Tag Archives: kingdom

Why Politics Aren’t Evil

Recently I’ve come across two interesting statements on friends’ blogs:

(1) “humans were created to rule the world on God’s behalf” (Daniel Kirk, in summarizing an article by Richard Middleton)

(2) “Cultural/creative power is the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good. But privilege is the accumulated benefits of past successful exercises of power… Jesus retains power but does not exploit privilege.” (Al Hsu, summarizing a talk by Andy Crouch, author of the fabulous 2008 book, Culture Making)

When I read Kirk’s blog today and saw that statement (which is nothing new/revolutionary to me), I was hit by the way it connected to what Hsu had posted, and the way both were connected with one of the big questions we debated in my Mission in American Culture class last quarter, which focused on politics in America.

Many students were afraid of politics, eager to separate themselves from the corruption, the bad decisions, even the power itself.  (See some of our blog entries on evangelicalism and politics.)  However, as a political science major in college, I didn’t feel able to turn by back on the political process.  I’m not saying it’s all good.  But I also don’t think the concepts of parties, PACs, organized interests, grassroots protests, executives, judiciaries, and legislatures are inherently bad.  I think they’re cool cultural innovations we’ve created to try to manage our societies.  And that can’t be completely awful, right?  Government is just sort of… necessary.

What these statements do, though, I think, is make an even more positive case for politics.  Politics is about the distribution of power.  We were created for power, for rulership.  And as such, we can’t ever get away from politics.  If these two statements are true, politics is woven into our very beings.  The question is not should we participate in politics but how can politics serve to rule the world for God–and by that I’m not meaning how can politics legislate morality or force devotion but rather how politics (and every other human endeavor) can be used to honor the human potential in all of us (including the ability to make our own decisions about things like religion).

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The new evangelical non-partisanship

U.S. American news magazines think they have a hot new story.  Week after week they reiterate that U.S. evangelicals are changing, especially the younger crowd.  Governor Palin, for example, isn’t going to appeal to those concerned with the environment, says TIME, since she doesn’t believe humans cause global warming.  Increasingly issues of war and poverty are also on the radar for evangelicals, causing some of them to, *gasp*, even consider voting for Barack Obama.

This openness to new parties, does not necessarily mean a commitment to party or ideology, however.  I have yet to do formal research on the matter (maybe if I go to grad school for poli sci in another life), but my experience has kept the count fairly low. Evangelicals that disassociate from the Religious Right are rightly wary of partisanship, and many are also frustrated by a broken system in Washington that seems to spin its wheels more than it brings the meaningful change for which they yearn.

I know evangelical leaders that encourage the rejection of cemented party allegiances, emphasizing a loyalty to God that supersedes loyalty to party.  No party is perfect, they say, and each is a product of culture, not something directly created by God.   One might vote a certain way the majority of the time, or even partipate in “radical” activites (such a protesting a war), but it’s most important to focus on the issues that matter to God–whether they seem to paint you red or blue–and pursue righteous policies in those areas.

Others take this line of thinking to an extreme, which mixed with their jadedness, can be disastrous in the mind of a poli sci major like myself.  My dear songwriting buddy Derek Webb is quick to call out the United States for its domestic and foreign policies; in fact, at a concert at UNC-Chapel Hill this past Saturday night, he covered Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” in opposition to the Iraq War.  As you might have gathered, Derek and I care about a lot of the same things, but our approach to problem-solving is very different.  For example, a concert-goer says he spoke of voting almost as a necessary evil: “if you conscience lets you vote…”  He also encouraged people to get to know their neighbors (something I wholeheartedly recommend) in lieu of voting (a substitution I don’t).  This attitude goes far beyond Derek–I think most evangelicals today would rather sit and have dinner with the poor than fight for elected officials promising to fight poverty.  Politics doesn’t seem to work, they think, and it just created all this division and partisanship that left the evangelical community feeling oblivious or hostile towards issues of race, poverty, and the environment, to begin with.

But I completely disagree with Derek.  Politics doesn’t have to be broken, it doesn’t have to never work.  It, like most aspects of our culture can be redeemed and restored.  Politics can be a force for good, not evil.  Bureaucracy can even be used for good!  Power can be used justly and progress can be made.  Politics won’t save us any more than SUVs, microwaves, or Rihanna will, but politics can be used by God, just like SUVs, microwaves, and Rihanna.

And just logically speaking, if you believe, as evangelicals do, that there is a moral code that transcends humanity’s momentary likes and dislikes within particular cultural contexts, certain political parties must get more of that right than others.  We may disagree infinitely about which issues are important or which methodology is more effective or about how to decide between parties when none cares about all of “your issues” as much as you do.  But the fact is this: a certain party can (and probably does) have a moral edge over another, if not overall, at least when it comes to addressing particular subsets of issues in our society.

Let’s not demonize each other, and let’s not pretend to have things all figured out.  But let’s not pretend Democrats and Republicans are the same or that communism, conservatism, fascism, democratic socialism, or anything in between are in any way the same system.  They are different ways of seeing the world that must be evaluated based on one’s spiritual and philosophical sensibilities.  And if evangelicals believe the Gospel is the one stainless, scratch-free lense through which everything else can be properly viewed (even if no one seems to have perfect vision), I think they should be able to look at the cultural creations of these various ideologies, see none of them as perfect, yet clearly reject or embrace various aspects of each.  And if that’s true, it’s not just a matter of preference or a choice that we’re free to bypass.  It’s a gift and a responsibility to seek Jesus’s heart and vote (and protest and give and work and pray and speak and shop and dance and dress and drink) accordingly.

We may not always know how to do politics correctly, but I don’t think this is a neutral or irrelevant choice when it comes to kingdom-building.  Politics does real good and real evil in this world.  Let’s do our best to remain engaged, to possess a healthy dose of cynicism balanced by an overwhelming hope, and to take sides (based on issues, party, or ideology more broadly) when it makes sense.  After all, if someone didn’t take a firm political stand against slavery, apartheid, and other evils, where would we be today?

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