Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Christians and the tradition of partisan politics

Things are heating up again, on the political scene, as this November's congressional elections draw closer- and for other reasons, for that matter.

I grew up in Ohio in a county predominantly of registered voters of one of the two big parties here (Dems and Repubs). We were with the majority in that county, and quite partisan (I won't say which party).

Now it's certainly not wrong to be either a Democrat or Republican, or even have a sense of being partisan to your party. We need Christians active to influence both parties, and politics in general in our country.

What I do have a problem with, though, is Christian's propensity to generally "rubber stamp" whatever their party officials' positions are, on any given issue. I've seen problems related to this on both sides. It comes with this view: Our side is right, the other side is always wrong. With that view, comes a questioning of the other side's integrity. At least of their intelligence, and sooner than later- it seems, their very character.

The rationale (?, or is it, excuse) given for cutting down, usually character-wise, people from the opposing party (I call that: slander- Titus 3:1-2), is that these are elected officials. Somehow that is supposed to mean they are no longer in the position of "authorities", since they, in a sense, represent the people who voted for them. In no way, though, does that relieve the Christian of acting like a Christian is called to act, in this or any other context. Nor does a democracy mean there are no longer authorities we are to acknowledge as to their position, or love as our neighbor.

Does that mean we can't question and criticize a politician? No. I think we'd all agree on that. A democracy is meant to promote citizens' views to be on the table and everything open to debate. But how do we do it? Do we do it as those who love the politician? Or as a typical American response of "trashing" the politician?

What about our response to those governments participating in genocide or injustices? Here we must pray for justice to be done. Such are completely out of step with God's calling to governing authorities. And Christians can speak the truth in love. Though in doing so, we need to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves. And we are here to give the witness that there is one Lord: Jesus. And Caesar is not.

Father, Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Let us be a light in this world. In the way we think and speak of others, particularly here, of governmental officials. Let us work in this world, as those who would bring in, wherever and to whomever we can, your kingdom in Jesus. Amen.

32 comments:

Becky said...

Hi Ted:

Your post gets at something I've felt for a long time about the relationship between Christians and Politics. The *rubber stamp* mentality is balanced by that empty bumper sticker that says "God is not a Republican or a Democrat." While that may be (is?) true, what Christians need is a fuller understanding of the political and ethical requirements of our faith and worldview.

I wonder if much of this is the result of a wholesale disengagement with the issues facing the culture today. I think the church in general struggles to help the body of Christ identify WHAT the positions are and WHY our positions on these views matter. Engaging these issues may vacate the rubber stamp agendas. Just a thought.

Ted Gossard said...

hi Becky,

Thanks for your good thoughts. I couldn't agree with you more, that we need to work through to "a fuller understanding of the political and ethical requirements of our faith and worldview." I think this is one of the strengths in N.T. Wright's writings which revolutionized my theology, and in the sense of bringing God's kingdom coming in Jesus, to bear on every item and agenda in this world today.

Excellent point you made about engaging the issues today. Quite a challenge as I think of one category alone (helping couples have biological children). It surely does take some effort and time, to really get acquainted with the issues so as to have a good Christian response to them.

This is one reason why Paul Henry, a former U.S. congressman of our district of Grand Rapids (now "with the Lord"), is one of my favorite politicans. As I recall he voted less with President Reagan, than any other Republican, around 50% of the time. He thoughtfully engaged the issues from a strong Christian worldview.

Thanks for adding that important, helpful point to this post.

Ted Gossard said...

(One thing more):

Of course coupled with us knowing what's going on around us, is to know where we stand on issues. Both are challenging of themselves.

Becky said...

Ted:

I'm glad you mentioned NT Wright. I have also benefitted greatly from his ideas and views on Kingdom Theology and Kingdom practices.

I've been taking an Educational Ministries class this semester and we've discussed at length the difference between application and implication (where implication requires us to find ourselves in the text and work from that recognition). I feel strongly that our Christian worldview and Kingdom focus should implicate us with respect to several ethical positions.

Too often we let our political sensibilities determine our position on issues, when we should let our Christian understanding and orientation determine and direct our responses to ethics.

This is a great conversation and stimulating as I prepare for my summer Ethics course! Thanks!

Ted Gossard said...

Implication and application. Thanks Becky for adding that stretching thought.

