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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

It may seem like an absurd question to ask, but should Christians be involved in politics by voting or running? Given the course of human events this seems like a no brainer but if we look at the issue from a strictly biblical perspective I find little support for such a notion.

Take for example the classical idea that Christians obedience to governing authorities in a participatory system means that they ought to participate which is based on Romans 13

Romans 13

Being Subject to Authorities

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

It seems here that Paul is arguing that all governments are instituted by God and therefore worthy of obedience and respect. If this is true it seems a silly question then to wonder about Christians and politics. However, let us consider another passage from Paul

Ephesians 6

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Here Paul says that our (Christians) struggle is not against flesh and blood (people) but against rulers, authorities, and the cosmic powers of the present darkness and the demonic forces that spawn them. Before I unpack this, it is worth noting that perhaps Paul struggled too in reconciling how a government so persecutory like the Roman Imperial government had a place in God’s plan. But I think there is reconciliation in Paul’s lines of thought here.

First, the passage in Ephesians is meant to portray a simple truth that people are not our enemy. It is the systems of power (political and economic) which drive even good people to be unwitting perpetrators of mass poverty, murder, social ostracization etc. When Jesus on the cross says “Forgive them for they know not what they do”, He is driving at the same point as Paul. That everything about the way this world works; our struggle for survival and stability through power (economic/social/political) is what drives this present darkness. And that these systems are of the devil. In fact, much of Paul language of demons revolves around ideas of economic and political power (the principalities and the powers). So if that is what our struggle is against, then why Romans 13?

I think the answer is two-fold, the first has to do with the simple affirmation of monotheism and God’s Sovereignty. While political and economic systems and authorities are evil, they still draw their authority from God because all events are God’s purpose and there is no room for dualism. And Paul believes God allows them to exist at the very least for the purpose of maintaining order in this age. The second insight is drawn from Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

Luke 4

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
 

Here we see Jesus is tempted with seizing the authorities of this world, which He rejects. If we take this story in a very literal sense we see that the devil has been given all authority over this world which He offers to Jesus if He worships him instead of God. What temptation is really occurring here? If Jesus is God, then all authority is already His and so Satan really offers nothing. What many theologians have picked up on here is that what Jesus is really being tempted with is to do exactly what it is the Jews thought the Messiah would. Take hold of and reign over the kingdoms as a mighty sovereign. And it is displayed here that such an action is worshiping Satan rather than God because God’s plan is to transform the character of the world and set it free, not rule over it by seizing the powers that are instruments of evil.

God has sovereign authority but does not exercise it in a manner like that of our political systems because our political systems are evil. The Church is to stand against these in various ways, but like Jesus ought not to take up the ways of these systems and authorities in order to do it. So Paul instructs that we obey and pay taxes, but at the same time we subvert them by playing a game outside their rules. The Christians of the early church formed self sustainable communities that made sure no one was left to die to poverty like the world’s economic systems. They harbored and hid each other from persecution but did not rise up and fight for political rights for their way of life. They created a counter culture that opposed and denied the legitimacy of social rules and norms but did not persecute and ostracize those who upheld them (thus creating the same social clique structure as they). And like Jesus many were martyred, and through that they exposed the world for the monster that it was.

So to bring the point back home, the kingdom of God’s purpose is to stand against the authorities, systems, and powers of this world. If that is the case, how are we justified at all in participating and ultimately empowering such powers? The authors of the N.T. did not anticipate participatory government in the fashion that exists now, and I cannot deny that Christian involvement in politics has made some great improvements (although one could argue it also has many failures to account for). But it seems to me that if our true calling is to work outside of the powers of this world, then voting and holding offices merely affirms the legitimacy of institutions that Christianity denies.

This is a super open issue topic, and I would love any insights or comments I can get from you…

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Christian Politics

I studied political science in college but out of all the political theorists writings I have read, it was a short essay by C.S. Lewis on equality that had the most impact on me. Thought I would share with all you.

Equality
by C.S. LEWIS, February 11, 1944

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people – all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

This introduces a view of equality rather different from that in which we have been trained. I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent, I don’t think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. It was rightly taken away because men became bad and abused it. To attempt to restore it now would be the same error as that of the Nudists. Legal and economic equality are absolutely necessary remedies after the Fall, and protection against cruelty.

But medicine is not good. There is no spiritual sustenance in flat equality. It is a dim recognition of this fact which makes much of our political propaganda sound so thin. We are trying to be enraptured by something which is merely the negative condition of the good life. And that is why the imagination of people is so easily captured by appeals to the craving for inequality, whether in a romantic form of films about loyal courtiers or in the brutal form of Nazi ideology. The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values: offers food to some need which we have starved.

