Evangelicals and Politics

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Focus on the Family has stepped in it this time. They've long flirted with the confusion of Christian faith and conservative politics, and now they've gone way too far. Jollyblogger argues why their attacks on Michael Moore have nothing to do with their explicit mission. This is what happens when you confuse Christianity with a political agenda. You end up with an unbiblical alliance with worldly weapons to fight a battle that Christians shouldn't be fighting anyway. Julie Neidlinger has further thoughts. Finally, Jonathan Ichikawa and the string of comments his post received show how those who aren't already sympathetic to Focus on the Family will view such a thing.

I suppose this is a good occasion to look at the National Association of Evangelicals' statement about politics. The San Francisco Gate had a great article on this. Christianity Today's blog gives more details (scroll down about a page for this story). View From the Pew highlights different elements. Here are the main claims made:

The statement "strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party." The main reasoning is that the Bible has a lot to say about practices that politicians debate, but if Christianity becomes identified with any party there's a danger of people thinking Christianity is merely about politics. That's pretty much happened in parts of Europe, and I could see how many would think it's already happening here. I would add another reason: neither major party gets biblical statements about political matters completely right (and the smaller parties, I think, are even worse), and we wouldn't want a secular-run party (which any political party is, by definition) acting as a spokesman for Christianity anyway. For a sense of how the NAE steers clear of either major party, look at what they endorse and oppose:

It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, health care, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a sacred responsibility to protect the environment.

But it also hews closely to a traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of families, opposition to same-sex marriage, and social evils such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and the use of human embryos for stem cell research. It reaffirms a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

Here's a direct quote that covers part of the list above:

The Bible makes it clear that God cares a great deal about the wellbeing of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom, and racial justice. While individual persons and organizations may rightly concentrate on one or two issues, faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda.

They also warn that we need to steer clear of nationalism, especially in the current context. I wholeheartedly agree. I don't have a problem with a Christian holding citizenship, voting, running for office, being a member of a party, or interacting politically in any other way. I think it's anti-Christian to find our identity in any of those things, as if that solidarity or focus is more important than being in Christ and being united with others in Christ. The NAE statement even encourages such things, saying that it's even Christians' moral obligation.

As for the specific political issues, I'm not sure they've got the biblical teaching completely accurate, though they're closer than either party. When I say I'm not sure, I really mean that I don't know. The language isn't specific enough to judge. It may be accurate but not precise. Some of it depends on what they're saying the government is expected to do, what it's simply good for it to do, and how those policies could be developed with good economic sense. It's bad stewardship to waste money, as government programs are wont to do. I do think a just government needs to have an eye on how its policies affect the poor and so on, and conservatives until Bush have tended to ignore that, at least during my lifetime. The president gets criticized as a big government spender, but it comes from a biblical motivation. I've elsewhere disputed the stance the NAE takes on gay marriage, and I see no reason why it's any more immoral to use dead embryos' stem cells than it is to use dead adults' hearts and kidneys. Still, what they're drawing on are largely biblical themes. The general claims do match biblical teachings.

Consider the issue of structural responses within government to poverty. The statement says:

[T]he framework before the national association looks beyond local charity programs and declares that evangelicals and the government must look at the underlying government policies and economic practices that could institutionalize poverty and injustice.

When social structures result in such gross disparities and suffering, the Bible writers envision structural solutions, such as periodic land redistribution so that everyone can have access to productive resources and be dignified members of their community

That's exactly right. A basic understanding of the principles behind the social justice laws in the Torah, the prophetic pronouncements about social justice, and even much in the wisdom literature on the subject will confirm this. On a particular issue, people may disagree on whether the gross disparities and suffering result from government policies and economic practices.

For example, I don't think that's the case with what affirmative action is supposed to fix. Wink has argued on his own blog that government (including institutional racism and residual racism in the public schools) is probably at least part of the problem. Affirmative action, for him, is at least morally good (and perhaps morally required) in offsetting such injustice. I see affirmative action as a structural problem in society that, at least now (but not originally), leads to injustice (and I'm not talking about injustice against white people). Therefore, the government is morally obligated to remove it to right the wrongs it has allowed by doing what had been right at the time (for exactly the reasons Wink thinks it should still be in place -- our disagreement is a factual, empirical matter, not a moral one). We may then disagree on how to apply this principle, but i think we both agree with the principle, which is good because it's thoroughly biblical.

