“The former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu used to famously say, “We are prisoners of hope.” Such a statement might be taken as merely rhetorical or even eccentric if you hadn’t seen Bishop Tutu stare down the notorious South African Security Police when they broke into the Cathedral of St. George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service. “- Jim Wallis, God’s Politics
I’ve just finished reading Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it. I’m not going to pretend like I understand politics, but I do want to mention some noteworthy insights I’ve received.
#1 Certain Issues transcend Partisan Ideologies i.e. neither the donkeys nor the elephants get it right.
“I believe there is a “fourth option” for American politics, which follows from the prophetic religious tradition we have described. It is traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty and racial justice. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist—looking first to peacemaking and conflict resolution when it come to foreign policy questions.” ibid
The greatest flaws of both parties are the inconsistencies of human life. Republicans are pro-life, but anti-gay, while Democrats keep religion completely out of the conversation (once again I am no poli-sci expert, these are gross generalizations). The religious right is guilty of exploiting religion for political gain, while the left have completely ignored the issue of religious morals. One side manipulates and the other rejects. The Reds want guns and capital punishment, while the Blues want abortion. And behind both these groups are the filthy rich corporations trying to keep in legislation that protects the rich and oppresses the poor. Policies that keep good schools in good neighborhoods good, but give nothing to inner city schools all the while measuring out financial support based on academic performance. Money talks in both parties. Money advocates. Money pushes the envelope. Sadly, we are a nation that worships mamon. Case in point, if you look at the board of directors of churches, they’re usually the financially savvy.
However, arbitrary partisan ideologies are superficial and ineffective. They rarely seek out the poor and outcast, the foreigner, the immigrant, the undocumented seasonal hire, the single mom working at Burger King, the foster children getting beaten up in foster homes. The question that should be on the forefront of both parties is: where are the poor? And this is not just a moral ethical issue. This is a religious theological issue. Why is the church not asking this question? “A Budget is a moral document”-ibid. What does ours say about us?
Often people bring up the question of personal responsibility, that the government should not do everything for you. I agree I am against co-dependent relationships, but I also personally am on food stamps right now. There are times when people need extra support, there are times when welfare with an expiration date is necessary. Everyone has needs a helping hand. But rarely do politicians rub elbows with the poor and struggling. Rarely do they live in the same neighborhoods as those who are directly affected by the legislation they make. They are usually coddling up with the rich and famous to fund their campaigns up in their ivory palaces.
It is nonsensical. Why are the legislators making decisions/budgets for a population of people they have no connection with? Why are the ones who start wars not the ones fighting in them? If they were at the forefronts of the wars they create or in front of the barrels of the weapons they sell there would be less wars and more diplomacy.
#2 The answer to bad politics is better politics, not disengagement, not apathy
Wallis shares a quote about religion from a different book of his, The Great Awakening: Reviving faith and politics in a Post-Religious Right America,
“Some people believe the alternative to bad religion is secularism, but that’s wrong . . . . The answer to bad religion is better religion–prophetic rather than partisan, broad and deep instead of narrow, and based on values as opposed to ideology.”
When I got burnt by the church, by a psychotic narcissistic authoritarian Pastor. I didn’t want anything to do with the church. I realized that non-Christians were a lot more fun and easier to hang out with; they weren’t as judgmental and uptight as believers. And yet 2 years later after that experience I found myself enrolled in a seminary. I remember telling my small group, “I’m not supposed to be here. I have every reason to be fed up with the church (especially growing up as an MK).” And yet, I wrote in my journal a little later, “I have a hunch I am supposed to be in seminary to learn to love the church again.“
This is the age old principle of not “throwing the baby with the bath water.” Yes there has been abuse in the church. Yes, there has been abuse in politics, but that does not mean we disengage or become emotionally absent. It means we study theology deeper and find a better hermeneutic. It means we study Christianity from Christ. And in the case of politics it means we vote and hold our elected officials accountable to the promises they made during their campaigns.
#3 Faith is a very Public Matter
“Exclusively private faith degenerates into a narrow religion, excessively preoccupied with individual and sexual morality while almost oblivious to the biblical demands for public justice. In the end, private faith becomes a merely cultural religion providing the assurance of righteousness for people just like us.”ibid
I hear often these words:
You’re just one person you’re not going to change anything.
The system’s too big.
