On politicizing belief

[Note: Blogging will be light since fall semester has started for me. There are some writings on the way, but they have a little more ruminating to do in my brain before they are ready (to use a mixed metaphor) for public consumption.]

One of my biggest complaints with the church is its insistence on making commentary on public policy. After the last U.S. presidential election, evangelicals, who tend to be politically conservative anyway, came under fire for (essentially) helping re-elect George W. Bush to a second term despite the fact that his approval ratings had been steadily falling (and continue to do so). This, in my opinion, was fodder for people who thought that the culture war is a battle between rational people (generally secular humanists, atheists, and other “unbelievers,” but possibly inclusive of religious liberals and moderates) and the religious right. Contributing to this was the insistence of many evangelical churches that Christians who did not vote conservative/Republican (especially regarding Bush, it seems) were somehow shirking their moral duty as Christians, and some churches took this to the degree of asking members who wished to vote for other candidates (like John Kerry) to leave the church. (Consequently, the pastor involved in this case resigned from the church.)

This is something I see as a very disturbing trend within Christendom, and I have to set the record straight (rather unnecessarily, it would seem) – Christianity does not advocate any bonds other than the church, nor does it require any.

The fact that I have to say this is almost insulting. Religion by itself is a voluntary bonding (from religare, “to bind fast”); it is no surprise that members are often called “adherents,” which also etymologically indicates a bond. By binding oneself to the church – to the metaphorical bride of Christ – one does not need to register as a Republican, a Democrat, or any of the various political parties or groups that emerge from the landscape.

A counterargument I hear frequently is, “Party X stands for Issue Y, which is an issue of vital importance regarding Christian ethics. How can you be a moral person and not support this issue?” Most generally, it is abortion (it emerges frequently from the mouth of Joe Carter), and it is the Republican party which is most used as the party of choice for this reason.

Now, I will admit that I consider myself on the “pro-life” side of the argument (although the terms themselves leave much to be desired as far as being rhetorically neutral), and I also in many cases consider myself conservative. But I will never, never say that Christian ethics prescribes this sort of adherence.

The reason is (at least for me) quite simple: No single stance is going to encapsulate all the positions that are reasonably tenable for the Christian. In many ways, each position has different emphases, and the fact that one is preferred to another does not constitute a violation of Christian ethics.

Abortion is a good example of something that some liberal Christians might not see as merely a moral issue, and that perhaps is the point at which the whole thing breaks down. If a Christian is of the opinion that the government doesn’t have the right to determine the moral status of the fetus/embryo (and therefore cannot legislate its protection within the confines of abortion), then is that an inherent contradiction in the morals? Conversely, if a Christian thinks that the government has a responsibility to make sure that the rich don’t continue to accumulate wealth to the detriment of the lower classes, is that a contradiction? For the Christian, is there a conflict (speaking politically) between fighting for the abolition of abortion as a “conservative” or the abolition of disparate wealth as a “liberal?”

There really is no clear-cut answer that can stem from Scripture itself, which is why (at least in many cases) appeals are made to authority or to tradition. I, however, don’t think that we should stray away from saying, “This isn’t an easy answer; you should really try to be informed and think for yourself on the issue.” The most important things in life are often the hardest to come by, and the work in coming up with a position – and in defending it and reevaluating it periodically in the context of new information and other beliefs – is worth it for what it is.

Derek Webb has penned a song here that I will close with. Keep in mind it is satire, and the message you find between the lines is one every Christian should take to heart:

Don’t teach me about politics and government
Just tell me who to vote for
And don’t teach me about truth and beauty
Just label my music
And don’t teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law

I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me
I want a new law, I want a new law
Just give me that new law

Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice
Don’t teach me about loving my enemies
Don’t teach me how to listen to the spirit
Just give me a new law

I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me
I want a new law, I want a new law
Just give me that new law

Cause what’s the use in trading
A law you could never keep
For one that you can that cannot get you anything

Do not be afraid.

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2 Responses to On politicizing belief

  1. Alex says:

    I definitely agree with what you’re saying.

    I read an article from Alasdair MacIntyre, a Catholic philosopher/professor at University of Notre Dame, The Only Vote Worth Casting in November, where he advocates not voting at all because he disagrees with positions both major parties hold. I’m still planning on voting (not that it matters, since I’m in Mississippi), but I’ll admit, he does have a point.

  2. Brody says:

    Thanks for the comment, Alex.

    I’m familiar with MacIntyre in general, and I’d heard of this idea of his, although I don’t know how I feel about it. For one, it seems like more of a political statement than a way of correcting a system that gives us unacceptable choices. I’m guilty of not voting out of pure apathy (which is often driven by the fact that I never feel strongly about any candidates), but I don’t know that such is the best way to handle things. I sometimes wonder where the line between the ways a Christian should actively try to make change for what he/she considers to be the general good and in what ways that change should avoid societal/political methods.

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