Friday, August 26, 2016

How Politics & Religion Mix - 'Tis the Season #13

   Miss Manners taught that there are two subjects to avoid in polite conversation: religion and politics.  How might we dare to talk about both, and how they intersect?

   When we say religion has no business talking about politics, we overlook two important truths.  If we say Christianity should have nothing to say about politics, isn’t that a way of saying we support the way things are right now?  To say nothing is to give tacit approval to policies and politics as they are.  But the status quo needs some fixing – and we might prefer some Christian voice in the fixing.

   Secondly, if we say Christianity has nothing to say about politics, we are suggesting God doesn’t care, or God has nothing to say.  But God has strong opinions; God has much to say.

   God actually has spoken.  If we read the Bible at all seriously, we see political stuff everywhere.  Jim Wallis once gave out Bibles and scissors to his students, and asked them to cut out everything that speaks to issues we label political: poverty, immigration, the right to life, weapons, race, social justice, capital punishment, peace and war, rulers and governments.  What they had left was what he jokingly called “the Holey Bible” – the Old Testament laws, all the prophets, the Psalms, Jesus’ teachings, the book of Acts and many of Paul’s letters left in ribboned shreds.  Since God created and cares deeply for everything in the world, we would expect God to have vested interests, and holy authority, in what happens in politics.

   Tony Campolo wondered what it would be like if we had a new political movement – called Red Letter Christians,

those who take their cues, not from the politicians or pundits, but from the words of Jesus, those old-timey Bibles highlighted with red letters.  Who tells us what to think?  Jesus.  Red Letter Christians can be Republican or Democrat – and hopefully both.  They can and should be the “leaven” in the world; they “should be the ultimate swing vote, holding both sides accountable to a broader moral vision.”

   So there most surely is a Christian angle on the issues we face, and more clarity than you might imagine.  If you’ll stick with me, I’ll explore some of these.  We may as people of faith disagree about the best way to implement what God has pressed for; but we can’t support anything contrary to God’s way, and we can’t ignore what God has insisted we be involved in.  Stanley Hauerwas is right: “The Church is not simply a ‘voluntary association’ that may be of some use to the wider public, but rather is the community constituted by practices by which all other politics are to be judged.”

   In our next email, I’ll ask about which ‘side’ we should lean toward, which ‘side’ God is on – and then in the next installment we’ll explore what the Separation of Church and State really means, and what it doesn’t mean, and what it could be.  After that, we will examine some big issues, and dare to ask what God is asking us to do as Christians who are engaged citizens.

FYI: Earlier installments in this series are archived here.