I take it you mean something like: Our Christian worldview and Kingdom focus should give us direction as to where we're going to stand or what we're going to do, with reference to a given ethical consideration/issue.

This probably puts our focus where it needs to be. We're focusing on what is true, good, noble, right, etc., from God, from his revelation to us in Christ and in Scripture. So that we can have moral discernment and understanding as to how we are to approach an issue as well as where we end up in regards to that issue.

Thanks again.

Bob Robinson said...

I disagree with Becky that the bumper sticker "God is not a Republican or a Democrat" is "empty."
I was one that financially supported that campaign during the last presidential election, and I proudly have that bumper sticker on my car.
It states, in a soundbite, that God cannot be reduced to the political platforms of the two parties (particulary the Republican Party). Jim Wallis, who leads Sojourners, the organization that did that campaign, wrote a NYTimes bestseller (God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It) that meticulously explained that American politics needs to be about a wide amount of moral issues, not just the 2 or 3 that the Religious Right has talked about. Our faith and worldview must impact our engagement about issues like economics, poverty, healthcare, AIDS, world debt, global warming, etc.

Makeesha said...

I've been reading a lot of articles and interviews lately about the frustration with this issue - that and nationalistic tendancies. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the "you can't be a real Christian if you don't vote Republican" attitude that seems pretty status quo in most of evangelical Christianity.

I appreciate very much NT Wright's thoughts on how Christianity was confronting the wrong thinking of Ceasar as a god-king and replacing it with Jesus as THE one, the only God-King.

Derek Webb, in his album Mockingbird has a great song about this similar issue.

I'm glad this kind of dialogue is going on in Christianity.

PS - I've been enjoying your comments over at Jesus Creed and finally popped over here :)

Makeesha said...

bob said "American politics needs to be about a wide amount of moral issues, not just the 2 or 3 that the Religious Right has talked about. Our faith and worldview must impact our engagement about issues like economics, poverty, healthcare, AIDS, world debt, global warming, etc."

absolutely!

Becky said...

Bob:

My interactions with the bumper sticker have been either (a) while I am driving, or (b) on a residence-hall room door. While thought-provoking, neither of these interactions occasion a conversation about the substance of the info communicated by the bumper sticker.

I absolutely agree that our faith must be about much more than the ideas proffered by the Religious Right. However, these have to be communicated in ways other than soundbytes or uncontextualized sayings. This is my reasoning behind calling it "empty."

I've not read Wallis' book, but I am familiar with the ideas of the Sojourners. Our ethical positions must (first) come from our faith and worldview, as you've argued, and (second) influence and direct our politics. In general, I think we have this order fairly screwed up.

Our churches need to have--or continue--substantive conversations about the necessary connection between worldview, ethics, and politics. As an ethics instructor at a local University, I try to connect my students with a recognition of their worldview--theistic or otherwise--in order to help them understand that the positions we have on certain issues are deeply connected to who we are and where our commitments are as well.

As a college minister, I'm certain you run into the same kinds of issues with your students. I'd be interested to hear the ways in which you engage these topics with them.

Ted Gossard said...

Makeesha,

Thanks for stopping by. And for your good thoughts.

One thing I've noticed among Christians entrenched in one view. You often can't discuss anything. You can't really talk through issues in a way that may be at variance with their political party. You're just written off as "wrong", or, "we don't agree so there's no use to talk about it."

Thankfully not all are like that. So that one can thoughtfully dialogue with them. But usually a group means one has to tread very softly, or not at all, in that.

Ted Gossard said...

...and I find, more often than not, that we both come away from such a discussion, with at least new insight into the other's thinking and position, and sometimes even making us consider the weaknesses in our own position.

Makeesha said...

Ted,

oh yeah, I face that every time I try talking to my parents about this stuff...I just don't bother anymore...which is ok, we have a great relationship otherwise. But they do epitomise why it's so hard to dialogue with some about certain issues.

and yes, it is very true that healthy dialogue leads to humility...but you have to approach dialogue with humility for it to be healthy..so it can be tough.

Ted Gossard said...

While I suppose I run the risk of straddling the fence and really not being on any side, I'd say this about the bumper sticker, that Bob, you mention: "God is not a Republican or a Democrat".

