PET VII: Can We Get Political?

Problems in Ecclesiology Today VII: Can We Get Political?

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Politics

Last night, as part of our church’s monthly film discussion group, we watched the superb HBO documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, in coordination with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Our church was one of a thousand churches watching this movie in an attempt to bring political discussion into the church community. For too long, the Christian churches in America have sat idly by while policies of major historical significance have been carried out. Last night’s film group was an attempt to change this by bringing politics into the life of the church.

One of the major stains on the witness of the Christian church in America is the glaring silence of the church on the issue of torture. This is not a new problem. The German Lutheran Church was silent during the time of Hitler. The Catholic Church in Chile was silent during the tyrannical rule of Pinochet. Moreover, American churches have been consistently late in their participation in (or even absent altogether from) social change, including, for example, the Civil Rights Movement. Today we face a situation fraught with serious moral significance, and instead of a church ready to speak truth to power and confront evil no matter where it occurs, we have an impotent church incapable of and/or unwilling to be a voice of truth in an age of political pettifogging and chicanery. The case of Gregory Boyd is worth noting here. After witnessing an idolatrous July 4 church service, Boyd decided to preach against Christian involvement in right-wing politics. But his answer was not to rethink our politics; his answer was for the church to disassociate itself from politics altogether. Rather than proclaim the political implications of the gospel, whatever those might be, Boyd decided to abandon the political sphere. In seeking to avoid idolatry, he chose silence instead. But in choosing silence, Boyd inevitably renders the gospel impotent and irrelevant to a world that desperately needs to hear the Word of God proclaimed in and to the concrete political situation in which we find ourselves today.

My point here is not to debate the details of torture, the war in Iraq, or the so-called “war on terror.” I am, instead, interested in the problem of political discourse within the church. What enables or inhibits churches in the process of engaging in honest dialogue about the issues that define us—issues like terrorism, imperialism, torture, democracy, and fundamentalism? Should pastors talk frankly about the social and political issues of our time? Is it right to speak about the events in the newspaper, or should preaching only focus on Scripture and leave historical events to the “pundits”? Where do we draw the line between proclaiming the gospel and advertising a political ideology? On a more fundamental level, what is the church’s proper relationship to contemporary politics? What can and should the church say about (or to) Washington?

These are some of the basic questions of our time. These are the kinds of questions that pastors need to be able to answer or at least seek to answer. We must not become “good German Christians” who, in their silence, endorse a political machine that claims to be working in the best interest of the nation. We must not become idle spectators of the political drama occurring all around us. We must not allow ourselves to become detached from the world in which we live, the world which we as a community of believers are called to engage in the mission of reconciliation. We have to learn again how to translate the gospel into the concrete context in which we exist. We have to learn what it means to exist as the covenantal people of God who are called to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Toward that end, I wish to offer a few thoughts on the church’s relationship to the state and what it might mean to “be political” again in such a divisive and ideologically driven political environment.

1. The relation between church and state is dialectical. We often hear about the transition from a church at the “center” (Constantinianism) to a church at the “margins” (church-state separation). A lot of good has come from separating the church from the centers of political power. While the church certainly flourished in a Constantinian framework, such flourishing was often at the expense of the radical gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we face a unique situation: the separation between church and state in the United States has resulted in a strange paradox. On the one hand, the “two kingdoms” approach has left churches entirely unwilling to discuss political issues, because they belong to a different “sphere”; the church is concerned with “spiritual” matters, not political ones. As a result, many pastors refuse to discuss sociopolitical issues at all; their ecclesiastical position is one of silence. On the other hand, this same “two kingdoms” framework, which places the work of the church in a strictly “spiritual” sphere, has made it possible for the Religious Right to flourish. Such open politicizing of the gospel is possible because the gospel itself has been neutered of all radical political import. When the gospel of Jesus Christ loses its revolutionary character, then one can easily wed it to whatever reigning political ideology is presently available. The gospel becomes the friend of ideology, rather than the supreme defense against it. This is the purest form of “natural theology”: a theology in which the gospel is manipulated to conform to a particular ideology.

