One (Growing) Perspective on Evangelicalism and Politics

I was recently asked why as an Evangelical I don’t follow the standard issue Evangelical party platform, here’s how I start to answer that question.

Heated political rhetoric comes and goes in waves. Currently in the United States, we’re riding a tidal wave named “Health Care Reform.” Everyone, especially Evangelical Christians, has come out in all their stripes and colors. Within this dialogue, if we can call it that, there is much debate about whether or not religion should keep its two-cents to itself. Some on the left say, “keep it out of the public square,” while others on the right try to bully their way in, like a party they weren’t invited to. (This all operates under the assumption that there really is some religion-free, neutral space like a “public square,” which I have great doubts about). My confession is that I often feel rather hopeless after hearing both these sides. It is as though both groups are predetermined machines whose course cannot, will not, be altered.

But on my more upbeat days my response to all of this is something different from either of our two caricatures above. I am interested and active in politics because I am a Christian, yes, even an evangelical one at that. Yet, I gladly do not identify with either the left or right because for me to be a Christian is to pledge allegiance to only one political party, Christ’s kingdom. The Christian church is at its very core political. That is it is, or at least should be, deeply concerned about all, or at least many of the things, that often get shoved into our “public” discussions. Things like war, poverty, abortion, capital punishment, caring for the sick, hunger, marriage, etc. are all issues that concern the very practice of what it means to be Christian. These are not voting blocks or single issues to be fought over. These are real life, embodied, questions that impact real people in our congregations.

If I get my ethics from the Sermon on the Mount, then as a Christian I play politics to a radically different drum beat. These are ethics, that is a way of embodying core convictions, that are closer to poetry than they are mathematics. This poetry makes little sense to the logical, rational and the powerful. Yet deep within Jesus’ sayings, his parables, and his miracles is a world of reversals, subversions, and love where the losers are winners, the mournful rejoice and the wounded are healed. It sides with the weak, the poor, the orphan and the widow. This is how the world looks like right-side up. These “ethics” are the throbbing heartbeat of Jesus’ movement and the church.

Rather than reducing people and politics down to a single issue as the right does so well, or pretending as though a neutral religious- (or conviction-)free zone could possible exist in our world (as the left obsesses over), Christians following the poetry of the Kingdom of God slice this another way. The church is itself a politic that answers to God, to Jesus’ ethics, rather than the king’s. We are to embody love of enemy, we are to do good to those who abuse us, we are to welcome the “alien” among us, and we are to give daily bread to those praying for it. Therefore, whether or not we live in a country that votes, has soldiers “protecting those freedoms!” or has leaders who believe the proper religious dogmas (often at the expense of actually living those dogmas) is all beside the point. Yes, I (typically) vote and help where I can within the established political system. I live in a country that (still) allows for disagreement and participation (though those on the fringes of the Right seem to favor less difference of opinion, maybe even difference of conviction, with growing fervor even in a free country such as ours), and the outcomes are still (for the most part) not predetermined. But I am not required to do this as a Christian, it is not our duty to transform the world by the means of the world. My duty is to love without measure and pray with my life that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, even if (or when) it costs me everything.  As Christians, or people seeking to practice daily the Sermon on the Mount, I cannot see how this would ever be done with violence, lies, greed, exploitation and other under-the-table charades.

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8 responses to “One (Growing) Perspective on Evangelicalism and Politics”

  1. Wonderful post. Thank-you for that. Jesus's teachings are really quite simple and if we truly implement them our lives become simple as well.

  2. What you've written reflects a lot of what I feel on these issues and I can see why, given the country you live in, you have to make these sorts of clarifications.

    But, for me, this is increasingly why I just can't make sense of describing myself as an evangelical anymore. It's not about what I believe, but how that term is loaded up for people I meet.

  3. "But I am not required to do this as a Christian, it is not our duty to transform the world by the means of the world."

    So much for Martin Luther King's witness. I am pretty sure he worked through established structures to encourage civil rights legislation that drastically altered the landscape of America. And yes, we are required to do this as Christians, do to the love commandment.

    • If we are to work by the means of the world, then it sounds as though the kingdom may after all have some political ramifications in your view? What I mean here, as I think should be clear, is that we as Christians should never knowingly give into or propagate domination, coercion or violence in order to bring about "peace" and "love." This is why Quakers have historically had a "testimony against war" rather than a "testimony for peace." It's far easier to surrender to the world's ways and make war in the name of being "for peace." A testimony against war is more clearly understood as the position Christians (in the conviction of my tradition) need to hold.

      Propagating domination, coercion or violence is certainly not the witness of Martin Luther King and others. Of course we will at times work within the structures of the world, yet this should never be our starting point, our end goal, or even a requirement. If we do work through the structures of the world to transform the world, it is voluntary and always subject first to God's kingdom, and therefore willing at any minute to sacrifice our cause or be sacrificed ourselves if succumbing to the ways of the world (i.e. shifting allegiances) become our only other option.

  4. "Yet, I gladly do not identify with either the left or right because for me to be a Christian is to pledge allegiance to only one political party, Christ’s kingdom."

    Christ's kingdom is not a political party – our parties are so corrupt that this is truly a slur. Christ's kindom is a gift that is not fully present, but we do not "vote" for it by refusing to participate, or marginalizing, our participation in wordly politics.

    This entire line of argument is a mennonite line that has been repopularized among Evangelicals by Yoder by way of Hauerwas. It is not the way that the Church has historically understood itself to be related to the political realm throughout history. But then, Protestants do so hate to be held back by tradition.

  5. God is our ruler, even now, but gives us Satan to rule under him for as long as Satan remains our favorite candidate.

    That is, so long as we remain governed by our fears, Fear remains our leader and God's power continues to hide behind small mercies.

    The "Kingdom" means the coming time when we will openly welcome and proclaim God's direct rule over more and more of our lives. It also means the reality that has existed from Eden to this very day, the actual power of God at work even in misfortune.

    Human politics is a game of monkey-dominance behavior. It is also the best we've been able to do towards organizing to serve our collective needs. It is like assembling a gang of monkeys to type us some Shakespeare, far more productive of flung excrement than of appropriate responses to any human problem. We may participate in it out of love, because the consequences of misgovernment have been increasingly ruinous to all human good, and that situation continues to pain us–but we have no reason to suppose that electing a better king, or passing a better law, can make Shalom out of a monkey-fight.

    [On the Quaker version of this, see… ]

    So far as we remember where the real Power is, we can speak truth to earthly powers and live–or die–with the consequences. We can not live with the consequences of pretense. God's Love and Justice manifest even in the Big Shadow Play, but when you wake up to that, see how little it room it makes for truth, understand fully that all the good in it is not worth one white lie, what is your place in it?

    I think it comes down to: We must keep solidarity with and compassion for all us monkeys, recognize that our rulers' self-deception is our self-deception, pray for guidance and the opening of all eyes. Even though opening our own feels like a painful brightness.