I think it makes an important point that needs to be heard loud and clear by all. That being Christian and part of the kingdom of God come in Jesus, while it should be a mover and shaker in politics, both Democrat and Republican- of itself it is neither.

Sometimes I think Christians, in our attitudes, practically exalt one party or another as at least an important ally to the kingdom of God. But our kingdom must be brought to bear as a critique of all other kingdoms, and of all human endeavors. But to critique in a constructive manner- our goal- as salt and light on the earth.

Perhaps that is towards the content needed that Becky mentions, but such "sound bites" can open opportunities for such content. So I think they can have value (from a non bumper sticker man- though that's one of the few bumper stickers I like!).

DLW said...

Hi Ted, great post.

I like the need for us to deliberate and build some distance between us and the parties so we can not let typical partisan bickering affect us and we can have more influence over our respective parties.

I myself wrote my ideal-type party platform a while back and thought you might like it.

I also wrote this recently on the need for a generous orthopraxy in Christian political involvement...

dlw

Dan said...

Hi Ted, this comment has nothing to do with this post, but i just posted something over on Jesus Creed reflecting on your comment to Scott's latest post on McLaren's new book.

"Ted,
Robert W. Jenson writes, “I followed Jonathan in proposing that the final word about God is that he is beautiful, and that as he is the biblical God, who is Whence and Whither, he is beautiful with that kind of beauty that a certain kind of music has. The last word about God, I said, is that he is a great fugue, of Father, Son, and Spirit.

The last word about us is this: the end is music.” (Jenson is referring to the conclusion of vol. 1 of his Systematic Theology.)

Along these same lines, isn’t it interesting that the latest movement in the quest for a unified field theory by physicists is string theory with “string” referring to the strings of fine stringed instruments!

It seems that music is all around and within and thus the image of Jesus as the master musician (quite the iconic phrase!) teaching his brothers and sisters to play the music of the Kingdom and to do so in this present era seems right."

Then again, maybe these thoughts do have something to say as to how we a followers of Jesus should do politics.

Dan said...

about the bumper sticker... perhaps it should go even further saying, "God isn't even a USAmerican!"

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

Thanks for your kind words and for your comment. I find your party platform to be quite interesting. And I think you're headed in a good direction in your generous orthopraxy in Christian political involvement.

I see some danger in trying to set up an alternative third, more Christian party, though I believe you recognize this danger and try to guard against it. It can end up making Christians think that, at last, now, a party, that is not far from (and maybe an ally or even a part of, or closer yet than my current party to) the kingdom of God. I know you would refuse that. But many would not, I'm afraid. I do think we need more Christian involvement in all/both the parties.

Also, with some of the positions your platform takes, I can see some Christians disagreeing. Of course party platforms do not require unanimity (spelling?). But to have the kind of Christian orthopraxy you're suggesting might be facilitated with some stances that have some flexibility as to how an underlying principle is to be carried out in policy.

Having said all that, I still think the positions you're taking, or the platform is taking, are good, in that there is shown, as you say, a generous orthopraxy in Christian political involvement. And this involves thinking through and then suggesting/marking down some positions (on difficult issues, as you do).

I would more tend to opt for this kind of voice in the forums/parties that now exist, and especially those that have the most influence. Because if we can affect them, then we can do the most good.

At the same time, nothing new would ever happen apart from visionary thought and activity, as from what you've shared. And all things have their start.

So I'd say, keep working at it. A good start. And at least good to generate more Christian and sustained thought, and hopefully better action- from us, in general.

Ted Gossard said...

Dan,

Thanks for that great quote and good words. I like very much what you say about Jesus leading us, his brothers and sisters, in learning this music of the kingdom. And what you say about string theory. Very interesting.

Music is such an interesting part of creation. Seems to co-opt something vital (and kind of mysterious) of what we are, as eikons, those made in God's image.

Also, that God is not of one natioinality or another. Not even of the current world power! US might doesn't make it either right, or righteous, or on God's side.

DLW said...

Thanks for your kind words and for your comment. I find your party platform to be quite interesting. And I think you're headed in a good direction in your generous orthopraxy in Christian political involvement.

thankyou.