I argue instead that the church needs to adopt a dialectical approach to the nation-state. The relationship is dialectical in that the church is not either at the center or in the margins, but is rather both at the center and in the margins. The church, we might say, works from the margins but towards the center. That is, the church’s primary role is to care for those who are marginalized by power, but in its mission to the “invisible ones” in society, the church does not ignore the center. The church of Jesus Christ witnesses to the truth of the gospel in the centers of power. Such witness is subversive and radical, but it is also loving and gracious—it testifies to the state’s true calling to be the “beloved community.” It proclaims that the state is part of the “order of grace” (Barth) and thus belongs to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, to say that the church is dialectically related to the state is to say that the work of the church is both related and unrelated to the work of the state. The work of the church is thus both political and non-political. It is not partly political and partly non-political; it is wholly both. All this is to say that the work of the church in confessing Jesus Christ is already political in nature. We need not identify an additional work of the church which is specifically “political” in nature, as if the church’s mission does not already have deep sociopolitical significance. To miss or suppress the political implications of the gospel is to undermine the dialectical character of the church.

2. The relation between church and state is covenantal. The relationship between church and state is covenantal in a twofold sense: (1) the covenant of grace means that there are not “two kingdoms” but rather only “one kingdom” under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Barth); and (2) the covenant of grace means that the church itself is, as Peter says, “a royal priesthood” and “a holy nation.” Such terms quite intentionally unite both sacerdotal and political imagery. One might say that the church is both spiritual and political, but this is not dialectical enough: as I said above, we need to see the spiritual as itself political in nature, and the political does not exist autonomously without the spiritual. As Barth rightly states, “The state [like the church] . . . is an order of grace relating to sin.” The church is the covenantal community of Jesus Christ in fellowship with the reconciling triune God and with the world reconciled through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19).

3. The relation between church and state is dialogical. God addresses humanity in the word of the cross. This word interrupts us in our present existence and redefines us in accordance with the gospel of justification in Jesus Christ. We are dialogically disrupted by the word of grace and so made to correspond to God, first, through an ontological change into God’s dialogical partners by way of Jesus Christ in the event of the cross, and second through a dialogical response to God in invocation and praise by way of the Spirit in the event of Pentecost.

The dialogical relation between God and the church overflows into a dialogical relation between the church and the world. The church’s being-in-act is a being-in-dialogue-with-God which is at the same time a being-in-dialogue-with-the-world. The church’s dialogue with the world, in particular with the local culture in which the community exists, is a dialogue centered around witness and proclamation. The dialogue is a true dialogue: it is not a one-way declaration of the church “from on high.” The church can only dialogue by entering concretely into the life of the broader community. In other words, dialogue only occurs among neighbors, whom we must get to know. And since Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, such dialogue presupposes a love of this world which mirrors the love that God has for the world as revealed in the incarnation of the Son for us and our salvation (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). To summarize, the missio dei is a divine mission of dialogue with the world and for the world, and thus the missio communionis is an ecclesial mission of dialogue with the world and for the world in light of what the missio dei accomplished in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

4. Conclusion: What are the implications of the foregoing theses for a church that is struggling to remain faithful in a politically divisive climate? (1) First, the church cannot be silent on social and political issues. The church’s being-in-act is a being-in-dialogue, and therefore silence on political questions is ruled out in the same way that silence about God is ruled out: we are a people called to bear witness, and that means we are called to speak. (2) Second, the church’s speech cannot help but be political, since there are not two spheres of engagement but, in fact, only one sphere, one kingdom, one reign of Jesus Christ. We are forbidden from the start from creating a dichotomy between physical/political and spiritual/religious. We must realize that the gospel has radical political implications, and we must learn to be faithful to this gospel (and its implications) even if that means radically readjusting our relation to contemporary politics. (3) Third, we must be steadfastly opposed to all ideological manipulation of the gospel. We can guard against such manipulation through a more consistent emphasis upon the dialectical character of the church and its knowledge of God. The church does not “possess” anything—including, even, its very being. The gospel is not in the hands of the church; the church is rather in the hands of God. The possibility of manipulation is ruled out by the fact that we are never the masters of the gospel. Instead, Jesus Christ is our sole master. The early church confessed, in an act of clear political subversion, that Jesus Christ alone is Lord, which means that Caesar is not.

