Christians and politics; what is the Church’s stance here? Like on so many other issues, the Church doesn’t seem to have one. There are more like 10 of them.
We have the Religious Right, led by people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the American Family Association who “successfully”embraced the political process some time ago. In response to the their agenda we’ve seen the emergence of the evangelical left, spearheaded by folks like Barry Lynn’s Americans United and Jim Wallis and his Call for Renewal. As expected, James Dobson (reluctantly) endorses John McCain while Brian McLaren raises a stink by actively supporting Barak Obama. Shane Claiborn has a bestseller called, “Who Would Jesus Vote For” and Roman Catholics are guided by bishops on where to cast their collective votes.
Some church leaders strongly urge Christians to hit the polls while others encourage us to stay home and not participate in such a ‘worldly’ system. We are coached to vote for politicians who wear their faith on their sleeves while others make reasonable arguments for Christians having no place in government at all, especially in the military.
I have recently discovered something called Christian Anarchy, which appears to be an umbrella term for various fairly liberal and unorthodox ideas about church and state. Originally, it seems to have been a response to the growing legalistic authority that church leaders began to wield, particularly once Rome co-opted a large part of the Church. In this regard, Christian Anarchism espouses a direct communication between God and the individual, devoid of the need for clergy, doctrine and dogma. (I’m sure regular visitors will not be surprised that I can see a lot of value to this way of thinking.)
But then there are other Christian anarchists who are primarily pacifists and oppose violence, particularly institutionalized violence. Why a pacifist would gravitate towards anarchism is beyond my immediate understanding (perhaps because when I think of anarchists the first thing that comes to mind are black berets, striped shirts and black bowling balls with lit fuses trailing). Anyway, I tend to think that pacifiism, like anarchy itself, is a great concept with little practical value. C.S. Lewis once suggested that the only societies that will permit pacifists are free societies that will forcibly protect, if necessary, the right of the pacifist to express themselves. I think the same could be said for those societies who tolerate anarchists.
Scriptures are often used to support ideas of when, where and how we should engage government. But, as so often seems to be the case, the situations the scriptural authors are responding to are quite different than today’s. The anarchistic, open commune type of ecclesia that the New Testament describes existed and benefited from the infrastructure produced by Caesar’s Pax Romana (in spite of the fact that Caesar and company were out to get them).
So, can a Christian, in good conscience, be a politician? A civil servant? A soldier? Perhaps more Christians should be politicians, civil servants and soldiers. Is it right for people of faith to see themselves as being in some way elected not to involve themselves in the systems that they benefit from?
What do you think?
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