I see some danger in trying to set up an alternative third, more Christian party, though I believe you recognize this danger and try to guard against it. It can end up making Christians think that, at last, now, a party, that is not far from (and maybe an ally or even a part of, or closer yet than my current party to) the kingdom of God. I know you would refuse that. But many would not, I'm afraid. I do think we need more Christian involvement in all/both the parties.

Well, it's an ideal-type party platform. Its meant to get others thinking differently. A member of my church Pam Ellison is running as an independent candidate for gov'r of MN and may seek the MN Independence party nomination. I hope she will adopt aspects of my party, as well as maybe my vision for state governance.

Also, with some of the positions your platform takes, I can see some Christians disagreeing. Of course party platforms do not require unanimity (spelling?). But to have the kind of Christian orthopraxy you're suggesting might be facilitated with some stances that have some flexibility as to how an underlying principle is to be carried out in policy.

The point is not to win all Xtns to support every aspect of my platform. The point is to get many different conversations going and see where they lead to from there. That's why its an ideal-type platform.

Having said all that, I still think the positions you're taking, or the platform is taking, are good, in that there is shown, as you say, a generous orthopraxy in Christian political involvement. And this involves thinking through and then suggesting/marking down some positions (on difficult issues, as you do).

You shd write another post responding to it....

I would more tend to opt for this kind of voice in the forums/parties that now exist, and especially those that have the most influence. Because if we can affect them, then we can do the most good.

It's hard to affect them if we don't have much exit voice and if the key choices we get in major elections are jerry-rigged during the primaries. I think one major strategic change we shd press for is for the right to vote for up to 3 candidates during the presidential primaries. This'll call upon people to consider the list of candidates more and prevent an early favorite from coming out at the beginning and blowing away the competition.

I also think that if we pressed for changes in the state constitutions like I suggested above that it would give third parties a toehold on power and give the rest of us more exit voice and chance to influence the main parties. It'd also make the state elections less negative, as it would no longer be a winner-takes-all game.

At the same time, nothing new would ever happen apart from visionary thought and activity, as from what you've shared. And all things have their start.

So I'd say, keep working at it. A good start. And at least good to generate more Christian and sustained thought, and hopefully better action- from us, in general.


Well, us visionaries need people like you to help draw more attention to our visions, you know.

thanks.

dlw

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

Thanks for sharing that. A pretty tall order for me to respond to your ideal party platform. I do hope that at least we can take away from your work, the need to really study and have some depth in our knowledge of issues (being aware of issues in the first place). It would be nice, in my "book", to have a refreshing alternative to the two parties we have now. (I don't know enough about other parties.)

DLW said...

Yes Ted, it wd be nice to have alternatives, though it wd be nicer even if the main two parties were more dynamic in their platforms.

In the past, in the US, we have been distinct from European countries, in that our main two parties have been less ideologically bound and more adaptive and it has often been third party movements that have forced the main two parties to change or pick up new issues and what-not.

I'm not asking for a comprehensive post. I was just hoping for some free publicity for my ideal-type platform. You could more or less recycle most of what you've already written...

dlw

Bob Robinson said...

Becky,

You and I have a lot in common! I teach the Worldview and Ethics course (capstone course for all Seniors) at a local Christian College as well. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

It's ironic, in fact, that one of my textbooks is entitled, "Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics."

To read the context behind the bumper sticker ("God is not a Republican or a Democrat"), I suggest reading the petition that we signed during the 2004 election. Find the pdf of the full-page ad that appeared in many major newspapers here.

Anonymous said...

I just thought I'd share this post with you....

dlw

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

I'll explore your platform and thinking further.

For now, I'd say, I really am a bit wary of trying to come up with some Christian political platform- specifically a Christian political party.

I am more taken up with the idea of Christians being salt and light across the board, politically. Seeking to bring to bear in a constructive critique, the kingdom of God in all things.

To institutionalize some kind of Christian stance has problems of its own.

Just my thoughts for now. But thanks.

DLW said...

Thankyou for considering further my thoughts.

I share your wariness about Christian political parties as I've written recently in reaction to the Christian Democratic Union of the United States party.

But I don't want to rule out such a party being formed in part as a way to subvert the current faith-based political logjam in our democracy and to foster more learning from Christians elsewhere on matters like political strategy and goals by US Christians.

Anyways, I stopped fasting from blogging for Lent and have probably been low on visitors and just was hoping you could help me out some at some point.
dlw

DLW said...

