Tag Archives: politics

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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Final Conclusion: Obama is Black Enough

Last Wednesday the 10-minute break splitting my 2-hour class, another student commented on the Obama stick on my laptop.  I don’t remember where precisely the conversation went for the next minute, but soon, he said something that surprised yet didn’t surprise me: Obama is about as white-washed as you can get.  I then launched into a 5-minute sermon in defense of dear Barack, some of which might have been decent, some of which probably was just rambles.  So today I have decided to argue this in a more organized fashion for the benefit of all my readers.  (You can follow with your own rebuttals, if need be.)

Culture:
Barack is openly biracial and obviously did not have an African-American father.  He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii with few black cultural influences.  BUT he began to own his black identity in a deeper way during college, has read works by significant black leaders such as MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X (ok, the tip of the iceberg, but I know he’s talked about them; I don’t think he’s on Library Thing, so I’m not sure what else he’s read…), and has experienced in the black cultural world through his work as a community organizer, as well as his marriage into Michelle’s family. Does this mean it was his birth culture?  No.  But does he likely identify with this culture to some extent?  Surely!  After all, I’m white and my mere tip-toes to the edge of the black community have influenced me in various ways.

To say that Barack is in no way culturally African American betrays an ignorance of the multi-cultural identity.  In my experience, those that grow up in multiple cultural worlds not only may feel an affinity for those cultures but also be generally more open to culture learning and intercultural attachment.  For example, my Kiwi/Canadian/British/(newly) American friend (who has also lived in Romania) loves Latin American and Latino cultures.  She’s spent three months in Bolivia and volunteers weekly in North Carolina’s Latino community.  Does it make her Latina?  No.  But that’s not the point.  She still identifies with them in some way.  Same goes for my friend that was adopted from Korea by white parents.  Going back to Korea a year didn’t erase her Euro-American cultural influences, but it added to who she was in significant ways.  She is Korean American, even though she didn’t grow up in that community.  Barack has spent enough time in the African-American community that I’m pretty sure he speaks their language, though I don’t think he has disowned his Euro-American on Kenyan heritage, either.

Politics:
Did any of you see that audio that got released a couple weeks ago in which Barack said the Civil Rights movement didn’t go far enough because it never went into economic (as well as political) justice?  Indeed, this was a “tragedy” of the Civil Rights movement.  If that doesn’t make you an ally…

With that said, as much as I love Obama, I can’t say I trust him to be able to get everything done for the black community that he probably should, and I know at some points he may sell out and not try as hard as he could.  That’s reality.  (I hope it doesn’t happen, but anyone that fights for justice faces a constant temptation to sell out–I wouldn’t expect Barack to be any different.)

Still, if you look at the general direction of his policies, he is on the “right side,” which is of course, the left side.  In other words, he’s on the side that most black people, Af-Am professors, etc. would think is going to do the most good for the black community.  He’s not Clarence Thomas.  I think we can trust him to be generally aligned in a way that will benefit not only African-Americans but ethnic minorities in the U.S. generally.  After all, his family is about a diverse as you can get–Kenyan, Chinese Canadian, white-Asian biracial, African-American, white…  As a community organizer he worked with Latinos along with blacks, and he also thinks he’s got a little Native American heritage.  He’s not going to represent any of these groups perfectly, but I think he values multi-ethnicity and the African-American community in particular.

Community:
While others don’t have complete say over who you are, community acceptance is somewhat significant.  For example, just because I participated in a Pow-Wow doesn’t mean I can just decide to be Occaneechi.  Just because I attended a black church for a couple years doesn’t make me black.  Just a friend studied abroad in Japan and loves Japanese doesn’t make her Japanese.  Part of this is up to us, but a good part of it is up to others–will they accept us and recognize us as one of them rather than an other?  I think that in this campaign and election, the black community has stood up and said yes, we will own Barack Obama as one of our own.

******

Ultimately, I think we’ve just got to get past this people.  I’ve heard before that Obama’s not really black because he’s one of those arugula types.  Listen, people.  Anyone can like arugula.  Just because you are intelligent, are lucky enough to go to a good school, and have some money in the bank doesn’t make you white.  I would be interested to know how the same classmate (who I’m not dissing, just disagreeing with) would speak of Michelle.  Is she white-washed, too?  Because I think she’s pretty clearly black.  Unless Princeton changes that somehow.

Black kids have got it hard enough with their own peers calling them white because they’re smart, motivated, and successful.  Please, white people, do we have to do the same?

******

Lastly, I think it’s very significant to consider one last category:

Identity:
He has chosen this path, this identity.  It’s only respectful that we accept it as who he is, even if we at points want to criticize his politics (as perhaps not being radical enough in their favor for the black community).

And if that doesn’t convince you, what white person his age do you know that went to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on their first date with their now-spouse?  Uh huh.  Thought so.

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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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