Okay, let’s all get this off our chests, since it’s at the heart of this conversation. Whether you need to scream it; or heave a sigh; or close your eyes, whisper silently and cross yourself - just say: “I’m upset and embarrassed by how some American Christian leaders are acting, and I’m upset that our faith has been over politicized.” If you decide to throw in a few profanities to truly express your feelings, I'll leave that to your personal convictions. Let your emotions flow; let your anger dissipate. Feel better? I do. Okay, now let’s have a conversation. I have already expressed my main objections to the idea of a “Christian America,” but I need to fill out my thoughts on the opposite side of the spectrum: anti-political Christianity.
In reaction to the objectionable behavior of political activists who have represented Christianity in a distasteful way (or, in some cases, simply the objectionable caricatures created by the pop-culture comedians who influence our thinking more than we’d like to admit), it seems very popular to say that Christians have no business being in politics. Certainly the kingdom of God is not now a political kingdom, and our primary focus is on building the church. But the kingdom of God will be political one day: the world will be ruled by Christ in a way that will establish truly good laws, rather than the laws we must settle for today that take into account the sinful flaws and depravity of both the ruled and the rulers. Blanket statements like “politics are corrupt by nature” must always be given with a qualification, because there is One who will wield political power with perfect justice and integrity (and apparently have glorified human beings as his appointed officials - Matt. 19:27-29; 2 Tim. 2:12) Neither can we trust our great enlightenment aphorism “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power is not the thing that corrupts. Positions of power just give greater and more public opportunities to people who were already corrupt from birth. And again, there is one who will wield power without corruption one day. When Young writes in The Shack that authority is only something necessary because of sin, he misses out on the way proper authority and righteous rule are commended in Biblical theology. Politics is not the problem; government is not inherently wicked. Sin is the problem, and it screws with government and politics endlessly.
But in identifying the problem more accurately, we still haven’t answered whether politics can be meaningfully engaged in while we wait for the part of the kingdom that has not yet come. Some would say that Jesus’ model was one of non-engagement. An acquaintance of mine did an interesting post on this recently. I recommend the post (unless you consider yourself a fundamentalist - then reading his blog will make you very angry), but I disagree with his conclusion. I don’t think that this is an area where Jesus was modeling a practice for us. Jesus lived in a political situation where any Jewish messiah-like figure had a couple of basic choices: question Roman authority and get squashed by the greatest military force on the planet at that time, or avoid confrontation and political agitation and be allowed to accomplish the rest of your goals in life. (In Jesus’ case, he managed to infuriate the Jews by avoiding confrontation with the Romans, and get killed by the Romans anyway - but he did so after he had accomplished all that he wanted to prior to that, and in order that he could accomplish victory over death, an enemy who had ruled much longer than the Romans.) Jesus did not punch a ballot in November. And I’m pretty sure that, if he had, it would not have been included in the inspired text of the New Testament, because the message of the New Testament only deals with politics incidentally, when it affects salvation, the formation of the church, and the promise of Christ's second coming. The quotes from Philip Yancey that appear on Musings of an Evangelical Mind remind us that Christianity is not essentially about political influence - but the premise is that we can determine based on what the text does not tell us about what Jesus did not do what we ought to do, when we live in an entirely different societal structure. By the same logic, we could exhort people to not pursue higher education, buy homes or invest in stocks and bonds. And none of these things are essential to a good and godly life - but we have no reason to urge people to throw them aside as useless. Doing so would not be following the example of Christ in a New Testament sense, but just being culturally quirky.
I think that each generation and each culture must work out for themselves how the truths of salvation and membership in the people of God and the impact that these things have on our behaviors play out more specifically in our unique situations. We are called to accept the same gospel, imitate the same characteristics of Christ, and obey the same central moral commands of God as at all times in church history. But it will be fleshed out a little differently for us than for Jesus and the twelve, or for Paul and the early Greek churches. This is not to say by any means that we reject their authority, but that we live out the same theology in a different situation, and thus it will look different, whether we try to make it that way or not. And since we have no command to avoid politics altogether, our concern is to engage issues appropriately, as part of our mission, without making political action an idol.
I welcome your critiques on these ideas, especially since a couple of readers seem to be in this camp. And from here I can start filling out a positive framework of what I think should shape our views. But who wants to read posts so long that they make your fingers tired from scrolling down the screen? This is enough for today.