Sunday, November 16, 2008
In America when that question is evoked one immediately thinks of the Christian Right. I would like to propose however that the way the right - in other words, they way my church - has gone about this has been in a way that reflects the opposite values of the kingdom of God. Let me interject that I in many ways agree with the positions themselves, but what I object to, and see a profoundly un-Christ-like is how we go about pursuing those goals. For example I am pro-life, but I seriously question whether the pro-life movement has a reputation of grace and Christ-like love.
So what I would like to unpack is what the values of the kingdom of God are, and how they can be applied to political life. One way that Jesus defines the kingdom of God is in contrast to the "kingdom of Satan," or in John's terminology, in contrast to the "world". By 'world' here John means 'worldliness'. In other words, a system of values which Walter Wink calls the "domination system". This world system is run though force and dominance. The strong rise to the top, the weak lose. It's law of justice is the rule of quid pro quo - you get what you have coming to you. In stark contrast to this Jesus says that his kingdom is "not from this world" system. If it were a world-values-based kingdom Jesus continues - he would have used military might (a legion of angels) to attack the Romans. But the kingdom of God does not come to us by force, but comes in weakness and humility. The 'first' are made last, and the last first. The poor are blessed. Its law of justice is a redeeming justice that seeks to heal and mend. The true leader "will be the servant of all."
Throughout history many people have tried to adopt a "two kingdoms" approach to this, saying that while they acknowledge that the kingdom of God is the right way to go, it is unrealistic. In the "real world" things work differently, and if you want to move in the real political world you need to use manipulation, power, wealth, and force to survive and win in that world. Others have seen this world of dog-eat-dog dominance as so evil that they have concluded that it is simply not possible for a Christian to be involved in politics at all. I would like to propose here a third option - that we should be involved in every part of our society, that we should have a role in how our country and society is shaped and not simply abandon it, reducing faith to a private affair. But to do so we will need to find a way of being in politics that can be "in the world, but not of it". One of the models for this comes from the Anabaptist response to our prison system which involved introducing restorative justice. That's a practical example of how a completely new, deeply Christian paradigm can engage and reform the existing system. I've blogged a bit about this HERE.
For example a Christian would have to reject the dirty political campaigning that seeks to manipulate voters through fear, and instead appeal to the good in us, to serve, to engage, to believe and hope and work to make our country a more just place. It would need to be one that does not polarize people into 'us versus them', but seeks to reconcile both our divisions at home, and our divisions abroad. It would have to be a politics that has its focus on compassion, rather than on law. It would need to be a politics that is accountable, transparent, and honest with its citizens. It would need to be a politics that acknowledges our human penchant towards sin and pride and which is therefore open to hearing from the other side, rather than one that seeks to have absolute control, trumping the Constitution, the Congress, and the courts. It would have to be one that can see its errors and learn, rather than one that insists that it is beyond error. As if learning and adapting were a sign of weakness.
The issue here is not about specific policies. We might disagree on the best way to address poverty for example. But I think where we can agree is that the way that (neo) conservative politics has conducted itself, both in its governing and its campaigning, has been in a way that is diametrically opposed to the values of Christ and his kingdom. And what's more, the conservative church has uncritically aligned themselves with this new Constantinianism. So much so that for me to critique it virtually disqualifies me from being a conservative, even though many of the positions I hold are conservative both morally and theologically.
I think the church's tunnel vision here stems from a deeper issue. We cannot recognize this worldly behavior in a politician because we can't even recognize it in a pastor. I've gone to churches where the pastor was extremely arrogant, prideful, and judgmental. Even though there is, biblically speaking, no sin that is confronted more harshly by both Jesus and Paul than religious pride and judgmentalism, this pastor was not seen as someone with a profound sin problem, but as a "powerful preacher". Until we truly value Christ-like servant leadership in church, we will not as a church be able to instill those kingdom values in those people in our congregation who will go into politics, nor for that matter will we be able to disciple those who will become the future CEO's of our world in what it looks like to do that as Jesus would, and on and on. The values of the kingdom are not simply about being for or against something, it is a way of being in the world which is characterized by grace.