When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget but as an ideal we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. That mind is the special disease of democracy, as cruelty and servility are the special diseases of privileged societies. It will kill us all if it grows unchecked.

The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other, the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow, is a prosaic barbarian. But it would be wicked folly to restore these old inequalities on the legal or external plane. Their proper place is elsewhere.

We must wear clothes since the Fall. Yes, but inside, under what Milton called “these troublesome disguises” (1) , we want the naked body, that is, the REAL body, to be alive. We want it, on proper occasions, to appear: in the marriage-chamber, in the public privacy of a men’s bathing-place, and (of course) when any medical or other emergency demands. In the same way, under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive. It is there, of course, in our life as Christians: there, as laymen, we can obey – all the more because the priest has no authority over us on the political level. It is there in our relation to parents and teachers – all the more because it is now a willed and wholly spiritual reverence. …

… And that is why this whole question is of practical importance. Every intrusion of the spirit that says “I’m as good as you” into our personal and spiritual life is to be resisted just as jealously as every intrusion of democracy or privilege into our politics. Hierarchy within can alone preserve egalitarianism without. Romantic attacks on democracy will come again. We shall never be safe unless we already understand in our hearts all that the anti-democrats can say, and have provided for it better than they. Human nature will not permanently endure flat equality if it is extended from its proper political field into the more real, more concrete fields within. Let us WEAR equality; but let us undress every night.

—–
1. John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667) Book IV line 740.

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Culture War

The funny thing about the “Culture War” is that the Bible does teach that it is the kingdom of God vs. world. However, the problem is that in most cases the Christian fervor toward war with society is not only a power play for control of the world’s corruptive authority, but is a war against groups of people and not “the world” as Paul says the kingdom of God stands against.

Ephesians 6.10-12
Finally, my brothers and sisters, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Whenever, any Christian group targets flesh and blood especially through being the principalities and the powers of this world, They have missed God’s calling entirely.

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The struggle between Christian pacifism and “Just War” Theory in Christianity is an old one. Many sects of Christianity and many great Christians have been pacifists, and there are many who have not. I have struggled myself to decide which view better represents Christianity but recently I have really nailed down what it is I believe. So I want to walk you through my thoughts on the issue and maybe (hopefully) a lot of this will resonate with any of you who have thought about this issue before.

The draw of Christian pacifism I think is that as Christians our worldview is shaped by empathy for any victim. This makes sense because empathy for the poor, downtrodden, abused, etc. is a very central feature to the gospels. Jesus comes to save the oppressed, the ostracized, the sinners, the victims. And Jesus does this by becoming a victim himself. Christian pacifists emphasize the idea that in war, all become victims and thus, by joining in a war you create more problems than you solve.

But “Just War” thinkers are drawn by the same thing. They see that there are victims and argue that we cannot stand idly by, and that peaceful means are simply not enough to satisfy the Christian desire to set right injustice and stand by the victims. And personally I think we can all agree with this sentiment. When we see videos of soldiers dying for and defending victims of evil and oppression there is a certain moral appeal, an aesthetic and soul searching pull on us that compels us to honor those who do this. The drawback of course is that this picture of defending the victims soon fades from war. In order to win a war, the objective changes from protection of the victims, to defeating the enemy (so that we might protect the victims). When this objective changes, we become much like the evil we oppose. And while we might intend to be nobler and more just in the course of a war, Christian pacifists believe, and I agree, that we cannot help but resort to repaying evil with evil rather than good. We become like those we oppose.

So how are we to reconcile these views? I think the conflict is really that both views contain elements of what we know is right, but we lack the courage of faith to put the right parts together. God, in His plan to reconcile the world and end sin, did not come here and battle and destroy the oppressors through force. But neither did He sit back and attempt peaceful means of ending hostilities. God, who was not a victim of evil, chose to become a victim. He chose to join the oppressed so that He might reveal the emptiness of the ideologies and views fueling the injustice. And so I think the heart of Christian pacifism is about joining the victims. Helping them, healing them, teaching them, and suffering with them. And to show this is not just some empty platitude, consider the case that all pacifist debates ultimately come around to; World War II.

