I received this message from a good friend of mine, and I thought it was worth sharing and commenting upon.
First, the message (names have been redacted, otherwise it is unaltered):
“I have realized that I don’t care about politics anymore. And actually that I haven’t really cared for at least 4 years now, since I don’t remember caring much last election. So while it wasn’t a new thing, I was still rather shocked. I used to care so much about politics, I wanted to be IN politics at one point. I grew up on it, but I’m wondering how much, if any, I’ll be passing on to my kids.
“[—] and I had a good conversation about it, and concluded there are a couple of reasons we don’t care anymore. One is that when you realize how much of the rest of the world has REAL problems, the petty things they argue about here pretty silly. At least as a general rule, our police are there to protect our citizens, our government is stable, we’re free and safe. Our whole country IS the one percent.
“Looking deeper, perhaps what really makes the difference in how I feel about politics is that I have apparently rejected the stereotypical evangelical Christian version of politics: the Christian nation/”we’re something special”/legislating morality, etc. Founding aside, at this point, we’re not really a Christian nation, whether we were supposed to be or not. And we’re not special. Every country, every era in history, it’s the same rhetoric from the demagogues, we’re not any different. It’s clear that attempts to legislate morality have not worked, and I believe they’re probably only serving to distract Christians from what they really ought to be doing: loving and serving people, to glorify God. When the New Testament speaks about government, we’re instructed to pray, and to live peaceful, quiet lives in order that others around us will be attracted to the message of the gospel. Too many Christians are too busy trying to force everyone to follow the code of morality they follow, or even worse, don’t follow (for example, the sanctity of marriage…. when divorce and adultery is prevalent in the church) that we’re not actually living the lives God intends for his followers to live. Our speech and our actions as we try to fight for these things that we claim He would want are full of pride and hate and completely lacking in grace. So perhaps my conclusion is that my view of politics has become much more dim as my view of His grace has expanded?
“Just some ramblings that I thought you’d be interested in, since I don’t have a blog, but felt like sharing with someone.”
I really liked what my friend had to say here. There are a few brief comments I’d like to make in response. The first is that my friend is absolutely correct in both how well off the west truly is in both relative and historical terms and how the church in America has lost the gospel in its attempt to moralize and legislate for everyone else. Grace is lost when we seek to control the lives of others rather than to try to love them and bring them into community.
However–and this is no comment on individual career choices–the above observations do not mean that Christians ought to be univolved in politics, either by voting or running for office. I think what it does mean, though, is an altering of rhetoric and of goals. Even the the exiled Judaeans were encouraged to seek the welfare of their communities in Babylon, and our duty is no less. We ought to use reason and compassion to try to make our communities just and to improve the welfare of those around us. The gospel is about making people whole. This does not mean, however, this ought to be contingent on our own doctrines or necessarily even moral codes. There is a balance between ignoring things which are objectively harmful and beating people over the head with our own pet dislikes.
A rather important aspect, I think, is rhetoric. People will inevitable disagree over what a community’s values and policies should be. Nevertheless, we can try to discuss and debate without attempting to take a dogmatic highroad or to use deliberately inflammatory language (particularly of the “scary other”). This alone would go a long way to making a difference between chosing either the “culture wars” or the complete avoidance of politics altogether.
The real heart of the problem, in my opinion, is the hypocrisy which my friend pointed out. Nothing is more obvious and more ridiculous to observers than hypocrisy, and it is almost the defining characteristic of the “moral majority.” To cite a cliché that is actually quite to the point here, the church needs to be the change it wants to see. After all, that is at the heart of the gospel: transformations of individuals and turning them into commuunities not centered on themselves but on G-d and on how they can serve others.