Wasted Quote: Christians (conservative or progressive) cannot imagine power any other way than politics–and that's a problem for the church
In this, they mistakenly imagine that to pass a referendum, elect a candidate, pass a law, or change a policy is to change culture. In truth, they probably know better, but in terms of the amount of energy expended and money spent, the net effect is a view much like this. While Christian activists (conservative and progressive) have been fairly influential in the political sphere at different times in recent decades, they have embraced a means to power that seethes with resentment, anger, and bitterness for the injury they believe they have suffered. The public and political culture of contemporary Christianity have become defined by such negations. Christians believe that they have a legitimate right to participate in the democratic process and they are, of course, right. The problem resides with the political culture they not only embrace but have helped to create. The tragic irony is that in the name of resisting the dark nihilisms of the modern age, Christians—in their will to power and the ressentiment that fuels it—perpetuate that nihilism. In so doing, Christians undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance" (James Davison Hunter from To Change the World).
*My previous post on Voting and the Table
Not by voting, but by my gathered-church says the Lord: Voting is not the church's weapon of choice to bring about change, the table is
In 12 days many of us will be voting. I certainly encourage voting for a host of reasons (despite the feeling that nothing really changes anymore after we vote), but this annual trek to the polls teaches something to Christians (i.e., the habit, the liturgy of voting teaches something) and forces Christians and churches to focus on electoral politics as our (i.e., the right, left, conservative, progressive, libertarian, independent)–as our weapon of choice to bring change or to simply protect what we have so it isn't taken away. I don't like this about our politics, that is, for what it does to the church (rather, to churches) and how it makes us as Christians think this is the means we (or God) accomplishes change.
Yet, think of the early church. I find, streaming from the pages of the New Testament (I believe), God's means to affect change was to personally (face-to-face, person-to-person) strengthen the weak ties among people at the table, who had never sat for a meal together before . . . strangers and unequals celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread, a meal, and the lifting of a cup to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This table intimacy among differing, adverse, conflicting, socially unacceptable levels and classes of society met as family–where neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither clean nor unclean actually meant something huge and not a cliché. This is where change happened. And, it most certainly did. Unheard of change at the deepest societal levels and in the nooks and crannies of both the back alleys and in the palaces. A place where “one in Christ” carried significant social and cultural changing power.
Of course I will vote on November 6th. But frankly not much will change. But what I do know that would (that will) bring about change, especially change in my community and for my neighbors, is my church, as we seek to make that table (and what it does to our actual, interactive, on the ground fellowship) a table of unequals and strangers “one in Christ.” Where in the wider community, now a gathered-church, weak ties between people need to exist to changes lives, to prosper communities, and to strengthen neighborhoods.
That is how it was done post-pentecost and for the amazing first 150 to 300 years before Caesar put us in a box. Time to get out of that box. Remember we commit treason (or we should be) every time we lift that cup to remember Jesus, to proclaim his death, until he comes again.
Biblical social action that reflects advocacy on behalf of the poor--gets your hands dirty and messy
For the church to have a public voice that affects the public square with kingdom values, it needs to have public actions that demonstrate the interests of the community and, in particular, actions that reflect advocacy and social action on behalf of the poor.
There will be expected tensions in advocating for the poor in the public square, including opposition from within and from outside the church community. The political process is rarely comfortable for those with deep, conservative biblical convictions and is often beset with estranged alliances and awkward compromises. Additionally, the very poor we seek to serve will not always appreciate or rise up to the advocacy afforded to them. Nonetheless, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we need to “smudge” ourselves with “the hard complexities of the world” [Elshtain’s “Afterward” in Evangelicals in the Public Square by Budziszewski, 197].
*Adapted from chapter 1 of Wasted Evangelism, "Widows in Our Courts."
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.