The Just War thinker feels that we cannot stand idly by while the Nazis conquer, kill, and oppress millions, and perhaps they feel that what I have said above is ridiculous. That simply going over to Europe and helping them without fighting back just means more cannon fodder for the Nazis. I agree, at least initially that is what would occur. But really think about what might happen if Christians from all over the world had gone to Europe and without fighting back, attempted to aid the rest of Europe and chose to go there and die with them. Could Nazi ideology actually stand up to that? Could Germans continue shooting people who simply chose to come to Europe and die with their enemies? These people are not their enemy, and yet oppose their objective. The fact is that evil ideologies have justifications for their oppression, for the Pharisees it was failure to obey the law. They ostracized and persecuted people because they did stand up to those standards. Jesus empties this ideology by living sinless but embracing the sinners. He shows their justification to be empty and self-serving. Likewise, Nazism had very specific justifications for why normal German citizens ought to kill and take over other countries and races. But could that ideology hold against constant influx of non-hostile, non-European, non-Jewish casualties? I think the answer is no, and I believe it must be no since God believes that this plan will rescue all of His creation. Furthermore, this kind of opposition stands opposed in every way to what the oppressor believes. This is why we idolize Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi; they had the courage to stand against every part of the evil against them even if it meant suffering and death. The only difference for Christian pacifism is that even when we don’t have a stake in the conflict (aren’t the victims as King and Gandhi were) we ought to seek out and join the victims where they are. I think when wars are stopped in this manner, healing is far easier and the propensity for war to arise again is far diminished, because the war is stopped by a change of heart and character of the oppressor and not a change in the means of the oppressor.

Some of you may be thinking, “I thought the title of this post was Why I am not a Christian Pacifist”, and that is my final point. I think the reason so many Christians struggle with choosing between these doctrines is that both reflect a failure to live up to the calling we know we ought to. Really this debate is between Just War theory and Pacifism, both of which contain elements of true Christian pacifism. I titled this post this way because I have not the courage for Christian pacifism, but only pacifism. And I would consider those willing to participate in what they believe to be a Just War, far better people than I.

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In the Aftermath of 9/11: Spiritually Transmitted Diseases

 

We all know about sexually transmitted diseases. Too few of us are aware of spiritually transmitted diseases. Like their physical counterparts, these metaphysical maladies spread through passionate, intimate contact—but the engagement is hostile rather than erotic. They spread through the mutual embrace of rivalry, the intercourse of argument, the emotional clutch of conflict.

Simply put, whenever we engage opponents in conflict, we can unwittingly catch what they have.

If they insult us, we will be tempted to insult them back. If they use religious language to demonize us, we will be tempted to respond in kind. If they exaggerate or caricature or misrepresent us, if they bomb us or torture us or take hostages from among us, before we know it, we can become a mirror of that which we once found abhorrent and alien.

After a decade of engagement with violent forces in the aftermath of the attacks of 2001, we in the U.S. should not be so proud or naïve as to think a spiritually transmitted disease could never infect us—or that it hasn’t already done so.

What characteristics would describe us over the last decade? Resilience, determination, vigilance, to be sure . . . but also militarization, willingness to engage in torture, demonization of enemies, use of religious identity to justify violent behavior, secret detention in secret prisons, us-them thinking. Are these not characteristic of those who attacked us?

Yet even the act of diagnosing this infection is fraught with danger. Diagnosis can quickly lead to blame—President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, President Obama, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, whomever. And in being quick to blame, we practice the same facile vilification that characterizes our attackers. We sink deeper into a syndrome of anger and hostility, and so the disease rages on.

So at this decadal anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I propose that we acknowledge not only our enemies on the other side of the world but also the enemy that can so easily infect our own body politic, our own national soul. The evil we have identified in “them” and “over there,” it turns out, is highly infectious.

With the virulence of spiritually transmitted diseases in mind, I see some of the core teachings of Jesus in a new light. I’m aware that those teachings are seen even by many Christians as impractical and irrelevant in the context of international conflict. Turn the other cheek? Ridiculous. Do good to those who harm you? Suicidal. Love your enemies? Cute and laughable and immature.

But the danger of spiritually transmitted diseases reminds us that our enemy is not our only enemy. In responding to our enemy imitatively, in catching our enemy’s hostile spirit, we can become an even worse enemy to ourselves. We can do ourselves more damage than the enemy ever could. In that light, suddenly Jesus’ teachings seem strikingly realistic, and ignoring them seems to betray a far costlier idealism: that violence can defeat violence.