Finally, the church’s being-in-dialogue is a being-in-love. Modern political dialogue is inherently violent because it is rooted in a capitalistic climate of competitiveness. In order for the church to engage the world politically, it must find a way to establish a dialogue rooted in love. We can learn something from Paul’s discourse on love in 1 Cor. 13. The church needs to learn to interpret this passage as a guide to political dialogue. Here are some brief thoughts toward that end.
    Love is patient. Political dialogue needs to be patient in seeking change. We often want change immediately, but love demands patience. Of course, patience is not complacency, nor does it ignore incompetency. Love demands action, but it is patient in its demands.

    Love is kind. Political dialogue must be generous, gentle, and considerate.

    Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. The political implications of this statement are obvious. Political dialogue must not assert oneself over against the Other; rather, dialogue must be humble.

    Love does not insist on its own way. This is especially difficult. Dialogue rooted in love should not demand that others conform to one’s own particular views. Dialogue thus engages with others and seeks to affirm the ways of others. It does not say, “my way or the highway.” This means empathizing with our interlocutors without compromising or manipulating the gospel of truth.

    Love is not irritable or resentful. Since not everyone gets his or her own way in a dialogue, political discourse must not be easily annoyed or angered, nor should it express bitterness or hold on to grudges.

    Love rejoices in the truth. Political dialogue must be grounded in the truth. Dialogue thus exposes lies and seeks truth in every dimension of life, including the secretive world of power politics. Political dialogue rooted in love demands openness and sincerity, honesty and truthfulness. Dialogue based on assumptions and half-truths only undermines the world community.

    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Dialogue must have the “same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). In other words, true dialogue requires each person to endure hardship, bear each other’s burdens, to believe steadfastly in the truth, and to hope wholeheartedly in the God who binds us all together in perfect unity in Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 3:14).

    Love never ends. Dialogue never ends; it continues by the grace and mercy of God.
I have sought in this reflection to think theologically about the nature of ecclesial speech in the world. We face a massive problem today in the silence of the church regarding issues that are politically sensitive. We cannot continue this silence without sacrificing not only our witness in the world but our very identity as the people of God. We must speak. We must speak faithfully and truthfully and lovingly. And we must also listen, both to the God who speaks and to the world which we engage. There are still many unanswered questions and many tough decisions. The call to speak is a call which should frighten us. But love, we remember, “hopes all things.” Because of the love of God, we can believe and hope in a church that hears and speaks the Word of God. Because of the love of God, we can engage the world in dialogue with patience and endurance, humility and kindness. The call to speak is a dangerous and challenging call, but it is also a call which should remind us of our dependence upon God, for we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).


R.O. Flyer said…
This is a very good post; a meaty one at that. I'll need to chew on this for a little while before responding fully, but I thought I'd respond quickly to your comment about Greg Boyd. Boyd is a pastor of a mega-church here in Minnesota that is not-so-mega anymore. He did a series that addresses many of the issues he later raised in his book and lost many right-wing members as a result. Apparently, he did something positive by disassociating the gospel with right-wing politics, something that he experienced at his church for a very long time. I highly admire his willingness to talk about the issues and his willingness to lose church membership over it.

I've read his book and what is strange is that he finds an ally an Hauerwas, Yoder, and even Walter Wink! Yet, I'm not quite sure if he represents their respective positions very well. Indeed, it seems as though Boyd wants the church out of politics, which includes not protesting. After reading your post I came across Boyd's blog. In one of his posts he explains how his hesitancy about protesting the war in Iraq, because these matters are better left to Caesar. This shocked me. What on earth is thinking? Certainly, I am not advocating that the church wield the sword; I am even unsure whether or not Christians should run for political office, but I do believe that we must protest.

If Boyd sees himself following in the footsteps of Hauerwas, Yoder, and Wink, he must be mistaken on their viewpoints. I have heard others think of these thinkers in this sort of anti-political way as well, but I have to think that this a profound misreading of their anti-Constantinian positions.

