
In order to promote the liberal positions as a Christian you have to believe four things.
- Outside circumstances can wreck people.
- Outside circumstances have conspired to oppress the poor and downtrodden, at little or no fault of their own.
- The oppression of the poor and downtrodden by outside circumstances opposes the Kingdom.
- Government is a good and proper tool for righting some of the wrong.
I get that some of you deny premises one, two, or four. Those are policy and fact questions, not values ones. And, depending on the issue, I may disagree with the left as well. The problem with the way America does politics is it ties people to positions or systems of thought. For instance, I am very liberal, but I am also pro-life. I think abortion should be criminalized because unborn babies are people made in the image of God. Also, I am heavily influenced by Anabaptist teaching about pacifism and am not sure if war is ever just. The goal then, as a Christian, is to approach politics from as holistic a perspective as you can and not blindly embrace the secular categories already in existence. Look at politics through Kingdom eyes while knowing that you make mistakes.
I hope this helps to clarify where I stand and why I stand there. If you have any questions or are interested in continuing the conversation, please comment below or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.