I did some good critical feedback from the CDU guy, Alan Avans, on my ideal-type party platform that I thought I'd at least inform you about.

I wrestle with the tension between the need to work with a group to be effective politically and being true to my own notions of what is right political conduct, particularly when it comes to the politics of abortion.

dlw

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

I'm with you on that. It's a struggle sometimes. I can envision myself simply not voting in a national election.

I don't understand the underlying legality of Roe v Wade very well. On what kind of basis it is law (I have an idea on that, I think). But I want to see Democrats moving toward a pro-life position on abortion, in at least the sense of saying that we must do all we can to cut that practice to a minimum (adoption, help of young pregnant women, etc.). And Republicans moving to a pro-life position in reference to caring about the poor in health care, etc.

I'm hardly sophisticated (in anything, for that matter, nor care to be) in politics, but I really appreciate your effort and zeal in pursuing positions that could be helpful in it.

I will read more from your site. I've been busy and tired lately.

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

Good to hear about the feedback you received!

Ted

DLW said...

Ted, the politics of abortion comes down mainly to basic questions:whether and when we shd treat the human unborn as legally-protected persons, thereby granting women the right to elect an abortion in defined circumstances and what criterion shd exist for distinguishing elective and non-elective abortions.

My idea to depoliticize abortion deals with the first.

The latter is much more complicated and nuanced, and, as such, I think the way of wisdom is to give better broad guidelines to physicians and trust their professionalism rather than extremely detailed and intrusive regulations.

dlw

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

I was going through your proposal to depoliticize abortion yesterday. It is a bane to me, that Christians, including myself, are so heavily influenced on one issue, when there are other issues that are of vital importance as well- but that we tend to either ignore, put on the back burner, or even rationalize in favor of the republican party (rationalize is my take on it, certainly there are better arguments and more thoughtful positions on that side as well from people like Charles Colson, and others).

I do think that ultimately Democrats and Republicans are going to have to work in a bipartisan way to cut back on the number of abortions. Both in terms of more favorable adoption laws/policies and in terms of helping society as a whole to encourage more responsible decisions.

I like what William Wilberforce did in fighting against slavery his entire lifetime, than seeing it end towards the end of his life. I also like what I saw Ronald Reagan do, when, as President, he was willing to sign a bill of compromise on abortion, saying that it was a move in the right direction.

I too share your appreciation for what third parties can do. And also other thoughts you had (one just escaped me).

I think the 75% referendum to change a law, is wise. Christians are amiss to put so much stock in government bringing in morality. The church as salt and light has the challenge of making a difference in society, so that the populace will be influenced towards righteousness, instead of us looking for some political solution to the moral problems. Your proposal is helpful to set the stage for that, and help provide stable change. Just a few thoughts from what I remember from going over it yesterday.

DLW said...

thankyou.

my idea is meant to permit real change to be made in an atmosphere of extreme distrust.

It's a critical deal-making part of any broader nat'l and local program to prevent effectively risky behaviors/unwanted pregnancies/abortions. Unfortunately, the two main parties are too ideologically entrenched to introduce changes and most of their politicians are too risk averse to try something radically different.

That's why it matters whether it gets taken up by third party candidates, like my fellow church member Pam Ellison, who is going to run for gov'r of MN. She has a chance I think of getting the MN independence party nomination and then could have a good chance of making it all the way.

I hope you can offer a prayer that she will decide to adopt my idea as part of her platform and that it will gain a good deal of public attention and change the nat'l debate on this issue, garnering bipartisan support.

And please pray for me too, as I am really hanging by a moment and not sure of where God is leading me. I'm going to need to find some work to stay in seminary, but am overqualified thanks to my PhD in Economics for most jobs. And I no longer feel called to teach in a normal economics dept, but am uncertain of where I shd teach. I would really like to teach Christian Political Economy and Social Ethics somewhere, preferably close to MN where my family lives...

dlw

Ted Gossard said...

dlw,

I consider it an honor to pray for you.

And I am thinking of putting on a post to encourage people to read you.

I've been tired from work, and with family things, work at home and resting, I don't get to the computer much anymore, as much as I'd like.

And while you think a posting on my blog might get you some new readers, I really don't think I have that many, though I'd love to be able to help you find some good interaction.

Blessings,
Ted