Consider the oft-misunderstood “other cheek” teaching. If you are struck, you have three obvious options: fight back, run away and hide, or submit and surrender. Assuming you can’t run away and won’t surrender, in fighting back, you increase the likelihood that you become more like your opponents. Even as you defeat them, they have in a sense converted you to become more like them, which is a kind of victory in itself.

But Jesus suggests a different way. In standing up courageously—and in refusing flight, submission, and retaliation—you become less like your opponent. Previously unimagined creative responses become possible. You don’t submit to the game in order to win it: you change the game entirely.

Similarly, in doing good to the one who harms you, you seize the moral high ground and you thus break out of the cycle of reactivity—a cycle in which your opponent determines the terms of engagement, and thus has the upper hand.

In loving your enemies, you seek to understand them and you don’t freeze them in their current aggressive identity.

Ten years ago, such responses would have been labeled silly if not unpatriotic. We weren’t ready as a nation to even consider them. But perhaps, after ten years, we have moments of fatigue with the grim cycles of imitative violence. Perhaps we’re sick of spiritually transmitted disease.

If that’s the case, we are a little more ready to imagine a healthier agenda for the next ten years.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren’s more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God.McLaren’s column, “Naked Theology,” is published every Tuesday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email or RSS

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Aftermath-of-911-Spiritually-Transmitted-Diseases-Brian-McLaren-09-06-2011.html

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Exceptionalism can degenerate into superiority

Washington Post political reporter Karen Tumulty wrote Monday about the growing use of the idea of “American exceptionalism” by political conservatives as a “battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars.”

Sarah Palin and many other prominent conservatives assert that “God has granted America a special role in human history.” It is this belief about America’s destiny that they say is “under attack” by liberals who downplay America’s distinctiveness.

Are these leaders saying that America has a special relationship with God?

How do you interpret this?

 

Jordan Sekulow speaks for many when he says:

Any leader who is too scared to proclaim American exceptionalism or who rejects it outright poses a danger to the United States and the free world.

Well, then, call me dangerous, because I reject that thinking outright. In fact, I think that that kind of belief in that kind of American exceptionalism is the real danger. As others on this panel have already said, such thinking betrays a shallow and naive theology.

We’d better get clear on which kind of exceptionalism we’re talking about, which is why this question is so important.

The Christian missiologist and theologian Leslie Newbigin said that the greatest heresy in the history of monotheism is a misunderstanding of chosenness (or “election” in theological parlance). To be “the chosen people” to many monotheists (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) means to be chosen as elite, to be loved more than others, to be granted special privileges, to have God on “our” side against “them.” No, Newbigin said, recalling the original Abrahamic promise in Genesis 12: to be chosen for special blessing in the profound biblical sense means to be chosen for special service, responsibility, and sacrifice on behalf of others. It doesn’t mean being chosen exclusively, but rather instrumentally. People are chosen to be blessed so they can be a blessing – not to the exception of others, but for their benefit.

The kind of exceptionalism being proclaimed by too many Americans today is, I think, a recipe for self-delusion and disaster. “American exceptionalism” too easily leads to “making exceptions” for America, and that’s dangerous for everybody. Hidden within those kinds of statements, I fear, are insidious beliefs like these:

It’s wrong for other nations to torture people, but America is an exception.
It’s wrong for other nations to develop and discharge nuclear weapons, but America is an exception.
It’s wrong for other nations to violate standards of just war theory, but America is an exception.
It’s right for other nations to bear responsibility for environmental stewardship, but America is an exception.
It’s right for other nations to uphold the highest standards of human rights, but American is an exception.

Not only that, but when exceptionalism degenerates into a sense of national superiority, entitlement, smugness, and inflated self-importance, it simply becomes a camouflage for pride, an attractive quality in neither politics nor ethics. Such dangerous pride, the Bible says, goes before a dangerous slide.

In whatever ways America has been uniquely blessed, with that blessing comes not exceptional geo-political privilege but exceptional moral responsibility. It doesn’t give us additional moral “exceptions,” but rather intensifies our moral obligations to our neighbors. As Jesus said, from those who have been given much, much will be expected. Exceptional blessing means exceptional responsibility.

// // By Brian D. McLaren  |  December 1, 2010; 6:18 PM ET

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Happy Holidays?

A Quick Word on the Fight for Christmas

For years there has been a Christian baclash against the supposed secularization of Christmas. All I have to say is that for businesses who’s declared goal is to exploit December to promote material wants and make profit, perhaps its better if they leave the Christ out of Christmas. Better that they say happy holidays than pretend that what goes on in a walmart in December has anything to do with Christ.

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