What do you think?
Thanks for this, D.W. I have been warning about the retreat to apolitical "neutrality" by evangelicals burned by the Religious Right. Unlike R.O., I do think that Hauerwas' thought encourages this--and is a major difference between Stanley and Yoder, Barth, Wink, McClendon, etc.
Jason Goroncy said…
David. Thanks for yet another great post. Forsyth once quipped that Christianity is inseparably bound up with organic history. A religion indifferent to history, whether the history of Christ, or of the world, or of the nation, has no message for the age. The question of the relation between Church and State has become specially acute within the last century or two, owing to the rise of the modern State as the organised nation to assert a public and pagan absolutism by its claim to be the source of all rights in society. This claim, to be sure, is only Church absolutism [as seen in the mediaeval Church] inverted but it is no less evil for that.
R.O. Flyer said…
What does it mean for the church to "withdraw from politics?" Is seeking change outside the statecraft necessarily apolitical? Michael, why do you think that Hauerwas encourages apolitical neutrality? In my opinion, this is an extremely important question. If Hauerwas does this, do you also think Cavanaugh does as well? I know that D.W. has read Cavanaugh, not sure if you have Michael, but in a similar manner, Cavanaugh calls us to broaden our perspective of politics. I think someone like Daniel M. Bell Jr., another Hauerwasian, is another thinker that criticizes a view of politics as simply participation in statecraft.

What is troublesome about Boyd, and what distinguishes him from Hauerwas, is that he thinks we should just go ahead and let the state do what it does, which inevitably privatizes the church. In other words, he is not interested in a public church that resists.
kerry said…
Very nice indeed. Well done!
Anonymous said…

Johnny-one-note here. I continue to take issue with your framing of the issue.

You speak of the "concrete political situation in which we find ourselves today" or "the issues that define us—issues like terrorism, imperialism, torture, democracy, and fundamentalism". Neither of these statements are truly the concrete issues that most churches or people confront.

You are talking nation-state politics. Unless you want to divide a church over media-discovered issues while neglecting their personal lives and the local mission of the church, I think it is a bad turn. You will find near political unanimity on local action among members when you leave out the broader policy issues or at least the less locally relevant national issues. Otherwise churches devolve into clicks of advocates of both sides with little practical effect or witness.

I am not saying to avoid issues like torture. I am just saying the church is rarely effective at changing large issues or when it is it might involve itself wrongly in Prohibition or welfare reform protests for instance. These aren't witness but now seen as foolishness. Absolutizing these issues as some did was an error.

Even in the civil rights moment or the Nazi episode, the macro-issues were not as defining for those who lived through them in real time. Most people's lives and faiths were not constituted by the nation's political moment. Their faith was measured by love of God, neighbor, and family. My racist Grandma had no time for MLK's politics but she was still working out her faith and treating her (even black) neighbors with love and kindness like many racists before because she was a Christian. Also, I had a landlord who was a soldier in the German army and was a devout Catholic. He too had a faith that was not defined by but involved itself in Hitler's crap like most Germans. His faith was the same before, after, and during the war.

Of course, the church collectively should have opposed Hitler but it probably wouldn't have been too effective and policy issues will rarely be that clear. Don't fool yourself into thinking Bush = Hitler by any stretch.

D.W. Congdon said…

I have to disagree with you on a fundamental level. It seems that you are suggesting abandon the (national) political sphere altogether because the church is simply ineffective at changing anything. We should just focus on the local sphere, because that is what really matters.

If that's what you're saying, I'm just angry with you, because that is exactly the kind of attitude which brings people like Hitler to power, which refuses to change racial segregation, which sits idly by while governments take away human rights and begin worship idols like "national security." Your position is the kind that simply fails to see what the point of witness is, because it doesn't get the job done, as if someone should only do something if it is obviously and fully efficacious.

Listen, I find the local sphere also supremely important. We need to learn how to love our neighbors (the people we actually meet) as ourselves. But that's not where our responsibility ends. Let me explain.

I run a film discussion group at my church, and sometime last year I showed a film which discussed some serious problem in another part of the world. After watching the movie, we talked about it. And one guy said that unless he personally encounters someone, he simply can't care about them. As long as it's just a person in a newspaper or on a TV, he doesn't have any connection to them. His world of responsibility only includes those whom he encounters face-to-face.

I think you are basically this guy. You're telling me that because Washington (or Berlin or wherever) is not within my personal sphere, it simply doesn't matter. Because I can't actually "change" anything in terms of policy, I should just ignore it and try to live the best possible life in my particular situation.

If that's what you're saying, then what you're saying is bullshit. Not only is it morally reprobate, but it's also socially naive. The Religious Right has a huge influence on President Bush and on every election (roughly 25% of the vote). Don't these people go to church? And aren't local churches responsible for shaping the sociopolitical views of their parishioners? The Civil Rights movement under MLK Jr. is another example. You cited Prohibition because it was a policy disaster, but that certainly "got the job done." Why eschew politics altogether simply because of some past disasters? The Religious Right is also a disaster, but why in the world does that mean the rest of us should just sit back and let the R.R. control the political stage? Are we simply supposed to throw our hands up into the air and wait for Jesus? My point is that churches can absolutely make a difference in state politics, especially when they join together as in the NRCAT.

