faith without politics is dead

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

faith without politics is dead

that’s what the scriptures say, right? faith without politics is dead? like 2 peas in a pod. like peanut butter and jelly. like ren and stimpy.

ok, so maybe the bible says something about works… but come on, my phrase is much catchier and scintillating, right? you know, despite its surface-layer inaccuracies, i actually want to dive into that concept a little and show that i think the two are far from mutually exclusive.

first, i should state that i don’t believe the statement is normative or even accurate, obviously. i think it’s entirely possible to be a person of deep faith and have absolutely zero interest in or concern for politics (though it’s certainly difficult in our american political climate). for many people, of course, that’s the case. what i would like to present, though, is that for those who hold both faith and politics to be important, the two have a natural (and even necessary) overlap.

i recently had a very good and helpful (in terms of being open to another point-of-view) conversation with a good friend and fellow eikon leader, john hardin. i always appreciate john’s viewpoints, particularly in the context of politics, as that’s the sector he not only works in, but is particularly knowledgeable (and reasonable). specifically, the conversation centered around our upcoming series at eikon called point/counterpoint (read more about it here). the final week is a political conversation regarding whether the values most important to jesus are intrinsically more compatible with democratic or republican values/platforms. it should be a fun week.

john’s position was that he couldn’t present either side because his faith isn’t what informs his political values. rather, it’s largely pragmatics such as fiscal values and roles of government (to name just a couple and to conveniently name his much more nuanced reasons). after clarifying that that wasn’t specifically what i was looking for, the conversation meandered into a broader conversation about the intersection of faith and politics, prominent religio-political figures like jim wallis and the idea of theocracy. the conversation ultimately came down to the fact that john’s political choices weren’t primarily made because of his faith. i appreciated the dialogue and saw a perspective that, as surprising as this may sound, i simply hadn’t considered.

for me, it came down to the fact that i simply cannot divorce my intrinsic theological values from my political choices/positions. i’m not for a theocracy. i’m not for a union of church and state. i’m not naturally inclined to support a candidate who uses religion to gain votes. rather, i’m simply saying that i cannot divorce my personal political feelings and subsequent votes from my inherent faith values.

i’m certainly not advocating that everyone must solely found their political values in their faith (i absolutely have a list of pragmatic reasons for my political leanings), but i am advocating that we don’t dichotomize our faith when making personal voting and policy decisions. while i don’t expect (or want) the government to base it’s decisions on some religious set of values, i feel compelled—as a follower of jesus—to let my inherent values regarding jesus make my personal political decisions. let me offer some examples.

one of my foremost theological values is a consistent ethic of life, which informs me that all life is sacred and should be guarded as the image of god that it is. politically, these theological values take shape in such things as opposition to war, the death penalty, abortion, unimpeded gun laws and unjust health care policies (among other things). it’s nearly impossible for me to understand a paradigm in which these things are regarded in high theological value by a person and then denied in their inherent political values. the place in which fundamental faith imperatives and personal political decisions diverge is something i simply cannot understand.

now, please don’t misinterpret what i’m saying or take it too simplistically. it’s not that i wouldn’t/couldn’t vote for a president (for example) who supports war (barack obama regularly articulated his feelings about afghanistan) or abortion (he has also made clear his intention to upload the right to choose), but it’s simply to say that these deep-seated jesus values weigh heavily on me when i push the button in the voting booth. further, though, these issues aren’t just black-and-white, yes-or-no issues. for instance, i’m deeply opposed to abortion, but i don’t think the way to solve the problems is simply to ban abortions. rather, (like our current president has supported) i think there’s a more holistic approach that includes better health care options, education, better adoption policies and pregnancy prevention initiatives.

finally, to make one more distinction, i would take it a step further to say, whereas i’m certainly aware of the pragmatic consequences of a given policy (fiscal impact, social response, etc.), my inherent theological values override sheer pragmatics. for example, my support for massive health care reform (i was/am for true single-payer, universal health care) is a profoundly theological matter for me and even if it meant a slight raise in taxes or some federal budget conundrums, i would have still favored the reform (though those things have certainly been avoided). (these things, by the way, could be very easily avoided if we dramatically cut our defense budget, which is astronomical.) likewise, even if it means being “less of a world superpower” (blah, blah, blah), i am still in favor of discontinuing the use of military intervention (war, force, etc.) throughout the world. sure, in terms of bare-bones pragmatics, that’s not a great thing (though one could argue the other position), but it certainly represents a personal theological value that i think is important.

so, i hope this has been some food for thought. i’m not suggesting your important theologies are any more or less important than mine, but i certainly hope that we all let them inform our votes and the political matters we support.

you know, faith without politics is certainly not dead, though i’m not too sure a politics without faith is all that alive.

3 Comments

  1. mudpuppy says:

    Great thoughts Ryan.

  2. mudpuppy says:

    Great thoughts Ryan.

  3. Morgon77 says:

    Any time 2 or more people have to decide how they are going to do something, by nature that is political.

    To quote wikipedia:
    "Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in other group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power"[1] and refers to the regulation of a political unit,[2] and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.[3]"

    So if there are a group of us in a car, and we're all trying to figure out what restaurant to go to, that's politics. Or whether to push for the homeless to have overflow housing. etc.

    In order for Jesus to not be political, he would have to not have any bearing on how people interact and carry out community.

    He simply isn't a party politician.

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