It’s not our job to fix this.
Christians really shouldn’t be involved in politics.
Jesus said the poor will always be with you.
What’s the point, things will never change.
Faith has become a matter of who you sleep with and whether it’s pre-marital or not or whether you are married or not. Yes, adultery is a sin, but so is economic injustice. God rebuked his people often for their idolatrary and infidelity, but he also called them out constantly for their dishonest scales, selfish greed, and oppression of the poor. God cares very much for the conditions of the orphans and the widows, and to ignore the tie between your faith in Yahweh and societal relations is to be a blind hypocrite.
#4 Political Differences are Distractions from real issues and real solutions
Here, I’m going to use abortion, a highly political issues in the states as an example. Wallis writes,
“Couldn’t both pro-life and pro-choice political leaders agree to common ground actions that would actually reduce the abortion rate, rather than continue to use abortion mostly as a political symbol?” ibid
“Instead of imposing rigid pro-choice and pro-life political litmus tests, why not work together on teen pregnancy, adoption reform, and real alternatives for women backed into dangerous and lonely corners?” ibid
The issue of abortion often comes forward not out of concern for women and children, but as a political play. If you’re pro-life you’re red, if you’re pro-choice you’re blue. It’s a method of manipulation. Holding one of those labels can get you a seat in a political office, but who’s benefiting, the politician or the woman or the child (pro-lifers want the child born, but do they support the born child? Do they support the mother regardless of if she keeps the baby or not)?
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood provide services other than abortions. They provide contra-ceptives and fertility medicines. Reverend Russel Moore wrote, “No one is more pro-choice than Satan during the drive to the abortion clinic, and nobody is more pro-life than Satan during the drive home.” Women should not be shamed or punished or guilt tripped, that is the work of Satan the accuser.
Abortion is a very deep issue and I’m not rallying support for either pro-life or pro-choice, but support for empathy and understanding. Instead of boycotting abortion clinics, how about coming beside the women before they reach that point, when they are elementary students in their under funded schools? What about filling in the gaps of missing parents/ family/social structures instead of punishing them and shaming them. How about acting like the church and not a political institution?
#5 Peace and Justice are inseparable
“The peace movement sometimes does underestimate the problem of evil and in doing so weakens its authority and its message.” ibid.
Peace cannot take place if justice is not served. There will never be peace as long as unjust societal systems are in place. It’s the same with love and justice. Don’t tell me that you love me if you do nothing to stop the person oppressing me. Do not read Bible verses about forgiveness to a young lady who has been raped if you do not prosecute the man who raped her. Don’t tell me about a loving God if he does not deal justly with those who have manipulated and exploited me. Christians love peace and they love love, but do they love justice? Do they love justice enough to get off their couches and computers? Do they love justice enough to allot their hard earned tax dollars to organizations that provide aid instead of to their 401K’s?
#6 Racism is not a partisan issue.
I just read an article by Rev. William J. Barber II entitled, Subverting Democracy is not Partisan. It is immoral. He writes that, “Racism is not a liberal or conservative issue. Subverting democracy is not partisan. It is immoral.” He is the President of the North Carolina NCAAP. A couple weeks ago he was on tour with “black, white, and brown, Muslims, Unitarians, and Baptists.” They brought their Higher Moral Ground Declaration to the RNC, but were refused entrance. Their ministers were also threatened to be arrested as they paused to pray for the nation.
And yet after holding revival services in Philly. They delivered the same declaration to the DNC and leadership invited Rev. Barber to speak on the final night of the convention.
It will knock your socks off.
#7 There is Hope
Get up and voteGet involved. Meet your alderman. Get educated.
The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel (He is the Rabbi who walked with MLK during Selma)
The Hole in our Gospel by Richared Steans (CEO of World Vision)
Because my hope is not in a political party or candidate or church leader I can hold on to it. My hope is grounded in the One who said, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” God said this to His people before he exiled them. Throughout the journey God went on with His people through slavery, the wilderness, and foreign oppression.
My hope is also strengthened the crowd of witnesses I find online and in libraries. I find believers who put their faith to practice even when it does not toe the party line or line up with the majority.
They risk their lives and wallets for justice. Hope is a choice.
What about you? What did you think of Rev. Barber’s talk at the DNC? What do you think of Christians and politics? Should they mix or not mix? What is the message of the Prophets to our generation today?