But let's take this from your angle: the personal, concrete side of things. You say that the "macro" issues (of state politics) are not really all that significant for people living through them. Would you be willing to say that to the hundreds of Arabs/Muslims who have been tortured in U.S. prison camps? Would you be willing to say that to the soldier who has post-traumatic stress disorder after serving multiple assignments in Iraq?

What I'm saying is that your division between the micro and the macro depends upon a bourgeois perspective, one in which life is never really affected by national political issues. Your examples were of a racist grandmother who had slaves and a German soldier. Are you willing to say that the enslaved Blacks and exterminated Jews weren't affected by national policies? And are you then suggesting that because your grandmother was a nice Christian and because your landlord was a "devout Catholic," that this suddenly absolves them (and us) from dealing with the moral issues at stake? Are you saying that your grandmother and your landlord are morally innocent in these matters? That because they were good people on an individual level, they had no responsibility on a larger corporate level?

Maybe you just presented yourself in a shockingly bad way, but I'm appalled at your moral reasoning. There are thousands of people who live through the horrendous effects of state policies. The Jews during WWII, the Blacks in America for the past 200 years, the Arabs and Muslims today. But these are only the most significant examples. No Child Left Behind is affecting many schools and children in a very negative way. The Patriot Act affects all of us potentially, in that the government can spy on us without a warrant. The recent veto by Bush of SCHIP means that millions of children are denied health insurance. The increase in funds for the Iraq war means that funds will be taken away from basic social services which will affect us later on in life. And I'm only talking about the U.S. here!

I'll stop writing now. From what I can tell, you are either politically ignorant, morally backwards, or both. I hope it's just ignorance.
Halden said…
To tag on to D.W.'s reply to David, another pertinent point is that even if you're right and the church is just woefully ineffective at bringing about social change, so what? Christians are not pragmatists, they are Christians. Political realities that are idolatrous and dehumanizing must be opposed because we worship God! Hang the results. No prophet who critiqued injustice and called for repentance ever thought that way, hell none of them were particularly effectives (except, perhaps, Jonah ironically enough).

Of course it seems stupid to think that this ridiculous movement called church could change the world. We don't believe that it will, rather we believe that the world has already been changed in Christ and we must call everyone to conform to that reality. And if that means we end up doing things as ineffective and stupid as getting cut down in a hail of bullets in a Eucharistic procession, then so be it. It is the resurrection, not what is "realistic" that defines our politics.
D.W. Congdon said…

Thanks for making the Romero connection. I meant to say something about that but got too distracted in my frustration. Excellent point.
Anonymous said…

Thanks for reading what I wrote, I guess.

"Listen, I find the local sphere also supremely important."

That is really my main point, so I'm glad we agree there. The way you "abhor" me and view me as "naive" though is instructive about your vision of politics in the church. If you lived your life beside mine I think you would not abhor me or even most of those on the Religious Right.

"I think you are basically this guy."

With some nuance I think this is basically correct about me and most humans with jobs and families with less leisure time than you (not meant as a put down, just a fact). And I think theology must account for this (not just with a total depravity label please).

"Are we simply supposed to throw our hands up into the air and wait for Jesus?"

Of course not. I am advocating a standoffish approach to divisive policy debates, but local corporate and interpersonal action is every bit as political and because it is concrete and "effective"(not in the crude way you imply) and generates much less division. You know these divides exist but it appears you want to bang your head against the wall some more until the religious right moves to the center-left. I want an approach that deals with this reality without demonizing anyone. Can't we put some imagination into this beyond saying "Hitler!, Hitler!" if one disagrees?

I think this same aloofness to large political matters is apparent in the letters of Paul and the N.T. The apostle seems unconcerned about the particular workings and brutal excesses of the government apparatus as though it was not essential to the church in Galatia or Corinth's, much less Rome's, actual Christian walk. Could they find occasions to confront Roman excess? Perhaps, when it affected the local community or the broader Christian network. But it doesn't appear he is looking for these issues (support for increasing the corn dole to Roman peasants, anti-crucifixion crusade, opposing brutality in Parthia or Gaul, ending the pejorative use of "barbarian") as much as enacting the gospel correctly right there indifferent (almost acquiescing to, necessarily participating in?) the huge political and economic forces all around.