This is one place the economically libertarian streak within contemporary conservatism is completely opposed to a biblical view of government's responsibilities toward social justice, even though I think elements of such a view are necessary for good stewardship. I don't know if the document goes into more detail enough to know where it stands on any particular issues. If so, I'm sure I disagree with it somewhere. So in the end I just don't know what to think about some of these general statements, because I don't know what they had in mind.

The final document should be available in October. I hope I'll have time to dissect it, but things are going to be getting really busy around here in October.

For more on the same topic, see Kris's two posts at Writing to Understand. The first comes to a similar balance as the NAE does, assuming that the Bible does have a bearing on the Christian's role in politics and that it involves some things liberals emphasize and other things conservatives emphasize. The second post warns against the extremes that started me off in this discussion, seeing such identification of Christianity and a political agenda as a civil religion of nationalism, which I would argue verges on idolatry.

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There's been much discussion recently about Focus on the Family's e-mail publishing Michael Moore's home address: see comments at Jollyblogger, Jonathan Ichikawa, Parableman, and others. All of these posts observe, correctly in my judgment, that Focus ... Read More

There�s lots of blogslinging going around in the Christian �sphere about the FMA and Christians� involvment in politics in general. Parableman has some great posts on the topic, with plenty of links to other interesing posts. Here are a small handful: Read More

5 Comments

"...an unbiblical alliance with worldly weapons to fight a battle that Christians shouldn't be fighting anyway."

This is the temptation Christians must resist, but I don't think it precludes us from being engaged in the political scene. As long as we keep in mind that the ultimate answer to the world's problems is redemption in Christ, I believe we can advocate one party over another, one agenda over another, as a way of bringing people closer to the truth.

About the embyro stem cells, if the embryos died as a result of spontaneous abortion, I don't have a problem with it. As long as the parents' consent to it, it's like organ donation. But the cells of aborted embryos? Consent or not, that's hideous. Think of the market it would create, underground or otherwise, for dead embryos sucked out of their mother's wombs. It's absolutely morbid and ungodly, and in my opinion, no one's injury or the potential discovery of new cures could justify it.

The way Hauerwas puts the point you make here is that the church IS its own politics, thus we certainly don't need to ally ourselves to some other party. If politics is the way a nation organizes itself to achieve collective and public ends (and I realize defining either "nation" or "politics" is problematic, so cut me a little slack), then this makes perfect sense to me. It seems to go well with the view of the church we see in the Corinthian letters where Paul urges the church to take care of its own interpersonal problems rather than turning to the state. We should be a model to our nation about how to live peacefully.

La Shawn: I'm not sure I understand the argument on the dead embryo/dead fetus issue. A lot of people seem opposed to it because they disagtree with the method or circumstances of the killing. Once the killing has taken place, though, what's wrong with using the parts of what is now just a corpse? We don't have a problem using the parts of a dead adult who was murdered, do we? The only issue I can think of is consent. Is it ok for a parent to consent to the use of a child's kidney for saving someone's life? Does it make a difference if the child was killed by accident or by murder? Why would it be different with an embryo? I'd say it's wrong to kill for the purpose of harvesting organs or stem cells, but I don't see why it's wrong to take them from someone already dead of any age. Why is it wrong if the age is just lower?

One interesting point about the stem-cell issue that I wonder about is, which is more important, intent or result (and, more complicatedly, the intent and result between the entity harmed and the entity(ies) benefited)? I don't see anyone protesting fertility clinics. But, as a rule, fertitility clinicians create a very large batch of fetuses, the majority of which they know will be destroyed in the process. But, of course, their intention is to create life, or at least, primarily help those alive achieve this result. If something like the latter, and, if this is justified, then it seems like stem-cell research using aborted fetuses might be justified as well.
However, if it's the result, or number of fetuses that are created and then destroyed, then fertility clinics do this in spades. Why don't folks who protest at planned parenthood protest at fertility clinics? Or, maybe they do and I just don't know about it.

I don't think most pro-life people know how many embryos are created and never allowed to develop at fertility clinics. I guess they haven't been killed if they just sit in a freezer, unless there's a limit to how long they can sit there. If killing an embryo is always wrong, it's not a huge step to say that we have a moral obligation to develop every embryo that could be viably developed.

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