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.