You reference the PTSD soldier...who would get unanimous support for counseling services and family support, but you want to springboard to anti-war protests. Others rightly or wrongly, see his sacrifice as saving the lives of Iraqis who might have slaughtered without him. They are not simply endorsing the next Fuhrer. The soldier calls for concrete love and attention; your protest is less clear and generates a great debate, kills the community ethos and causes everyone to focus on the TV set and not the soldier anymore.

Jim Wallis had himself arrested to protest the end of Aid for Dependent Children back in mid-90's. He imagined he was Amos I'm sure. His witness was not only ineffective, it appears it was wrong-headed. Wallis does great work for the poor and finds enormous support from the Right in that type of work. The ADC policy was another matter. One is tied to the gospel the other is not.

No Child Left Behind? The Patriot Act? SCHIP? You really think the church has only one available response? Inefficient overbearing bureaucracy calls for our focused attention beyond the ballot box? How insurance, not even health care, is administered versus other goods must be absolutized? We could actually teach and tutor, live near poor children instead of "leaving them behind" in our elite groups, help provide insurance or actual health care. That would be unequivocal undisputed witness to the good news. We know what the gospel requires there. How to construct policy is rarely so clear (I'll grant you Hitler).

We certainly are being "defined" by these "issues", but I think not in the way you imagine. We are in a passive reactionary mode to TV/radio/blog punditry.

Have the last word,
Anonymous said…
Re: Halden

I think Jim Wallis, and not Romero or Bonhoeffer, is actually more typical. There can't be a hero in every context. This simple-minded coloring of our situation as "Hitler and Romero" is just further evidence of being defined by Hollywood and TV sets, not our "real" lives. Don't you know Bush thought he was the "white knight" coming to save Iraq? He should have watched less TV too.

Now that's all,
Halden said…
I don't know what Jim Wallis has to do with anything that's being said here. He wants more than anything to be "effective", that's what I'm speaking against. And I'm not asking for "heroes", I generally despise heroes. Bonhoeffer and Romero weren't heroes, they were saints doing pretty ordinary Christian things and that put them in the sights of the powers that be.

There's nothing heroic about saying that torture is a horrific wrong, or that unjustly promulgated wars should be denouced as contrary to the Christian faith. These are just basic practices of trying to embody the gospel.

My whole point is that none of us needs to become the "white knight" because Christ has already died and risen. We're not here to save the world, we're here to say that the world has been saved in Christ and therefore these idolatrous practices should be left behind. There is nothing heroic about this. It's the most ordinary and "local" thing in the world.
R.O. Flyer said…
If speaking out against wars and torture are a cause for divisions with the Christian Right, then so be it! The church simply cannot be silent on such matters.
D.W. Congdon said…

I don't understand your fixation on Hitler. I mentioned his name once, and my only concern was with the comparison between the German Lutherans and American evangelicals. If that's not a comparison you're comfortable with, then fine. But it doesn't do any good to whine about it, as if I'm oversimplifying things. I'm not. I'm calling the church to action and witness, rather than complacency. I never made any Bush-Hitler comparison; but I will make and I think we need to make a comparison between the two "churches."

I also don't understand your fixation on the "TV set." I never once mentioned television or media. You haven't asked me what I think of political pundits and the like. You apparently live in a bizarro world where national politics only exist in the newspaper and on CNN. Your own world is completely unaffected by them. You just go on your merry way, helping the old lady across the street and throwing some dimes into a Red Cross collection. Your life is apparently so bourgeois and disconnected from the wider world that you actually feel justified in ignoring international issues. You apparently don't know a single Muslim, homosexual, military officer, prisoner, teacher, homeless person ... hell, I don't know who you know!

You said that I "abhor" you, when I never used that word. In the future, don't pretend to quote me when you've simply made something up.

With some nuance I think this is basically correct about me and most humans with jobs and families with less leisure time than you (not meant as a put down, just a fact). And I think theology must account for this (not just with a total depravity label please).

This is unacceptable. What "nuance" do I need to add? So what you're saying, in effect, is that anyone with an actual life doesn't have time to care about other people's problems? Is that about right? And the assumption here is that (1) I have free time (which I really don't), and (2) each person is supposed to look out for "number one." Other people don't really matter; that's someone else's concern, but not mine.

This is the kind of nonsense I expect from a secular atheist Darwinian who thinks that life is all about "survival of the fittest." But from a Christian? I don't know what Bible you've been reading, but it's not the one with Jesus in it. And as for Paul, his lack of political discourse stems from his apocalyptic expectation of Jesus' return, not from a disavowal of politics altogether.

Finally, your comments stem from a set of massively misguided assumptions. I never said anything about "anti-war protests," but yet you read my discussion of the PTSD soldier as some kind of disguised anti-war rhetoric. What's ironic is that you only reinforced my criticism of your position - viz. that you ignore the plight of others. You missed my concern for these soldiers and instead turned it into another "issue." So who's really the misguided one here? It seems to me that you are the one making everything about the "issues" and TV media, whereas I am making everything about relationality, dialogue, love, and justice. Your campaign to turn these into external issues of politics that don't matter to you as an individual is simply an attempt to shield yourself from Jesus' command to love your neighbor. You are like the man who asked Jesus, "Who's my neighbor?" except that you've already decided the answer to the question: only those people whom I choose as my neighbors.
Halden said…
Also, I'd just like to point out that the notion that Paul was apolitical or advocated some sort of acquiesence to the Roman Imperium is absurd and flies in the face of virtually all Pauline scholarship today.
alan r. said…
I enjoy Fire & Rose and agree with your position here. It does appear, however, that you have a long way to go toward modeling a dialogue that is generous, gentle, considerate, etc.
Jon Henry said…
In reading Ramsay MacMullen's Christianizin the Roman Empire (Yale UP, 1984), I was struck by how self-serving much of the early political involvement seemed. I get a similar impression from American Christianity, both left- and right-wing. Though prophecy in the political arena must be useful and necessary somehow, who can do so without fragmenting the body of Christ (or worse yet, altering history for the worse).

Though I am sure of this, my thoughts are divided. Will the conervatives get us all killed with their harshness, or will the liberals get us all killed with their insistance on the rights of the opponent? Who is "us" anyway? Is "us" all Christians the world around, or is it predominantly American Christians? Can these two interests be held without paradox?

And whose political theories have benefitted the Church and the World? Augustine's? The Reformers'? Though good, pragmatic guesses, they also led to religious and political persecution. Do we know the trajectory and outcomes of our own involvement?

What am I to make of our long history? Though the figures in question were sure of themselves. I remain unsure. Perhaps the earliest and most pacifistic Anabaptists were correct on this issue, even as they were led to their deaths by Protestants and Roman Catholics in the civil sphere.

Perhaps you can indulge this string of questions, if for no other reason than that it's my birthday. Peace.
Patrick Roberts said…
interesting... an unintended, genius aspect of democracy is that the state of the government will represent the state of the people. We needn't impose any particular religion on our government. Whether or not our government is morally stable will reflect the moral stability of us, the people. So how are we doing?
I vaguely recall reading in one of Greg Boyd's blogs something along the lines of it not being that we should back out completely from politics or protests, but rather not use them as the ANSWER to these problems. He calls the church to move on the "grassroots" level in compassion and genuine love for people, rather than pushing responsibility for change off on the government... or thinking that they can change it from the "inside out."

Boyd uses the life of Jesus to illustrate this, so what if Paul got political or used the government to his own advantage? Jesus did not. Jesus let the government, even the current religous "government" do it's thing even to the point of it costing Him his life. Jesus did not protest. Jesus did not hold political office. THAT is the point that Boyd is trying to make. Who's life should we model after? Jesus or Paul? Paul was a fallible human being with many obvious flaws... sarcasm not the least of them. Yes, he followed Christ. Yes, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so are we... but the example we should look to is Jesus.

If by keeping silent, we allow the world system to bring about it's own judgement, so be it. We can DO something on our end to alleviate the fallout on those who are not responsible for it. The everyday citizen who must suffer the consequences of a self-seeking government.

When we go off protesting and getting all political, we are wasting our time that could be better spent showing compassion to those who need it.

The answer does not lie in the world's system. It is doomed... why ally ourselves with it?